by Angie J. Mayfield, Loogootee, Ind
DEAN and LYNN at the Great Celebration
Mule and Donkey Show in Shelbyville, Tenn., in 2005
New names and methods emerge every few years in the mule breeding, training, and show world, but some are legends that were mule lovers, riders, and trainers long before mules were cool and were bred from the best mares. For Dean and Lynn Titsworth of Murphysboro, Illinois, everything mule has been a family tradition for decades. They trail ride mules, raise, train, and sell them. They also raised their sons, Andy and Joe, with mules and as a family won or placed in almost every national show class and race available for nearly 20 years, including High Point Champion, World Gaited Class, and Western and World Pleasure at Shelbyville; the Denver Stock Show, and even the Clinton, Arkansas Chuckwagon Races. Their mule Jed was the world champion reining mule two years in a row and roping champion at Bishop. Their mules Do It Again Dobber, Unbreakable Sally, Jammin’ Jed, Amy, and Smoky are forever embedded in their photo albums and hearts.
Lynn, who had 12 brothers and sisters, rode horses and mules from the time she was a young girl, but Dean grew up coon and fox hunting and riding motorcycles, which led to a broken leg and weak knees, he laughed. When they married 45 years ago, he bought his first mule, which he admits was “nearly worthless” but forced him to really learn to ride. They spent more time and money searching for their next mule, Kate, but she was worth it. Their kids learned to ride on Kate, and Dean could jump her into the back of his truck and take her coon hunting. Their love of mules – and their herd – grew from there. Showing mules came later. Their first love became trail riding and then breeding and selling mules. They also organized fun shows for years.
Then the boys became involved in rodeo, a natural transition from their cowboy upbringing and rough stock genes. Lynn said it seemed they were in a different state every weekend, and she worried the boys’ teachers and friends thought they were incredible liars when they came back to school with their adventurous stories. However, the time and dedication paid off. Joe was state champion three years in a row and won a rodeo scholarship to Northeastern Oklahoma.
When not taking care of the farm, mules, and their Bloodhounds, the Titsworths also enjoy hunting and fishing and have harvested bear, elk, caribou, and wild boar in Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, and even Newfoundland and took a fishing trip to Alaska one year for a change in scenery. However, mules have been their passion and brought them the most pleasure. "We've been everywhere trail riding, driving teams on wagon rides, showing, and selling mules. We've had so many great times and met so many good people," beam Lynn and Dean. Some of their most unique and memorable adventures include delivering a mule to Mexico, selling two mules to the Frenchman who rode across the United States, meeting Joe Runyan, a two-time winner of the Ididerod, and buying a dog from him, and hanging with Dave Merriman, Max Harsha, and Anthony McAllister. “But whether swimming across a river on mules in Eminence, Mo., or hearing someone brag how 'those hillbillies smoked everyone's ass' at a mule show in Denver,” Lynn says she loved it all.
I arrived at the Titsworth farm to buy a Bloodhound puppy but left with lifelong friends. Tucker would have gladly moved in. We laughed as they told the story of throwing firecrackers from wagon to wagon at the Decatur, IL Fourth of July parade one year. The seat caught on fire and the boys jumped out. Only a well-broke team of mules could pull off such a feat. These days, however, they're more likely to take the grandkids for a calm ride across the farm.
However, Dean admits he's always been a prankster. "We took a lot of ribbing riding mules, and it bothered Lynn, but I never put up with any crap and always took a dare. I loved to show off on my mule and to show people that mules can do anything horses can do - better." Lynn, on the other hand, is quiet and reserved until she climbs on the back of her mule. "Lynn's the real rider," admits Dean. I already gathered that from her box of belt buckles and ribbons. But also when I witnessed this petite 60-some-year-old woman grab the mane of her 15-hand mule and jump straight on like a teenager - bareback wearing Carhart coveralls even! I was in awe.
“Dean’s a hellion and Lynn’s a saint,” says Anthony “Bull” McAllister, another southern Illinois mule man who admires the Titsworths and says Dean has been a mentor and close friend for 25 years. He said he and Dean met coon hunting and their mutual interest in mules bonded them. At the time, there weren’t many mule riders in this area. Anthony stayed with Dean and Lynn for awhile when he was first hired by Illinois Dept. of Corrections in 1990 and worked at the prison in Chester. “We went coon hunting one night, and Dean rode his mule across a railroad bridge all the way across the Mississippi River. I wouldn’t go. No way. People say I’m nuts to go across Phantom Terrace in Colorado, but I realized then he was a little crazier than me - and had better mules.” But Dean will tell you he’s been a bulldog his whole life. “I’ve done what people said I couldn’t do and had a hell of a lot of fun doing it.”
Dean’s deteriorating health and a declining economy have taken a toll on the Titsworth’s adventures. Dean contracted West Nile virus, and he has kidney dialysis three days a week now. In addition to farm duties, Lynn also works for a biotech lab that makes medical serum from cow’s blood. However, the couple plans to ride at the Shawnee Mule Ride in April, and Lynn hopes to take Jed to a couple of shows this year. They are also training a new mule prospect, Lucky Lucille (named by their grandson), a descendant of Secretariet. I don’t know how they manage all they do, but I wish them the best of luck and expect to see more of them. The Titsworth family has already left behind a legacy and helped pave a path for generations of mule enthusiasts to follow.
Angie J. Mayfield is an author, professor, and long ear lover who has trail ridden in 47 states and 6 countries. She can be contacted at email@example.com
Tucker at the Titsworth’s home with his new Bloodhound puppy, Copper
JOE TITSWORTH packing out elk in Colorado
Lynn and Dean with a few of their awards