Panhandle Plains Historical Christmas Open House, December 2, 2011 from 6-9 pm and December 3, 2011 from 2-6pm
by Sharon Stevens
You wouldn’t think you were making history in receiving this wooden nickel presented by the Panhandle Plains Historical Museum for the annual Christmas Open House 2011.
In all actuality this creates as much as any written in the history book throughout the ages, and is given to commemorate the rebuilding of Pioneer Town at the museum. This represents over a hundred years of habitation of the panhandle, and the generations of those who came together to settle this area. So before you stick this in a drawer, the holiday box or “gasp” throw it in the trash, take just a moment to contemplate the significance of this token souvenir.
Christmas Open House commemorates the Christmas day in 1887 when L.G. Connor and his wife Queenie Victoria located and surveyed the town of Canyon, Texas. L.G. was twenty-seven years old and his young wife was twenty-one. They lived their first year in a dugout facing a severe winter on the open plains. Their home was the first meeting house, post office, church, school, business and courthouse. Later they hauled logs from Palo Duro Canyon to build their first house. L.G. donated land for anyone who wanted to build a home, church or business to establish a strong and dedicated community. They were charter members of the First Baptist Church, and worked tirelessly to bring WTAMU to the Panhandle. Their daughter, Mamie, was the first Anglo-American child born in Randall County and the first student at the college as well as in the first graduating class.
Your wooden nickel is being given to bring back and redeem for a peppermint stick at the grand opening of the newly restored Pioneer Town in the future. Everyone at the museum was disappointed it was not completed in time for the Open House. The town will be more interactive for all who visit. Visitors will be able to walk through displays and touch some of the artifacts, many of the items passed down through generations of families. The area will continue to house the history donated and treasured by the people of the panhandle.
This nickel is a commemorative souvenir and a tangible example of history itself.
On December 5, 1931 almost eighty years ago during the depression, the Citizens Bank in Tenio, Washington failed, leaving the merchants of the city without any way to make change. The nearest bank was 30 miles over the mountain on roads only meant for horses and mules, a journey that took four hours round trip. Most storekeepers couldn’t close their businesses for this amount of time, much less leave it in the hands of employees, and robbers would be on the lookout for easy money going and coming.
The merchants and Chamber of Commerce banded together and came up with the idea of using wooden money to be given as change and then redeemed. The newspaper printed rectangular wooden coins. In turn the Blaine Washington issued the first round wooden coins when their bank failed in 1933.
Also in 1933 with the Century of Progress in Chicago, the first wooden money pieces was given as souvenirs. They were distributed as advertising and souvenirs for civic celebrations. The only fault was that they had an expiration date stamped on them rendering them worthless after that time. Many also had a note that they had to be unbroken, and many of the rectangular ones were fragile. This is where the adage, “Don’t take any wooden nickels” came into play. This meant in the depression era that if you couldn’t turn them back in, it was money down the drain. And it might even mean whether your family would be able to afford to eat or not. Every nickel was precious.
But it wasn’t until the J.R. Rogers Company of Fosteria Ohio obtained a copyright for their design in 1938 that these nickels took on a lighter tone. Their idea had to be the greatest marketing scheme of the 20th century. They printed up wooden nickels, dimes and quarters before a celebration and then sold these to area merchants for face value. These in turn were given back in change. In actuality you paid to take home your own advertisement of the event.
The Wooden Nickel Museum in San Antonio displays their collections and gives the history of these nickels. This is also the home of the largest wooden nickel, recognized by Ripley’s Believe It Or Not.”
Lets bring the presentation of this commemorative coin back to the present. Even though you can’t believe that this little circle of wood you hold in your hand represents anything of value. There is a connection between it, the Connors, their first Christmas in Canyon, the Panhandle Plains Historical Museum, the Christmas Open House and you. Imagine the history that you can now carry with you to share from this day forward? After all, you and your family and friends represent the heritage. The value is not within the wooden nickel.
Grace Warwick wrote in her book “The Randall County Story” about a reporter interviewing Queenie Victoria Connor. Queenie was asked about her part in making history. She was offended and retorted… History? Why, we weren’t making history. Why, we were living-doing whatever had to be done in a new community, and have some fun along the way as we did it. No, we weren’t making history, we were living it!