One weekend every year the tiny Northern California town of Stonyford is overrun by bull riders, bullfighters, bronco busters, steer wrestlers, calf ropers, barrel racers, beauty queens, rodeo lovers, and rebel rousers. It’s the annual Stonyford rodeo and it’s the biggest thing to happen in town all year.
With a population right at 250, Stonyford boasts one bar, one restaurant, one tiny community church, and one general store with gas pumps from the 1960’s and chap stick on sale for five bucks a tube. But when the rodeo comes to town (and brings 3,000 screaming rednecks with it) the small arena just off East Park Road might as well be Market Street, San Francisco.
For two consecutive days this arena is where cowboys make it or break it on the backs of their angry bucking beasts. Only lasting seven seconds on the bull (instead of the full eight) can mean a difference of several thousand dollars, and one miscue chasing a calf with the lariat can break a cowboy’s bank.
These small town professional rodeos used to be much more common in California; today however, Stonyford is about the only one left.
Most of the small town rodeos disappeared because people lost interest or the town outgrew its cowboy identity. But in one case, it was the town itself that disappeared. Monticello, CA had existed since the early years of the Gold Rush, but in 1958 a government project put a dam downstream and inundated Monticello along with the rest of the Berryessa Valley. (Pictured above pre-flood – photo credit: Eftimeos Salonites, courtesy Vacaville Heritage Council)
Much like Stonyford, Monticello had a small population and drew the majority of its residents and support from ranchers and farmers in the Berryessa Valley. Also like Stonyford, Monticello hosted an annual rodeo that was a major destination for cowboys and horsemen from all around northern California. (Above photo credit: Eftimeos Salonites, courtesy Vacaville Heritage Council)
Historical accounts of the Monticello rodeo call it “Napa county’s largest attraction. Usually the first rodeo of the season, it drew spectators by the thousands.” But when the dam went in, the homes and businesses were all razed, the trees were cut to within six inches of the ground, and even the graves in the cemetery were dug up and relocated to a hillside overlooking the new lake. The rodeo was finished. (Above photo credit: Eftimeos Salonites, courtesy Vacaville Heritage Council)
The Stonyford Rodeo might as well have been Monticello seventy years ago, only with newer cars, newer music, and a louder PA.