Volume 34, Number 3, Winter 1995
Editors note:In September1982, two University of Missouri professors animal scientist Melvin Bradley and photojournalist Duane Dailey interviewed Pat Talburt, Silver Dollar City, Stone County. The interview was part of a statewide project now titled The Mule Industry of Missouri Remembered. Eventually, 130 interviews were transcribed, published and made available to the public by the Missouri Mule Skinners Society and the University of Missouri Press, 1991. The project collected reminiscences about the breeding, rearing, training, showing, selling and recreation with mules. A copy of this collection is housed at the Missouri State Archives, Jefferson City.
Pat Talburt: My names Pat Talburt and Im the director of merchandising here at Silver Dollar City. Been in charge of the outdoor crafts since 1976 when I arrived here.
As far as the Missouri mule, I dont know . . . I really, myself, dont know just a whole lot of history about the Missouri mule itself, other than its highly recognized as a Missouri-type animal and I believe that the true Missouri mule is part jack, of course, and bred to a Belgian workhorse. The traditional Missouri mule is a red mule, a big red mule. There are other mules in Tennessee, Kentucky and mules everywhere, but the Missouri mule traditionally was the bigger red workhorse-type mule. The big mules and the big horses have a personality that is . . . that makes it really good for us to work with on the park because theyre very docile. Seems like the bigger they are, the nicer they are or something like that. Course theyre stronger too.
We have tried various animals on the park. Some thin that might be good for Silver Dollar City would be to have some oxen on the park. However, theyre too unpredictable to be in crowds. Their bathroom habits are terrible. So on like that.
A mule seems to be about twice as smart as a horse, to our way of thinking, anyway. They... We can potty-train a mule. Be driven a wagon around the park, the mules tail comes up and old Tom Ristead, the guy driven, says "Ahhh, get that tail down." They put the tail down. They wait til he takes em off the park to go to the bathroom. A horse will just go anywhere at any time, while hes walkin, while hes runnin; doesnt matter. Theres a... a mule is kind of mysterious, a mysterious-type animal. They seem smart to me.
Four or five years ago, I took. .. For two winters in a row, I took some mules home to my pasture for the winter, basically to save us some money, you know, in
feed bills because I have a pasture and they could eat, except for when the snows on the ground, they could eat fescue. And I would ride the mules, you know, my whole family. This one mule, white mule, named Lulubelle, whos presently gone the happy mule hunting ground or whatever, was a real favorite of my little girl. She though... well, she thought they were her mules anyway, and really went crazy when we had to give em back to Silver Dollar City. But, they are. . . I may be wrong, but a mule just seems like they look at you with a little more intelligent look.
This one particular old mule, Kate, that I had over there, a great big... she wasnt a red mule, but she was an enormous, you know, mule, like a big workhorse. When I would drive.. . As I was driven down the road, comin to my house goin around the corner of my property there, she always would just kinda give you a look like "so there you are, huh." And with her, I had some problems. She seemed to be... She was a little wiser mule than the other two and she would try to get any advantage she could on you. She seemed to sense nervousness in me a lot more than the other two mules. It took me. . . and this isnt straight... straight tryin to catch mules... But I was totally inexperienced in mules or horses at this time.
So, some friends of mine come down from Springfield and were gonna ride the mules. And we couldnt even touch one of em, you know, let alone ride one of em. We couldnt even catch em. This friend of mines wife grew up on a farm and her brother was a good horseman and so she says, "Well, if my brother was here, hed just go out and catch em." We said, "Wow would he do it?" She says, "Just go catch em. You know, if nothin else,just run at em and jump on their back. You know, get em." And so we said well, if he can do it, we can do it.
We go out there and we caught Lulubelle and we caught Joan and ran after Kate for a half hour, forty-five minutes, finally got her cornered. And a lotta yell in whoa to her and got a rope around her neck, a 30-40 foot long rope, and thought we had her. I was leadin her over to put the saddle on her and she took off. And this rope was just burn in through my hands, you know, and so here I am, kinda skim across the pasture and gettin madder by the minute. And I watched a lot of western TV and so on, you know, when I was a little kid, and I saw this cedar tree comm up so I swung way out and wrapped that thing around that cedar tree. Wrapped it and just run around and tied it real quick and when it hit that cedar tree, it jerked her real bad and jerked the rope up around her head and right across her eyebrows. And Clayton, the guy I was speakin about, he says one thing about a mule, its a little different with a horse but you cant let a mule hardly ever get the upper hand cause they wont forget that they once got it. And theyll continually try to win again. They dont forget that.
