Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Mining Camp New Year’s

Martha Edgerton Plassman wrote in 1926 about early New Year’s celebrations in Montana and how they evolved as times changed. On New Year’s Day at Bannack in 1863, fourteen-year-old Martha and two other young girls set out to keep the custom of visiting. There were few women in the mining camp, and no proper houses to call upon, and so the three stopped at George Chrisman’s cabin, then moved down the street to Thompson and Swift’s general store. Inside they found Henry Plummer—later hanged by the vigilantes—in an argument with another fellow, both quite inebriated. The conversation was heated, and Mr. Thompson put a hand on Plummer’s shoulder, pointing him to the back door. The three teenagers, caught in the middle, made a hasty retreat out the front. Martha was so frightened that she never again stepped inside a store in Bannack.

This photo of the governor's official residence shows what Bannack looked like in 1863.
Montana Historical Society Photograph Archives, 
In Virginia City, between Christmas and New Year’s of 1867, things were different. The streets were gay with fashionable ladies visiting from house to house. Music and dancing were easy to find, and spirits flowed freely under many hospitable roofs. Nearly ten years later in Helena on New Year’s Day 1877, the New York tradition of ladies receiving gentlemen acquaintances was the practice. The newspaper listed the names of ladies receiving callers; several usually went together as hostesses. Dressed in their most beautiful gowns, they received guests throughout the afternoon. Tables were set with the best china and silver and heaped with many kinds of cakes and rolls. But Martha recalled that unlike rough and raw Virginia City, in Helena coffee usually took the place of strong spirits.

P.S. Remember when Henry Plummer hosted Thanksgiving dinner?

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