Thursday, July 4, 2013

A Second Perspective on the Fourth of July in Alder Gulch, 1865

While yesterday's post presents one view, here is another recollection of the same celebration. In her reminiscence, Girl from the Gulches, Mary Ronan recalls the Fourth of July in Virginia City, 1865. The Civil War was finally over, and hostilities that pervaded even the most remote mining camps in Montana Territory had calmed and lessened. Mary remembers that it was “a day atingle with motion, color, and music.” People thronged on the board sidewalks and footpaths, and horses and wagons crowded the street, lining up to view the parade. Mary was proud to ride with thirty-six other little girls all dressed in white on a dead-ax wagon—that is, a wagon with no springs—festively decorated with evergreens and bunting. In the center of the “float,” if one could call it that, the tallest and fairest of the girls stood motionless, dressed in a Grecian tunic with a knotted cord at her waist. Her long blond hair flowing behind her, she represented Columbia, the personification of the United States. The other little girls sat arranged in groups at Columbia’s feet representing the States of the Union. Each wore a blue scarf fashioned as a sash across her chest. A letter on each sash identified the state represented.

Mary Ronan at the time of her marriage, 1873.
Courtesy Maureen and Mike Mansfield Library, University of Montana
For Mary, the memory was bittersweet. Her letter stood for Missouri, a state in which she had lived. But she wanted to represent Kentucky, the state of her birth. Some other little girl, however, had already taken the K. The other bitter pill was that Mary worried self-consciously about her appearance. She had suffered all night with her extremely long hair painfully done up in rags—one method girls back then employed to curl their hair. But the result was less than desirable. It left her hair much too bushy and kinky!

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