The Eel River Jockey Club



Cold Blooded Men, Hot Blooded Horses

Harness or sulky race, Rohnerville, 1890s.

Harness race, also know as sulky race, Rohnerville 1890's. A sulky is on display in the Fortuna Depot Museum. Photo courtesy of Andrew Genzoli.

The most colorful story in Rohnerville history is that of the Eel River Jockey Club's race track and fair grounds, where local horsemen and townspeople congregated for afternoons of sulky and saddle racing. Rohnerville's annual Humboldt County Fair drew hundreds of people, who came by special stages, and later by train from Eureka, to view the exhibits and cheer on their favorite horses.

The community's enthusiasm for fast horses involved more than just the usual frontier-type sport of farmers and boys racing their utility horses down the main road on a Saturday afternoon. Rohnerville horsemen - men who knew bloodlines and bred with an eye for matching the right pedigrees for the fastest colts - brought into Humboldt County the descendants of some of America's greatest Morgan and Standard bred sires and dams. Research for this story brought to light, once again, the uniqueness of Rohnerville's past.

Theodore Dwight Felt, physician and surgeon from Massachusetts, came to California during the gold rush to seek his fortune, but like many others, he soon realized there was little possibility of a real bonanza. News of Humboldt County brought him to the rolling hills bordering the redwood forest at a place called Goose Lake Prairie (Hydesville). Here he took a claim, built a residence, and established Felt's Springs (located in the Headwaters Reserve), a sanatorium for the weak and infirm about 1851. As the only practicing physician in the county outside Eureka, his services were much in demand, but unlike the fly-by-night "doctors" who often followed the frontier, Dr. Felt was an able physician. His passion for horseflesh - blooded, fast horses - dominated his interests and activities throughout his life. As early as 1856, when Hydesville was nothing more than an isolated scattering of settlers, Dr. Felt had a race track on his farm where the locals, no doubt, spent some exciting afternoons matching their fastest "nags."

In the spring of 1866, the Eel River Jockey Club, under the enthusiastic leadership of Dr. Felt and other ardent horsemen, bought a piece of land from B. F. Jameson and laid out a mile-long race track. Located along the north side of A. P. Campton's Lane (now Kenmar Road) and just west of the main county road through Rohnerville, this track became the meeting place of some of California's finest horses.

The track's first use may have been on May 18, 1866, when J. Lieurance's Boston mare and Lindley's Warnock filly were raced before a crowd of 700 (Humboldt Times, May 12 and May 26, 1866), but the first officially-announced races for running, trotting and pacing horses where held in June, 1867 for purses of $75 and $100 (Humboldt Times, April 13,1867). The first fair at the Jockey Club's grounds was sponsored by the Humboldt County Agricultural Society in September, 1867.

Sam Adams.

Sam Adams. Man holding horse is unknown. Charles Perrott seated under horse, Will East, Kimball Hatch and Ed Dougherty. William Wax, photographer. Photo courtesy of Mrs. Paul Mudgett.

Over the next dozen or so years, fairs were held annually at Rohnerville and Eureka under the sponsorship of various societies, but funds were always a problem. In 1880 the California Legislature organized the state into districts governed by appointed boards of directors and eligible for state financial support. The Ninth District Agricultural Association, composed of Del Norte, Humboldt, and Mendocino counties (Mendocino was later dropped), held its first annual fair at Rohnerville on October 5-8, 1880 and annually thereafter until 1896.

Fair Poster.

Each August the local papers announced the upcoming fair, listing in detail the various exhibit categories and regulations. A "speed programme" advertised a dozen or so races for both running and trotting horses, divided into classes of age and speed. The featured race came on the last day, when the free-for-all, best three out of five heats pitted the big-named stallions against each other, the winner taking a $200 or $300 purse. Included each year was a special class in ladies equitation, perhaps a sop to the male conscience, since the races were for men riders and drivers only.


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-- West Coast Signal, May 10, 1876 --
"Thomas Van Sickle has built a fine Livery and Training Stable, which is an ornament to our town, if I except the saloon which is attached to it. We were fondly hoping that the number of these iniquitous institutions would grow less instead of increasing."

-- Rohnerville Herald, February 6,1889 --
"There are at present about 35 horses and colts in training here, and we are informed by those who know, that our race course is in as good, if not better condition, than any race track in the state."

-- Weekly Humboldt Times, May 16, 1889 --
"Sam Adams, popular trotting bred stallion will make the season at Bridgeville. Sired by Altimont, he by Almont, he by Alexander's Abdallah, he by Rysdyk's Hambletonian ... Horse born 1884, 16 1/4 hands high, bay, gentle ... Salmon Brown, Bridgeville."

-- Rohnerville Herald, April 2, 1890 --
"Waldstein, brown horse, 15 1/2 hands high, weighs 1075 pounds, was foaled in 1885 and sired by Director, record 2:17. One of the gamest horses that ever trotted a race and a great breeder. A four year old with a record of 2:18 1/4, a three year old with a record of 2:19 1/4 ... Waldstein's dam was Nellie W. by Electioneers - the GREATEST HORSE ON EARTH, sire of Sunol, three year old record of 2:10 1/4; Palo Alto, 2:12 1/4 ... Come and see his colts trot ... Waldstein will be at my place in Rohnerville. . . H.S. Hogoboom."

-- Ferndale Enterprise, April 4,1885 --
"Stallions for 1884 - the fast trotting stallion, Poscora Hayward . . This fast, game and level-headed horse is a representative of the Clays through the most popular branch, that of the Patchens. California Patchen is the sire of Billy Hayward, and Billy Hayward got Poscora Hayward. First dam, Poscora Maid by Learned's Poscora, second dam by Homer's Black Hawk. He is a gray 15 and 3/4 hands high. Made a record of 2:23 1/2 at the State Fair in 1883 and made the fastest seventh mile in the same day on record, that of 2:25 and has trotted 2:19. His disposition is perfect; a clearly cut head and bright eye. He was awarded the first premium as a roadster stallion over Albert W. and other good competitors at the Golden Gate Fair in 1883. For a more complete history of him see Breeder and Sportsman, February 10, 1883. Fee $40 ...W.H.E. Smith, Rohnerville."

-- Humboldt Times, August 9, 1896 --
"Mrs. Hogoboom of Rohnerville received a clipping from a Chicago paper sent her by her husband stating that Humboldt Maid by Waldstein had had a tilt with the big pacer Joe Patchen, making it very interesting for him and going a half in 1:03. Mr. Hogoboorn has been offered $1000 for her. He paid Lamb Bros. of Rohnerville who bred her, $400 and shortly afterwards won first money in a $2000 purse in 2:17. The following year she reduced her record to 2:13 1/2 in a winning race."