Borax 20-Mule Team visits Centreville
CENTREVILLE — On Sunday, July 2, from noon to 4 p.m., the historic Borax 20-Mule Team made its visit to the Queen Anne’s County 4-H Park near Centreville. A crowd of nearly 1,000 people turned out to see the mule team and the gigantic wagons they pull.
In honor of the mule team that originated from Death Valley, California, (the hottest desert in the U.S.) the weather cooperated with July summer heat (90+ degrees) with touch of East Coast humidity thrown in.
The Borax 20-Mule Team got its start in the early 1880s, pulling loads of borax across the desert to
markets that used the natural chemical for a variety of ser vices.
“That’s the way borax was moved until modern technology replaced the mule team in the early 1900s,” said Centreville resident and mule enthusiast Garon Stutzman, who with his wife Donna Stutzman arranged for the mule team to come east for the first time in exactly 100 years.
“The last time the mule team was in the Washington, D.C., area was 1917 for the inaugural parade of President Woodrow Wilson,” said Stutzman. “And the mule team won first place in that parade!”
Since that time, one set of the original wagons pulled by the mule team is preserved and on display at Death Valley National Park. The Borax company, however, did not maintain an active mule team until someone showed an interest in reviving it in 1999. Organizers of the Tournament of Roses Parade, in California, contacted Borax in 1998 asking if the mule team could perform in the parade that year. Borax replied they no longer had a mule team, but within the company the request stirred interest in restoring a piece of American pioneer histor y. Mule driver and trainer Bobby Tanner of Bishop, California, (known as the “Mule Capitol of the World”) was contacted. Tanner promptly went about managing his pack mules to be able to pull wagons for the Rose parade. From that event, the re-birth of the 20 mule team took place.
In the past three years, funds were raised through private donations to build new wagons, taking the specifications from the original wagons in Death Valley. The Stutzmans have been very much part of that rebuilding process, even hauling oak wood from their Centreville farm west to be used in the construction of the new wagons. Those new wagons were part of the journey here. Each of the two new wagons weighs 7,600 pounds. The largest wheels, which are 7 feet in diameter, weigh 1,000 pounds each, and are lined with steel 5-inch wide rims.
Friday evening, June 30, the Stutzmans hosted a special appreciation dinner at their home for 160 people who had privately financed bringing the mule team east. The dinner was held in the former hayloft of the barn where their own mules are kept. The upstairs area of the barn has been converted into an enclosed dinning hall, fully air conditioned with a small cafeteria area. It had no resemblance of a hayloft — hardwood floors and very decorative.
The Stutzmans welcomed their guests, making it abundantly clear that without their friends’ donations, bringing the mule team to the East Coast would have been impossible.
Garon Stutzman, with emotion in his voice, said, “This has been a passionate project to make this happen over the past three years. We wanted to make these wagons come back to life for America. I especially want to thank the Tanner family for bringing this piece of American history to life.”
The guests were served a wonderful meal of prime rib and crab cakes with all the trimmings, prepared by local chef Dave Perry.
Mule Team Driver Bobby Tanner, his wife, Claudia, and their son, Bo, made the trip here with the mules. The entire mule team stayed at the Stutzmans’ farm for a week prior to their appearance at the 4-H Park Sunday afternoon, June 2. The mule team and wagons parked in the furthest satellite parking area of the fairgrounds, used solely during the Queen Anne’s County Fair each year.
Two pleasure riding demonstrations were performed in the horse show ring by mule trainer Rebecca Evans of Bishop, California, which is located in the eastern most portion of the Sierra Mountains. Evans first demonstrated basic Dressage riding on her “World Champion Green English Performance Mule” Tom Collins. She then brought in her “Reserve All-Around World Champion Mule” Miss Junebug, a “molly” (female mule), to demonstrate traditional Western Reining maneuvers, minus a sliding stop as the show ring surface was not suitable for that (too many rocks). Host Donna Stutzman narrated the movements of Evans rides.
Garon Stutzman, using a bull-horn microphone, stood alongside the 20-Mule Team and wagons in the satellite parking area, where he provided an informational talk on the history of the mules and wagons. A huge crowd gathered around the mules and wagons during Stutzman’s presentation.
