Jump­ing mules tra­di­tion part of Ozarks

The Times (Northeast Benton County) - - OPINION - Edi­tor

Au­tumn in the Ozarks means

• Foot­ball — Black­hawks and Ra­zor­backs;

• Gath­er­ing and sell­ing black wal­nuts;

• Get­ting the last hay crop in the barn;

• Cut­ting and stack­ing fire­wood; and, last but not least

• Jump­ing mules — the an­nual Pea Ridge Mule Jump!

Au­tumn in Pea Ridge coun­try just wouldn’t be the same with­out the an­nual Pea Ridge Mule Jump.

I re­mem­ber my first mule jump, al­though it doesn’t ex­actly “count” in the enu­mer­a­tion of the 29th an­nual event be­ing held Satur­day, Oct. 14, 2017.

The first event I at­tended was in 1985. It was the Fall Fes­ti­val and was held on the school grounds on the down­town corner of North Cur­tis Av­enue and Pick­ens Street. (Then, that was the ONLY school cam­pus.)

Be­ing from a city, I’d not seen mules jump nor coon dogs tree a rac­coon. It was en­gag­ing to watch the farm­ers coax (or curse) their mules over the jump. Each man, each mule, had his own style.

Denim over­all-clad gents would qui­etly, un­hur­riedly walk their mule to the wooden struc­ture built for a jump. Some­times they would qui­etly whis­per in the mule’s ear and he’d just leap over the bar­rier. Other times, the mule would balk and the farmer would get frus­trated. He’d back up, and start again, speak­ing more de­mand­ingly to the mule.

This event, now held for the amuse­ment of those at­tend­ing, has deep roots among the Ozark farm­ers, who used their mules to farm as well as to hunt. In all of life, the old is beau­ti­fully wrapped up in the new. So, too, with the mule jump.

Third- and fourth-gen­er­a­tion fam­ily mem­bers par­tic­i­pate in a tra­di­tion wrapped in the old ways. Fam­ily names re­peat them­selves again and again in the list of win­ners. As some re­tire from jump­ing, they pass their wis­dom on to the younger gen­er­a­tion and take a back seat to their grand­chil­dren who con­tinue to lead their mules to the jump.

Peo­ple at­tend­ing the mule jump see old friends and make new ones.

The mules — small and large, light col­ored and dark — con­tinue to bray and balk and jump to the de­light of the crowds.

The Pea Ridge Mule Jump, en­twined in the color of Pea Ridge, like the pea vine and the Bat­tle of Pea Ridge, help form the fab­ric of this com­mu­nity so rich with char­ac­ter and car­ing peo­ple.

•••

Edi­tor’s note: An­nette Beard is the man­ag­ing edi­tor of The Times of North­east Ben­ton County, cho­sen the best small weekly news­pa­per in Arkansas.

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