Maury County Mule Day: How the celebration has evolved

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COLUMBIA, Tenn. (WKRN) — What’s not happening this year has many Maury County business owners and families eager to get back to normal.

“These people depend on people coming in and buying things from them where they make a living,” said former Maury County Sheriff Enoch George. “These people have lost a lot of money from this pandemic.”

Mule Day has been canceled due to the COVID-19 Pandemic for the second year in a row. The festivities would have kicked off this weekend in downtown Columbia with an annual parade.

“It’s the largest event in Maury County. It brings in lots and lots of money. People come from a lot of different states around here,” George added as well as other countries.

Six hundred-sixteen square miles, lots of farmland, and more than 95,000 people make up Maury County. It proudly self-proclaims to be “The Mule Capital of the World.”

“Well, I was raised on a farm. I’ve lived on a farm all my life. Matter of fact, I still live on a farm,” said George.

The former sheriff said when he was a child he was always around horses and mules, “I still have a mule.”

A mule is a hybrid animal bred from a mare (female horse) and a jack (male donkey). Maury County’s mule industry has grown into one of the largest livestock markets in the world.

“The story is that the mules we have here are as good or better as anywhere else,” exclaimed George.

Mule Day celebrations have truly been missed. The tradition dates back more than 180 years. It began as “Breeder’s Day” in the 1800s. A livestock show and mule market were held in one day.

“It started out of being a necessity for farmers to be able to trade mules. They didn’t have tractors,” George explained. “They would bring their young mules -the ones they had broken during the winter-and trade them off or sell them.”

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In 1934, “Breeder’s Day” transformed into “Mule Day.” The event evolved from a one-day event into a string of days filled with festivities, like a mule driving show, a pageant, and a float competition during the parade.

“I don’t remember it, but they tell me my mom and dad carried me to Mule Day when I was two-years-old.” George said that was back in 1950.

Though Mule Day was a popular tradition, it didn’t become an annual event until 1974.

Now, that Mule Day, George remembered. “Some 26 years later, I go to Mule Day, and I’m riding a horse.” He added it was a family ordeal, “My mom and dad, my brother-in-law, sister, everybody joined in. My wife, our kids, we all went Mule Day.”

George said the 1974 event lasted two days, “We started out on a Saturday. We had a parade that went down through Columbia, and Sunday afternoon, we’d have some more festivities out of Maury County Park. There was some competition where people would ride their mules and race them.”

Another tradition that’s been included in the festivities – the pageant queen gets to crown the mule king. “It’s just kind of prestigious thing to say that I got the best mule,” George said.

Since then, the celebration of all things mule has evolved into an almost weeklong festival. In addition to the parade and mule competitions, square-dancing, music, craft vendors, food vendors, and much more are featured.

“So, it brings in lots of money. Lots of food places and retail stores get the benefit of that coming in,” George said. “Some people take vacation. They load their camper up and spend the weekend at Maury County Park.”

The event attracts an estimated 200,000 people according to Mule Day organizers, the Maury County Bridle and Saddle Club.

Former Maury County Sheriff, Enoch George, Grand Marshall of Mule Day Parade in 2016

While George used to participate in some of the activities, he said nowadays, “I just go and buy me a hotdog and hamburger and coke and enjoy the show and visit with the people.”

George was elected Maury County Sheriff in 1994. He served five terms over a span of 20 years. He retired from the force six years ago. He said, “Maury County is growing leaps and bounds.”

Mule Day has certainly helped put the rural county on the map. It’s growth he hopes to continue to see with the return of Mule Day in 2022. “It’ll give us a chance to get back to some kind of normalcy, because right now nothing is normal.”

Even though the official Mule Day has been canceled, Maury County Mayor Andy Ogles told News 2 there’s a community event planned for Memorial Day weekend that will celebrate mules and hopefully give the local economy a boost.

It’s called Mule Fest 2021. It will take place May 28th & 29th. According to Mayor Ogles Facebook page, country star Trace Adkins will perform Friday night.

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