How Rock Springs Celebrated Christmas in 1878

How Rock Springs Celebrated Christmas in 1878

Rock Springs in 1896. Photo courtesy of the Rock Springs Historical Museum.

As the years have passed, much has changed in Rock Springs. People have come and gone and businesses have opened and closed.

But if there’s one thing that’s remained consistent throughout all those years, it’s been the sense of belonging and community that has made each Christmas in Rock Springs special.

Such was the case during the Christmas of 1878.

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David G. Thomas, a newcomer to Rock Springs in 1878, made sure to capture the special events of Christmas Eve that year. Thomas was employed by the Union Pacific Coal company soon after arriving in Rock Springs and eventually was a superintendent at the mines later on in life.

“I shall always retain pleasant memories of those early, happy territorial days,” Thomas wrote. “Christmas Eve in the year 1878 was in many respects a memorable one.”

As recorded by Thomas, Rock Springs was made up of a few small houses, which scattered across the small coal-mining town. What is now known as “B” street also used to be the site of three homes which housed the officials of the coal company. Another camp in town, tucked away from the casual passerby, housed some families and “the cavemen” also known as “bachelors.” These were known as the “dug-outs” and ran along the Bitter Creek. In addition, Chinatown housed the Chinese workers, which was considerably larger than Rock Springs itself.

On Christmas Eve, the white inhabitants of Rock Springs gathered together in a one-room schoolhouse (where Eastside Elementary currently is) for a festive celebration.

“It was truly a loving, family gathering,” Thomas wrote. “All met on a common level, each doing his or her share to see to it that the spirit of Christmas was exemplified and diffused, so that all should partake of it. Nothing was left undone, no one was overlooked or forgotten.”

The celebration consisted of a Christmas tree, performances by the children, a visit from Santa Claus, gift giving and a dance. The event was nothing short of impressive as days of preparation and careful thought made the celebration special.

The Christmas celebration of 1878 in Rock Springs was held at this one-room school house which is now the site of Eastside Elementary. Photo credit: Rock Springs Historical Museum, Rock Springs, Wyoming 1884.

“For days and days before the event, willing hands had been busily engaged in stringing cranberries and popcorn for the purpose of decorating the tree; these and such tinsel as could be found formed the background of a veritable fairy land,” Thomas wrote.

When Santa Claus came down the chimney with gifts, Thomas detailed the complete happiness of the children and noted that nobody had been forgotten.

“Occasionally, some old, hardened sinner crouching in a seat at the rear of the building, would be startled and surprised when Santa Claus, calling him by name, announced, in ringing tones, a gift for that man. When the fairy child, acting as Santa’s messenger, carried the prize to him, his old eyes would moisten and often tears trickled down his cheeks. Something just then operated to change that man’s entire nature. The knowledge that someone cared for him enough to manifest it with a token of remembrance, affected him,” Thomas wrote.

The dance capped off the Christmas celebration of 1878 with music from John Ludvigsen, who played his accordion purchased in Norway. Whirling dancers around the room filled the air with fun and enjoyment.

Thomas recorded that he believed the spirit of Christmas had been truly emphasized that year in comparison to others he had experienced.

Perhaps Thomas would crack a smile as that same spirit of Christmas in 1878 appears to be alive and well in Rock Springs in present day as the community continues to look after one another with genuine interest and care.


“How Rock Springs Celebrated Christmas in ’78” by D.G. Thomas

Rock Springs Historical Museum