So maybe this shouldnt be on the recording but I just ran up to her and popped her right in the mouth and yelled at her. I dont know much about horses and mules and I just got right up there and yelled, "Dont you ever do that again!" And skin off my hands from the burn and all that. And from then on, she did what I wanted her to do, pretty much.
Melvin Bradley: Do you find these mules better here in these big crowdssafer and more biddable?
PT: Oh yeah, thats right.
MB: Better toilet habits. Id never thought of that.
PT: Well, I wish our old mule was here. He died last year. His name was John. Hed been here for 21 years. Hed been here ever since there was a Silver Dollar City. They thought he was 12 years old when they got him. Everything pointed to him being over 30 years old.
And he was a favorite of everybodys. He was the rainmaker mule on the rainmaker show. Ran the rainmaker wagon. Hed be in the barn lot just walkin around and just about the time that they came to get him for the rainmaker show, hed be standin right at the gate. He knew what time they were supposed to come. He would out on the square he would stand there and sleep and he would almost hed kinda wake up and start gettin frisky when it was time for another show. He had a little ole clock in his brain somewhere that told him when it was time to do rainmaker shows.
Clayton and I did a little experiment with him,just for fun because he was gettin so old we had to start
givin him some days off, see. So we just let him loose over at the mule barn one day, just to see what would happen. He came walkin on the park, walked up the main street, and he walked up and he saw his rainmaker wagon standin there with another mule in front of it. He just stood there and looked at it, you know. And then he walked and got right behind the wagon and stood there and went to sleep.
And when the rainmaker wagon left, he moved up to right where hed been standin for the past so many years, you know, just stood there. Course our security department said we cannot allow you to have a mule walkin around loose on park. They said, "What if somebodyd get on that mule and kick him and drive him, you know, hed be dangerous." But full speed was about one-half a mile an hour for John, so I dont think there was any real danger.
I one time saw a little kid, real little kid, probably a year and a half, two years old, just walkin. And you know, some people, some guests that, you know... This lady was a little bit. . . because she thought he was a stuffed mule. He was standin there with his eyes closed, you know, asleep, not moving. And her little boy was right under John, right under and pokin him in the stomach like this. And I said, "Lady! Get your kid out from under that mule!" And she said she thought he was stuffed. But John was the type of mule and a lot of these big mules are that you can pick your kid up to go pet em and they can just jam their finger right up the mules nostril and the mule may take his head and push you away; but those big mules dont bite, they dont nip at kids.
Of course, we have to put a mule through a lot of tests like that before we can bring em on park. If were buyin a mule, we get behind the mule and stick our legs between their back legs and kick back and forth and pull their tail and pinch their nostrils and poke at their ears and, you know, all kinds of stuff like that.
MB: Where do you get your mules?
PT: We buy a lot ofem at sale barns. Five years ago, we started this deal on our bigger mules. We bought two Belgian workhorses and we started breeding them to two different places, a place in Lamar, Mo., that had that 10-hand-high jack.
PT: Yeah. And then a place up north of Springfield. They have a big jack also. And I think we have 4 mules right now that weve bred right here. Little John was the first one, and hes one of the biggest mules Ive ever seen. Hes not as heavy as some mules are, but hes only ... I guess hes only 4 years old now.
His nose.., you need to go out and look at him.. his face, his head is so long its unbelievable. He cant wear old Johns collar. He just cannot get it on. Hes too big.
And the second one, I believe, is Rufus. Real, real frisky mule. We were worried about him when he was little. But hes gettin tamer now. Course when the mule gets castrated, that makes a big change. I got a saying... I dont know if I should say it...
MB: You.., would you have any animal here if it wasnt for the mule? Could you get along with horses
and oxen if you had to?
PT: We do not allow horses out on park, walking through the guests.
MB: Too unpredictable.
