December 6thth 1871
Morro Coyo, California
My dearest Grandfather,
I take pen in hand in the hope that you are in good health and fortune and am happy to be able to reassure you of my own.
Thanksgiving, this year, has been a grand occasion, it being felt that we had much for which to thank the good Lord. The relationships we have built, though still on occasion strained, have much improved during the year since our last Thanksgiving. The ranch, being no longer threatened by bandits, has been rebuilt to what Murdoch says is almost as good as it was before Pardee’s raids and we turned a gratifying profit at the beef sales.
That being the case, Murdoch determined to include everyone at the ranch in the celebrations. The holiday was observed by all with only a few of the hands working, and those volunteers.
With Dr Samuel Jenkins joining us for the festivities, as well as Val Crawford [the sheriff of Green River] and our family and all of the workers, we sat thirty-eight at the tables. We ate in the courtyard under the Pepper trees – a very pleasant surround. Four tables were laid with chairs and benches for seating. Some of these were somewhat makeshift but, faced with the feast before them, no one complained.
It would appear that Lancer has catered to such numbers in the past as Murdoch was able to furnish quality plate and flatware for all. When I asked him about this, he told Johnny and myself that entertaining large numbers had been commonplace in the days of the Californios – before Annexation. Apparently wedding and Christening parties, ‘fandangos’ he called such events, could continue for days on end. The setting he owned was actually for fifty and had been given him by one of the old dons when the man had lost his money and property at the Land Commission.
My father mentioned the Land Commission with such distaste that Johnny and I thought better of pressing the subject further on a day of thanksgiving.
No fewer than four turkeys were roasted for the occasion with chestnut stuffing. Eight pumpkin pies graced the tables and a surfeit of cobbed corn, butternut squash and a seemingly endless supply of cranberry sauce, gravy and side vegetables. There was barely space for the magnificent cornucopias that decorated each of the tables.
Teresa and Maria brought in two more girls to help with the cooking. They used not only the Hacienda kitchen but the ovens in two of the larger workmen’s houses. Johnny and I, even Murdoch, found ourselves banned from the kitchens for the duration.
The fruit and vegetables were grown in Lancer’s own acres of home gardens and cornfields. These are now working to their old standard after having suffered considerable damage during the Pardee raids last year. They provide for all of the needs of the hacienda and the workers and families employed here at Lancer and are worked by some of the Mexican men on the ranch and their wives and older children – not the vaqueros. Those men have a great deal of pride in their cattlework and horsemanship and would not deign to work the fields.
There are now more than twice the number of hands working the ranch than there were when Johnny and I arrived – forty-two in all. Most work the cattle as I mentioned, some work in the house and the home gardens. Murdoch told us that at one time the ranch employed over one hundred workers and the gardens sustained all of them.
The turkeys were acquired as poults some months ago and raised and fattened for the table by Jelly Hoskins as his personal project. He has been teased relentlessly by my brother [and, I confess, occasionally I could not help but join him] on the subject, calling them ‘Jelly’s gobblers’ and taunting him with comments to the effect that should the turkeys not be ready, there was always Dewdrop as an alternative.
On one memorable morning, we awoke to find the half-grown turkeys had escaped their pen and Jelly was trying to shepherd them back. Johnny offered to help but soon realized that the birds were faster and more agile than he had expected. Having rounded up three of them only one particularly contrary bird remained at large. By this time, a thoroughly entertained group of spectators had gathered, myself included.
Johnny, thinking he had it cornered, leapt at it with open arms, intending to capture it - missed and landed face down in the dust while the bird ‘gobbled’ and ran off. Another attempt ended similarly and Johnny, spitting dirt distastefully, got to his feet and drew his gun.
To shouts of ‘No, Johnny’ from the onlookers, Jelly leapt at him and snatched the weapon from his hand. Teresa proceeded to badger Johnny on his temper; Murdoch berated him on being too quick to reach for his gun, and Jelly for his lack of feeling, while I pointed out his lack of foresight in that the bird was meant for the table. Johnny only scowled and told me that he wanted to be the one to chop off the d….. bird’s head when the time came before stomping off to the house.
Johnny’s upbringing had not included Thanksgiving until last year. He shares no particular regard for the history of the occasion but approves the concept, though I suspect that he approves more of the feast than the giving of thanks!
When the day came for the birds to be slaughtered, it was found that Jelly could not bring himself to do it. Murdoch saw to it himself while Jelly kept his beloved Dewdrop out of the way, telling Murdoch that he did not want the goose to see the bloodshed.
It is a peculiar circumstance, however, that Jelly evinced no qualms in joining us for the feast and appeared to relish the turkey dinner!
Regarding our guests - Dr Jenkins is a widower and a good friend of our father these many years and of late a good friend to both Johnny and myself. He is very popular in the vicinity, being not only the sole medical man in the area and serving all three local towns but a personable and cheerful gentleman as well. He did not lack for such invitations so we were delighted when he accepted our offer to dine with us.
Sheriff Val Crawford is a bachelor with no family hereabouts, or even any that we know of. He is a particular friend of my brother – a somewhat curious circumstance when you remember Johnny’s previous calling. However, while neither says much about it, I believe they knew each other in years past so the friendship is not just of recent times. He rather surprised me by arriving in clean, tidy dress [even his hair had been combed!] – A far cry from his usual disheveled appearance.
I was amused by his covert glances in Teresa’s direction and wondered if there might be a hint of romance in his mind. She is now reaching the age where such things should be considered. I doubt that his regard would be returned, him being several years her senior. However, stranger things have happened. I do not think that Johnny, Murdoch or even Teresa herself have noticed the change in the man when ‘Miss Teresa’ is nearby and I have kept such suspicions to myself as I may be mistaken.
The day went well and Murdoch led the prayer of Thanksgiving as the turkeys were brought out and placed one to a table. The gleam in the eyes of the children, and a good many of the adults, was a joy to behold.
With our appetites sated, three of our vaqueros produced guitars and entertained us with an impromptu and very agreeable performance of some old Mexican folk songs.
In all, it was a pleasant day and I feel sure it will be remembered fondly by everyone present. The tables had barely been cleared before Teresa began to make plans for Christmas. It has already been decided that it will be more private than Thanksgiving – only family and a few friends. I do wish that you could find the time to make the journey and join us but I do know that the demands of business on your time will make this unlikely. So I will hope that you can join us in the near future.
I shall miss your presence, dear Sir, when the Christmas season arrives and I shall, as always, be thinking of you. I have just this day sent a package for you and I am confident that it should arrive in time for Christmas. Please pass on my greetings and best wishes to Adams and Cook and the rest of the staff and to our friends.
I leave you now with the very best of wishes and affection,
Ever your devoted grandson