Trinidad Tidings: An old-timey Christmas at Camp Creek

Mr. Shirley M. Hannah (1888-1972) taught school between 1911 and 1915, most of the period at Trinidad School. 

However his first school was at Johnson’s Store on the Klamath River about 20 miles below Martin’s Ferry. 

Shirley and Mary Day Hannah’s son, Thomas Hannah, also a former educator, school administrator and Eureka City Councilman, lives in Michigan now, however he has kept in touch with Trinidad Museum Society, sharing precious stories, articles and photographs relating to Trinidad history. 

A recent gift is Shirley M. Hannah’s story, written in 1969, called “Christmas At Camp Creek” from 1912.

Thomas Hannah wrote: “Not all the Northwestern California Christmases enjoyed the conveniences of comfortable department stores, beautiful stocks of merchandise or warm dining rooms. There was a time when Christmas was regarded as a time for kindness and generosity.

“It was the same kind of feeling which was extended from one pioneer to another. Everyone was a friend, to be trusted and honored with the more fortunate’s hospitality without luxuries and the lavishness we know, and accept as commonplace today. The old-timers gave thanks for what they had. They felt fortunate for the good things which did come their way.

“One such event is recorded in my father’s narrative titled The Recollections of a Country School Teacher. The story took place in the gold country of Orleans, December 25, 1912 at Camp Creek, the two principals of the story, a first year teacher at the Orleans Public Elementary School (Shirley Hannah), and the recently retired teacher of the same school, Professor C.S. Little.”

Christmas at Camp Creek

I was unable to go home for Christmas that year because of bad weather. The trail over the Bald Hills through Sherman Lyon’s Ranch was covered with snow so I decided to remain with my good friend Professor Little at his mining claim on Camp Creek. 

I was sort of sad as this was the first time that I was away from home during the holiday season. Being away from home was an accepted way of life for Professor Little who had not been home to his birthplace in Lennox, Massachusetts for over 40 years. 

The professor’s home was in the wilds of Humboldt County. Professor Little was well known in literary circles and was a man of letters and academic training. 

He was intimately acquainted with John Muir, the naturalist and was related to John C. Merriam of Washington, D.C., a former president of the Carnegie Institute and the Save the Redwoods League. 

Little first came to Humboldt County in 1878 and had been a teacher in schools along the Klamath. After retirement in 1912 he took to working a mining claim until his death in 1928.

Unable to come home, I decided to make the most of it. I suggested to Professor Little that we invite some of the neighbors in for a Christmas celebration and dinner. It was agreed to do this and we set out to make ready.

The planned menu was simple and wholesome. I was slated to provide smoked salmon by way of Big Ike who lived near Sommes Bar. Along with salmon we planned to have venison and quail.

Professor Little volunteered to make a brandy pudding. We placed a Christmas tree in front of the big rock fireplace in the Professor’s sitting room. We made popcorn garlands and hung pine cones with strong loops from the boughs.

The guest list included most neighbors living in the area. The fact that the professor’s nearest neighbor was six miles away, the list did not fill one page. The invited list included Henry Wilder, Sam Smith, Eric Van Note, Lagoon George, Black Adder Pete Henry, Snappy, Captain and Tip Vandervort.

The professor promised to bring out some of his private stock of homemade wine, which he did to the delight of his guests.

The prepared meal was eaten with relish and after the dinner was complete, the flaming brandy pudding was brought out. Most of the guests to my recollection had never seen one, yet alone the pleasure of tasting it.

After dinner we sat around the blazing fireplace talking of our childhood experiences during the Christmas season. Some of the guests, being Indians, recounted stories of their own related to family happenings and general history.

To the surprise and delight of us all, Professor Little brought forth a poem that he wrote for the occasion. To the best of my knowledge this is the second occasion at which his poem on Christmas has been heard.

The Meaning of Christmas
C.S. Little

Jingle Bells and Douglas fir, sugarpine and mincemeat pie;

Holly wreaths and mistletoe and snow clouds in the sky;

Gayly wrapped packages piled high on Christmas morn;

But first and foremost-don’t forget it’s when our Lord was born.

A brand new sled, a teddy bear, a yule log on the fire;

Boys and girls and moms and dads, all dressed in new attire;

Charles Dickens’ Christmas Carol, with Scrooge and Tiny Tim,

But first and foremost-don’t forget the child of Bethlehem.

A Christmas tree all brightly lit with gifts for one and all;

The stockings by the fireplace and sister’s baby doll;

Aunts and uncles, cousins and friends dropping by all day;

But first and foremost – don’t forget the Christ Child in the hay.

Hot mulled wine and eggnog too, fruits and nuts galore;

Chocolate drops and candy canes and wrappings ‘round the floor;

And from the kitchen comes the smell of goose or standing rib;

But first and foremost – don’t forget the Savior in the crib.

The gifts we give are symbols of the first great Christmas night; 

The mistletoe symbolic too, as is the tinsel bright;

The yule log in the fireplace, the holly in the hall;

But don’t forget the Christ Child, friend, the greatest gift of all.

Thomas Hannah wrote that he felt his father’s 1912 tale “was worth retelling during this holiday season, for in its simplicity there is a delightful lesson of friendship. May all of you during this holiday season enjoy the Camp Creek spirit of Christmas.”

Email Patti at [email protected]




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