It started merely as a string of a few mules honoring Memorial Day, but the McGee Creek Pack Station’s 20 mule flag salute has become a tradition that captures, in one display, everything that the Bishop Mule Days Celebration and the packers of the Eastern Sierra stand for.
Twenty mules, led in single file and covered in flags that wave with each hoofbeat, march though the Mule Days festivities as a somber yet stunning tribute. Amidst the quirkiness and fun of the celebration, this string brings a quietness to every American heart as Bishop becomes still in honor of the stars, stripes, and those who never came home.
The 20 mule flag salute started in 1992, when local packers Lee and Jen Roeser decorated ten dark-colored mules with flags and led them in the Mule Days parade. Lee said that, at the time, the packers who were involved in the celebration wanted to bring Memorial Day to the forefront of Mule Days. By 2015, the Roesers’ team had grown to 20 mules and had become a favorite among spectators.
“We wanted to do something that reminded people about Memorial Day and put the focus back on it, so we celebrated it with mules,” Jen said. “We wanted to find a way to use mules to tastefully pay tribute to our fallen veterans.”
The mules don’t need to talk in order to convey their message. America was built by the hard working mule and its freedom loving men and women. Mules carried the burdens of miners, pioneers, soldiers and visionaries, all pursuing the American dream.
The Mule Days arena and parade are old hat for these mules. They spend their summers working in the Eastern Sierra wilderness or the Alabama Hills as pack animals, movie mules, and saddle mules. Some of them are part of the world-famous Mule Days pack scrambles, or carry dignitaries in parades. Others are used to help train military members. Many of the mules who march with this tribute were part of the 100 Mules Walking the Los Angeles Aqueduct memorial of the aqueduct’s centennial. And as Bishop prepares for next year’s 50th Mule Days Celebration, the 20 mule flag salute will be at the heart of the festivities, along with its message of pride, freedom, and honor.
By Kristina Blüm Justice
Photo: David Calvert Photography