In September 1876 a group of Sacramento area Scots and Scottish-Americans got together to create a club to celebrate their heritage. Among the many activities they wanted to participate in was developing a Scottish Picnic which included games, formal competitions, music, pipe bands, food, and good fun. The first event was June of 1877 in East Park (now McKinley Park), in Sacramento.
One hundred prizes were awarded in all for more than 30 games, dancing and piping. The games included quoits, throwing heavy and light hammers, putting heavy and light stones, tossing the caber, standing and running jumps and high leaps, short and long races for men, pole vaulting, hop, step and jump, three-legged sack races, hurdle, and wheel barrow races. Competitors also had a glass ball shooting event. Highland dancing had 3 categories. There were also categories for best dressed man and boy in Highland costumes and best player on the bagpipes. Archery was also a contest and on this occasion for the first time in the State, an archery costume and uniform of showy blue and red, with sashes and archer’s hats, were worn by the Ladies of the Red Clouds. A Grand Ball, held in the evening, completed the event.
People came from all over. Members of the Caledonian Club of San Francisco came to join with the Sacramento club in the summer celebration. In 1879, a special train from Stockton brought some 30 of Caledonia’s sons and families to participate. The tartans of many clans were represented.
It must have been a good time for the Sacramento Scots in 1879 when Robert Louis Stevenson, in his essay “The Scot Aboard” wrote:
…There came a Scot to Sacramento – perhaps from Aberdeen. Anyway, there never was anyone more Scottish in this wide world. He could sing and dance – and drink, I presume; and he played the pipes with vigour and success. All the Scots in Sacramento became infatuated with him, and spent their spare time and money driving him about in an open cab, between drinks, while he blew himself scarlet at the pipes.”
In 1883, the 7th annual picnic was reported to be “beyond doubt the largest gathering that ever assembled in the grove.” The Sacramento Daily Union estimated the attendance was 6,000 people. Many came out of curiosity to see the famous champion athlete of the world, Donald Dinnie.
In 1890, it was reported that there is probably no race of people whose taste for athletic sports is as deep-rooted as that of the sons and daughters of bonnie Scotland, and wherever a few of them may be gathered together for enjoyment there will be found men engaging in feats of strength, speed and endurance. Prize money reached $1,000 with admission at .50 for adults and .25 for children.
Such started a wonderful tradition that continues today …