Lucille Brenwick's First Christmas Was At The Chemawa Boarding School In Salem, Oregon

A Doll, A Bag Of Candy, And A Christmas Dinner Lucille Brenwick was quite the lady. Although born in the log cabin town of Copper Center in ...

A Doll, A Bag Of Candy, And A Christmas Dinner

Lucille Brenwick was quite the lady. Although born in the log cabin town of Copper Center in 1911, near the historic 1898 miners' graveyard beside Copper Center Lodge, she was not – at heart – a "country girl." 

Lucille Brenwick (Journal file photo)

Even into her later years, Lucille Brenwick was always impeccably dressed, slender and vigorous, with ramrod-straight posture and carefully groomed hair. She talked like a lady, too, with precise diction, a strong, confident manner and an unswerving sense of purpose. 

Lucille Brenwick was always busy. She was interested in a wide variety of things – Gold Rush history, natural phenomenon, Ahtna culture... 

As she grew older, she remained engaged and inquisitive. One spring, she dragged her friend Emma Bell down to the Copper River just so they could stand by the road and watch the ice break up. Another  summer, she dressed herself up as a visiting and distinguished Gold Rush dignitary (complete with an honorary sash and a huge brooch) for the community 4th of July parade through Copper Center. 

It was her idea to take the Copper River Country Journal on a hunt for what was left of the 1898 Gold Rush cemetery in Old Town Copper Center. She chose the summer of 1990, almost a century after the poor miners had died of scurvy, frostbite and starvation, so far from home.

The search for their graves was not that successful, even though Lucille (who was almost 80 at the time) diligently thrashed her way through the thickets for several hours, overturning small rocks, scouring the site for fragments of log fencing, and reconstructing the cemetery in her mind from her childhood.

For Lucille Brenwick, that time at the miners' cemetery brought back strong family memories. Standing near the Copper Center Lodge, facing the river, Lucille Brenwick remembered: "There used to be a blacksmith shop; that was the shop my father ran." Advertisements for her dad's shop, naming him as "C.A. Craig" the proprietor, can still be seen in 1909 Valdez newspapers. 

Aside from her basic personality and temperament, there was another reason that Lucille Brenwick was such a lady. She had been trained in the womanly arts of poise, good manners, hard work and confidence at a place in Oregon called the Chemawa Indian School. Although the Copper Valley is far from the cities in Oregon, Washington State and even coastal Alaska, back in those days some of the children from the Copper Valley were sent "Outside" to the West Coast to go to school – or down into Southeast.  Lucille Brenwick was one of them.

Here's her tale about what her first memory of Christmas was like when she was a young girl, living in a boarding school far from Alaska in Salem, Oregon:

"The first Christmas I remember I spent at the Chemawa Indian Boarding School, in Oregon. I was 8 years old. There, everybody got the same present. We each got a doll; we each got a bag of candy... and, of course, our Christmas dinner. We had never tasted turkey. It was always pork, because we had a pig farm there. The school was kind of self-supporting.

"When they gave out the presents, it was usually on Christmas morning. They'd just call out your name, and you'd go up and get your little package. Everyone's doll, everything you got, was identical so there was no jealousy. They probably bought the dolls by the dozens

"I enjoyed it. I had a good time when I was there. Everything was very regimented. You did everything on time. They taught you a lot of nice things: How to be a lady.

"I'll never forget one time someone slipped a lipstick into the school. It was disastrous. We all decided to borrow a little. Our house mother, she said, I want every girl who has that 'stick-lip' on her lips to wash it off immediately... Practically that whole rec-room emptied!"





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