Do you know some good mule stories? Or are you unfamiliar with mules and curious as to why so many people find them so intriguing? Either way, we hope to see you on Saturday, June 4, at 1 PM in the West Plains Civic Center’s Magnolia Room for a conversation and storytelling session devoted to these stubborn-yet-endearing animals that have made indispensable contributions to life in the Ozarks.

    The mule is a hybrid animal, the offspring of a horse and a donkey. For decades, mules have assisted residents of the Ozarks with many pursuits, including farming, logging, mining, hunting, and trail riding. The question of whether mules or horses make better draft animals often was, and occasionally still is, a subject of (usually) good-natured debate throughout the region.

     Richie Dement of Centerville, Missouri, who coordinates the annual Hirsch Feed & Farm Supply Mule Jump during the Old-Time Music, Ozark Heritage Festival, will share some of his vast mule-related knowledge and experiences. He’ll be joined by Les Clancy, a mule trainer and frequent mule jump participant from Ozark, Missouri.

     Most importantly, members of the audience will have opportunities to tell stories about their experiences with mules and to ask questions of Richie, Les, and one another.

     Matt Meacham, an Old-Time Music, Ozark Heritage Festival volunteer who emcees the mule jump, will moderate the discussion. It will be recorded on video and live-streamed.

     Anyone who wishes to participate but can’t be there in person is invited to join the conversation online at https://missouristate.zoom.us/j/93745684459.  Additionally, festival volunteers will be available in the Magnolia Room again from 8 to 9 PM on Saturday so that anyone who was unable to attend the session at 1 PM but wishes to record stories or comments about mules can do so.

     “We decided to hold this conversation and storytelling session for two reasons,” said Meacham. “One is that every year, before and after the mule jump, many people are kind enough to say hello to Richie and me and tell us stories about their experiences with mules. Those stories are always fascinating, often funny, and sometimes poignant, and they have a lot to teach us about life in the Ozarks. We feel that they ought to be recorded for posterity and shared far and wide.”

     “The other reason,” Meacham continued, “is that culture of the Ozarks will be featured during the 2023 Smithsonian Folklife Festival in Washington, DC. The regional organizers of the Ozarks-themed programming for that festival – Tom Peters and Craig Amason of the Missouri State University libraries and Kaitlyn McConnell of Ozarks Alive are eager to gather input that will inform their planning and also to share what they’re learning with people here in the Ozarks.”

     The Hirsch Feed & Farm Supply mule jump, in which mules compete to leap over a barrier, has been a popular Old-Time Music, Ozark Heritage Festival event since 2008 and received coverage in the Wall Street Journal in 2011.

     The festival is the signature event for West Plains. Partners include the West Plains Council on the arts, Missouri State University-West Plains, City of West Plains, Ozark Heritage Welcome Center, West Plains Civic Center. Partial funding for this event is provided by the Missouri Arts Council, a state agency.

     For more information on the festival e-mail info@westplainsarts.org, visit the website at http://www.oldtimemusic​.​org, or “like” the Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/Old.Time.Music.Festival

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