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Thanksgiving traditions of the Left Hand Valley


November 27, 2019 | View PDF

Courtesy of Longmont Museum

Sixty-six guests enjoy Thanksgiving dinner at the J.O.V. Wise home in 1927

Thanks to the Niwot Historical Society archives, we get a glimpse into Niwot's bygone Thanksgiving celebrations. On Nov. 22, 1957 "The Niwot Tribune" reported an evening church service at the EUB Church, a middle school rendition of "Wildcat Willie Carves the Turkey," and advertisements from Curtis Confectionary encouraging readers to "Start Now with Your Christmas Lay-Away."

First and second grade teacher Dora Chappell reported, "Last Friday we made many vegetables and fruits for our Horn of Plenty. Now they are on our tack board--all tumbling out of our horn. This reminds us that we live in a land of plenty, where there's food enough for all."

That was not always the case. One hundred years prior, the American bison was already on the decline. The discovery of gold in 1859 would condemn Native Americans and settlers alike to scarcity as 50,000 people flooded the Pike's Peak Region. "Many times we didn't have a dollar in the house and were eating wild game and what we could raise," reminisced Herbert Terry, son of Longmont's first president, in "They Came to Stay."

In 1863, Abraham Lincoln standardized the date of Thanksgiving to the final Thursday in November. Early settlers probably spent many a Thanksgiving making do and praying for the demise of the Rocky Mountain Locust, a grasshopper species that descended in black clouds as large as California and devastated everything in their path.

The prayers must have been answered, because the species wasn't extinct by 1902. Around that time, as agriculture thrived, Longmont initiated its own autumn tradition--Pumpkin Pie Days. The affair began in 1899. Longmont's housewives baked 5,000 pies to serve at present day Roosevelt Park alongside horse races and other entertainment. The affair grew every year, and the Empson Canning Factory donated canned pumpkin to feed crowds that came in droves by railway.

Pumpkin Pie Days gave way to the Boulder County Fair in 1914, but other Thanksgiving traditions took hold. In 1972, the Longmont Chamber of Commerce "...awarded 117 turkeys to lucky Longmont shoppers" as part of an annual give-away. Eventually the give-away replaced whole turkeys with $10 gift certificates, but the "Longmont Times Call" continued to print the lucky winners in the newspaper. Longmont also initiated a non-denominational Thanksgiving church service hosted by a different church every year.

Schools celebrated with everything from school-made feasts to paper turkeys. In 1983, Spangler Elementary encouraged students to dress up as pilgrims and share their gratitude. "I am thankful for myself," said one student, "because I make my mom happy."

Though times have changed, the main dish of our celebration hasn't. Turkey has had a special place in American hearts ever since Benjamin Franklin tried to make it our national symbol. In fact, the turkey is one of the few animals domesticated in the Americas. And until the 1930s, the only way to get it was to raise it yourself or beg your next door neighbor's wife to raise it for you.

That changed in large part due to a local entrepreneur--Ray Dougherty. Those who have visited the Dougherty Museum may appreciate the feathery industry that enabled it. Dougherty was one of the first people to pioneer raising turkeys on a large scale, a feat he performed by constructing mobile housing and feeding his turkeys a mixture of alfalfa, grain, and sour milk mush. By 1932, he was the largest producer in the state and likely the nation. In 1978, the "Times Call" captured Dougherty's reminiscence for the bronze turkey of his early days; in the 1940s, the large breasted white turkey took over the market.

It was one step towards a modern world oriented to convenience. In 1975, the "Times Call" reported, "Motorists traveling on Thanksgiving day should have little trouble finding gasoline. The Rocky Mountain AAA auto club reports that approximately 35% of Colorado's service stations will be open on Thanksgiving Day."

Three years later, the paper advertised, "Thanksgiving feast a snap with microwave oven... Beginner and experienced microwave cooks can shave hours off their cooking time by preparing these dishes in their microwaves."

Through the ages, the newspapers have commented on fluctuating turkey prices, the availability of gasoline, and the essential nature of football to the celebrations. But the true spirit of Thanksgiving is best expressed in an interview the "Times Call" conducted in 1978.

"Indians celebrate Thanksgiving everyday because they give thanks for their evening meal," said Lucille Yellowhorse Munoz, a member of the Sioux-Lakota tribe. "My grandfather, Yellowhorse, was the first to tell me we didn't need a special day. Every day was a day to give thanks."


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