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Mingling with the Mules

Mule Day Makes History!

Black and white historical photo of a huge, closely packed crowd on the square in downtown Columbia, TN, stretching back for over a block.

We often affectionately refer to our home in Lynnville as a one-horse town. We actually have more than one horse in residence though. Up the road, there is a medium-sized city that is a “one-mule town” of sorts, except for the annual pilgrimage hundreds of mules make every year to attend the festivities called Mule Day. This past week, we were knee deep in festival tradition at the 177th annual Mule Day. Yep. Mule Day for 177 years.

Historical black and white photo, high vantage point view of the Mule Day parade in downtown Columbia, TN        Black and white historical photo of two mules, bridles held by an older gentleman in a black suit, standing on the street in downtown Columbia, TN

In Columbia, Tenn., known as the unofficial Mule Capital of the World, there is great anticipation as the community elects its queen and court, plans a grand parade and prepares for mules of all shapes and sizes to show up en mass. Some years it rains, and you find out mules and mud don’t mix too well, but this year, the sun was shining and crowds made their way to dozens of events.  The Colonel is especially fond of Mule Day because some of his best childhood memories are related to mules on his grandparents’ farm in West Tennessee.

Old black and white photo of a young Colonel Littleton seated on a harnessed mule standing between two other mules in front of a fence.

Every year, more than 200,000 people make their way to Mule Day for four days of celebration. You don’t have to know a thing about mules to have a great time though. There is something for everyone, but it’s also an important gathering for mule breeders. In fact, the festival actually started in 1840 as “Breeder’s Day,” which was just a single day of livestock shows and a mule market. Over the years, it has been transformed into one of the biggest livestock markets in the world. You’d be surprised how many people love mules.  Horses sort of take the limelight. But, the mules get their due here.

One of the highlights of the Mule Day celebration is the annual Auctioneer Contest sponsored by the Columbia Breakfast Rotary Club. The Colonel was pretty honored when he was asked to be a judge. We’re just glad they didn’t ask him to judge the Liar’s Contest.

Auctioneering man in a grey suit and black cowboy hat speaking into a handheld microphone and pointing to the right of the frame.        Colonel Littleton sitting at a narrow table, filling out a judging sheet for the auctioneering contest.

What makes the Colonel qualified to judge an auctioneer? Well, people always ask where he gets his collection of vintage and antique stuff, ranging from farm tools to military artifacts to vintage automobiles to old leather goods. The Colonel has become somewhat of an expert over the years at getting what he wants at a great price at auction. He’s come to appreciate the art of auctioneering.

Young woman in a yellow shirt and a pageant sash wearing a tiara is holding up an antique wood-handled axe with a rusted blade head.        Colonel Littleton, wearing a tan jacket, blue jeans, and hat, is writing a check at the accounting table at an auction.

This year, there were 24 entrants in the Auctioneer Contest, making for a lively day of fast-talking professionals from auction houses across the country. The field was narrowed to five and then the fireworks began. Each contestant pulled out every trick in their bag to impress the judges.  Mr. Junior Staggs of Puryear, Tennessee was named this year’s winner after a crowd-roaring performance. Junior wasn’t the only one to walk away a winner. The Colonel was the high bidder on a few items that he’s adding to his eclectic collection of old stuff.

        Colonel Littleton standing to the right of Junior Staggs with an arm around Junior's shoulder as both stand smiling into the camera

But, probably the most anticipated and attended event during the Mule Day celebration is the parade. Folks line the parade route and cheer on the entrants. You’ll see everything from the Mule Day Queen and her court to mini-mules. We think small town festivals are a tradition worth keeping. In a world where everything seems to be changing at warp speed, we like knowing that some things don’t have to change. We’re looking forward to the 178th year of Mule Day!

Two mules pulling a wagon down the street in Downtown Columbia TN during the 2017 Mule Day Parade.         Two miniature mules pulling a red wagon carrying three people down the street in downtown Columbia, TN during the 2017 Mule Day Parade.