Harmon’s Histories: Bachelor clubs brought Christmas cheer to Montana’s 1st towns

Jim Harmon

Christmas is just a few days away – for most of us, a celebration with family and friends, with parties and presents.

But what if you don’t have family and friends nearby? It can either be a lonely time, or an opportunity.

How about staying in your PJs all day and watching heart-warming films? Or have a conversation with yourself all day and compose your own Christmas carol? Maybe host your own online party? Those are just a few of the hundreds of suggestions to be found online, these days.

But what about the pre-Internet days? What about those pre-anything-modern days of the 1800s? As it turns out, there were some creative solutions in a number of communities for one particular group: single men.

In Columbia Falls, unmarried men formed the Bachelors’ Club in 1894 and put on a Christmas dinner that “astonished … in its amplitude and delicacy,” according to the local newspaper, the Columbian.

“It is no reflection upon the culinary accomplishments of the fair sex to say that no dinner in the history of the Flathead Valley surpassed the Christmas spread of the bachelors.”

Seventy club members plus a handful of invited guests turned out at a local hall, where long tables were filled with “every delicacy of the season, turkey, chicken, venison, beef, pork … fruits, celery, relishes, pies and sauces.”

Then came the speeches and songs. “A.Y. Lindsey waxed eloquent in his description of bachelors, whom he called freemen.” William Berne offered up an appropriate song entitled “Time Enough Yet,” which according the newspaper “told the bachelor’s side of a courtship.”

In Choteau, the bachelors’ banquet on Christmas Eve 1895 allowed no married men to attend with the exception of the local sheriff and the host at the Choteau House. The Montanian newspaper said that was to “insure conditions productive of the most possible comfort and freedom” to the single men.

“Oysters, turkey and cold meats of all kind” were offered up along with “sour mash, wines, beer and cigars,” which disappeared “like snow before a genuine chinook.”

The toasts were of the type to be expected at such an affair: “Woman,” “Marriage a Failure,” “The Girl I Left Behind,” “The Memoirs of a Bachelor,” and so on.

The Montanian declared the event “the best of its kind ever given in Choteau.”

Then there was the bachelors’ event in Dillon, back in 1887 – a Christmas dinner put on by Alderman Dick Halliday, for those he called “the old orphans of Dillon.”

The Dillon Tribune reported “all the real old tough bachelors in town were there.”

Grace was offered, then each one of the old fellas was required to “kiss his right paw, and then (take) a solemn affidavit, a sort of galvanized oath, that he ‘never was married or never intended to marry.’ ”

Next each “old bach” was asked to sign in, writing down his name and age in the registry.

Remarkably, they all claimed to have forgotten when they were born, so they could only “guess” at their ages.

Even more remarkable was the fact that “every one of them (guessed he was) under 60 years old, when it is stated to be a stern fact, susceptible of easy proof, that many of them were born in the same year that Miss Colonel Susan B. Anthony was, which would have made them on this earth about the time the Declaration of Independence was manufactured and set free.”

All of that aside, the dinner was described as a “magnific feed for an incorrigible band of old bachelors, who ought to be the owners of happy homes and houses full of handsome children!”

The host, Dick Halliday, was proclaimed “a daisy in every shape, form and manner.”