Centreville residents who saw the team were impressed. Sally Rosenberry, Queen Anne’s County Cooperative Extension administrative assistant, came out to the 4-H Park on Sunday afternoon. Rosenberry grew up as an active 4-H equestrian in the county and is knowledgable about horses. She said she knew much less about mules.
“The presentation of the mules and wagons was really good. I found Mr. Stutzman’s talk about the mules and how the wagons were recreated to be very educational,” Rosenberry said. “I read the magazine that was distributed at the 4-H Park from cover to cover. Apparently, mules are quite intelligent. I’m sorry I came out too late to see the riding demonstrations — I really was interested in seeing that! On July 4th, I was searching to see if the parade in Washington, D.C., was televised, but I couldn’t find anything.”
Eric Vanderlinden, also of Centreville, was able to visit the Stutzman’s farm on Monday morning, July 3, when a group of Amish families were invited to see the mule team.
Vanderlinden said, “Three years ago I visited Death Valley National Park in California and saw the original wagons that had been used by the mule team in the 1880s. Seeing the new wagons was very impressive. I’m really happy I didn’t miss seeing their visit here in person. I was actually more impressed with what I saw than I had expected to be.”
Some of the Amish had been invited as they had been part of creating handmade leather bridles and equipment to be used for the mules pulling the wagons. They came with their families from as far away as Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana and Wisconsin. Leather maker Ivan Fisher, of Ronks, Pennsylvania (50-miles southeast of Harrisburg), had his picture taken while holding his little daughter and his sons standing with him beside two of the mules that were wearing bridles he had made. It was clear he had great pride in the his leatherwork.
At 7 a.m., Tuesday, July 4, the mules and wagons departed from Centreville, heading to Washington, D.C., for the annual Independence Day Parade. By all reports, everything went well for the mules in the parade. They were immediately loaded into hauling trailers following the parade and headed back to California.
A 100 Year Anniversary magazine was published for this trip east, titled, “20 Mule Team comes to Washington, D.C., 2017.” Its 34 pages are packed full of interesting, little known facts about mules and their history.
A couple facts worth noting: “In ancient texts, including the Bible, kings and generals rode mules. ‘Buffalo Bill’ Cody chose a mule as his mount over a horse, and a quote from former President Harry Truman, who grew up with mules in Missouri, “My favorite animal is the mule. He has more horse sense than a horse. He knows when to stop eating — and knows when to stop working.”
“This was an event that some men only get to do once in their lifetime,” Stutzman said. “I hope those who saw it enjoyed it as much as we did.”
The historic Borax 20-Mule Team moves across the parking lot at the 4-H Park Sunday afternoon, July 2. The team stayed at the farm of Garon and Donna Stutzman of Centreville while waiting to participate in the annual Independence Day Parade in Washington, D.C.
At the farm of Garon and Donna Stutzman of Centreville, Amish visitors ride in the two Borax 20Mule Team wagons, Monday, July 3. The Amish came from as far away as Pennyslvania, Ohio, Indiana and Wisconsin. They were invited as they had contributed leather-work items made for the mules to wea. The Amish were the guests of the Stutzmans.
As part of the Borax 20-Mule Team visit at the 4-H Park in Centreville, Sunday afternoon, July 2, a small historic car show was put together. Here, a 1918 Model T Ford, owned by John and Peggy Hess of Crisfield, was on display.
Garon Stutzman of Centreville, left, talks with Amish leader Henry Hershberger of Wisconsin as Clara Hershberger (background) listens. They were discussing their experiences with mules. The Amish were invited to visit the Stutzman farm Monday, July 3, as they had done work helping outfit mules with needed harness equipment.
Members of the Queen Anne’s County Pony Express 4-H Club distributed commemorative Borax 20-Mule Team programs Sunday afternoon, July 2, at the 4-H Park in Centreville. Donations of $2 were being accepted to cover only the cost of printing the 34-page magazine. From the left, 4-H members Sara Sheats, Jennifer Gannon, Alyssa Jastram and Caitlyn Starr.