PAT NEAL: Visions of Christmases past


Every year, the holidays can cause holiday stress.

Ask someone who works in law enforcement, the emergency room or firefighting.

The holidays see a spike in domestic violence, alcohol-fueled chaos and people trying to burn down their house with everything from a Christmas tree to a turkey fryer.

Somewhere, the spirit of the holidays turned ugly.

Sometime during the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, it might be helpful to consider how Christmas has changed throughout the years.

Maybe your tree is so ugly Charlie Brown wouldn’t decorate it.

Maybe your turkey is so tough I wouldn’t eat it.

Things could always be worse.

We know that from the historical record of many a disappointing Christmases past when there were no sleigh bells in the snow.

The first and possibly one of the worst historical Christmas parties ever recorded in the Pacific Northwest occurred in 1805 at Fort Clatsop in what is now Oregon, where the Corps of Discovery was celebrating the peace and joy of the season.

Christmas morning started off with a bang.

The men paraded with a volley of shots and a song wishing Capts. Lewis and Clark a Merry Christmas, just to get the party started.

Capt. Lewis gave Capt. Clark a shirt and socks.

Sacajawea gave Capt. Clark two dozen white weasel tails.

They divided a small stock of tobacco among the men.

Those who didn’t smoke got a handkerchief.

Dinner was a problem: All they had was spoiled elk meat, some roots and spoiled pounded fish without even salt for the stew.

The next Christmas celebration did not go much better.

In fact, there is no mention of happy holidays by survivors of the Russian ship Sv. Nikolai that wrecked just north of the mouth of the Quileute River in November of 1808.

By Dec. 10, the survivors had reached the upper Hoh Valley where a deep snowfall stopped their march upriver. They built a cabin and spent the holidays feasting on coho salmon and their roe.

The coho ran thick until the end of December at the time. It was recorded by one crewmember that they had plenty to eat.

Things got a little fancier at the next historical holiday bash on the Olympic Peninsula. That was held by members of the Press Expedition on the Elwha River in 1889.

According to the Press boys, “Christmas morning dawned cold and clear” after a heavy snowfall the night before.

The men set to work with the expedition’s mules, sledding green lumber through the snow.

The boards were to be used in the construction of the ill-fated scow Gertie in a doomed attempt at exploring the Elwha by boat.

The men were entertained in their labors by the expedition’s official natural historian, the English Dr. Runnalls, who entertained with renderings of “apt quotations all appertaining to the driving of mules.”

Afterward they celebrated with an ample Christmas dinner of bacon and beans.

In 1892, Chris Morgenroth, a homesteader from the Bogachiel country and later forest ranger, named Christmas Creek for a memorable Christmas celebration.

Morgenroth and Cornelius Huelsdonk were exploring a proposed route for a wagon road from the Hoh River to the Tacoma Colony on the Queets.

Christmas Day found them soaking wet from the torrential rains with an inch of snow on the ground.

Morgenroth went hunting and shot a bear. There was plenty of Mulligan stew all round.

So, forget the holiday stress.

No matter how bad your Christmas is, others have had it worse.

I have to go now. It’s time to light the turkey fryer.


Pat Neal is a Hoh River fishing guide and “wilderness gossip columnist” whose column appears here every Wednesday.

He can be reached at 360-683-9867 or by email via patnealwild

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