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“The mule always appears to me a most surprising animal. That a hybrid should possess more reason, memory, obstinacy, social affection, powers of muscular endurance, and length of life, than either of its parents, seems to indicate that art has here outdone nature.” ~ Charles Darwin

Mule Days Celebration

The Mule Days Celebration in Bishop is 50 years old this year! Come  kick up your heels at the greatest Mule Show on Earth, May 21st – 26th, 2019. Learn about the history of this amazing animal and why it is so important to our national heritage and local culture. Learn about its significance in the Eastern Sierra, the great American west, and many places around the world.

Mule Days Arena Opening Ceremony

Held every year in Bishop on Memorial Day weekend, this six-day event starts on Tuesday, May 21st and closes on Sunday, May 26th this year. Memorial Day is a day of remembrance and a time to celebrate the arts at the Memorial Day Arts & Crafts Show in the Bishop City Park. This expo, which runs in conjunction with Mule Days, is presented by the Inyo Council for the Arts from May 24th – 27th this year.

Get tickets, merchandise, souvenirs, loads of information, and sign up for the newsletter at the Mule Days Celebration website here.  Whether you’re a competitor, vendor, visitor, volunteer, or local — our Mule Days event could be the highlight of your year. It’s where you’ll make new friends, catch up with old ones, and make memories that will last a lifetime.


History of the Mule

Mule in pasture near Bishop. Photo: @ilex_au

The mule is a hybrid animal bred from a male donkey and a female horse. The hinny, which is a slightly less common variant, is the result of breeding a male horse with a female donkey. The mule and hinny have subtle differences that a trained eye can recognize, but most of us refer to them both, albeit incorrectly, as mules.

Mules are known to have more stamina, have greater patience, and live longer than horses. They require less food than a horse of similar size, are more independent, and can walk greater distances without rest. They are also said to have higher intelligence than the horse.  All-in-all the mule has inherited the best of each of its equine parents; athleticism from the mare and intelligence of the jack.

This hybrid offspring can be either male or female and, in all but a very few cases, the mule and the hinny are sterile. The reason is because the parents each have different chromosome counts. The donkey has 62 chromosomes and the horse has 64 chromosomes. This results in the offspring having an odd chromosomal count of 63 and therefore rendering it infertile. In over 500 years there have only been 60 recorded instances of a female mule producing a foal. There are no recorded cases of fertile male mules. However, male mules are gelded for the same reasons that a horse is gelded – he becomes more sociable and suitable as a work animal.

Mules in the Ancient World

There is no clear evidence about exactly when and where the first mules were bred, but it is believed that the inhabitants of Paphlagonia and Nicaea, a region that is now part modern day Turkey, were the first to breed mules over 6,000 years ago. What is known from historical texts is that the mule was a valuable pack animal in Egypt from well before 3,000 B.C. It was revered throughout the ancient world, from Asia Minor to ancient Greece to northern Africa. In most of the ancient world, the mule commanded a higher price than even a good chariot horse.

Roman Coin depicting a cart drawn by mules

Around 1040 B.C. the mule replaced the donkey as the “royal beast” in the Holy Land. Although breeding mules was forbidden by Hebrew law, their use was not, and mules were likely imported from Egypt. King David and King Solomon rode mules to their coronations. Homer, the Greek historian and writer, wrote in the Iliad in 800 B.C. about the arrival of mules from Asia Minor, where their breeding was reputed to be a specialty. In ancient Rome mules were widely used for transport. Their strength and endurance were highly respected and the Roman legionaries used mules in their baggage trains. The Roman Army General Marius trained his soldiers to emulate these remarkable physical feats and every soldier was required to carry his own armor, weapons, equipment and rations – packs that weighed about 50-60 pounds – and march great distances. The soldiers became known as “Marius Mules” as a tribute to the mule’s stamina. When Hannibal crossed the Alps in 218 B.C. there is evidence from old paintings and more recent scientific study that, along with the elephants that fared badly in these cold, high altitude mountains, he also took mules.

Mules in the New World

More recent history shows that mules were common in Europe before the Renaissance and, while horses remained the preferred mount for heavily armored knights, mules were preferred by the nobility and clergy. Spain, Italy and France developed a flourishing mule breeding industry and by the mid-1700s the Spanish mules were considered the best in the world. Mules would be instrumental for the Conquistadores in their exploration of the American continent.

It was not until the late 18th Century that mules became a staple of the Americas. In 1785 General George Washington was presented one Spanish jack, named the “Royal Gift”, from King Charles III of Spain and began breeding the gifted jack to his mares. Washington was a student of agriculture and saw the potential for mules in the American landscape. In 1786, French General Lafayette sent former President Washington a jack and two jennies from the island of Malta. Washington then bred the Spanish jack, Royal Gift, to the Maltese jennies creating a bigger jack that in turn would produce larger and sturdier mules for use in agricultural endeavors. By 1799, the year of his death, his estate, Mt. Vernon, listed 58 mules on the property. George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Henry Clay were just a few well known historical figures who recognized the value of the mule and continued to create better jack stock to breed with horses to make better mules.

