Mule riders from Missouri, Illinois, Tennessee, and Georgia at Whiskey Cave on one of Angie's guided rides
Shawnee Mule Ride:
Big Hearts Create Memorable Event
by Angie J. Mayfield, Loogootee, Ind.
Where can you see nearly 500 pretty saddle mules in one place, meet new mule friends, reconnect with old ones, enjoy a free meal and dance, and trail ride in the most scenic place in the Midwest? Well, only at the McAllister and Friends annual Shawnee Mule Ride, of course. The event grew by leaps and bounds this year with mule riders from 26 states and three countries visiting High Knob Campground to trail ride and explore the 280,000 acres of Shawnee National Forest from April 9-15. Some came the weekend before, some stayed a few days, and some stayed the entire event, but all left with new friends and memories of our scenic paradise in southern Illinois.
This year, organizers added fundraisers to the event to help a little muleskinner in need. Briar Phillips, a 4-year-old mule rider from Kentucky, is suffering from kidney cancer, but his family came to the event to enjoy what Briar loves best, riding and camping. Big-hearted campers donated cash, plus saddles, hay, tack, drawings, artwork, welded horseshoe art, and other items for benefit auctions on Friday and Saturday and raised more than $10,000 to help Briar and his family. Brock Milam and Steve Dawson, who sold mules during the week, also donated a portion of their profits. It was a truly humbling, blessed week. As Anthony McAllister said, “This is what the mule world is all about.”
Anthony “Bull” and Cathy McAllister, who have been camping and riding at High Knob and Shawnee since 1983, their daughter Katie Eastin, and JoJo Moomey, owner of High Knob since 2009, were the main forces behind the event, working tirelessly to plan, prepare the 50-acre camp, advertise, and ensure everyone enjoyed their visit. They could be found each morning answering questions, going over maps, organizing and guiding rides each day, and loaning out tack and mules. Late at night, the McAllisters were visiting around the campfire, while JoJo was usually still checking in campers and making sure everyone had what they needed. With more than 160 sites, 80 covered stalls, water, electric, a laundry area, hay, tack supplies, and free coffee, she had it covered. JoJo was also kind enough to open her hay field this year to accommodate all of the riders and to close the camp to horse riders and mushroom hunters so we could have a true mule only event. JoJo’s sister, Sherry Richerson, served meals at the cook shack. Permanent campers helped guide rides. Kathy Lawless of Michigan organized the fundraisers, Roy and Beth Landers of Illinois donated the hog, Joe Hamp of Illinois cooked it, and Ival McDermott of New Jersey donated commemorative coffee mugs. Mule riders really are the best!
Some other highlights from the ride were the tack swap on Friday evening, with campers socializing, trading and selling tack, plus vendors, including Linda Brown with the Mule Store out of Pennsylvania, Beth Newmaster of Indiana from Mule Girls, Tucker Tack of Arkansas, and local Amish shops. In addition, Mary Steere Photography set up photo shoots at the ride all week. Then, everyone enjoyed a hog roast and dance on Saturday night. Little Tucker Mayfield opened up with “Down on the Corner,” singing and playing his banjo, before the Johnny Williams and the Steelherders Band took over with country and southern rock music.
Although anyone with a mule already owns a trophy and all of the mules were awesome (not one accident all week), I donated trophies and presented several awards at the event. The farthest traveled was Chris Hostletter from New Mexico (who drove 1,400 miles). The cleanest mule and stall was new this year and awarded to Brett Schwalb of Edwardsville, Ill. The orneriest mule went to Mark Allen’s mule Johnny Ringo of Missouri. The oldest mule rider was Dan Mickler, 81, from Lawrenceville, IL. Youngest riders (Li’l muleskinners who rode their own mule) were Briar Phillips, 4, of Kentucky and Tucker Mayfield, 7, of Indiana. The Prettiest Mule trophies were awarded to Tammy Bradley and Ophelia of Florida, first place; Brock Milam of Missouri and his two mules 4 Socks and Josie, second place; and Thomas Dessitel of Louisiana and the mule Cherokee (owned by Richie Ramara). Finally, the Best Trail Mule award went to Billy Frank Curry’s mule, Sonny, of Georgia. Curry is nearly blind, so his mule really takes care of him. Second place was of Keith Hawley of Tennessee. Third place was 13-year-old Taleya McVeigh of Illinois and her mule, Whippoorwill. Riding bareback and barefooted, she deserved first but we couldn’t make the guys look too bad.
Of course, even with all of the fun activities, the best part of the week was helping a little boy in need and meeting new mule people and their beautiful long ears. It’s always great to see the excitement of first-time visitors after experiencing the phenomenal trail riding at Shawnee. Although some riders explored the trails on their own, others took advantage of the many organized rides scheduled each day for various landmarks, such as Garden of the Gods, Hurricane Bluffs and Initial Tree, Rice Hollow and Whiskey Cave, Dead Man’s Canyon, and others.
We were blessed with 70-degree weather most of the week. It rained one day, but it gave campers a chance to rest and relax, visit, and ride the ferry across the Ohio River to the Amish shops.
There are so many to thank and so many memories to cherish from the 2017 Shawnee mule ride. Check out the High Knob campground website or McAllister and Friends Shawnee Mule Ride on Facebook. Make plans to attend next year. It will be the same dates, April 9-15. We’d love to meet you and your mule. Until then, Happy Trails. I’ll see you out there!
Mule friends Kelli French, Loree Brown, Dan Sheridan, Steve Dawson, and Jim Jacob having a good ride
Tucker and new mule Josie, bought at the Shawnee ride
The "outlaw" gang of mule riders shooting the bull: Anthony McAllister, Mark Duncan, Loree Brown, Jim Jacob, Dan Sheridan, Kelli Kaye French, Steve Dawson, and Rex Williams
Doug, Angie and Tucker Mayfield and their mules June, Sonny, and Booger
Taleya McVeigh, 13, and her mule, Whippoorwill, that won 3rd place for Best Trail Mule
Angie J. Mayfield is a professor, author, and lifelong mule lover who has ridden mules in 48 states and six countries and has logged more than 6,500 trail miles just since she started keeping track in 1999. If you’d like her to come try out your favorite trails or mule ride, contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.