Trailing a Christmas Past

The trail up the river had been a long one for the young tribal deputy and his horse. He was searching for the young men who had taken the dug-out canoe that rested in the camp park that was once owned by Roy Rook. It was considered an Indian artifact and the tribal elders wanted it back.

Tommy suspected it had been taken by young pranksters as a joke to upriver to Seiad Valley. It wasn’t the first time the dugout was taken. Tribal youths had taken it before and paddled it down river as part of initiation into “manhood.”

He slowly made his way to the old logging camp of Indian Camp, now erased from the face of the earth by the time. He vaguely remembered the Christmas holiday that he early anticipated as a 5 year old. The camp was prosperous and booming with some 150 men employed in the redwoods.

In previous years, Christmas had been an individual family matter, but community figures thought that it was time to put on a public celebration. They determined it was time to invite people in from surrounding communities for a formal affair.

The ladies of Indian Camp took over the planning shortly after Thanksgiving and invited the families from Fort Goff, Happy Camp and Seiad Valley to join them. Arrangements were made to rent the newly built Indian Camp Hall and put up a community Christmas tree where parents could bring their gifts.

The ladies were also planning a grand ball, which was to follow the opening of the gifts, and a midnight buffet.

It soon appeared that the weather was going to cooperate and the community would enjoy a real “white Christmas.” Snow began to fall and children were out having snowball fights, sledding and generally making the most of the occasion.

Another three inches of snow fell, enough to carve out a sled run from the Sequoia Boarding House to Azalea Street. Children were out in swarms and even some adults gave it a try.

Tommy sat on his horse, recalling the events.

Several women from Indian Camp, including Tommy’s mom, took boats back down river to Klamath to collect gifts for those children who would not be getting much. Klamath merchants donated gifts as the men of the community made a trip to Red Mountain east to get a tree. That included Tommy’s Uncle Ronny.

However, two events disturbed and saddened the community in early December as Tommy remembered. A resident of nearby Fort Goff was chased down and lynched by a vigilante mob for the supposed murder of another man and a week later another man shot and killed the keeper of a saloon in Indian Camp.

Tommy moved his horse over to the spot where an old foundation remained. He imagined it to be the saloon, though he knew it probably wasn’t.

Then he recalled the rain which began to fall and how the snow quickly melted. The streets were soon shin deep in mud. Dad had to carry both Tommy and his little brother Adam from boardwalk to boardwalk to avoid sinking in the mud, it grew so deep.

The upcoming Christmas party at the Hall lightened most spirits, however. At 7 p.m. on Dec. 24 the doors of the hall opened and young and old alike burst in upon a festive scene of a well decorated 15-foot tree beneath which rested a mountain of brightly wrapped gifts.

A male quartet offered up holiday hymns and the women followed with carols. The Fort Goff String Band even played a few traditional western songs.

Santa then appeared looking as Mom once noted, like something of “a cross between a mule-skinner and a bull-of-the-woods,” but both Adam and Tommy enjoyed him and came forward eagerly when their names were called to receive gifts. No one was left out.

Soon the floor was cleared, the children were sent on to homes for the night and the musicians turned up for the dance, which lasted until the sun peaked over Red Mountain.

Tommy recalled lying on his pallet of blankets, listening to the strains of banjos, guitars and fiddles as they plunked through the early morning hours. The memory made him sad to think the camp had died out.

He backed his horse away from the crumbling foundation and together they turned back towards the river. “Best to stay away from Christmas past,” Tommy said, as he patted his horse on the side of the neck.

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