It is Christmas morning 1906.
A six-year old girl awakens to find that Santa has made a visit to her home during the night and been quite generous with his stop.
But just a few houses away in her neighborhood, in the home of a five-year old playmate, Theresa Stewart, there has been no Christmas, rather tragedy, sorrow and heartache, for the family has suffered the death of their father on Christmas Eve.
In the tiny, isolated town of Alamo, Nevada, which had only come to be permanently settled community five years earlier, families had spent the past several weeks, like so many others, getting ready for Christmas.
Living in the high desert of rural eastern Nevada in the early 1900s meant a hard life. But they were a hardy lot and over the past five years had done a lot for their little town to gain a foothold in the Pahranagat Valley of Lincoln County.
Everyone was a farming family, raising a few cows and chickens for their own needs. They were a resourceful people also, some raising extra produce and making dairy products to sell to the mining town of Delamar, up in the mountains about 30 miles east. All in all, a good enterprise.
Alamo itself was quite isolated, no roads like we know in today’s world going in or out. No cars, just horse and wagon or buggy, no U.S. highway. It was at least a two-day ride or more, one way, on horseback to nearly any other civilized place.
Pioche, a long-time mining town and the county seat, was about 90 miles away, another two-day trip even with the fastest horse. Everything the people in the valley had was brought in by wagon, even from the railhead at Caliente.
Not every family in town as yet had a wood frame house. Some were not much more than a wood frame built only shoulder high with walls made of canvas from wagons the settlers had driven when they first came into the valley. Others were adobe type homes and none had any type of insulation that was very effective in keeping out the winter cold and winds.
Names of the settlers at the time included Stewart, Cox, Lamb, Higbee, Richard, Foremaster and a few others.
Life was tough in Alamo year round, but the people looked forward to Christmas every year nonetheless. And they celebrated well with dances and caroling.
David and Lois Stewart had three children. David was brother to William Thomas Stewart, who was the leader of the first group of settlers that established the town of Alamo in 1901. On August 19, 1901, a third daughter had been born to the family. They named her Theresa. She was born just five months after David and Lois had come to the valley. Eventually the family would grow to seven children, including a pair of twins.
David Stewart had a contract to drive the mail by horse and wagon to Delamar. No roads to speak of, but a pretty good trail that cut through Alamo Canyon to the Delamar Flat and on up into the town.
Stewart was a peaceable man, easy to get along with, which made him quite likeable. He also suffered from asthma, which he had picked up when he contracted a case of “black measles” while serving an LDS mission in Australia about 10 years before. The illness left him in somewhat poor health, easily susceptible to colds. And it weakened his heart as well.
In November, 1906, Stewart had gone to Utah on business and made a return trip in bad weather. By the time he reached Delamar, to the home of his niece, Marg Foremaster, he had a bad cold. Asthma set in again and his condition worsened and continued to decline after he returned to Alamo. Then on Christmas Eve, David Stewart died. He was 47. Lois was left with six children. Christmas morning would not be a happy place.
Theresa was 5 now and her playmate, Eveleen Foremaster, wanted to come over to see what Santa had left at the Stewart house. Theresa had been talking about a favorite doll she was hoping for that she had seen in one of her mother’s mail-order catalogs.
Kids were out that morning going around to others homes to see what Santa had brought to their friends. But the Stewart kids were not out. Eveleen went to their door and yelled out “Merry Christmas!” When the door opened, there stood 5-year-old Theresa, her eyes red from crying. “My Daddy died last night. Momma says he’s gone to Heavenly Father and now we are left alone, and Santa Claus didn’t come to our house last night.”
Eveleen stood on the doorstep for a moment, stunned by what she had heard. But she didn’t stand there long. Quick as whistle, she said, “Stay right here, I’ll be right back.” She turned on her heel and ran back to her house. Gathering up two dolls, including one from just that morning, wrapped them in a blanket and ran back to the Stewart house. There she placed the blanket on the floor as gently as she could and said to Theresa, “Please take your pick. Santa left two dolls at my house by mistake.”
Theresa Stewart Wadsworth and Eveleen Foremaster Davis remained friends for the rest of their lives. Eveleen died in 1982 at the age of 82, and Theresa in 2003 at the age of 102.
The story of the Christmas doll was one of Theresa’s most enduring memories and she loved to tell the tale to her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.
Originally, the doll had a porcelain head and a red dress. Over the years the dress wore out and has been replaced with a deep purple dress.
It now belongs to Theresa Thomas Matuska of Boulder City, Nevada. A beloved family heirloom kept in a handsome display case. A reminder to all of the spirit of Christmas giving, from one little girl to another on Christmas morn, 110 years ago.