Mule Days: Eastern Oregon town celebrates the role of mules in establishing community
Enterprise, Ore. – The first annual Hells Canyon Mule Days was celebrated Sept. 19-20, 1981. The event, centered around praising the “tough, intelligent and often maligned” mule as the mainstay of many packers and outfitters in Wallowa County, Ore., was coined by local ranchers and packers.
“Hells Canyon Mule Days was an appropriate title for the new event, because the area owes most of its early settlement and development to the sure-footed and misunderstood animal,” reads an article from the Hells Canyon Mule Days board. “The mule predominantly served as a major means of transportation to gain access to this rugged region and to the settlement of the county.”
“Given the well-known independence of Mule Days’ long-eared star, the entertaining, action-packed event has met its initial goal – both mule skinners and spectators alike can be part of this family-oriented mule show, with events and games for all ages,” the article continues.
In 2001, the event was slated for termination, due to the increased facility use prices and decreased participation of local mule owners, according to Bob Casey, the founder and then-president of the event. In January of 2002, local groups and businesses took interest in supporting and continuing the event.
Since then, Hells Canyon Mule Days has seen steady increases in the number of contestants, exhibitors and spectators, and many volunteers and sponsors have stepped forward to show their support and guarantee the longevity for the Wallowa County tradition.
41sth annual celebration
This year, Hells Canyon Mule Days will feature three full days of events including mule shows, a mule clinic, a parade, a western art walk, cowboy poetry, Cowboy Church and a Dutch oven cook-off. The event is scheduled for Sept. 10-12.
“The weekend is packed full of mule-related happenings and there is always something to see and do for the whole family,” reads a press release from the board.
The Mule Show includes classes for every age group and skill level and kicks off with halter and showmanship classes, followed by a log pull and timed trail class. The mule performance highlights of the weekend include the Classic Jump Off Challenge and fast-action events such as pole bending, barrel racing and the “Fast Ass Express.”
“Visitors can enjoy strolling The Green and visiting with vendors, exhibitors and western artists,” the release continues.
The featured artist for the 2021 Hells Canyon Mule Days is Bonnie Shields, who is well known for her drawings, paintings and sculpture. Her mule art can be viewed at the show.
The event will also host the Max Walker Memorial Cowboy Poetry Gathering, including cowboy yarns and traditional cowboy music and poetry. A mule sale and entertainment by Dave Stamey take the stage Saturday of the event.
Cowboy Church and the Dutch Oven Cookoff are scheduled for Sunday morning to wrap up the weekend’s festivities.
For more information, visit the Hells Canyon Mule Days Facebook page @HellsCanyonMuleDays or their website at hellscanyonmuledays.com.
Averi Hales is the editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.