Sharpsteen Museum Releases New Historical Fiction

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Sharpsteen’s Kathy Bazzoli shares a new take on traditional holiday stories.

To accompany the rich history of the museum’s exhibits, an exclusive historical fiction story by Sharpsteen Museum’s own Kathy Bazzoli has been released to the public. “Sam’s Last Calistoga Christmas” is a holiday tale that combines historically accurate events about the powerful relationship between Jeff Thatcher and Sam Brannan. The story is based on real people and historical events, but Bazzoli took some license when writing the story.

“The dates, people, and places within this story are all historically accurate and well documented, as well as the attempted murder of Sam Brannan. An important part of this story, of course, is Sam Brannan's last visit to Calistoga, his being alone for Christmas, his leaving on the train for the final time, these details, again, are historically accurate,” said Bazzoli.

Read a shortened version of the story below, and learn more about the historical story by visiting Sharpsteen Museum.

“Sam’s Last Calistoga Christmas”
This here’s Jeff Thatcher and I got a story to tell. I was born in the winter of 1852. Lots been happenin’ these last months and things been a-wearin’ on me. My old school teacher Miss Eleanor always said, “Jeff, you got something on your mind and you can’t get it out, write it down.” I didn’t get as much schoolin’ as most kids. I was the oldest by 8 years of the next youngin’ in my family so bein’ the oldest I was set to work most every day.

It’s late spring 1877 now, and me and Sally Evans got hitched about a year ago and I got me a baby son. Sally wanted to name him after me, but there was a man I knew and respected for my whole life so we named our boy Samuel after Mr. Brannan.

My old dog Goodie died last Christmas. Goodie found me in April of 1868, just after Mr. Brannan got nearly killed over at his sawmill. Couple years before, Mr. Brannan leased it over to Warner Buck to operate. Buck didn’t pay the rent and Mr. Brannan went over one night to get it back. Buck and his brother-in-law Andy Snyder was there with a couple other guys and they was ready with rifles loaded. They shot poor Mr. Brannan thinkin’ they got him good. Somebody started yellin’, “they killed him, they killed Sam.”

He ‘twernt dead though. Dr. Stillwagon came a runnin’ and there was Mr. Brannan all bloody and scared. Mr. Brannan was tryin’ to talk, sayin’ somethin’ about his watch, wantin’ to know where it was. The doctor gave Mr. Brannan a shot of somethin’ called morphine ‘cause he was hurtin’ so bad. They all picked him up and took him to the doc’s house.

Mr. Brannan was the one that built the resort here and named our town. Some say he owned over 2000 acres and if not for him, most folks wouldn’t have a place to live, nor work to do every day. I’d been seein’ him off and on my whole life and he seemed a good sort to me. It was funny though, people either loved him or hated him, didn’t appear to be no in between. So’s after they carted Mr. Brannan away that day, I looked down in the dirt at the blood all over the place where he got shot down and there it was, the watch he’d bin a’mumblin’ about. I picked it up and took it home, cleaned it up real good too, thinkin’ someday I’ll take it to him.

A few months later after he got all healed up, I got to take him that old watch. I didn’t want nuthin’ for it, but he was so happy he took me to town and bought me a pair of shoes and shirts and things. Those shoes was pretty special to me ‘specially since I didn’t have none that fit. Bein’ the oldest there ‘twernt no hand-me-downs so’s I was barefoot most of the time.

I didn’t see Mr. Brannan for a long time, nearly nine years, then just this past October he showed up again, came in on the train. I wanted to see him, talk to him again, show him that I was all growed up now with a good job and a family of my own. I just watched him for a few weeks. He was stayin’ at the hotel at the resort and walked into town every mornin’. I think he visited every store in town and talked to everybody he saw, but mostly he liked the saloons.

Christmas came and went but I didn’t hear nuthin’ about anybody invitin’ Mr. Brannan home for dinner. He was all alone for Christmas and all the saloons was closed. New Year’s Eve I got to see Mr. Brannan. We was at church that night listenin’ to the preacher and just a singin’ away and in he walks.

The church bells started a’ringin’ real loud long about midnight, tellin’ us the old year was gone and a new one was just startin’. Mr. Brannan stood up and called a couple a young’uns over to him, handed them a gold piece and told them to go to town and buy every orange and piece a candy they could find and bring it all back.

Mr. Brannan gave out every orange and piece of candy to all the families that night. As he turned to leave, he looked back into the church and said real loud, “God Bless you all and a happy New Year!”

People were sayin’ he stayed to himself after that. He spent hours standin’ on top of Mt. Lincoln, the hillside behind his resort. I know he loved Calistoga, and from up on top there he could look over this town he built startin’ back in 1860 or so. He could see his resort with all the flowers bloomin’, heck you could smell the flowers bloomin’, he could see early mornin’ smoke arisin’ from chimneys all over town, and he could be alone with himself.

Couple days later I heard he was takin’ the train and leavin’ town for good. He had lost Calistoga too and there was no more reason to stay. I went to see Mr. Brannan and he did remember me, I think he was proud that I was growed up, that maybe he had somethin’ to do with the man I was now. I told him about my baby son that I named Samuel. He smiled real big then we walked together, real quiet like, all the way to the train depot.

We shook hands there for the last time. I saw him board the train and noticed he took a seat with his back facing town. I knew why. He didn’t want to see his town grow small as the train moved away, he wanted to remember it as he saw it always atop Mt. Lincoln.

About Sharpsteen Museum:
The Sharpsteen Museum's permanent exhibits are designed to present the history of the upper Napa Valley from its pre-history to post-World War I with an emphasis on people and changes brought by the period of U.S. emigration and development.

In addition to its many historical exhibits, the museum uses unique and extraordinarily extensive dioramas to depict Calistoga during its period as the elegant 1860s Hot Springs resort developed by pioneer, promoter, publisher, entrepreneur, and California's first millionaire, Sam Brannan. Sharpsteen Museum has special exhibits which change twice a year, every six months, and reflect the varied interests of the people of the Valley. They have ranged from antique silverware to model ships to historical musical instruments.

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Kathy Bazzoli
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