HISTORY OF THE
REDWOOD FORTUNA RODEO
Many years ago a great tradition began in Fortuna; the Redwood Fortuna
Rodeo. Humboldt County has been an agricultural center for California, as
its first settlers were ranchers. It's a little wonder that Fortuna lays
claim to the oldest and longest running annual rodeo on the North Coast.
The rodeo has a long-standing history of attracting some of the top
livestock and rodeo cowboys on the West Coast.
Fortuna Rodeo had its beginnings way back in 1921 when the Humboldt
County Cattlemen's Association planned a big all-day picnic. "Rodeo
Stunts" were to be featured after the big barbecue with a dance that
evening. Nearly 3,000 people attended this event which proved to be the
beginning of the Fortuna Rodeo.
Five years later, in 1926, it turned into a rip-roaring three-day
celebration, filled with thrills and excitement. In 1930 there were more
changes. The committee decided to use riders from Humboldt, Del Norte,
Trinity and Mendocino counties instead of professional riders. By 1939,
the rodeo had simmered down to a two-day event, but packed with just as
much dynamite as the longer celebrations had been because the citizens
continued to make everyday preceding it a build up for the real thing.
About 10,000 people attended the show in 1939 and though the new
grandstand was not yet completed the show was bigger and better than ever.
By 1941, the Fortuna Rodeo was known far and wide as one of the biggest
attractions on the Western Circuit.
The blight of the war fell in 1941, and with it fell the Fortuna Rodeo
for the next five years. But in 1946 it rose again to newer and greater
proportions. Bill Clark rode in the 1946 rodeo at the age of 80. In 1948
Stella James of Willits was chosen as the Rodeo Queen, with Pat Barnwell
of Bridgeville and Naomi Pries of Ferndale as her attendants. The 1948
rodeo events grew to include a parade downtown, penny scramble, street
dancing and vigilantes jailing local men who chose not to grow a beard for
the event. The tradition continues today in Fortuna, every third weekend