Up The Road: Gold Nugget Days

Apr 19, 2017

This week we head Up the Road to celebrate the hometown parade. There’s nothing quite like it. If it’s your town, you know everyone on parade, as well as the folks lining both sides of the street. Despite that, every year it’s all new and exciting. A community on parade creates its own celebrities, not even counting the queen and her court, or the bigwigs riding upfront in the bright, shiny convertible. And not counting all the marching bands, the Boy Scout troops, the Brownies, the classic cars, the fluffy floats. And the horses!

I would fixate on the parade horses, starting with the Sheriff’s Mounted Posse drill team and color guard. That would be Butte County Sheriff Larry Gillick, who reportedly never carried a gun, though he was such a great ball player that on occasion he brought down a fleeing bad guy with a well-hurled rock. And there was John Robson and his Arabian stallion Nafix, in the middle of all that chaos, that gorgeous red chestnut willing to parade bareback, with just a string for a bridle. But some things, for all their familiarity, would always be mysteries. Why, for example, did the Shriners, full-grown men, wear funny little red hats and spin out in those tiny cars that sounded like lawn mowers?

That was the Pioneer Day Parade—the original one, before P-Week parties got way out of hand and then-University president Robin Wilson finally had to carry out his threat to (quote) “take it out in the backyard and shoot it in the head” (unquote). It’s hard to recover from a setback like that. But I still miss the Sheriff and Little Nell candidates on parade, all those comely college women in Easter Egg-colored calico, and handsome young men wearing beards, boots, and cowboy hats. Overnight they’d build an entire Western town near the administration building—one incredibly realistic saloon or school or old-timey business for each possible Little Nell or Sheriff, to help tell their story. You could wander around and take it all in, before and after the parade. Never mind all the parts of local history that somehow got left out, like the Mechoopda being marched off their land, where much of the University stands today, or, at the other end of town, the shameful burning down of Chinatown. Pioneer Days Village told a prettier story, one suitable for children.

I’ve been looking for a new springtime small-town parade. A strong candidate, in my new hometown of Paradise, celebrates Gold Nugget Days, held this year on the last weekend in April. The festivities honor the 54-pound Dogtown Nugget unearthed near here in 1859—54 pounds! Can you imagine holding that in your hands? The parade is completely non-commercial, except for the vendor booths at the rec center, which don’t really count.

Opening ceremonies crown Miss Gold Nugget—authentic, homemade gold-rush costumes everywhere—on Thursday night. Then there’s Friday’s Donkey Derby in Magalia—always a hoot—organized by the local chapter of those crazy Clampers, E Clampus Vitus Pair-O-Dice Chapter 7-11, to re-enact the nugget’s discovery. Followed by the Gold Nugget Days Bean Feed at the Methodist Church, then a performance by renowned harpist and violinist Carlos Reyes and Friends.

The parade starts at noon Saturday, more or less in front of Holiday Market on the Skyway. (Bring camping chairs, water, hats, and sunscreen.) It’s almost over when you start hearing the shotguns, a blast of rolling thunder and smoke bringing up the rear. That’s Danville’s legendary Devil Mountain Brigade semi-precision shotgun drill team. Really. And yes, these guys have performed at shotgun weddings.

After the parade, the party continues at Depot Park on Black Olive at Pearson, downtown, celebrating the 10-year anniversary of the Depot Museum with live music, a food truck court, and the Gold Nugget Saloon serving beer and wine.

Pick up a copy of the Dogtown Nugget souvenir program around town or at the Gold Nugget Museum, on Pearson, to know what’s happening when and where. And be sure to buy a $2 Gold Nugget Days badge (they’re local collectibles) around town—the chief source of funding for the museum. Without a badge you risk being tossed into the Calaboose by the Constable or his many vigilant deputies for being “outside the law.” Then again, the kids might enjoy that.