Personal Histories

Bob Wills History

Rodeo Days 1956

I was working the midwatch as a police officer in July 1956, when Bill Peterson invited me to the Rohner Park on Saturday, the first day of the 1956 Fortuna Rodeo. He said, "Be there about 4:30 A.M." Bill may have been near the number one chef of the park barbecue gang, that is, if there was any ranking in the volunteers. He always concocted his, and everyone else's, favorite meat rub. His recipe did include salt and brown sugar, but no amount of coaxing or threatening would ever tempt him to reveal the rest of the ingredients. He further related that he and other committee members would be preparing for the annual rodeo barbecue. So as not to be a party pooper, I went to the park. Bill met me at the patrol vehicle and escorted me to the an area where their were pits in the ground. Each pit was filled with hot embers where roasts would be cooked until approximately noon when dinner would be served. Bill asked, "how do you like your steak?" I replied, "on the well side." Someone promptly stuffed a steak into a wire basket and began lowering it into a pit toward some hot embers. He slowly lowered it to almost on top of the embers and then ever so slowly raised it back to the top of the ground. In those few short minutes he had roasted the finest tasting steak in town.

Sometime after I scarfed up the steak, and noon, I must have had a breather, but I was on tap again to work the rodeo parade. It was the first parade I had worked as a police officer and it was in reality an eye opener. With the assistance of the Fortuna Police Officer's Association, I closed Main Street at Ninth, for southbound traffic, and rerouted it to the south edge of town and onto Twelfth Street. It was prior to the US 101 Freeway and the exercise, on paper, looked similar to a rat's maze. Some of the motorists I talked to that day were irate, "Why do you hold up traffic for a lousy parade?" "Why don't you have your parades on week days?" "Is the city too poor to pave its streets?" "I'm going to report you to the governor." Others were not quite so nasty and addressed us as if we were also human.

I don't recall how I mustered up so much strength but I continued working and later that evening I recall being back at the rodeo grounds. I was on foot patrol when a citizen complained to me about a man abusing a horse. I went to the scene and, sure enough, found a cowboy on a horse. The horse was bleeding profusely from several lacerations across its front. I found later that the rider had jumped it into a barbed wire fence and now he was attempting to jump it over an automobile. At that time I initiated my first, and only, experience in removing a rider from a horse. I began with the thought that this might truly be the beginning of one hairy night. I did not have the luxury of calling for back up because I had to act at once to protect the horse from any further injuries. It was easier than I had anticipated. I merely grasped the rider by a leg and off he came in a good clean separation. Fortunately for me, the rider was several sheets to the wind and had probably been drinking with the thought of, "There's no tomorrow!" After I had him on the ground and handcuffed, I realized that I had made a most unusual arrest. I charged him with violating Section 502, of the California Vehicle Code - Driving Under the Influence of Alcohol.

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