Huachuca Illustrated, vol 1, 1993:

chuca Illustrat

chuca Illustrat

Voices from the Canyon:
Christmas at Huachuca in 1918

chuca Illustrat


Colonel Cornelius Cole Smith, who as an enlisted man in the Indian Wars had won a Medal of Honor, commanded Fort Huachuca in 1918 and 1919. His son, Cornelius C. Smith, Jr., returned to Fort Huachuca in the 1970s to serve as the post's centennial coordinator. The younger Smith's childhood memories of a Christmas at the post in 1918 are given here.

All activities closed down on the afternoon of December 23rd, and there were no further assignments except the necessary guard and fatigue duties, and of course the care and feeding of horses. A few hardy souls took the train from Huachuca Siding to Tucson, thence east to St. Louis, Dubuque, or Omaha, but most people stayed on post.

In the bracing mountain air, families walked along Officers' Row and in front of barracks, pausing to exchange greetings and linger awhile. Officers, frequently accompanied by family members, would be guests of troop messes where toasts were drunk and pleasantries exchanged. Commanders would judge the artistic and culinary artistry of troop Christmas dinners, a competition which kept chefs and pastry cooks in a high state of excitement during the holidays. Soldiers called upon troop commanders for "remarks," wherein the witticisms expressed resulted in all manner of railery, applause, hooting and hollering in a spirit of genuine good fellowship.

In quarters, officers celebrated Christmas with their families in time-honored tradition. There was no central heating or electric wall stoves, and heat was supplied by slow burning mesquite logs gathered up in the flatlands north of post. The fireplaces were huge affairs where whole logs burned brightly, sending off showers of sparks into retaining screens. Generally, there was snow by Christmas at Huachuca, and, as the sun dipped below Huachuca Peak, long shadows faded from the parade ground at the end of a beautiful day.

Father was commanding officer of the 10th Cavalry and served simultaneously as post commander. Christmas in our house in 1918 was memorable, because, among other things, a part of the regimental band came into the house and piped the plum pudding around the table, British Army style.

Cornelius Cole Smith, as a lieutenant colonel.

The kitchen was a wondrous workshop with mother directing a corps of people in the, preparation of a remarkable assortment of good things. Beautiful and savory aromas assailed the air; there was fudge cake icing, popovers, sage and chestnut dressing, whipped potatoes and candied yams. The turkey was an absolute whopper, looking more like an ostrich than a turkey and done to a crackling golden brown. The piece de resistance was a roast pig complete with apple in mouth, and the tray was adorned with holly and sprigs of evergreen. In one corner of the kitchen, a striker turned a handcrank to make strawberry ice cream, and in another a man cracked walnuts with a hammer.

World War I, "the" war, had ended just six weeks earlier, on November 11th, and so there was much for which to be grateful. Still mother and her friends were making woolen helmet liners and .mittens for the doughboys over in France. Our victrola played songs like "K-K-K-Katy," "Tipperary," and "How ya Gonna Keep 'Em Down On the Farm?" One young officer with a beautiful tenor voice made the ladies cry with his renditions of "Just a Baby's Prayer at Twilight" and "Roses of Picardy."

There weren't many places to go.... Tucson was considered a long journey. Besides, the road was dirt and narrow, filled with chuck holes, puddles, and all manner of obstruction. Huachuca, Garden and Ramsey Canyons were excellent picnic sites, however, and it was great fun to load up the old ark with a hamper full of goodies and "rough it" under the huge old sycamores and cottonwoods up in the canyons.

Speaking of goodies, we were regular patrons at Mar Kim's restaurant up on the west end of the parade ground, not only in the holiday season, but year round. My particular memory is of great stacks of buckwheat cakes smothered in log cabin syrup....

It is gone, but the mind's eye still evokes the memory of Christmas at Fort Huachuca in 1918.(34)

These reminscences of childhood comforts at that wide-eyed time of the year correspond to other recollections of Huachuca citizens, both black enlisted and white officers' families, who found the small-town atmosphere in this remote canyon to offer a sense of security and communal closeness.

10th Cavalry cooks at Fort Huachuca in 1918. Photo courtesy Markel.



34. Smith, Cornelius C., Fort Huachuca: The History of a Frontier Post, Fort Huachuca Museum, 1977,229-31.

13. Timeline: 1918, 1919, 1920

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