We have a very special banquet prepared for you! Come in, please, and have a seat; we've laid out all our best linen, china and silver for you.
And you'll not lack for dinner conversation; our guests include Kansans from many places and times in history. They'll certainly have interesting things to say!
And please, feel free to join in with the songs between the courses -- this is a joyous occasion, everyone joining together in peace and happiness to celebrate the holidays. We wish you joy, and contentment, and all good things in the coming year.
And now -- dig in!
Oysters on the Half Shell
Percy Ebbutt, just back from London, explains that he had a very different kind of Christmas when he ran away from his father in Kansas as a young boy, and made his way, entirely alone, to England: "I spent Christmas on the sea, and though perhaps not the most enjoyable one within my remembrance, still we managed to make ourselves pretty comfortable. Profiting by my former experiences, I had taken a few things on board with me, such as Swiss milk, canned fruit, etc., which with the regulation roast beef and plum pudding made quite a respectable Christmas dinner."
William Allen White, sitting across the table, remarks that his experience with English cuisine was not altogether what he and his friend Henry had expected. They had just reached London after participating in the Great War and were all set for meal after meal of delectible food. "But Henry," Mr. White goes on, "was doomed to walk the island vainly looking for the famed foods of old England. All through Italy and France, where onion soup and various pastes were served to us, Henry ate them, but in a fond hope that when we got to England he would have some of the 'superior comestibles' which a true lover of Dickens had a right to expect. The French were given to ragouts and Latin translations of Mulligan stews, and braised veal smothered in onions and carrots and a lot of staple and fancy green groceries, and these messed dishes irritated Henry. He is the kind of an old-fashioned man who likes to take his food straight. If he eats onions, he demands that they shall be called onions, or if they serve him carrots, he must know specifically that he is eating carrots, and he wants his potatoes, mashed, baked, boiled, or fried and no nonsense about it. Similarly he wants his veal served by itself, and when they bring him a smoking brown casserole of browned vegetables, browned gravy and browned meat, he pokes his fork into it, sniffs, 'another cat mess,' pushes it aside and asks for eatable food! So all over the continent he was bragging about what he was going to do to 'the roast beef of old England,' and was getting ready for Yorkshire pudding with it. It was sweet to hear Henry's honest bark at spaghetti and fish-salads, bay deep-mouthed welcome to Sam Weller's ''am and weal pie,' and even Pickwick's 'chops and tomato sauce,' and David Copperfield's toasted muffins, as we drew near the chalk cliffs of England. Also he was going to find what an 'eel pie' was, and he had a dozen Dickensonian dishes that he proposed to explore, dishes whose very names would make a wooden Indian's mouth water. But when he got there the cupboard was bare. England was going on rations. Fats were scarce, sugars were rare, starches were controlled by the food board. And who could make a currant tart without these? He dropped two bullet-sized brown biscuits with a hazelnut of butter under his vest the first three minutes of our first breakfast and asked for another round, after he had taken mine.
"'That's your allowance, sir,' said the waitress, and money would buy no more."
Sara Robinson, wife of the first Governor of Kansas, Charles Robinson, agrees that things weren't much better in the early days of Kansas when she and her husband arrived in 1854. They encountered all sorts of shortages -- flour, yeast, and other essentials -- adding that on one occasion, she wrote in a diary during those first months, "I sent E. to my nearest neighbor's this morning for milk; without success, however. Among all these cows which are grazing over all the hills, reminding one continually of the sweet pictures of pastoral life, where the cattle feed upon a thousand hills, and the dwellers of the land make their homes in tents, it seems strange that milk is so difficult to procure."
Elfriede Rowe assures Mrs. Robinson that things had become very different in Lawrence in the 1910's: "Two weeks before vacation time, fraternities and sororities set the pace for things to come. Dances, either at the house or in Ecke's or Fraternal Aid Union Hall, were held. The Betas had their 'German', the Phi Gams their 'Pig Dinner', and the Phi Psis their Christmas party. Formal, engraved invitations were sent out. Elaborate five and six course dinners were served. Menus were printed, as were the dance programs. At one such party, a song was sung between each course and the song to be sung had the words printed on the menu."
