Thursday, May 15, 2014

Fulton Street Fair and Mule Sale

by Marsha Coleman - Fulton, Mo.
The Callaway County courthouse lawn in Fulton, Mo., was recently the sight of the 7th Annual Mule Sale held as a re-creation of earlier mule sales held at this same location.  The first stock sale held here was originally scheduled for the first Monday of February in 1876 and true to Missouri’s weather reputation, it was finally held on February 22, 1876 due to rescheduling for extreme weather.
Fulton and Callaway County is known as the “Former Mule Capitol of The World” and this reference applies because from about 1876 until the mid- 1920s mules were priceless commodities for the area.  Young mules were brought into Callaway County by “mule feeders,” they were fattened and matured and then sold and shipped for use in the south in cotton and sugar cane fields (smaller mules to the cotton fields and larger mules went to the sugar cane fields) and a majority went to the military for use in both World War I and World War II.  Mules were the animal of choice during war time as they could go through trenches or anywhere they were sent, they weren’t easily excited over gunfire, and when necessary could go two to three days without food.  Callaway County is in record books as handling more mules than any other county in the 1920s.
Fulton has also been called “The Town that Jacks Built,” in reference to the mules father.
At it’s height of mule popularity, a ‘feeder’ in Callaway County could go to the bank and borrow $25,000, a totally unsecured note, to buy mules to feed out and sell, and then pay back their debt.  (Remember this is the early 1900’s we are discussing here.. that is a lot of cash.)
“Mule sales,” jack and jennet sales, and monthly “stock sales” were held during those years and attended by most “Callawegians.”  A mule in the early 1900’s regularly brought $200 and more while a two-year-old steer was bringing only $.03 per pound, maybe $18 to $30 depending on weight.
A highlight of this time was a mule called “Callaway Queen,” she sold for $1,600 and took first place at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis.  She was 18 hands tall and weighed 2,600 pounds and was a star in many exhibitions across the country as the “largest mule in the world.”  At one time she was shown with the “largest woman in the world” and the “smallest mule in the world.”  She was thought to have still been on this circuit as late as 1928 when she was seen in Portland, Ore., still being used in sideshows at a fair.
John Payne Harrison and family, of Callaway County, has been the driving force behind the re-creation of this sale during the ‘Hit the Bricks’ street fair held each year in Fulton.  John’s great-great-grandfather was Jilson Payne Harrison and his son was the original John Payne who formed the Harrison Brothers Auction with his brother Vollie during this time of the mule popularity.  John’s father, W. Bernard Harrison soon joined forces in the auction business and the rest is history.  Today John Payne Harrison and his son Jack are owners and auctioneers of the Callaway County Livestock Auction.  Today you will find more cows and feeder calves going under their gavel, but they do take a break every summer to help put on this reenactment of the old mule sales as they were held years ago.  The current sale is held right next to the courthouse in downtown Fulton as it was originally started. 
The Harrison’s have now had four generations involved in the auctioning of these mules and they are working on the fifth generation who is already involved in the mule industry (John’s grandson has bought a mule the last two years at the sale – makes a grandpa proud). 

Wicket, a miniature mule owned by the Colemans

The fifth generation of the Harrison family with
the mule he purchased at the sale that is a fifth generation of Man of War

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