PT: Yeah. You can... if some kid was runnin by the side of a horse that was walkin through the park and they got one of their.., you know, a cap gun or a pop gun or just.., you know, with a sack or anything, horses... you know their side view, they might just jump over 3 or 4 feet, bein skittish. A workhorse would be better, but even our big workhorses, who are pretty tame, are... You can tell, just by people pettin em, theyre not quite as tame as a mule is. A mules asset an awful good animal, really.
MB: About how many do you have here?
PT: Oh, lets see. Im not real sure of the exact number now because we use some mules and the entertainment division uses some mules; but I think its around 15 to 18.
We used to have a lot more when we ran... We used to run two stagecoaches and we were up around 22, 23 then. A lot of our mules now are just for atmosphere, you might say. We have two white mules that are really good mules. Theyre not the real Missouri mule, but theyre very tame and theyre the ones that drive our delivery wagon around park and they go right through a crowd of 8,000 people with no problems. You couldnt get one ofem to run over or step on somebody.
MB: Never step on anybody.
PT: Huh-uh. Weve had one incident of... since Ive been here. .. of a mule nipping at somebody and they nipped at a little kids hand and the kid was just doin all kinds of stuff to them. And it didnt break the skin; it just kinda bruised his hand a little bit. I believe that was a horse that did that, though. I dont believe it was a mule.
Weve got two guys that are really good, other than Clayton. Claytons the boss of outdoor crafts. Gary Clarkson can just practically talk to the mules. He can get on... He takes.. . He uses a horse to do this, but ... We got a fox trotter that he likes and he will bring ten mules over from the mule barn to his farrier shed area, you know, behind this horse and thats a pretty hard deal to do, get 10 animals with reins and haul em all over.
MB: Does he tie em head to tail or just...?
PT: I cant remember how he does it. Seems like he just probably ties some reins to other reins, something like that. Gary can. . . Gary never hardly raises his voice at an animal. They just do what he says. They better. . . They know they better do what he says, though. But Ive never really seen him be mean to one.
When I first started learning something about mules, I thought it was terrible to be mean to em at any time. Then I learned that one time really does em a lotta good. Because if you really get on em, really get onem when they dont do what theyre supposed to do when.., one time.., theyll remember it and you may not have to cross that bridge again. But if you let em get away with anything, then youre in trouble. So nip it in the bud.
MB: So you have to outsmart the mule basically.
PT: Thats right. Well, you just have to let em know whos boss. Cause if they think theyre boss, in any way, shape, or form, they are boss cause you know you cant really control something that big. You just gotta make them think you can.
MB: What is the attitude of the guests to these mules? Are they as unduly toward the mules as they would be a horse?
PT: Oh yeah. Well, we have so many people from bigger cities comin down here. A lot ofem dont know that its not a horse.
MB: I see.
PT: You know, we tell em now this is a mule and so on. These little kidsll say, "Look at those horses." Some
of their parents know, of course, that theyre not horses but some ofem dont. Oh I would say that 80 percent of the public dont know that a mule cant reproduce. You know, theyre hybrid cause theyll say, "Is this this ones father?" They just dont know that. And some of em dont believe you. You tell em and they still wont believe you.
MB: Now you talk about deliveries of these mules amongst all these people. Is this.. . You deliver with mules because its safer than tractors going through the people or. .
PT: Well, we dont have any tractors in the 1880s. Weve had electric and gas carts for quite a few years here and were gonna get rid of em next year.
MB: Oh really?
PT: Yeah. And have another wagon, probably, delivery wagon from the warehouses and so on. And well have electric and gas carts before and after we open and close and do as much delivering as possible; but we cant do it all.
So we have . . . Our mule skinner drives around, delivering, say, candy from one candy shop to another; bringing some merchandise hark and there, taking some.., somebody buys a rolltop desk or something big like that, we have taken over to the security office over there close to the highway where they can pick it up.
And we have awfully narrow streets and the mules have to be able to... you know, back up and they have to really do a good job of pullin that wagon. Weve got some good old boys that know a lot about mules to drive em too.
MB: Our times about up and hes busy. Do you have some questions, Duane?
Duane Dailey: Whats your background?
