Highland Games & Golf
Like cattle and sheep raising, sporting contests such as the Highland Games had long been a staple of Scots culture and the Games were brought over to America in the late 19th century. Filled with contests such as “putting the stone”, wrestling, tugs of war, tossing the caber, and foot racing the events combined drama and excitement. The women were included in exhibitions of Highland dancing. Of course the bagpipes were ever present.
The game of golf followed along similar lines. This uniquely Scottish import arrive in the East in the early 1880’s but soon reached the West. As the game spread so, too, did the Scots golf professionals. During the fin-de-siecle years, approximately three hundred “Men of Carnoustie” began to dominate the American professional golf world. Not until 1914, for example, did a native-born American win the U.S. Open.
St. Andrews Day and Robert Burns Day
There were two main celebratory events that forged and kept alive a Scottish-American identity: St. Andrews Day and Robert Burns Day.
Creating a saint’s day was commonplace all through the 19th century America. For example, the Hungarians celebrated St. Stephens Day, the Welsh, St. David’s Day, the English, St. George’s Day, and the Irish, St. Patrick’s Day.
However Abraham Lincoln’s 1863 proclamation of a national day of Thanksgiving in late November eventually crowded out St. Andrews (Nov. 25) Day making way for Robert Burns Day dominance in Scottish-American societies.
Perhaps the celebration of a saint’s day rang foreign to American ears; or perhaps January 25 provided a better time to stage a gala celebration. At any rate, by the last decades of the 19th century the celebration of Robert Burns Day had emerged as the major disseminator of Scottish culture and “the garb of old Gaul” throughout the country.
The “Burns ethos” did harmonize especially well with the American western ethos. The heroics of his ballads, his great poems celebrating democracy (“a man’s a man for all that”) and denouncing hypocrisy “O wad some Power the giftie gie us / to see ourselves as ithers see us”) made Burns universally acceptable in America.
Abraham Lincoln, one of Burns’ greatest admirers, could quote him by the hour. On Jan. 25, 1965, Lincoln wrote to a Burns committee in praise of the poet’s “generous heart and transcendent genius”. This respect was shared by a great many others. “I have hope for the human race so long as they celebrate the birthday of Robert Burns”, said the radical Congregationalist minister Myron W. Reed c 1893.
The above histories are excerpted in part from the following books and articles:
- Scots in the North American West, Ferene Morton Szasz
- Frontier Scots, Jenni Calder
- Adventures & Exiles, The Great Scottish Exodus, Marjory Harper
- Cattle Kingdom, The Hidden History of the Cowboy West, authored by Christopher Knowlton; and reviewed by Stephen Harrigan for the Wall Street Journal.