From the archives

Each day through Jan. 4, we will publish stories from the Arizona Daily Star and Tucson Citizen news archives. This is a condensed version of an article from Dec. 22, 1954. George Smalley was editor of the Tucson Citizen from 1898 to 1901. This piece was part of a series he wrote many years later called “Arizona Album.”

There was excitement the entire length of Big Bug Creek as I rode into camp that cold December evening in 1898. Santa Claus had arranged his dates so as to arrive in the little mining camp two days ahead of time. He did this purposely to accommodate the pretty young schoolteacher who wished to leave Big Bug to spend Christmas with her parents.

Miners were bringing their families down the trails from their homes perched on the mountainside to attend the Christmas festivities, and the gulch rang but joyous echoes as the young rushed toward the schoolhouse yelling their ovation to Santa Claus. Everywhere were figures moving in the dark, and my bronco tried to recognize each shadow with a toss of its body, which would be called bucking in some countries.

“Hurrah for Santa!” shouted the youngsters, as each one tried to make as much noise as he could so that Santa Claus would have no trouble in locating Big Bug Creek. The little fellows ran up and down the narrow street of the camp, frightening the horses and making the dogs bark. Santa was due at 8 o’clock, and there were a number of trails that might take him past the schoolhouse. The children were determined that he should not escape, and the echoes of the gulches repeated the sounds and sent them over the hills and snowbanks as if they too were lending their powers to attract the white-whiskered gentleman.

At the one restaurant in the camp, I was informed that I could not get dinner because the cook and waiter were making preparations to attend the “doings” at the schoolhouse. The man at the corral was finishing his night’s work early, but he kindly made room for my horse and directed me to a store where I might purchase sardines and crackers. The storekeeper’s wife was a kind lady and she made me a pot of tea to go with my meal.

The one room of the schoolhouse was filled with miners and their families. The great spruce was laden with gifts, something for everyone in the camp. A clock hanging on the wall was set to ring an alarm at 8 o’clock.

As the alarm sounded, “Judge” Crawford, a well-known character of the camp, entered the room, a little dog that was sleeping near the big box stove jumped to his feet and started to bark, the children suddenly realizing that Santa had at last arrived, wore a combination of awe and fright on their shining faces, and old Santa danced down the aisle in the most approved ragtime step.