The history of Kernville reads like a cross between "Paint Your Wagon" and "The Hallelujah Trail" because the womenfolk of Kernville in the 1860s wouldn't allow booze in their gold-mining town, they told saloon-keeper Adam Hamilton to set up shop near the gold mine.
"The women didn't want the town to be loaded up with saloons and the drunks," said Cheryl Borthick, president of the Kernville Chamber of Commerce. "So they told Adam Hamilton to set up his saloon on the flat."
The miners nicknamed that flat of land "Whiskey Flat," which also became another name for Kernville.
However the ladies -- ever sticklers for temperance -- and other civic-minded citizens objected to that name. Today's citizens of Kernville celebrate "Whiskey Flat" every Presidents Day weekend, with a four-day festival starting Friday.
This is the 57th annual Whiskey Flat Days celebration, and organizers anticipate a runaway success: the dry, sunny weather will make it easier for an expected 50,000 visitors to get to Kernville, and to stay longer. And there will be plenty to do when they get there. Every day, visitors can shop through the merchandise and food booths -- "Golden Gulch" -- that extends from Circle Park along Frontage Road to Riverside Park, home to a children's activity center, with games, a petting zoo and other offerings; a carnival will go up on Kernville Road. Local and visiting history buffs will demonstrate life in the Old West -- saddle-making, blacksmithing, that saloon, story-telling and more -- at the Whiskey Flat encampment near the rodeo grounds.
On Friday and Saturday evenings, visitors will enjoy live entertainment -- the Rock Bottom Boys band from the Los Angeles area, an old-fashioned melodrama of the boo-hiss variety and a street dance.
Saturday is the biggest day, with a community-wide breakfast, the parade and the Wild Daze rodeo, plus the ongoing events and entertainment. Sunday is contest day -- frog jumping, costumes, best epitaph, pets and the whiskerino contest. Though the action winds down Monday, visitors still may enjoy the vendor booths, children's activities and gold camp.
There's a lot of jokey humor mixed up with all the history. You'll see it in the names given to people, places and events around town and the evident fun residents have in dressing up and acting the part. This year's Whiskey Flat Mayor's race, which has been going on for some weeks now, is a hotly contested match between "Rango" Rocky Stone and "Nickle and Dime" Nicole Kent. Both candidates have been "taking bribes" -- fundraising, actually -- for weeks; the one who collects the most bribes wins.
"Anybody can apply to be mayor," Borthick said. "It's actually a chamber fundraiser to help pay for our restoring and maintaining the town, and 40 percent goes to the charity of the candidates' choice."
There's also a lot of "living history" provided by re-enactors and history buffs at the gold camp.
"The chuck wagon comes from Ridgecrest, some of the re-enactors come from down south, some from Bakersfield, and a lot of guys from around here," Borthick said. "It's their passion."