PT: My background? I grew up in rural Missouri, played football at Aurora, a rural high school and went to SMS... college at SMS. I played football there and then I was a rookie at Kansas City for 6 weeks. Got my-knee hurt real bad. I always thought I was gonna play
I didnt know what else I was gonna do and then I had to have a job, see, so I noticed the new J. C. Penney store goin up in the Springfield mall. Went out and applied for a job. Got a job at J. C. Penneys, merchandise manager. Ended up really liken it. It wasnt anything at all like what I always thought I was gonna do.
And I was with Penneys for seven years and in 1976, I came to Silver Dollar City as a merchandise manager. Drastically different type of job from, I guess youd say from the piece goods department, to in charge of some mules is a pretty big step. And all the different crafts, you know. You dont have any New York buying office to tell you what the best stuff to buy in the whole country is. You have to go out and find it yourself and find somebody to make some of it and try to help the craftsmen figure out what they oughta make and where to get the raw materials. Its a lot different. I love it. Its a lot more fun than, I would say, any regular merchandising job. But with that territory comes a lot of hard work too.
Let me tell you a story. This was a good one. This was that winter that I had the three mules at my house. I was havin a meeting, a very important meeting with my boss, about a 2-3 hour meeting. Got a call; they had to break into the meeting, you know, with the call. It was important. And my boss answers the phone and he goes kinda like this and he says, "Talburt, Esther wanted me to tell you that the mules are out." I said, "Okay. Lets go on with the meeting."
So a half hour later the phone rings again and she says, "The mules are out and theyre headed way down the road." She couldnt catch em. I said, "Okay, Ill have to leave right after this meeting."
So a little bit later, shes real excited. She calls back and she says, "The mules are out and theyre all the way past the pig farm." That was 4 miles away. And I told Fredman, my boss, I said, "Fredman, if somebodyd told me 3 years ago, while I was work in at J. C. Pennys, that my wife would ever call me and tell me that the mules were all the way past the pig farm, I wouldve called em a liar."
It was a pretty big change in my whole life, you know, where I lived, the type of things I like to do and so on. But for the better. I like this better than big city
living and all that.
DD: What kind of thingsll be going on this afternoon? To get pictures of with the mules?
PT: You almost need to get with Clayton. Here is one thing that were gonna remedy next year, but Tom is the mule skinner, drives around the city; but hes only here 5 days a week. Hes off today. Were gonna get another driver for those 2 days next year. And really, all that has ever been for is expense-saving.
And Gary is a farrier. Gary Clarkson is a really good farrier. Hes been to farrier school in Oklahoma City and hes a good entertainment person too. And we havent replaced him on his day off, but theyre both here, you know, when ones off, the other ones here. But Im not sure if today is Toms day off or not. Friday is our slowest day of the week, so theres a good possibility Tom might not be here. But you could take a picture of the rainmaker mule, you know, and Im pretty sure pictures of the mules at Garys place; Im pretty sure hes here today. And if not, you can go over to the mule barn and take pictures of em.
DD: Probably like to do that.
PT: And we have a little colt, so high, thats a Belgian colt. We had a... One of our Belgian mares will take a mule and the other one will not stick.
MB: Wont settle to a jack.
PT: No. I mean, can mount and the durned thing seems like its gonna go okay and she takes off. Just wont do it. And go right over to a Belgian stallion and everythings okay. Shes just picky. She doesnt like a mule. I mean doesnt like a jack, yeah. So we have... Thats fine with us because she always throws every time she throws a female colt and so thats more female Belgians to have mules, you know. So it works out pretty good.
I personally really love those big . . . both the Belgian horses and the big mules. Theyre... Well, it was kinda my pet deal to get this thing started a few years ago, so some time in the future wed have more great big red mules than anybody around and hopefully maybe win the State Fair Missouri mule contest some year.
MB: Think you may show em? You may show mules?
PT: We might. I dont really know. Its not ....... Its not even being thought about right now. I used to think about doin that, but... kinda got off on other things, you know.
MB: How would the mule booth go here?
PT: Mule booth? To sell mules or....?
MB: Educational ... evolutionary history of the mule or something.
PT: Might go pretty good. Id think a good place for it would be the farrier area.
MB: Well think about that when we get some time. Well see you when youve got a little more time.
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