Whittle: Time for a mule museum
Tuesday, January 12, 2016 12:28 pm
By DAN WHITTLE
Don't you think - "Black-Smith Mule Museum" - has a nice "ping" to it?
Excuse me while I lay my mulish-looking lop ears back and shout from Short Mountain ... the time for a mule/walking horse museum in Woodbury is at hand!
If indeed community leaders decide to establish a museum, what better name than "Black-Smith Mule Museum," named after Middle Tennessee Mule Skinners' Association founders Buddy Black and the late Bill Smith?
I can hear the "pings" in my soul as blacksmith Jimmy Simpson's heavy hammer slams against a big anvil in forming a hot new pair of mule shoes during an on-site demonstration. Simpson is also a certified bona fide and sanctioned in good standing card-carrying Mule Skinner.
Lifelong mule enthusiast Bill Smith's recent death, at age 97, can serve as a beacon of encouragement for a museum honoring those animals and the ancestors who labored to make our community what it is today, before the advent of mechanized power.
As a founding member of the Woodbury-based Mule Skinners that has members throughout Middle Tennessee, Mr. Bill was one of the first vocal local advocates for a mule museum.
A possible location is the historic Old Cannon County Jail on Woodbury's pristine Courthouse Square. A museum there could make the old jail even more historically significant.
Mr. Bill's respect for mules dates back to his own childhood, when his father, George Stanton Smith, taught him how to drive a team of mules through a field.
"I was big for my age, but Dad waited to when I was up around 10 or 11, before he'd trust me with a team of big and strong mules," Mr. Bill plowed back in time.
Mr. Bill described how mules impacted society's development in the Cumberland Foothills' region.
"Those trees that were logged to clear land for our ancestors' homes and farms, mules provided the power," Mr. Bill bragged as he penned his own ears back on behalf of mules. "That first nice new modern paved road that linked Woodbury and Murfreesboro up to Nashville to the east, and points east up in the mountains, mules did the heavy work."
How big did Mr. Bill become in his lifetime advocacy for mules.
"Upon seeing Bill Smith handle and direct multi-teams of powerful mules through a field, he reminded me of 'Paul Bunyon,'" eulogized Col. Jim Stone recently in the Cannon Courier about the banking legend's stature.
An active museum could bring new tourism dollars to the Woodbury business district, which could make the Chamber of Commerce happy.
Plus, a museum's spin-off benefit could be "education," especially to area school children not familiar with what the term "mule skinner" actually means.
"The term has nothing to do with the actual 'skinning of a mule,' but goes to the men and women who can work and get a mule to do its job, whether cultivating a field or hauling logs out of the woods," noted longtime Mule Skinner Danny Fraley of Rutherford County. "You got to be smarter than a mule, to get the animal to do its job."
Now, how about the "Black" part of the proposed "Black-Smith Mule Museum name?
Who better than former Cannon County Chief Deputy Sheriff Buddy Black to serve as the co-namesake of a mule museum?
Mr. Buddy is perhaps the current "best known" mule man from Cannon County, having served a record 34 consecutive years as the Grand Marshal at Columbia's famous Mule Days' Parade.
"Buddy Black is among some of the most famous Tennesseans recognized at Columbia Mule Days," confirmed Mule Skinner Fraley.
Fraley also contends mules are smarter than horses.
"And they're sensitive," Fraley brayed on a mule Leroy and Lucky's behalf.
Back in boyhood hometown Canalou, Mo., in the annals of local law enforcement, there is a case listed of a "mule suicide."
In 1945, the small farm town was served twice a day by mail trains.
High mule-related drama began building the day that a mule named "Jack" parked himself on the railroad tracks and would not budge.
"Jack belonged to my grandfather," confirmed former farm town neighbor Les Landers. "The incident happened after Jack's long-term plow-pulling mate named Murt died of old age.
"A few days after Murt fell dead, lonesome Jack, who was getting up in years too, walked out of the barn, and into town where he gathered an audience while standing on the railroad tracks," Les pulled back in time. "Alarm and concern began building in the growing crowd of on-lookers, when they heard the train's whistle off in the distance."
We're talking some mulish high drama here ...
"No amount of encouragement could get the forlorn Jack to budge," Les noted. "Legend has it that a loud 'groan' went up in the crowd of onlookers, as Jack stood, and stared at the big ol' train as it ran over Jack there on the tracks."