Thursday, November 27, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving was a harvest tradition long celebrated in New England, but it took a while to catch on in Montana. In 1863 there really was no harvest to celebrate and Henry Plummer was perhaps the only resident to observe the occasion. He used it to cultivate good relations with the Sidney Edgerton family, and spent a small fortune freighting in a turkey. You can follow that story here.  

In 1864, miners at Last Chance were too busy searching for gold to celebrate. In 1865, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed Thanksgiving a holiday to unify the nation torn by the Civil War. Cornelius Hedges observed, however, that southern sympathizers were too busy mourning the “lost cause” to be thankful. In 1875, the Montana territorial legislature formally proclaimed Thanksgiving a holiday. At Sun River, residents held a grand Thanksgiving dance with music by the Fort Shaw band. When the dance ended at three in the morning, everyone had had such a good time they organized a dance club.

By the 1880s, Thanksgiving was a tradition. In 1881, ladies at Helena’s Presbyterian Church held a holiday sale of items that mirrored their roots. New Englanders contributed, for example, miniature Boston baked bean pots. In 1892, the Red Lodge Picket noted that on Wednesday before Thanksgiving, the Miners’ Meat Market featured an exceptionally artistic display arranged by E. J. Dugan, a Kansas City butcher. Beautifully dressed beeves, sheep, and veal hung on the pegs along with turkey and other fowl. The fantastic display was the “finest of any ever made in Red Lodge.”    

By the start of the twentieth century, Thanksgiving traditions were well established, and elaborate meals the norm. The Anaconda Standard noted in 1903 that “The stranger will find Anaconda equal to providing the great American feast.” At the Montana Hotel, orchestra music filtered throughout the hotel from nine till midnight. But the meal was the focus. Along with standard fare, the menu included green sea turtle quenelles, calves’ sweetbreads Genovese, orange fritters with brandy sauce, and frozen egg nog.

May you all once again eat too much and enjoy this day of national celebration.

Montana Historical Society Photograph Archives, postcard collection

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