December 12, 2022 | Last updated Dec 9, 2022

Turkey from a Hog: Omaha’s First Christmases

To mark the approach of Christmas in 1889 the Omaha Bee published brief recollections by some of the city’s earliest settlers about their first observances of the holiday in Omaha. The Bee’s account, published on December 22, said: “The celebrations were crude. In the absence of homes, churches and social organizations, the male population of the village celebrated the day in a method that made up in vigor what was lacking in decorum.”

Omaha, looking northwest from Thirteenth and Farnam streets, 1863. RG2341-8

William Snowden remembered of the Christmas of 1854: “‘There was a general store on Twelfth and Jackson streets that carried everything. Two articles they carried I remember, and they were whisky of a very poor quality and some garden seed that never had a fair chance to exert itself. Well, on Christmas in 1854, the boys got on a spree and drank up all the whisky and planted the garden seeds in the snow.’” The price of turkey was one thing Herman Kountze remembered about the Christmas of 1856. “‘I was living then,’ said Mr. Kountze, ‘with my brother Augustus and a widowed sister, in a little log cabin out on Tenth street where my present home now stands. The day before Christmas a man came in here from some place in Iowa, with a wagon load of turkeys for the Christmas trade. I paid $5 for one, they were luxuries in those days, and we had a turkey dinner for Christmas and thought we were living high.’”

James Creighton said: “‘I was here on Christmas in 1856, . . . and remember very distinctly that it kept me very busy getting fuel enough to keep my family from freezing. I lived at that time in a frame shanty at the corner of Fourteenth and Davenport streets, where I now live. Turkey? Why turkey that Christmas was taken from the side of a hog.’”  Joseph Barker remembered the Christmas of 1856 as the year his family had no potatoes in the house. “‘Potatoes were scarce then,’ he said, ‘and were worth $4 a bushel. We had venison, I remember that Christmas, and onions and a plum pudding.’”


– Patricia C. Gaster, Assistant Editor / Publications



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