What a wonderful idea! You and your companions agree this would be a great fun, and Gen. Custer (never shy!) starts you all off with an old favorite:
Hark! The Herald Angels Sing
Asparagus Shrimp Salad
Kate Bowen smiles and says that this all reminds of her a Christmas she had in 1886, with her beloved husband Jake -- "when the settlers were all new in that locality and most of them were poor." She exclaims, shaking her head, "There was not an evergreen tree within a hundred miles that I knew of!
E. T. McFarland, who came to Kansas about 1865, cheerfully adds that the entertainments -- and there were many of them -- were always well attended. With a twinkle in his eye, he recalls, "On some occasion there was a dance at a big house, with a shed roof addition, near America City. The house floor was about one foot higher than that of the kitchen which in fact had no floor, except Mother Earth. In consequence a space of six inches appeared under the house. The dance was progressing nicely while two or three ladies were preparing a long table in the kitchen with a bountiful repast (repast meaning, meal). A small boy sat by the stove where he could obtain a view of the oysters and chicken. About this time a wandering polecat appreciating the situation stuck its head out from under the house floor and began to take observations.
"We had moved from Richardson Co Neb. to Hodgeman Co Ks in the early spring of 1885 and brought a family of five little girls and as Christmas drew near we realized we had brought them away from many things they had always enjoyed at that season of the year. We realized it was up to us to find the best substitute we could. That fall the first district school had began in the little school house!---which was of sod --- and we had a good little Sunday School every Sunday afternoon and preaching every two weeks. Mr. Reed was our Superintendant and it was a union school. We met there to take steps to have a Christmas tree and entertainment We counted our pennies and made our plans, sent Mr. Will Burns to Dodge City with our money and a list of oranges, candy, green tissue paper (as near the shade of evergreen as he could find). We got a good sized hack berry tree- its top reached the ceiling- and cut the paper in long strips half a finger length and fringed each strip as deep as possible, leaving only a plain margin to wrap around the bare limbs of the tree. We wrapped the whole tree and you who did not see it have no idea how pretty it looked. After the popcorn was strung and festooned around it and oranges fastened on and dozens of little pink mosquitoe netting bags filled with candy and hazel nuts and a pretty red apple for each pupil (the later Were contributed by families who had had them sent from Richardson Co) with an occasional tin horn, picture book and the little school house lighted by the biggest and best lamps the country side afforded. I want to tell you it was a pretty sight. We had a really fine program."
"This was to much for the boy, he gathered on to a long handled skillet and let it drive at the innocent cat. Of all the loud sounding instruments engaged for the occasion this little performance discounted them all. Such as other stamped and so provoked, the supper was spoiled. The dance broke up, while the interest was equally divided between the boy and the cat. We have forgiven him now, since he has grown to about 6 feet in height."
Amidst the general laughter, Mr. McFarland suggests the next song:
Joy to the World
Roast Beef with Yorkshire Pudding
Erin's Favorite Potatoes
Maple Glazed Carrots
Green Bean Casserole
Ginni's Corn Souffle
Cinnamon Stuffed Apples
As plates are filled with helpings from the overflowing dishes, the talk turns again to stories of Christmas, and A. M. Harvey, a favorite storyteller, is asked if he knows any. He says that he does, though it's a little long. But you and your companions encourage him to go on, and he agrees, beginning:
On Christmas night the Indian camp was a noisy place. The fires were burning brightly in every tepee, and shouts and laughter told of the good time that was being had by everyone as a part of the celebration that the old French priest had taught them to have.
Outside the wind was blowing cold, with skiffs of snow. A strange boy wandered into the camp. He stopped at the tent of the chief and asked that he be admitted and given food and allowed to get warm. The chief drove him away. He went to the tent of Shining Star and tried to be admitted, but Shining Star grunted, and his boys drove him away with whips. He then went to many of the tents, including those of Eagle Eye and Black Feather, but none would receive him, and at one they set a dog upon him. His feet were bare, and tears were frozen on his cheeks.
