Farm Collector

Pioneer Christmas

Mendon, Utah

Christmas being established as a universal holiday and observed
down through the centuries of time in commemoration of the birth of
the Saviour was celebrated by the Saints. The early settlers of the
intermountain region encountered some difficulty in appeasing the
hearts of their children on this eventful day. Most families were
very poor in circumstances.

An old prospector who had followed the band of pioneers and
joined the gold rush of 49′ had returned to Salt Lake Valley
apparently successful. He presented a typical case of despondency
with his long kept hair and beard and clothing improvised by
himself. He shunned Society and refused to associate with other
people. He made his abode in a natural cave in a rugged ravine east
of the pioneer village.

The settlers let him go his way and paid but little attention to
him, passing him on as just one of the many failures of the
California Gold diggers and he became known as ‘Old
Sagwaw’. He was seldom seen on the streets except when he came
down to the Co-op store to purchase his supply of tobacco and
coffee, together with a small bag of flour. He then disappeared,
never to be seen again for at least a week. For a companion he kept
a large black Saint Bernard dog.

The children of a widowed mother who had lost her husband in an
Indian raid at a camp as the pioneer band journeyed westward,
discovered the rendezvous of the old hermit as they were strolling
the hills for wild flowers in early June. Nature furnished all the
trimmings and the little cabin frontage was adorned most
beautifully in various colors of wild flowers and vines as the June
sun beamed so brightly on that beautiful morning in early

The place could never have been found only for the black smoke
that hurled from the quaint chimney. They decided at once it was
‘Old Sagwaw’s’ home and as they had heard wierd stories
about the mysterious character they feared to come nearer. The dog
barked immediately, the old shaggy man peered out to ascertain the
reason for the dog’s barking. As he shaded his eyes to scan the
horizon he saw the small children. Bobbie and Vernice. He bade them
to come down closer and the children noting the kind and pleading
words, banished their fears and went over and greeted the tottering
old man.

He withdrew within his secret abode and returned immediately
with dried service berries and offered the children and they
eagerly accepted as such were luxuries in those days. The old man
entertained them with having his dog do tricks taught with
persistant efforts by him in his many, many hours of loneliness.
This was a great adventure of delight for the children and they
hurried back to tell their mother and she decided the poor old man
was at least human. The stories told of his wild nature may not be
so. Subsequently the children were sent occasionally with home
baked bread and jars of beet molasses and were always gladly
received by the old man. As appreciation of the gifts the children
were given valuable presents which greatly pleased their innocent

Winter was approaching summer days were over. The trips to the
old man’s cave were most difficult in the deep snow for the

It was Christmas Eve and the widow and her two small children
were seated by the fire place watching the sparkling and cracking
of the pine wood blaze until it was time to retire. The trio knelt
down in family prayers. The Mother’s heart was laden with
sorrow as she knew not how to furnish her loved ones with any
Christmas gifts. She sought a higher power that the way would be
provided and Santa would not pass them by. Bobbie interrupted,
‘Bless Mr. Sagwaw and his dog.’

They arose from their family devotion when suddenly they heard a
pawing at the door. The first thought of the mother was
‘Indians’ as they were living in a time of hostilities and
the scene of her massacred husband was brought back to her
bewildred mind. But the whine of a dog assured her it was not the
red savage. The door was opened revealing the large black St.
Bernard belonging to ‘Old Sagwaw’. Something must be wrong.
The children wanted to go at once to their veteran friend with his
pal, the dog. But the wise mother procured the services of a
neighbor boy much older and the trip was taken that bleak December

The western sky was turned to crimson and a cold breeze came
from the north. With much difficulty over the crusted snow, the two
small children and the boy followed the dog and finally reached the
old cave, cold and dreary, much to the contrast of that beautiful
June morning. They cautiously approached the snow difted entrance.
The trained dog pulled the secret latch string and the heavy door
swung open, revealing the shaggy form of the old hermit limp and
cold as death had claimed another victim.

The red moon shown brightly thru the open door, showing a scrap
of paper on the grimy table. The scrawled handwriting left a
message which the older lad picked up and read as he felt certain
it had been left by the old man.

In their fright, the three hurried away from the tragic scene,
but the faithful dog refused to leave his master. They returned to
the widowed mother who had kept a candle burning anxiously awaiting
their return. Excitingly the note was read, which instructions
revealed the exact place to find the hermits’ gold, which
proved to be equivalent to $1,000.00.

Immediately following that Christmas Eve, a respectful burial
and proper rites were given the old prospector without kin and no
other friends.

Kindness always brings its reward. The good widow felt her
prayers had been answered, she used the Christmas Gift with much
prudence and gratitude.

Since that eventful night before Christmas, the cave has always
been known as the ‘Bobbie and Vernice Cave’.

  • Published on Nov 1, 1964
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