An Independence Day celebration from the past |

An Independence Day celebration from the past

As Truckee celebrates our national birthday, a look back at festivities of Truckee’s past shows the difference in styles from the 106th birthday in 1882 to Monday’s 229th celebration of Independence Day.Truckee in 1882 was not the wild town it had been in the 1870s. It had settled down to a more business like atmosphere. Law and order had tamed the wild side of the lumber & railroad town. Two active churches and a host of benevolent societies and social clubs competed with the still busy saloons for men’s time and minds.In the past, Truckee’s celebrations had been known for fires, drunken brawls and criminal conduct. But 1882 saw no serious incidents to mar the happy day. This observance was the biggest since the Centennial celebration of 1876, which was a major event in Truckee and the nation.Truckee merchants decorated their businesses with evergreens and red white and blue bunting, while the private residences were dressed up with flags, banners and more evergreens. The pine and fir tree branches gave the town a cool inviting appearance. The sounds of the day included the sharp report of hammers on anvils, firecrackers, steam whistles, homemade bombs and gunshots, all echoing along the ridges of the area.The committee that put together the events included fruit merchant Hamlet Davis, jeweler Joseph Ridley, and Sisson Wallace store manager Henry L. Day. Other merchants and citizens had contributed donations for the public displays and events. Parade of TruckeeitesAt 10 a.m. the parade procession got underway on the plaza in front of all the businesses on Front Street, the area now occupied by Donner Pass Road. Truckee pioneer and Justice of the Peace John Keiser led the way as the Grand Marshall. Keiser was Grand Marshall on more early Independence Day parades than anyone else ever was.The Truckee Cornet Band followed playing patriotic music. The Truckee Lumber Company Fire Department came next. This department, consisting of a steam powered fire engine and a hose cart, did more to protect Truckee from fire than the on-again-off-again volunteer fire departments. The Knights of Pythias, in full regalia, were next, followed by the two other volunteer fire companies, pulling the Washoe steam pumper. Clothing merchant J. L. Lewison donated fresh crisp uniforms to the volunteer members of the Washoe Fire Company.The younger citizens were part of the parade as well. Johnny Moody & Lizzie Edwards were dressed as George and Martha Washington. Other schoolgirls were dressed in white dresses with pink sashes bearing the names of each of the then 38 states in the Union. The Sunday School classes were dressed up and riding in open carriages.The Odd Fellows, Masons and other town civic societies marched in parade formation. The pride of the Truckee to Lake Tahoe stage line, the stagecoach “Big Bonanza”, belonging to John Moody of the Truckee Hotel, carried the organizing committee members and town officials. Bringing up the rear were Truckee citizens, dressed in their finest on foot, horseback and in carriages. The route had been watered down by the water wagon several times to keep the ever present dust down to a minimum.The procession wound its way from the plaza going east, onto Bridge and Church Streets, doubling back on the same route through the plaza, continuing on up Main Street to the west end of town, where the Truckee Lumber Company was located (in the area of the roundabout), and back down the plaza.Speeches and entertainmentIn the plaza, a 75 foot long speaker’s pavilion had been erected. It was surrounded by flags and evergreens, and lighted by tri-colored Japanese lanterns. An evergreen covered arbor gave shade to those who were on the speakers stand, making long speeches on the history of California and the United States.The program for the event started with the Truckee Cornet Band playing stirring patriotic tunes, with the singing of the Sunday School choir carrying through the town. Poems and speeches by Cara Burckhalter, the George Washington character actor, the organizing committee, and the Nevada County District Attorney Thomas Ford spoke to a variety of subjects. The meaning and customs of the celebration, the liberty of the population, the beauty of the Sierra, the brotherhood of men, remembrances of the Civil War, the history and state of the government, the civic and military heroes all received proper respect from the speakers. Hearty rounds of applause broke the long winded speech making. Hailing the praises of the nation and its citizens, its deeds and daring, the sciences and the religions, the various speakers thrilled the crowd for several hours.The crowd was very attentive until the end, when more music and a reading of the Declaration of Independence by School Principal S.A. Bulfinch concluded the speaking event. The crowd then dispersed to the various businesses for lunch and socializing. Many remained on the balconies fronting the plaza, observing the festive atmosphere.Amusements of the dayA host of amusements in the afternoon included a 50-yard sack race, a 20-yard wheelbarrow race, a footrace of 50 yards for girls under 18, a squash breaking contest, a greased pig contest, and a greased pole climbing event. These kept the children occupied for the afternoon. The adults continued socializing and celebrating on the sidewalks and businesses of Front Street. Horse races in the area east of the roundhouse kept some of the younger men occupied and betting on the contests was another diversion.Many of the people celebrating came from outlying lumber mills, logging camps, from Boca, Donner Summit, North Lake Tahoe and the Sierra Valley. The Central Pacific brought up dozens of former residents and other visitors in for the events from Reno and California.The saloons and restaurants did booming business in the evening as the party continued. Many returned home for short naps and to change into their evening costumes. Brilliand fireworks, though not the great spectacle we see today, were shot off from the Hilltop area south of the Truckee River at dusk. An evening grand march formed on the plaza again.This smaller parade toured the plaza quickly then went upstairs into Hurd’s Hall above the Capital Saloon for the grand ball. The sounds of local and visiting musicians carried on until after dawn broke, when the exhausted Truckeeites finally gave in to sleep the next day away.The success of the events showed that, at least in 1882, Truckee could organize itself, without a town government, for celebrations and special events. There were other years that no celebrations occurred, but picnics to Donner Lake were the highlight of the Independence Day celebrations.Truckee’s 4th of July parade and events are part of a long tradition that continues in the same spirit today.Gordon Richards is the research historian for the Truckee Donner Historical Society. Comments and history information are always welcome. Please visit the Truckee Donner Historical Society Web site at for more Truckee History. The e-mail address is You may leave a message at 530-582-0893.Previous “Echoes From the Past” columns are available in the archive at

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