The fiberglass mules will soon be joining the wagons in the Borax 20 Mule Team exhibit at Laws Railroad Museum. The mules have been purchased with a generous grant provided by the Margaret Pillsbury Foundation.
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
Dugan was a special animal from the day of his birth. Unfortunately he really wasn’t wanted by his owners, but luck was always on Dugan’s side. Dugan’s mother was a beautiful registered quarter horse and her owners were looking forward to a beautiful colt who would be a success in the show ring. Imagine their surprise when a long eared catch-colt arrived instead. They were so disappointed and did not want the tiny mule colt. Andy, their neighbor, loved mules and packed into the Sierra Nevada backcountry every summer. Andy offered to take the little mule and raise him on a bottle.
The little black mule foal, was named Dugan and he thrived on the offered bottles and people’s affections. He soon grew to be a beautiful mule; sleek and shiny, gentle, friendly and mischievous. He was broke to be a pack mule and joining Andy’s string of riding horses and pack mules. Andy was a professor and enjoyed spending his summer vacations packing into the backcountry wilderness of the Eastern Sierra with his animals.
When the Mammoth Lakes Pack Outfit acquired the five “stall mates”, Dugan was 5 years old and he went right to work as a pack mule. But he soon proved his exceptional ability to jump out of the mule corral. Early one morning the packers noticed Dugan was missing, nowhere to be seen. Dugan was later found happily snacking at the hay stack. Later that morning, a trail ride left the yard and Dugan was sighted happily following the group out of the yard. Next, Dugan turned up in the dude horse corral and was returned to his rightful place in the mule corral. Again, he was seen following another trail ride down the trail. Everyone wondered, “Hmm – what was going on!” It was soon discovered that Dugan was jumping out of the mule corral. He would cannily hide out in the forest while the pack trips went out. Once the coast was clear, Dugan would jump into the Dude Horse Corral or slip into a trail ride as the group was leaving the yard.
Hunting season soon arrived with very early mornings. One experienced group of hunters that had ridden with Mammoth Lakes Pack Outfit before planned a trip to Deer Creek. The group would just be gone for the day and would go without a guide. One man in the group was new but the old timers assured the pack station that he would be coached by them and all would be well. Just at daybreak, as the group was riding up the trail the pack station cook looked out the window and saw Dugan following along. The packers assured the cook that Dugan would soon return to the yard. But this time he didn’t! Later that afternoon, who should come riding into the yard alone? The “new guy” from the group headed for Deer Creek. And he was riding Dugan! The man was carrying his rifle, riding without benefit of saddle or bridle. He was clinging to Dugan’s scanty mane and somehow staying a muleback. Dugan, head held high, proudly carried the hunter into the yard. Dugan knew right were to go! He stopped at the tie racks, he had clearly been watching the riding horses. Open mouthed, the pack station crew stood amazed. The hunter casually slid off Dugan and nonchalantly told his story as though this was not at all unusual.
It seemed that somehow the “new guy” had become separated from his hunting buddies. He spotted a buck and remembered that he had been told not to shoot from horseback. He got off his horse and sighted in on the buck. He aimed, fired, and missed. Only then, did he notice the dust kicked up by his quickly departing horse. He then remember that he was also supposed to tie his horse securely to a tree and then aim and shoot. So, he found himself lost, afoot and with no deer to show for his trouble. He began trudged along the trail he hoped was headed in the right direction to locate his buddies, or his horse. After a while he began to worry a little. Suddenly, a friendly unsaddled mule appeared, like a gift from heaven, and the mule walked right up to him. “Well,” he thought, “I can ride him to find our group.” Dugan had come to the lost hunter’s rescue. Not knowing anything about Dugan, the hunter managed to climb on the mule’s back with his rifle, clutching to Dugan’s mane. The man put his faith in Dugan to find the rest of the group. However, Dugan amazingly and unhesitatingly marched back to the pack station with a new found purpose.
The “new guy” did not located his partners nor his horse as Dugan carried him to the pack station. But the man was very happy to find himself back at the pack station sipping coffee, telling his story, and enjoying the cook’s offer of a late lunch! After hearing this tail, several packers looked at each other and one declared, “Well heck, we could use a saddle mule around here!” The rest of the hunters, and the missing horse, joined up with a packer and his string of mule returning home. They were happy to find their lost friend in the kitchen sharing the tale of his adventure.
What Dugan was trying to tell us all along was that he was a riding mule, not a pack mule. Dugan was quickly saddled, a packer hopped aboard and Dugan proudly made circles around the yard. That night Dugan was put away in the dude horse corral and begin a long, successful career as a saddle mule. From that day forth, he never again jumped out of his corral because Dugan knew he was in the right place. Dugan carried many people, young and old, through the mountains on day rides and pack trips. While riding Dugan, a young rider was once overheard asking his mother, “Mom, why does this horse have longer ears than yours?” If that young rider could have heard Dugan answer; he would have heard, “Because I am better. I’m a MULE.” -By Marye Roeser