Shannon Cole for Real American Cowboy Magazine —
Coarsegold, California has had its name changed a half-dozen times since 1849 when gold was first discovered there – first declared “Texas Flat,” over the years giving way to five more name changes, it eventually became Coarsegold. But, there has only been one name for its rodeo… the Coarsegold Rodeo.
One of the most breath-taking rodeo grounds in all of California settled at an elevation around 2,000 feet, a stone’s throw of Yosemite National Park. Today, Coarsegold, California is an enchanting community of 1,880 according the 2010 Census – maybe another 500 or so in the immediate surrounding area – it’s a friendly and genuine small town with a very famous small town rodeo.
Coarsegold had its first rodeo in 1927. Back then, one dollar would pay your way in and it even included barbeque and coffee. Today it’s not much more to get in, all things considered.
In those early days, folks would travel by wagon or horseback to spend the day cheering on cowboys and cowgirls who competed in unusual events such as mule riding, cow riding, girl bareback horse races and the most entertaining of all, the wild cow event, which was quite the riot. Today, the Coarsegold Rodeo is still a unique rodeo that entertains huge crowds from near and far.
The night before those old rodeos would have been an adventure – the cowboys gathered, the pale red glow from the campfires lit up the mountain sky and you could see stars for miles. The cowboys would tell stories about their rodeo adventures and talk about the true sportsmanship of rodeo, how they began and what they have learned. Lanterns would hang from 100 year old oak trees, music and dancing, knee slapping and beer drinking before the big day. And then, the cowboys would bed down with the livestock.
Long ago, the Grand Marshall and his adoring wife were chauffeured into the arena for the Grand Entry in an old Model T Ford touring car wearing perfectly pressed western attire and a sharp black cowboy hat. Today, beautifully groomed horses ridden by pretty cowgirls dressed in rhinestone shirts, colorful chaps, and polished buckles lead our National Anthem.
Now cowboys roll in pulling fancy horse trailers behind big trucks with their livestock. Back then, livestock was driven to the rodeo arena the night before. Sometimes, as far as 20 miles and pack horses carried equipment.
Some folks live for the sweet smell of country and can’t wait for the small town rodeo. Indian tacos, shaved ice, funnel cakes, barbeque, baked beans and ice cold beers. Some enjoy the excitement of bigger rodeos. Bright lights, big name music, thousands of fans fill the bleachers to watch cowboys and cowgirls compete for buckles, saddles and big prize money.
At Coarsegold there are lots of lawn chairs and umbrellas, lots of vendors and sponsors who support the event, but there’s also a feeling you get – a feeling of what it once was, to be surrounded by chutes and fences built by old weathered wood hauled in by wagons 100 years ago straight out of the old mill.
The history of how small town California rodeo began is still in the air, where world champions once rode and seasoned old rodeo announcers once roared over scratchy microphones and where famous bucking horses and bulls performed.
You think of thick smoke coming off the barbeque, the sweet smell of homemade berry pies baked by local town ladies and the smiles on children’s faces. Memories of the old rodeos will always be around.
Women spent days baking and preparing food as the men prepared for the deep pit barbeque. The meat was wrapped in wet burlap sacks and placed over hot rocks then covered with dirt. The next day it was uncovered and would be a delicious meal for all. Women would make coleslaw and put into an old claw foot bathtub to be stirred with a big coal shovel then served using long handled ladles.
The spirits of the old cowboys and cowgirls that once rode in the early 1900’s still remain. Coarsegold, deep in the High Sierras and other small mountain towns, few and far between, are blessed by the old tales from long ago, tales that will be told one generation to another.
The fact is, small town rodeos attract some of the most well-known cowboys and cowgirls, well known announcers, top stock contractors and some of the biggest, most enthusiastic and knowledgeable crowds. And the Coarsegold Rodeo is among the very best small town rodeos in America.
Shannon Cole is the owner of Natural Horse, providing a chemical-free natural blend of essential oils to gently nourish, restore and preserve tack, saddles, boots & leather apparel.
Cover Photo Credit ~ Tyler Photography, Nature’s Breath
Originally published in and used with permission of Real American Cowboy Magazine and Shannon Cole. For more, visit Real American Cowboy.