Gertrude Redemeyer White’s personal history interlinks with the unique Labor Day celebration in Fort Bragg called “Paul Bunyan Days.” Born April 25, 1894 in Ukiah, her mother died when Gertrude was three. On school days, Gertrude hitched up a horse and buggy, forded the Russian River, drove to a friend’s house, and then walked to school. She loved horses.
Her family drove by horse and buggy to the coast before and after the 1906 earthquake. They camped at Russian Gulch before there was a bridge, and later south of today’s Glass Beach. Her dad was good friends with the manager of the Guest House in Fort Bragg, so they visited frequently, especially during the hot inland summers.
She graduated from the Dominican Convent School in San Rafael. At 18 she bought a 1912 Overland car and married Val White who worked for Ukiah Power and Light. By 1920, Gertrude and Val had two boys and two girls. With all the farm work in the hot climate, plus caring for four children, Gertrude’s health was suffering.
Val’s younger brother, who worked in Fort Bragg for Union Lumber Company, told Val about a position in the Camp One office at Ten Mile. Val took it and moved the family. The children attended Moss Maple School there. In 1928 the Camp One office closed. Val got a job at the California Public Service office in Fort Bragg. When Lillian was ready for high school, the family left Camp One and moved to Fort Bragg. Freddie preferred the Inglenook school, today’s Grange Hall.
The Whites moved several times and started a dairy business. They bought the old Jackson Ranch, north of Pudding Creek in 1936. Val continued working in town while Gertrude ran the dairy. In 1939, Val and Gertrude went their separate ways. Freddie helped his mother on the ranch. She never remarried.
In 1947, Gertrude rented her dairy for about a year and a half to a man who couldn’t make a go of it and quit. She discovered him selling all the cattle, about a dozen belonging to her, so she took the ranch back. She said it was a lot of work, but the lifestyle kept her healthy.
Once she could pursue her own interests, Gertrude established a riding club, taught horsemanship, and went on long trail rides, among many other activities. Part of Paul Bunyan Days started on her ranch.
Paul Bunyan Days
In 1939 Gertrude allowed the first Paul Bunyan Committee to build corrals, chutes and bleachers for a rodeo on the northeast portion of the ranch. Rodeos were held on Labor Day weekends in 1939, 1940 and 1941, were discontinued during the war, and then held on the Fourth of July for a few years. But Fort Bragg was competing with other cities for attendees on the Fourth.
In 1968, the Chamber of Commerce no longer wanted to sponsor the three-day event. Eureka wanted the Paul Bunyan theme for their parade, but Gertrude didn’t want to lose it for Fort Bragg. She and Frank Hyman volunteered to head a committee to continue Labor Day Paul Bunyan celebrations and re-organized the group as the Paul Bunyan Association. Frank and Gertrude took turns being president. She was president in 1989 when they celebrated the weekend’s 50th anniversary.
Gertrude rode in every Paul Bunyan Parade until 1981, when her old Tennessee Walker horse died. She then rode with friends in their wagons and buggies. She continued riding in every parade until she turned 90, the last years in a fire truck. In 1984, the Paul Bunyan Association named Gertrude White lifetime honorary president, having served as their primary mover, and bailing them out a few times when proceeds didn’t cover expenses. Some referred to her as Pauline Bunyan.
Gertrude died at home on her ranch in 1995, at age 101.
(Source: compilation of Gertrude’s memories and collections by Gertrude’s daughter-in-law, Eleanor Sverko. Published by her son, Fred White, in 1991.)