“The Fourth of July will remind an American of his home wherever he may be or however far he may be separated from it.”
“Early in the morning we fired several rounds, and made as much noise as possible in honor of the day of Independence. We started in the morning and soon passed an encampment where we had the pleasure of beholding the ‘Star Spangled Banner’ floating in the cool breeze,” noted Kimball Webster, a 21-year-old New Hampshire farmer who had begun his overland journey to California in April 1849.
Fourth of July celebrations in the Old West were often kicked off with a parade. Orations by city officials and locals followed, and the reading of the Declaration of Independence was a featured highlight. Most businesses closed, people decorated with red, white and blue, and they proudly displayed Old Glory. Festivities, including races, swimming competitions, baseball games, band music, evening fireworks and picnics, filled the day.
What you ate depended on where you lived and what you could get your hands on. One delicacy most people enjoyed was ice cream. A report from the Moberly Weekly Monitor in Missouri noted this about the city’s 1899 celebration, “By 8 o’clock the park was crowded, and while the Bachelors band played sweetly, the crowd watched the fireworks, ate ice cream and had a good time all around.”
Many had picnics, barbecues and French suppers, while others were more reserved, like folks in Carroll, Iowa, in 1900. The Cedar Rapids Evening Gazette reported, “Carroll citizens are people of quiet tastes and will spend the Fourth of July at home, reading the Declaration of Independence, drinking lemonade in the shade, and helping the youngsters with their fireworks in evening.”
In 1886, Tombstone, Arizona, celebrated the Fourth as store owners draped their buildings with patriotic bunting or simply sported Old Glory. The Comet Saloon erected a shade platform for those wanting to dance outside. Citizens enjoyed horse races at Doling’s track and the beautiful patriotic display of fireworks in front of the Elite Theatre (a.k.a. Bird Cage). Before the fireworks, a hot air balloon ascended. Tombstone’s swimming pool was also re-opened on the Fourth. In addition to offering new bathing suits, the pool operators opened a first-class bar at the bathhouse.
The Salt Lake Herald announced the town’s 1898 Fourth of July celebration with this report: “…one of the biggest of the many big things that prime favorite of resorts has ever had…. Every department down to the popcorn venders [sic] did an enormous trade.”
A few years before that, in 1892, Salt Lake’s Saddle Rock restaurant offered a fine Fourth of July menu. The bill of fare included chicken, duck, turkey, roast beef, strawberry shortcake and, of course, ice cream.
Strawberry Ice Cream
Since ice cream was, and still is, a July Fourth favorite, try making this cool summer treat for your celebration:
1 cup sugar
3 cup cream
1⁄2 tsp. cornstarch
1 egg, beaten well
1⁄2 tsp. vanilla
1 cup strawberries, pureed
Heat sugar, cream, cornstarch and egg in a large saucepan over very low heat. Stir to combine, and cook until cornstarch has dissolved, but do not let simmer. Add the strawberry puree and vanilla, and allow to cool. Freeze according to ice cream machine instructions. Makes 2 quarts.
—Colorado Transcript (Golden, Jefferson County) Wednesday, August 27, 1884