If you have been on a Philmont trek that included the northern and central portions of the ranch, then chances are good that you have hiked through Santa Claus Camp. The camp is located in Santa Claus Canyon, north of Bear Canyon and southeast of Head of Dean Camp.
I have been through Santa Claus Camp a few times on my Philmont treks. Usually, it was an unstaffed camp, but in 1992 I was surprised to discover that it had become a staffed camp, complete with a volleyball court for the day and a telescope for the evening. The crew had a great time there.
The 1992 staff invited campers to write a story about how Santa Claus Camp received its name. A few members of my crew took the challenge. Al, one of our crew advisers, wrote a great story about the history of the site. Since it is the Christmas season I would like to share it with you.
There was a lot of snow that winter of 1853, too much for the horses and tired people moving through the mountains of northern New Mexico. They had left in a train of wagons on the Santa Fe Trail, but were down to one wagon for two families; and they were lost. The wagon master, who knew the way to Cimarron, had died of typhoid on the plains of eastern Colorado. Now, they were nearing exhaustion as they searched through the canyons for human life.
It was December 24, and there were tears in the eyes of the parents as they kissed their children good night, for there was a chance that some of them would never wake up.
The sky was clear, with uncountable millions of stars, but the beauty of the night was swallowed by the intense cold. The Borgerdings and the Hansons were typical pioneer families, and they were near to meeting the fate that so many others met on the Westward march.
It took a few minutes before they realized that there was a stranger at the fire, before their cold-numbed senses could react. He was an old mountain man that the Utes called White Cheeks due to the soft white beard on his face. He had on snow shoes and a pack which was full of freshly butchered mountain lion. Asking no questions, he stepped up to the fire and cooked his lion steaks for everyone. After eating he led them up to his cabin and safety.
Of course the children called him Santa Claus, and since he offered no other name, the parents joined in. The mountain man stayed with them through that long winter, teaching them the skills they needed to survive in the mountains. In the spring, he loaded his beaver pelts in his pack and headed for the Taos Rendezvous. The Borgerdings and Hansons followed the clearly given directions to Cimarron where they told the story of Santa Claus to its inhabitants.
White Cheeks never got to Taos, nor was he ever again seen alive. The people who come to his canyon on Christmas Eve know that there is an old white faced mountain man sitting over a fire, and even though no lion has lived here for many years, there are always plenty of lion steaks for everyone. If you ask him, he’ll tell you about the winter of 1853, and the families that called him Santa Claus.
Do you have any Christmas stories about your Scouts? Share them with us and leave a comment.