In the middle of the 19th Century, Willits, CA had not yet been given its present nickname-"gateway to the Redwoods." At that time, the local cow herders had no reason to eliminate Willits from a list of potential grazing areas. That explains why Sam and Harry Baechtel brought a herd of cattle up from Marin County, brought the herd up to the valley, the valley in which a small town called Willits would be established.
Willits was established in a large California watershed. During the rainy season, the rainwater accumulated in the watershed, thus causing a portion of the watershed to become a lake. The presence of all that water explained the lushness of the grass in the valley. That lush grass was the sort of grass that the Baechtel's wanted for their cattle.
Still the pioneering spirit of Sam and Harry Baechtel did not disappear with their passing. That spirit lived on; it lived on in the spirits of William James and the Blosser brothers. In 1866, William James built the first grist mill at Willits. Later that same year, the Blosser brothers brought to the town its first water-powered sawmill. That sawmill was constructed on Willits Creek.
Those mills created a new industry in Willits. The trees in the area became an important source of revenue. Labor for that new industry began arriving in the late 1860's, following the appearance of the town's first stage coach line.
Yet Willits still had an unmet need. Willits needed a more efficient way to transport the product of its sawmill. It needed a better way to get that product to a buyer. That need was satisfied in 1888, when the railroad stopped at Willits. Soon after the arrival of the railroad, the people of Willits decided to incorporate.
Between 1888 and 1926, Willits was a typical frontier town. Then in 1926, as the residents in the western U.S. began to advance beyond the frontier mentality, the people of Willits decided to create a special celebration. They called that celebration "Frontier Days."
Now in its 80th year, the Frontier Days at Willits offer a view of California's oldest rodeo. Those Frontier Days call for a week-long celebration, a celebration that ends on July 4th.
It is a celebration that includes the firing-up of a barbecue, the throwing of horseshoes, the music that goes with street dancing, and a display of money-making efforts, such as games and handcrafts.
The Frontier Days were not created just to glorify the frontier period of the town's and the nation's history. The Frontier Days serve as the main source of income for the non-profit organizations in Willits. Scholarships, made possible by the Frontier Days, allow many more young people from Willits to attend college.
The college-educated people of Willits promise to bring the city a new sort of pioneer spirit-a spirit that has a very different focus. The young people, who benefit from the annual scholarships in Willits, bring to the city a new spirit, a spirit that thrives on modern technological inventions. One day, perhaps, someone from Willits might go on a journey to a new frontier.