History of Klickitat, Yakima, and Kittitas Counties, Washington
published in 1904
A Christmas Tale
The following touching story of a pioneer Klickitat Christmas appeared in the Yakima Herald in its issue of December 23, 1902. The author, whose name is unknown, says in introducing his tale: "It is written without an attempt at garnishment. Just a plain little story of an incident that actually took place, according to the statements of the old settlers, when our country was young." Here then, follows his account:
In one of the little valleys of Klickitat a sturdy American pioneer had made his home. There, with his wife and little ones, he had settled and by hard work, square dealing with all and a wise selection of a homestead, became fairly successful. In the house and dairy his efforts were well supplemented by the diligence and economy of a faithful, energetic wife. The neighboring squatters, few and far between, respected him. Even the Indians, and there were quite a number living in the vicinity, and on the ranch, loved him for his justice, honesty and many acts of kindness toward them. His barns and granary were full; the haystacks studded the fields; his cattle and horses were fat; there was an ample supply of provision and provender to man and beast; everything in fact, had ben made ready for the snows and storms of winter.
The sleighing was good, so two days before Christmas, he started over the hills for the county seat, some forty miles away, to purchase a few of the always eagerly-anticipated remembrances of Santa Claus for the children, and with a hidden, cherished purpose to surprise, in some substantial manner, the dear wife on his return with a like token of his love and affection.
The next day was a typical winter day; the wind sighed mournfully through the trees along the creek; the air was damp, chilly and creepy; the dark gray clouds rolled low down on the hills about the valley, hiding their tops from view; the chickens hopped daintily out through the snow and then scurried back to their warm coop; the cattle filed off to the stream to drink and at once returned in solemn procession to the sheds; the horses bunched together in the brush under the cottonwoods; the old watch dog hesitatingly left his warm corner by the kitchen fire, walked gingerly down the snow path, sniffed the air, then turned back and scratched at the house door for admission. Everything was dark, gloomy, forbidding and presaged a coming storm. Even the children were affected and became unusually troublesome and fretful.
Shortly after noon the wind ceased and then the snow storm began. At first little, scattering, dry flakes, growing larger and lager, coming faster and faster until it seemed as if there were one white sheet extending down from the clouds above to cover everything below in its white, cold mantle.
The storm was well on when the Tyee of the Indians opened the door and asked, "Boston man no come?" On being told he had not, he closed the door and hurriedly walked off.
This alarmed the wife and mother. On going to the window she could faintly discern through the falling snow a group of Indians standing by the ranch gate. A feeling of coming calamity oppressed her. She felt lonely and desolate. To occupy her mind, she commenced putting her children to bed (it becomes dark early in the day in these high latitudes,) and then spread the table, prepared supper for her husband, and waited.
The fire had almost died away; she replenished it; opened the door to look out, when a great bank of snow fell into the room. The storm had nearly ceased, but everything looked dark, cold, lonely and cheerless. She shuddered, closed the door and, weeping, went to her bedside, knelt down and sobbed out an earnest prayer to the Omnipotent to spare the father of her babies.
For hours before, away up on the plateau that divides the valley from the one in which the town is situated, a man and team had been persistently battling with the storm. The horses, wearied by their all-day wallow through the snow, were completely sapped. First one would slip off the beaten track into the deep snow and fall, and then the other. Sometimes both were down, and then the driver would get out, breast the snow, stamp it down about the horses, get them on their feet, and with words of encouragement induce them to make another effort.
Night finally came. The snow still continued falling in great thick flakes. Soon the sleigh was half full. One horse became prostrate and refused to rise. The other trembled with cold, weariness and fear. The poor driver, wet by the snow, half frozen and hungry, was as exhausted as his team. He waited out ahead of the horses, uncertain if he should desert them and make one supreme effort to reach the valley alone or return to the sleigh and lie down to the alluring but deadly sleep.
The standing horse snorted. The man looked up and there, away down in the direction he must go, where black objects approaching, struggling through the snow. Were they wolves? Surely they must be. No human being would be out such a night and in such a storm. Hurriedly he turned about for the rifle in the sleigh, but the quick motion was too much for his exhausted strength an he tripped, fell, and rolled over into the snow drift, unconscious.
The dark objects moved slowly, but steadily up toward the team. They could not be wolves or the standing horse would scream with fear and endeavor to kick loose from his prostrate mate and escape. He seemed instead to recognize them. He whinnied. They came closer and surged up around the deserted sleigh. The objects were the Indians from the valley, searching for and determined to find and rescue their benefactor and friend. They picked him up, shook him, rubbed his limbs with snow, brought him back to consciousness, and, bundling him up warmly and safely in their robes, placed him in the sleigh.
Their coming seemed to reinvigorate the horses; they tramped the snow down before them, got the animals on their feet and then quickly let them down the hill to home and safety.
Scarcely had the good woman breathed out her fervent prayer for help and protection for those near and dear to her when a stamping and tramping of feet were heard. The dog jumped up, barked quick, joyous and sharp; the door flew open and her husband staggered in, covered with ice and snow, followed by a happy group of smiling Indians bearing his gifts in their hands.
There were joy and gratitude in that household on Christmas Day, and we may be sure that the faithful Indians in their warm tepees were not forgotten or unrewarded.
© 1998 by Cayuse Press