Tom Ross: Pioneers made due without hot dogs on July 4th


— Did you enjoy the pyrotechnical display last night? I hope so. Because fireworks were not an option when the first white settlers of Steamboat Springs hosted their first fancy Independence Day celebration on July 4, 1876.

James and Margaret Crawford, who brought their family here in 1875, flew Old Glory, with its 37 stars (Colorado didn't join the Union until August of that year) from the corner of their one-room cabin in June 1876. As July 4 approached, James Crawford decided to do it up right. He didn't have any means of producing a fireworks display, but he cut and peeled a tall pine tree and set it in place near the Iron Spring. The Crawfords invited a group of Ute Indians to witness the raising of the stars and stripes.

According to an article that published in the Steamboat Pilot in 1981, Steamboat's inaugural Fourth of July parade included the Crawford youngsters -- Lulie, John and Logan -- and the only other Caucasians in the area, Mike Farley and Charles and Owen Harrison. According to reports, the Utes grew anxious when they saw the flag raised. The only other time they had seen it was waving from the flagpoles at forts and other government agencies that held bad karma for them. Crawford used hand signals and a handful of Ute words to reassure the true natives of the Yampa Valley.

Crawford had attached wooden pulleys to his flagpole, but the rope refused to work and kinked in the pulleys. As the story goes, Chief Yahmonite instructed his 15-year-old nephew, Pahwinta, to climb the pole and free the flag.

The first journalistic account of a July Fourth celebration was published in the Steamboat Pilot in 1886:

"The citizens of Steamboat Springs devoted the entire day of July 3 (the Fourth fell on the Sabbath) to patriotism and pleasure. A new flagpole had been erected near old Fort Farnsworth of Indian War fame, and as the morning dawned, the splendid 15-foot flag of the town company was seen ascending to its place.

"A shout of joy arose from all parts of town, and as the echoes came back from the mountainside and canyon, it seemed indeed there was an army of glad patriots encamped in every glen and mountain fastness around us."

A casual luncheon on the grass followed the flag raising: "Everybody in the neighborhood was there. The ladies were making the disposition for the dinner -- spreading the bright covers upon the greensward; the children played among the flowers and mosses on the banks of the sparkling mountain stream, men were engaged in erecting swings and various contrivances for athletic sports.

"The odor of roasting venison pervaded the camp and soon dinner was announced. And such a dinner! Every good thing obtainable or desirable was provided in great abundance.

"Iced lemonade, iced milk were lavishly supplied and were keenly enjoyed. Four o'clock brought the announcement that an ice cream supper would be served by Mrs. Crawford and daughter at their residence.

"The evening concluded with the singing of patriotic songs: 'My Country 'tis of Thee' and 'My Father's Sabre,' accompanied by Mrs. Crawford's organ."

As my own family watched the New York fireworks on television last night (we were too lazy to get in the car and go down to Howelsen Hill), I reflected on the modest pleasures our town's founders made do with, and the hardships they endured.

Imagine the Fourth of July without hot dogs, mustard, potato chips and watermelon.


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