He was about to leave the camp, when he noticed a small tepee made of bearskin off by itself. He walked slowly to it, and quietly peeped in. Inside he saw the deformed Indian, who was known everywhere by the name of Broken Back. His squaw sat near him, preparing a scanty meal for them and their children. The children were playing on the ground, but were watching their mother closely, for they were hungry. The fire was low, and the boy started to turn away, and broke a twig that lay on the ground.
Broken Back ran out and stopped him as he was about to turn away.
"What do you want?" he said.
The boy commenced to cry.
"I am so cold and hungry," he said, "and I have been to all the tents, and they will not let me in."
Then Broken Back took him by the hand and led him into the tent, and they divided the food with him, and built up the fire until he became warm and happy. They urged him to stay all night and until the storm was over.
So he sat on the ground near the fire and talked and played with the children until it was time to go to sleep.
Then he stood up, and they all noticed that he was tall, and as they looked they saw that he was a man instead of a boy. His clothes were good, and over his shoulder hung a beautiful blanket, and over his head was a bonnet with feathers of strange birds upon it. As they looked, he reached out his hand and said:
"Broken Back, you have been good to a poor, cold and hungry boy. You and all of yours shall have plenty."
And Broken Back stood up; and he was deformed no more, but was large and strong and well, and his squaw stood by his side, and both were dressed in the best of Indian clothes. The children jumped about with joy, as they noticed that they were at once supplied with many things that they had always wanted.
"Broken Back," he said, "you shall be chief of your tribe. And all of your people shall love and respect and honor you. And your name shall be Broken Back no longer, but shall be Holy Mountain."
And as they talked, all of the Indians of the tribe came marching about his tent shouting in gladness, "Great is Holy Mountain, our chief, forever."
As they shouted, he disappeared, and they saw him no more.
The next day the good priest came to the camp, and they told him what had happened, and he said, "It was Jesus."
Dr. Charles Sheldon quietly nods, and then, as the dishes are cleared for dessert, suggests the next song:
Christmas Plum Pudding with Hard Sauce
Cream of Coconut Cake
Talk slows as you and the other guests savor the wonderful flavors of these desserts, but then Gen. Custer is invited to tell one of his stories of the frontier. The General leans back in his chair and says that he remembers one event, following the Battle of the Washita, in which he was dealing with a number of Indian prisoners and their disposition. "Black Kettle's sister, whose name was Mah-wis-sa, and whose address had just received the hearty approval of her companions by their earnest expression of 'Ugh!' the Indian word intended for applause, then stepped into the group of squaws and after looking earnestly at the face of each for a moment approached a young Indian girl-probably seventeen years of age-and taking her by the hand conducted her to where I was standing. Placing the hand of the young girl in mine, she proceeded in the Indian tongue to the delivery of what I in my ignorance of the language presumed was a form of administering a benediction, as her manner and gestures corresponded with this idea.
"Never dreaming of her purpose, but remembering how sensitive and suspicious the Indian nature was, and that any seeming act of inattention or disrespect on my part might be misunderstood, I stood a passive participant in the strange ceremony then being enacted. After concluding the main portion of the formalities, she engaged in what seemed an invocation of the Great Spirit, casting her eyes reverently upward, at the same time moving her hands slowly down over the faces of the young squaw and myself. By this time my curiosity got the better of my silence and turning to Romeo, who stood near me and who I knew was familiar with Indian customs, I quietly inquired: 'What is this woman doing, Romeo?' With a broad grin on his swarthy face he replied: 'Why, she's marryin' you to that young squaw!'
"Although never claimed as an exponent of the peace policy about which so much has been said and written, yet I entertained the most peaceable sentiments toward all Indians who were in a condition to do no harm nor violate any law. And while cherishing these friendly feelings and desiring to do all in my power to render our captives comfortable and free from anxiety regarding their future treatment at our hands, I think even the most strenuous and ardent advocate of that peace policy which teaches that the Indian should be left free and unmolested in the gratification of his simple tastes and habits will at least not wholly condemn me when they learn that this last touching and unmistakable proof of confidence and esteem offered by Mah-wis-sa and gracefully if not blushingly acquiesced in by the Indian maiden was firmly but respectfully declined."