Mules in the American West

Mules harnessed to mining cart. Circa 1920.

Throughout the north and south mules were used to plow fields, harvest crops, and carry crops to market. During the Cotton Boom of the 1850’s the number of mules grew significantly with the majority coming from Texas, Missouri, Kentucky and Tennessee. It was the westward expansion of the North American continent where the mule really made its mark. The wagon trains hauled by mules could cover the plains at a rate of about 30 miles per day, compared to those drawn by horses and oxen that could only average about 5 miles per day. The Old Spanish Trail, which connected Santa Fe with Los Angeles, was said to be the most difficult trail in America. For 20 years from 1829 – 1849, mule pack trains hauled goods along this treacherous 2,700-mile trail. The stage coach lines also preferred large mules to horses. A mule team could reach speeds of 10-miles per hour on dry, flat land. Have you ever wondered why the main streets of old western town were so wide? The commercial center of many western towns was laid out to accommodate the turning radius of mule teams.

Then in 1848, when gold was discovered in California, the mule was once again the working animal that made this discovery economically viable. Mules carried gold from the gold fields to the ports and from the mines to the banks. They hauled ore, supplies, commodities, mail, equipment and people through the region. By 1855 many mules worked throughout California on both the western and eastern slopes of the Sierra Nevada. While all this industry was underway at the lower elevations of this, as yet, little explored mountain range, John Muir rode his mule, Brownie, throughout the upper elevations from Kings Canyon to Yosemite.

Mules in the Eastern Sierra

20 Mule Team at the Rose Parade

Another discovery that would likely not have resulted in a workable business model, if it weren’t for the mule, was that of borax in Death Valley in 1881. For eight years the company that mined the borax near Furnace Creek in Death Valley transported over 20-million pounds of borax with their 20-mule team trains to Mojave, 165-miles away. The round-trip journey took over 20 days, covering terrain without water in extreme high temperatures. Each train consisted of two 16-foot wagons filled with borax, plus a 1,200-gallon water tank. The total load weighed over 36 tons. In all those years, not a single mule was lost. It remains one of the most enduring testaments to the stamina of the mule.

Today the mule is still a vital part of the Eastern Sierra landscape and mountain activities. At last count there were at least 16 active mule pack stations in the Sierra Nevada. These stations supply mule trains and packers for the US Forest Service crews who build and maintain back country trails and foot bridges. The stations service mountaineering base camps, hikers along the Pacific Crest and John Muir Trails, and recreationalists looking for a mountain adventure. The Unites States Marine Corps also utilize mules for its Animal Packers Courses at its Mountain Warfare Training Center located near Bridgeport, CA.

Most recently, in 2017, the 20 Mule Team Borax Wagon Train gained national recognition when the new replica wagons and a highly trained team of mules participated in the Rose Parade in Pasadena and later in the July 4th parade in Washington DC. One hundred years after the original team was in the 1917 Rose Parade and the inaugural parade for President Woodrow Wilson in 1917, the 20 Mule Team continues to amaze audiences. The team is a feature of Bishop Mule Days and the Mule Days Parade. The replica wagons are now on permanent display at Laws Railroad Museum, just 6 miles north of Bishop, CA.

History of Mule Days in Bishop

Mule Barrel Racing

Mule Days began in 1969 to signal the start of the summer packing season in the high Sierra. It was an informal gathering and a test of skills among mule packers. It has grown into one of the most prestigious mule events of the year in the USA. For five days, every Memorial Day weekend, more than 30,000 fans from around the country (and the world) converge on Bishop for this colorful and fun festival.

Today over 700 mules with their trainers, riders and packers participate in 14 mule shows that include equestrian disciplines such as: Western, English, youth, barrel racing, gymkhana, packing, shoeing, chariot racing, team roping and driving. The result is a tremendous display of human and animal skills. In addition to these equine contests, participated in by real working cowboys and cowgirls, the event presents excellent entertainment in the form of a country music concert and lively country dancing. It is a festival that brings this close-knit community together in celebration of the traditions and values that make Bishop a truly unique and special place. Take a look at the full 50th Anniversary Mule Days schedule here.

Enjoy Mule Days and Other Bishop Activities

Arts & Crafts in the Bishop City Park

As if Mule Days weren’t enough, there is so much more to do and see in our ‘big backyard’ that you just might need to stay longer or come back again. Plan your Mule Days weekend outside of the arena with many great getaways near Bishop by calling (760) 873-8405 or stopping by our visitor center at 690 N. Main Street. Our friendly, knowledgeable staff can provide maps, information about Mule Days and other wonderful things to do, see and learn about Bishop and the Eastern Sierra.

Mule Days Images from Instagram

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4 days ago

We are buried in smoke again today, so we thought it would be fun to share a little about how the names of some of the towns in the Eastern Sierra came about. Thank you, California High Sierra for the article!
Photo by Amy Leist
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We are buried in smoke again today, so we thought it would be fun to share a little about how the names of some of the towns in the Eastern Sierra came about. Thank you, California High Sierra for the article!
Photo by Amy Leist

Comment on Facebook

Wow... been a good long while since I’ve been to Bishop. Their high school team was in our league (I went to Tehachapi High) and we traveled there for some football games — something like a 5-6 hour drive each way if I recall correctly. A tough team to beat also. I’m betting it hasn’t changed all that much over all these years (circa late ‘60s).

