Santa Claus in Camp

By Mary Adams

It is that time of the year when trees are decorated, people bustle around buying gifts for friends and family, children line up to sit on Santa’s lap and then anxiously await his late night visit on December 25. Texas Pacific Coal Company and its subsidiary, Texas Pacific Mercantile and Manufacturing Company, which operated the stores in town, provided special activities, treats, and shopping opportunities to Thurber residents.

Santa Claus and his toy shop were welcome visitors to Thurber during the holidays. The Texas Miner, December 22, 1894, announced “Santa Claus in Camp” in their advertisement which included a variety of gift items available for purchase at the hardware store along with the presence of “His royal highness, that venerable chum of ours, SANTA CLAUS.” By 1902 the wonderland of toys that became known as Toyland had been relocated. Ed E. Bryant recalled that “the whole top floor of the big old drugstore building was nothing but a display of toys. You talk about heaven, man. That was next to it. And we’d go up there and we’d just drool over those things.” Felicitas S. Salazar, who visited Toyland as a child, recalled that there was a large selection of toys “dolls, dishes – toy dishes, bicycles, tricycles and wagons.” Toys were not the only gift option at the drugstore, young Grace Groves’ remembered their collection of fine jewelry as a result of Christmas in 1908 when her foster father gave her a ring with a diamond chip and gave her foster mother a beautiful cameo pin which became a family heirloom.

Interior of Thurber hardware store.

In addition to the drugstore the mercantile store also carried gifts for the season. Their advertisement offered suggestions for purchase such as a “handsome Christmas Dress” for wives, mothers, and daughters or a “Nobby Suit of Clothes” for husbands, fathers, and sons. If clothing was not what you were looking for they also had furniture suggestions like a “cradles, high chairs, or bedroom sets.” Families took advantage of Christmas Dinner specials at the market which offered a variety of items including “fancy fatted turkey for $ .45 per lb, green beans for $.20 per lb, large fancy oysters for $.60 per pint.”

Some years the festivities included Community Christmas trees. The location of the tree varied, sometimes it was located on the quadrangle as indicated by an article in The Thurber Tiny Journal dated December 15, 1927 which announced, “Two big Christmas Trees are being planted on the Thurber square. They will be lit up with electric lights, ‘neverything. A Santa Claus will doubtless entertain you through the holidays.” Other years residents recall that it the tree was at the Opera House where “on one night all the parents and children would come and they would call their names out, and they’d go down and get their gifts from Santy Claus.”

Advertisement from the December 13, 1902 edition of the Thurber Journal.

Mary Jane Gentry recalled a special treat from the Texas Pacific Coal Company and its subsidiary T. P. M. & M. had of wishing its employees a Merry Christmas, “On Christmas Eve or possibly the day before, the company trucks would go up and down each street and boys would leave a Christmas package on each family’s front porch. These packages always included the same thing, oranges, apples, candy, and nuts; however, the day of delivery was still an exciting day for the children, who would wait impatiently for their arrival.” This and other festivities combined to make Christmas in Thurber “a pleasant custom that will always live in the memory of those who experienced it.”

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