View of Rogue Valley from Wagner Butte

1865 Christmas in Ashland, Oregon



Mrs. A. H. Russell Recounts
Holiday Festivities in Ashland
the Year Following the Civil War Period.

Community Tree Where Odd Fellows
Hall Now Stands; Calico and
Dress Goods Favorite Christmas
Remembrances of Former Days.


      Christmas in Ashland fifty years ago! What memories the words awaken in many an aged heart! Most of those who lived here in the '60s had but lately come from the East, leaving behind loved ones from whom they were separated by the width of a conti­nent. More than one heart was sore over the loss of friend or relative, killed by the savage foe who still lurked in the sur­rounding hills with arrows and cruel tomahawk.
     But the little company of pioneers was brave and cheerful, determined to make the best of the hard conditions in their new home. And all conditions were not hard. Ashland weather was just as pleasant then as now, the trees and mountains as beauti­ful, the water as pure and sparkling. Wild game was plentiful, while clothing, groceries and other things needful were hauled or packed over the mountains from Crescent City and Portland.
      "Well do I recall the Christmas of 1865, the next year after the Civil war," relates Mrs. A. H. Russell, eighty three year old Ashland pioneer living at 117 North Main street, to a Tidings representative. "I was twenty seven years old and living with my husband right here where I have resided ever since. We had a community Christmas tree in the town hall, which stood on the site of the present Odd Fellows' building.
"There were sixteen business and professional men in Ashland at that time. They were: Charley Klum, school clerk; Bob Harga­dine, store keeper; Jim Thornton, woolen manufacturer; Jake Wagner, flour mill; Jim Russell, marble works; Mike Nickleson, blacksmith; Bill Kentner, wagon maker; Ebe Emery, tavern keeper; John McCall, merchant; A. V. Gillette, sawmill man and justice of the peace; Ed Depeat, lawyer; Abe Helman, carpenter; Abe Gid­dings, stage driver; Oliver Applegate, teacher; Ivan Applegate, telegrapher; Albert Rockfellow, whose business I cannot recall.
     "Here is a dim photograph showing these men standing in front of the old Ashland House, which was located on the present site of the Ford garage. There is Bill Kentner with a wagon wheel, my husband with a block of granite, and all the rest of them, each with something to indicate his work. Another view shows Bob Hargadine's house where the First National bank now stands, with timber on the south and east sides.
     "A mass meeting was called to arrange for the tree, and present a program. In order to avoid being given something to do, I stayed away but was appointed on the committee to solicit money and buy gifts for the children. I rebelled, saying it was not fair to place someone who was absent on the most responsible of all the committees.
     "A Methodist South minister, Rev. Johnson, who used to stay with us, persuaded me to consider the appointment favorably, so I finally consented to serve, provided Mrs. James Thornton would help. We collected $40 and obtained the names of all the chil­dren in town. A bag of candy and some small gift was provided for every child. The costliest presents we bought were a hat for an orphan boy and a silver thimble for a girl whose mother we feared would be displeased with a cheaper present. These two articles cost one dollar each.
     "The tree committee did not have to go so far to get a fine young fir as they do now, because the forest then came right down to our back yards. The tree was decorated with strings of pop­corn, bits of colored paper and tallow candles. Candle lanterns lighted the room, this being before we had kerosene lamps.
     "People were great practical jokers in those days, and everybody poked good natured fun at their neighbors. The women thought it would be a good joke to give the men neckties made of bright colored calicoa  red, blue or green  tied in a bow with ends a yard long, and fastened with a big brass button.
The men got an inkling of what we were doing and more than paid us back by giving us aprons made of the brightest colors and tied with strings three yards long. Oh, the calicoa wasted in those strings! The men themselves made the aprons, which were sewed with long, clumsy stitches.
     "Bill Kentnor was Santa Claus, and A. V. Gillette led the music with his flute, which at that time was the only musical instrument in Ashland. John McCall sang bass, Charley Klum tenor, and Mrs. Helman soprano.
     "Even in those days we appreciated our wonderful sword ferns, Oregon grape, mistletoe and other Christmas greenery and used them in decorating the room where we had our Christmas tree. In addition to the game which we have now, there were antelope and mountain sheep, which have since been exterminated.
     "Someone made me a present of a whole bolt of calicoa, which at that time was a very valuable gift. I was very curious to know who had bought that bolt for me and determined to find out. So I made a big sunbonnet and dress with very full skirts out of part of the cloth and wore them down town one day, walking in the middle of the street, spreading my skirts out with both hands, to make as much of a show as possible.
     "My sister, Mrs. Gillette, who lived where Holmes store is now, saw me and threw a stick at me, calling out that I was making a fool of myself. But I thought I'd find out who bought that bolt of calicoa. Arriving at Hargadine's store, I accused the clerk of putting the calicoa on the tree for me and threat­ened to use part of it in making a vest for him so long it would reach to the floor.
      "Ten yards of cloth was given to the wife of a Methodist minister from Roseburg. Long afterwards I learned that the one who gave me the calicoa was Rev. Johnson, to whom I had talked about the gift, and told how much fun I was having with it. Our community tree was a great success. We all felt Christmas spirit and spent the evening together in a happy, friendly, love everybody fashion, hoping for better days to come. They are here."