I'm so sorry the smoke is bad there still. I missed my annual visit this year. It's on my to do list for next year.

We can see it over the Spring Mountains to the West/NW here in Las Vegas. Fortunately, not much of it made it into the LV valley.

Would LOVE to move there if my hubby can find a job nearby!

We left this morning. Not only is it very smokey the smell of smoke is incredible. I don't smoke and I was ready to light up.

Nice photo. That's the real West.

Miss Bishop, Lone Pine, Big Pine, Tinnamaha campground!!!!

No, that is where the theater and Joseph’s used to be. Joseph’s has been gone for some time now. Penny’s is now Dollar General. Unfortunately a lot of vacant stores. Hi Kent!❤️

Hello and good morning. I am planning to drive up to Bishop from Southern California. The main purpose is to see fall colors. May I know if the fall colors are still at peak this coming next two weeks or is it past peak? Thank you for your advice/suggestions.

We were just there.😔

We have to leave too, I almost threw up it was so bad, got to Lee Vining and blue fresh air..take care of yourselves

so sorry for the smoke crazy time for all this year.

I spent a week here and didn't get to see the beauty through the smoke 😏

When was this picture taken, Sunday at 6 am ? never seen it this quiet.

Awesome pic! I wish a Main Street business had a rooftop deck so you can eat with that exact same view!

No smoke in the photo. ??

Is this an old photo? Joseph’s market was the only market back when we lived in Bishop in 1969.

It’s still Smokey? Where is the smoke coming from ?

Beautiful town

I always love to go threw Bishop.

Went thru Bishop yesterday, it was terribly Smokey 😪💚

I wish it was still small !

Does bishop still have a jack in the box

My favorite place ❤️

Isnt that the Old JC Penney store?

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1 week ago

Wonder if this little sheep was as grateful as we were for a view of the mountains this morning??!! Happy Friday! From Bishop, with love ❤️
#keepbishopsafe #mttom
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Wonder if this little sheep was as grateful as we were for a view of the mountains this morning??!! Happy Friday! From Bishop, with love ❤️
#keepbishopsafe #mttom

Comment on Facebook

Wonderful vacation destination

And a free thinker! This is Good!

🙏praying that it stays like this 💖

I miss Bishop so much and living there too 😢😉❤️

This is one of my favorite places to take pictures when I lived in Bishop. There’s many more.

Sigh. Bishop. Love it.

See you next week little sheep

We loved our visit to Bishop

Miss bishop fun times there


Oh how I love that view

It was beautiful

Love Bishop


Need snow on them things!

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1 week ago

In case you are wondering what roads and campgrounds are open, here is the latest, as of yesterday, October 14th:
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In case you are wondering what roads and campgrounds are open, here is the latest, as of yesterday, October 14th:

Comment on Facebook

I've been on that same road every year at this time...

It sure was smoky today.

Still hazy there.😥

I love the West.

Beautiful picture thanks for sharing 🙂🙂❤❤

We always used to stay at Brown’s Millpond Campground just north of Bishop. Very nice private campground with a stream running through it. So many wonderful memories from Mule Days!

Up her for 4 day little smoke but really nice trees turning colors

It's the hunting and fishing Road 🏞️🎣🏕️🌌🤠🥰

Love Bishop and the surrounding mountains !!!

Hwy 168 going to Lake Sabrina, North and South lakes?

With I was there.

maybe next weekend any hotel suggestions?

Johanna Atwell


Lots of nice smoke.....

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1 week ago

The Eastern Sierra Cancer Alliance is hosting a virtual 5K walk and fun run this year!!! Going on NOW!! You can do it from WHEREVER you are!!!Hello Friends!☺️
💥 ESCA 20th Annual 5K Walk & Fun Run! 💥October 11-17th! Virtual Edition!
Please LIKE and SHARE this flyer with your friends and family!
Thank you for your continued support! ☺️
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The Eastern Sierra Cancer Alliance is hosting a virtual 5K walk and fun run this year!!! Going on NOW!! You can do it from WHEREVER you are!!!

1 week ago

Dog days of summer or fall??!!
Last weekend we had warm temps and blue skies again. Fingers crossed we get some more blue skies this weekend!

Photo by Amanda Zhang
#NorthLake #fallcolors #keepbishopsafe
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Dog days of summer or fall??!! 
Last weekend we had warm temps and blue skies again. Fingers crossed we get some more blue skies this weekend!

Photo by Amanda Zhang
#NorthLake #fallcolors #keepbishopsafe

Comment on Facebook

I heard the colors have peaked in this area. Is it still worth visiting or are there other good spots to hit up?

Beautiful picture.

Wonderful vacation destination


Beautiful picture! Cute dog!

North Lake?

Looking good

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