A while back I ran across a letter in the February 23, 1906 Hamilton County Ledger that I thought might make a good Christmas column, so I held onto it until the time was appropriate. (Like now.) 
The letter, written by “Uncle Bill Wheeler,” describes his family’s Christmas in 1836. It caught my eye because it reads like it could have been an episode of “Little House on the Prairie” or the plot of some Hallmark Channel movie.
Although I knew the Wheelers were a very old Noblesville family, I wasn’t sure who “Uncle Bill” was, so I combed through the old newspapers for a little background information.
“Uncle Bill” turned out to be William T. Wheeler. (He seems to have earned the “uncle” designation by virtue of being an elderly, prominent and well-liked longtime resident, just as Nancy Elliott Roberts, the first African American baby born in Noblesville, was later known as “Aunt Nan.”)
Wheeler served as Noblesville Township Trustee in the early 1890s and was responsible for the construction of four Noblesville Township schools during that time.
Wheeler’s father, John, moved here from Kentucky in 1826 because he was opposed to slavery. John and his wife, Mary, called Polly, settled two and a half miles east of Noblesville, about where State Roads 32 and 38 split.
In 1836 John decided he should travel to the Fort Wayne/Huntington area to work on the Wabash and Erie Canal in order to earn enough money to acquire a piece of land. He planned to work for two months, then return and buy 40 acres.
Despite Polly’s misgivings (she feared Indians might kill John while he was traveling through their territory,) they began to make preparations for the journey.
When the time came for John to leave, he set out with a knapsack containing clothing and a warm quilt, and a basket filled with venison, cornbread, johnnycakes and a roasted chicken. Several neighbors gathered to see him off and “hallooed after him” that they would look out for his family while he was away.
Uncle Bill noted at this point that, since there were only Indian trails back then, his father’s journey took two or three days, while in 1906 it was only a few hours ride. (Imagine what he’d think of today’s interstates!)
John returned home two months later with $34 in his pocket. Between that, and money he received for selling his horse, he had enough to buy the 40 acres.
Once the land was purchased, John went to work on a cabin with the help of his neighbors. He managed to complete enough of the structure to allow the family to move in on Christmas Eve.
Snug in their new home with “comforts of character” (quilts) hung over the openings and a fire blazing in the fireplace, the Wheeler children began to speculate on what Santa would bring them for Christmas.
Suddenly, they were interrupted by the howling of a pack of wolves, just as the family dog dashed into the cabin, running for his life. The wolves refused to depart until John drove them off with firebrands!  
Once the excitement died down, the children hung their stockings and went to bed.
The following morning, when they ran to see what Santa had left, they found “an eggshell filled with wax, some nuts and doughnuts, etc.” (I believe “wax” in this instance was a kind of taffy or maple sugar candy.)
Uncle Bill concluded his letter by observing that no expensive presents could ever mean as much to him as the simple gifts he received that Christmas, back in the days when the only hat and shoes he owned were homemade.
Merry Christmas!
-Paula Dunn’s From Time to Thyme column appears each Friday in The Times. Contact her at younggardenerfriend@gmail.com