Gen. Custer turns to Gen. Randolph Marcy and inquires if the General ever had any similar experiences. Gen. Marcy answers thoughtfully that Gen. Custer's story put him in mind of an Indian he had met, Black Beaver. "When I first made his acquaintance I was puzzled to know what to think of him. He would often, in speaking of the Prairie Indians, say to me, 'Captain, if you have a fight, you mustn't count much on me, for I'ze a big coward. When the fight begins I 'spect you'll see me run under the cannon; Injun mighty 'fraid of big gun.'
"I expressed my surprise that he should, if what he told me was true, have gained such a reputation as a warrior; whereupon he informed me that many years previous, when he was a young man, and before he had ever been in battle, he, with about twenty white men and four Delawares, were at one of the Fur Company's trading-posts upon the Upper Missouri, engaged in trapping beaver. While there, the stockade fort was attacked by a numerous band of Blackfeet Indians, who fought bravely, and seemed determined to annihilate the little band that defended it.
"After the investment had been completed, and there appeared no probability of the attacking party's abandoning their purpose, 'One d--d fool Delaware' (as Black Beaver expressed it) proposed to his countrymen to make a sortie, and thereby endeavor to effect an impression upon the Blackfeet. This, Beaver said, was the last thing he would ever have thought of suggesting, and it startled him prodigiously, causing him to tremble so much that it was with difficulty he could stand.
"He had, however, started from home with the fixed purpose of becoming a distinguished brave, and made a great effort to stifle his emotion. He assumed an air of determination, saying that was the very idea he was just about to propose; and, slapping his comrades upon the back, started toward the gate, telling them to follow. As soon as the gate was passed, he says, he took particular care to keep in the rear of the others, so that, in the event of a retreat, he would be able to reach the stockade first.
"They had not proceeded far before a perfect shower of arrows came falling around them on all sides, but, fortunately, without doing them harm. Not fancying this hot reception, those in front proposed an immediate retreat, to which he most gladly acceded, and at once set off at his utmost speed, expecting to reach the fort first. But he soon discovered that his comrades were more fleet, and were rapidly passing and leaving him behind. Suddenly he stopped and called out to them, 'Come back here, you cowards, you squaws; what for you run away and leave brave man to fight alone?' This taunting appeal to their courage turned them back, and, with their united efforts, they succeeded in beating off the enemy immediately around them, securing their entrance into the fort.
"Beaver says when the gate was closed the captain in charge of the establishment grasped him warmly by the hand, saying, "Black Beaver, you are a brave man; you have done this day what no other man in the fort would have the courage to do, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart."
"In relating the circumstance to me he laughed most heartily, thinking it a very good joke, and said after that he was regarded as a brave warrior.
"The truth is, my friend Beaver was one of those few heroes who never sounded his own trumpet; yet no one that knows him ever presumed to question his courage."
After the slightest of silences, Helen Cody Westmore says brightly that like Black Beaver, her brother, Buffalo Bill Cody, always had a lively sense of humor. For example, she says, there was "his visit to the little temple which he had helped to build at North Platte.
"His wife and sister were in the congregation, and this ought not only to have kept him awake, but it should have insured perfect decorum on his part. The opening hymn commenced with the words, 'Oh, for a thousand tongues to sing,' etc. The organist, who played 'by ear,' started the tune in too high a key to be followed by the choir and congregation, and had to try again. A second attempt ended, like the first, in failure. 'Oh, for a thousand tongues to sing, my blest--' came the opening words for the third time, followed by a squeak from the organ, and a relapse into painful silence. Will could contain himself no longer, and blurted out: 'Start it at five hundred, and mebbe some of the rest of us can get in.'"
Amidst the happy laughter following this story (none more cheerful than Gen. Custer's), Gen. Marcy suggests the last song of the evening, for those present, and for those far away:
Auld Lang Syne
As the last notes fade away in perfect harmony, you all raise your delicate china cups of hot coffee and of steaming spiced cider, and, smiling, wish each other a merry holiday. Mrs. Robinson proposes that you all adjourn to the parlour, and asks Dr. Sheldon if he would please, as a fitting end to the evening, read you all the Great Story. Dr. Sheldon agrees, and you bring your hot drink to the parlor, where a fire is blazing warmly on the hearth, and take a seat near Dr. Sheldon, who begins to read ....