A local girl gets a Christmas surprise in 1896

By Don McAlavy: Local Columnist

This story was told to me by a friend who died many years ago. I’ll tell it through the eyes of the young girl who was from the caprock area between Clovis and Tucumcari.

In 1896, a snowstorm hit us three days before Christmas, with drifts 2- to 3-feet deep in the canyon. There were just three of us — my mama, and my big sister almost grown — in a lonely little adobe and rock house below the caprock.

We had wanted to go to the Taylors at the Horseshoe Ranch. I cried, feeling so disappointed. Mama’s husband was off working at the 3-T ranch.

Mother had gone out and shot a wild tom turkey for dinner.

We had a fine Christmas meal of turnips, hot biscuits and currant jelly made from the wild currants in the canyon.

Mama made a pumpkin pie from pumpkins we had grown ourselves.

Katherine gave Mama the dress she had re-made. And I tried on the dress Mama had made for me to wear to the Taylors. The three of us ate dinner with our pretty dresses on as Katherine had a new dress her boyfriend Johnny had given her for her birthday.

Mama asked me, “Aren’t you going to open the package that Lila gave you?” I had forgotten about it. Before I left the
DeOliveira ranch where a hired tutor had taught a handful of us kids, one of my best girlfriends — rich girl Lila — had given me a package and said don’t open it until Christmas. I anxiously tore the package open, like I did with all my gifts when I was a little kid. Then to my shock, and to Mama’s and Katherine’s smiles and giggles, I beheld several fancy undergarments, one of them a corselet. It was like a corset but had no whalebones in it, and it was made for a slender woman. I held it up to myself and it reached from my bosom down past my waist. It had shoulder straps and string too tight to draw in your middle.

“I’ll never wear this! People will think I’m one of those … them there saloon girls!” I said.

“No, Anna,” Katherine informed me. “No one but you will know you are wearing it. It will flatter your figure in the right places.”

I asked Mama if I needed to flatter my figure.

“Up to this year,” Mama said, “I think most people thought you were a boy, the way you dress and in ridin’ clothes and the way you handle a horse. Maybe it’s time to show them you’re a girl, a very pretty girl. Your bust hasn’t developed a whole lot, but the corselet will probably make people think it has.”I asked why I should show anyone what I have or don’t have.

“You’ve got to realize you’re nearly a woman now, Anna,” Katherine said. “Being a woman means you have to use every means, even padding yourself, if necessary, to be attractive. It’s no sin to make yourself prettier. Not only that, but it’ll make you think more of yourself!”

“I’ll not be caught dead in that thing!,” I shouted.
Later that evening, behind a quilt curtain, out of sight of Mama and Katherine, I tried the corselet on wanting to know what I would look like in it. I looked at that thing and couldn’t decide whether to pull it on over my head or step into it like I did my drawers. I managed to get it over my head by loosening the strings. Then when I pulled the strings tight my bosom got bigger.

I put on a pair of cotton long johns, wool socks, a wool sweater, and my riding britches. I was going to saddle up my horse and see if that corselet hindered my riding.

Unknown to me, Mama and Katherine had peaked, watching me put on that corselet. As I started for the door, Mama stopped me.

“How do I look?” I asked.

Mama had a smile on her face. “Anna,” she said, “something is different about you today. You seem older and more grown up.”

I left, saying to myself “now maybe the boys will notice I’m a real girl.”

Don McAlavy is Curry County’s historian. He can be contacted at: