The Caledonian Club of Sacramento was first formed in 1876, 100 years after the birth of the United States. Regular activities such as the Scottish Games and the Robert Burns Supper generated considerable local new coverage in the 1870’s and 1880’s.
The Club was formally incorporated in 1888, and a good deal of information on the Club exists in city, county and state historical records.
The Sacramento Daily Union carried the following account of the first Scottish Games in Sacramento on June 16, 1877:
“The Caledonian Club Anniversary
Fine Attendance, Excellent Weather and a Splendid Day’s Sport
The first anniversary of the Caledonian Club of Sacramento was celebrated last Saturday by a picnic and national games at East Park.
A more pleasant day could not have been expected or desired, and a large number of ladies and gentlemen testified to the popularity of the ‘canny Scots’ by lending their presence on the occasion. The games were commenced at an early hour, and were not concluded until the day was at an end. Many of them were closely contested, and proved exciting: others were amusing, and all were interesting.
Order was maintained most creditably, and the Caledonian Club deserves high compliment for the completeness of their arrangements, which was most remarkable from the fact of its being the initiatory festival. Aside from an insufficient supply of water, which created some inconvenience, nothing could have been more satisfactory.
Much interest was added to the occasion by the presence of 17 members of the San Francisco Caledonian Club in full Highland costume, who proved themselves exceedingly stout competitors at the various games. And speaking of costumes, there were exhibited on the occasion some that for beauty could not be readily excelled in any locality. Throughout the day the dancing platform was kept comfortably filled by ladies and gentlemen desirous of amusing themselves in that manner.
Little groups of ladies and gentlemen gathered beneath the wide spreading trees and amused themselves according to their desires; the circle in which the games were performed was constantly surrounded by a throng of delighted spectators, and during the afternoon lovers of shotgun exercise assembled on grounds adjoining to witness a match at glass ball shooting, which J.W. Todd won very handsomely, not making a miss in twenty-five shots.”
In 1879, Robert Lewis Stevenson, in his essay “The Scot Abroad” wrote of the Sacramento Scots”
“…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 vigor and success. All the Scots in Sacramento became infatuated with him, and spent their time and money driving him about in an open cab, between drinks, while he blew himself scarlet at the pipes.”
Article from the Weekly Bee, now the Sacramento Bee on June 8, 1885:
“Saturday morning at 8:30 a.m. members gathered at Pioneer Hall with a parade proceeding to East Park. The Caledonian’s parade consisted of 18 carriages of Scottish families, six bagpipes, and the First Artillery Brass Band. The attendance was large, and it is doubtful if so great a crowd ever assembled at the park on a similar occasion. Downtown streetcars were reportedly heavily loaded with people heading for the park. Thomas Scott, chief of the Caledonian Club, presided over the day, and was presented with a silver badge representing a thistle.
At the chief’s tent all day long invited guests were treated with unbounded hospitality, the best of eatables and drinkables being dispensed with a liberal hand.”
Thomas Scott was a native of Scotland. He came with his parents from Scotland, over the Isthmus of Panama to California in 1867, in 1869 the family moved to Sacramento. He was a well-known businessman and civic leader. He died on August 10, 1932 at the age of 81 and is buried in the Old City Cemetery.
In those Games in June 1885, many competitions were held throughout the day, and prizes awarded to the participants just are today. The following list of winners, first, second and third, tells something of the flavor of those early Sacramento Scottish gatherings:
Quotes: Thomas Cummingham, A. Foreman
Throwing the Heavy Hammer, 16 lbs.: D.A. McMillian, 91 ft., 10 in., John Blackball, 89 ft., W.F.Scott, 85 ft.
Putting the Heavy Stone, 22 lbs.: D.A. McMillian, 37 ft., W.F. Scott, 35 ft., John Blackball, 34 ft., 6 in.
Grand Highland Reel: John Ross, A.D. Crawford, George Turnbull
Hitch and Kick: D.A. McMillian, 9ft., 6 in., W.F. Scott, 9 ft., 4 in., A. Foreman, 9 Ft.
Reel O’Tulloch: John Ross, A.D. Crawford, Peter Durno
Free for All Old Man’s Race: George Harlow, G. Surgeson
Girl’s Race under 10: Katie WIttenbrock, Minnie Davis, Annie McDonald
Young Ladies Race: Dicey Hurley, Tracy Haley, Jennie Douglas
Marriageable Ladies Race: Ella Cook, Nellie Krapp, Maggie Dwyer
Married Ladies Race: Mattie Jackson, Mrs. Haley, Mrs. Wilder
Boy’s Race, 12 and younger: John Kane, Frank Taylor, John Slaugher
Short Race for Men, quarter mile: Frank Lewis, A.J. Foster, H. Jackson
Standing Wide Jump: W.F. Scott, 10 ft., 6 in., Thos. Carroll, 10 ft., D.A. McMillan, 9ft., 9 in.
Standing High Jump: W.F. Scott, 5 ft., Thos. Carroll, 4 ft., 9 in., D.A. McMillan, 4 ft., 8 in.
Club history is sketchy in the early-20th century, with only a brief newspaper article describing the Robert Burn Supper in 1933. World War I, the Great Depression and then World War II attributed to the Club’s decline. The ‘modern’ Club began in the late 1950’s and by 1960 the Scottish Games and Gatherings were again presented.
In 1983 the Club was re-incorporated after its growth and prominence paralleled that of Sacramento itself.
The annual Scottish Games and Gathering outgrew its longtime venue of McKinley Park, the site of the first Games in 1877 when it was known as East Park; moving to Discovery Park in 1982, to Sacramento State University’s Hornet Stadium in 1984, the Dixon Fairgrounds in 1987. The continued growth of the Games necessitated the move to the Yolo County Fairgrounds in Woodland in 1996 after six years at the Placer County Fairgrounds in Roseville.
In 1989 the annual number of the Games was changed to honor the anniversary of the first Scottish games in the Sacramento Valley and to honor those earlier Scots who worked so hard over the years to organize, present and preserve their Scottish heritage and traditions.
Children of the Caledonian Club 1900
McKinley Park 1900