Whiskey Flat Days celebrate old kern’s ancient ancestry

Nicholas Sparling

The 53rd annual Whiskey Flat Days event was considered by many to be a smashing success, thanks to the uncommonly good weather, and to the estimated 60,000 to 70,000 people who turned out this year. The weekend-long event took place from Feb. 15-18 and featured re-enactments of old-time shootouts and gunfights, as well as people in costumes, live music from local bands, a carnival, rodeos on Saturday and Sunday, and a parade Saturday morning.
Whisky Flat, now known as Kernville, was the original name given to the miners’ camp in the mid 1800s during the California gold rush. The Whiskey Flat event is put on every year in honor of the town’s tradition but was originally started to bring in extra revenue to the town after the winter months.
Kernville was littered with booths selling everything from arts and crafts, jewelry, food and other specialty items. If the goal of Whiskey Flat was to raise money then it could easily be considered a success. Whisky Flat has had a reputation over the past years for falling on a weekend of unfortunate weather, but this year’s participants were lucky enough to see clear skies and experience nothing more than a cool breeze.
The parade included US Marshals from all over California, which was originally started by George Washington in 1789; the modern organization began in 1987. Women followed by cowboys, Indians, and frontiersmen walked in the parade, and the smell of blanks filled the air. There was a re-enactment of the OK Corral shooting as the parading cowboys turned to one another, and the Indians ran out of the way.
The 2008 Grand Marshal drove in the parade in a sea-foam green canoe. Donny Youngblood rode by on a horse and people snickered and yelled out that he was doing a great job as sheriff. The Shriners’ Motorcycle Club of Kernville took their place in the parade as well as programs of local schools and even an advertisement for RV parks. According to a local resident, the parade lasted a day longer than in previous years as far as he could remember.
The Kern River saloon seemed to be the most popular hangout in Circle Park, people stood on the balcony and poured out the front door cheering, howling and waving at the people on the street and those in the parade. From the saloon people flung Mardi Gras beads to the lines of motorcycles on the street and children ran to pick them up.
The official newspaper of Whisky Flat, “The Claim Jumper,” was distributed and included a teaser that read, “Tales that are true, some that are a little bit taller, and some that are just plain bull.” There was also a list of events. Free smoked trout fish fillets were given out at the fish hatchery.
According to Jessie Davidson, this year’s Whisky Flat was good. “It’s the same thing every year. It’s a good time to get drunk,” he said.
The friends of the Kern River Fish Hatchery had their booth set up where children could fish for the Kern River Rainbow Trout in an above ground pool. This was a relatively new addition to Whisky Flat. The fish are shipped in and the pool is stocked with around 50 fish at a time.
Three fishing poles were also hung over the water for children who were given the chance to catch and release the fish or to take them home. There was a mob of young children around the pool waiting their turn to fish; it seemed like everyone wanted their chance to shoot for fish in a barrel.
The Spurs and Satin group of California re-enact the 1880s era. They put on gunfights that they practice for all year long. According to Gail Smith, wife of Spurs and Satin’s director Scott Smith, “Everything in our encampment is from the era, even down to the cups we drink out of.”
Saturday is the busiest day for the businesses around the area. At a Shell gas station in Kernville, people lined up to be let in, and the three cashiers were frantic with all the customers. There was a table set up outside of the gas station where people had bought cartons of a variety of cigarettes if they wanted to avoid the hassle of going inside the busy store.
Since 1972, Gail Morris and her husband have been coming to Whisky Flat. They always have their whiskey, and agree that this year’s Flats was “the best Whisky Flats we’ve seen in a long time. It’s awesome, straight down to the bone. Perfect weather and the parade was great.”
Unfortunately, the carnival was rather deserted, and the workers looked rather bored. The fire department came to the aid of a young boy who had split his head open in the funhouse. The rides were recycled from past years. With faded and peeling paint, the attractions seemed to have lost their luster.
However, every year the race for Whisky Flat’s mayor is exciting. It’s decided just like it was in the old days; the candidate who can buy the most votes wins. This year’s winner was Outlaw Jerry James and his wife Louisville Lisa who beat out last year’s winner Vintage Val. The money raised by Outlaw Jerry James and his wife went toward the valley’s young baseball players in the Kern Valley Little League.