Between the Lines

Between the Lines by David Lias It just wouldn�t be Christmas without, naturally, a Christmas tree.

The early settlers of Vermillion knew that, even though there likely was no place in town to purchase a tree and all of its trimmings.

Townsfolk decided that to properly celebrate the holiday, however, a tree was needed. In fact, Vermillion can claim to have the first recorded community Christmas tree in all of Dakota Territory.

The result of this venture was a glow much brighter than electric Christmas decorations of today � a bonding of the community that makes one feel proud and maybe just a bit envious.

Cleo Erickson, president of the Clay County Historical Society, Inc., found this article last month while going through files at the Austin-Whittemore House.

It was typed on a yellowed sheet of paper, probably shortly after Christmas of 1872.

The First Community

Christmas Tree in the

Dakotas at Vermillion

The community or municipal Christmas tree that has called forth so many complimentary expressions during the past three days was taken down yesterday and the place that knew it will know it no more until next year.

In a conversation with J.C. Bower yesterday he told of what was probably the first �community� Christmas tree in the Dakotas, then Dakota Territory. It occurred in Vermillion, Dec. 24, 1872, and was held in the old C.I.K. hall, the only place in the village large enough for anything of the kind.

The tree was procured by J.C. Bower and his brother, W.G. Bower, who went across the Missouri River into Cedar County, Nebraska, climbed up on one of those large cedars for which that part of Nebraska was famous, and cut off the top.

The cedar trees there were all too large, and the only way they could do it was to take a part of the tree. The one they secured was a handsome one.

The whole town turned out to make a celebration that was a celebration. C.E. Prentis acted as Santa Claus and there were $200 worth of presents on the tree, which was a large sum of money for that time in the little town on the western frontier.

The ladies met and made mosquito bar bags for the candy (and the writer had her pink stocking of candy, nuts, raisins and popcorn with the rest of the little folks), the young ladies strung popcorn for trimmings, while young men waited around to take them home.

When the big time came every person in town went to the tree. If there were babies at homes, the members of the family took turns caring for them so that all could go and see the beautiful sight and get a sack of candy. It was the event of the season and was the talk of the town for weeks afterward.

It might be of interest and especially so to the people of Vermillion to read the names of some of the people who were there at the time.

Many of them are still in Vermillion but by that time they were nearly all young, unmarried men. A.E. Lee, L.W. Bell, Frank Jones, William Joes, Frank Hayward, Cal Shaw, M.J. Lewis, M.D. Thompson, Col. Jolley, Geo. Porter, N.J. Wallace and Dr. Carl Jenson.

The young lady who played the melodeon for the exercises was Miss Leda Bower, now Mrs. W.R. Bond of Custer.

Among the other young ladies who helped were Misses Rhodes, Frank Fredris Miner, Julia Russel and Barbra Russel, who have since married, most of them, and have been known in the state for their good works.

May your celebration of Christmas next week be as grand as the festivities held in 1872.

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