By Al Bates

Editor’s Note:  An earlier version of the following was published as a Days Past article in December 2005.

Usually when we think of Christmastime in Territorial Prescott we have images of jolly families with little children warm and snugly gathered around a candle-lit tree after enjoying the fruits of their mama’s kitchen efforts.  But there was an earlier time when Prescott was barely a town and was peopled by a predominance of single men-especially when the miners came to town.

They still enjoyed the holiday traditions, but in a far different manner than in later, more family oriented days.  The following was written by one of the earliest of Prescott pioneers, Tom Sanders, telling about Christmastime in Prescott in the 1860s:

“[I]n the early sixties money was plentiful and there were no orphan kiddies to be looked after. Poverty was unknown in Prescott and any celebrating that was done during the holidays was in the spirit of revelry and not necessarily charity.

“The saloons and gambling houses used to be open night and day and for a number of years in succession the saloon keepers and gamblers used to make use of the juniper and cedar in the plaza on Christmas Eve to imitate Santa Claus and they would get old boots, overalls and old coats and the like and write some fellow’s name on a tag and stick it on.

“They would then put a pint or quart of whiskey in one of the boots or in a pocket in the coats or pants and hang the tagged garments up Christmas Eve on the trees in the park, and the next morning in jest and ribald, the participants would laugh and shout. With all their hilarity, I must say that generally speaking there was more of a brotherly feeling among all classes that peopled that section and other early settlements in the west than today.

“They would extend the helping hand and when a newcomer would drift into a placer diggings they would try to make room for him and not show the extreme selfishness that is driving the world to ruin. That is why there was no poverty in those days.

“Everybody was on a friendly basis with the exception of a few bad men who thought gun battling a great sport and most of them finally got what they were looking for.  Money was no object. The gambling tables were all piled high with silver, paper and gold coin as stakes and more often in nuggets and gold dust. Faro, poker, roulette and numerous games were in operation and like Carson City, women frequented the saloons and played the games.

“Money seemed to come easy in spite of not having the facilities of modern civilization and it flowed just as freely to the other fellow. Those who would go broke at the games would either go back into the hills and dig out another stake or work for the good wages prevailing those days and come back and try it all over again.”

These and other observations on early Prescott life are included in the 2003 book, “My Arizona Adventures, The Recollections of Thomas Dudley Sanders, Miner, Freighter and Rancher in Arizona Territory,” published by the Prescott Corral of Westerners International, and available as an eBook at Amazon.com.

 "Days Past” is a collaborative project of the Sharlot Hall Museum and the Prescott Corral of Westerners International (www.prescottcorral.org). This and other Days Past articles are also available at www.sharlot.org/library-archives/days-past. The public is encouraged to submit proposed articles to dayspastshmcourier@gmail.com. Please contact SHM Library & Archives reference desk at 928-445-3122 Ext. 14, or via email at dayspastshmcourier@gmail.com for information.