An early Spanish Friar looked eastward toward a distant range of mountains and exclaimed “una gran sierra nevada,” translated to mean a great snow-covered mountain range. Thus, Friar Pedro Font named a truly grand mountain range, the Sierra Nevada Range of California. At the beginning of the 20th century, America was changing and California’s Eastern Sierra was no exception. Moving from an era of exploration and settlement, with the advent of automobiles and more leisure time, people were searching for adventure and recreation opportunities. The Sierra Nevada was the backbone of the state, and many looked toward that high mountain range to explore new adventures.
Horses and mules have been right along with us through this period of transition over 150 years. Having served for thousands of years as the first mode of transportation horses and mules have transitioned to mostly serve recreationists. Mules were the work animals used in: maintaining and building access trails, packing in supplies and camping equipment, and enabling Americans to reach scenic campsites into road-less mountain wonderlands. Packers fine-tuned their packing skills and became guides for visitors, leading adventure-seekers to remote campsites and educating them how to enjoy their extended stay as true mountaineers.
Consequently the packing and outfitting industry was born in the Sierra. As these new businesses grew and prospered into an industry unique to the Sierra Nevada mountains, the Packers’ Association developed. These farsighted men called it the High Sierra Packers’ Association, consisting of two units. These units were; the Western and the Eastern, representing each side of the range. They soon recognized the need to advertise and promote pack trip vacations and opportunities for horseback riding, hiking, camping, fishing, hunting and exploring. Sports shows were created in Southern California and the San Francisco Bay Area to cater and advertise to the emerging recreatiors. Packers and resort owners were at the forefront of this emerging market, manning the informative booths and introducing recreation opportunities to the public.
In 1969 an especially heavy winter kept mountain trails blocked by snow late into the season. This limited recreation opportunities. The local packers and the Forest Service Trail Supervisor discussed business remedies. They wondered if they could create a spring event focusing on packing competitions in Bishop. These intrepid Founders of Mule Days wanted to create an activity that would show the value and versatility of mules. They envisioned an event that could bring visitors from afar to Bishop to celebrate the hardworking, humble mule. In May of 1970, they launched the first Mule Day as one-day event. Suceed they did, and Mule Days has grown to six days of shows and the largest non-motorized parade in the country. Mule Days has been successful beyond their dreams and we honor their vision.
With that same spirit, the American Mule Museum seeks to carry forth that tradition by paying tribute to mules. These are the reliable mules who built the West, carried us to the tops of mountains, and entertain us. They inspire our cheers every Memorial Day weekend – the sturdy American Mule.
Join us as we carry this vision a step further into the future. Check out our website for updates and sign up for our newsletters! www.mulemuseum.org While at Mule Days, be sure to visit our Annual Silent Auction in the Douglas Robinson Building, Wednesday, May 22nd – Sunday, May 26th, 1 p.m.
By Jennifer Roeser