Mule Days honors Pendleton man

<p>George Hixson trained a 20-mule hitch, owned by Bill Schaan, in less than seven months in 1971-72. They entered the hitch in numerous parades and shows, winning many first-place awards.</p>

George Hixson took charge of a wagon pulled by a team of mules during a 225-mile sheep drive from Las Vegas, N.M., to his family’s farm in Limon, Colo. And he did it at 10 years old.

“I pretty well learned to drive mules on that trip,” Hixson, 88, said and laughed. 

But it wasn’t Hixson’s first experience with a mule team —  in those days, farming on their land was done primarily by teams of mules and a few horses.

With his background, it’s no surprise that Hixson, a Pendleton resident, is this year’s Hells Canyon Mule Days honorary grand marshal.

“What a wonderful cowboy he is, and he has lived the cowboy life all his life,” said Sondra Lozier, Hells Canyon Mule Days president.

Hixson will be recognized at the 2011 Hells Canyon Mule Days Friday through Sunday at the Wallowa County Fairgrounds in Enterprise.

Each year the Hells Canyon Mule Days board of directors considers names submitted by board members or non-board members for grand marshal and honorary grand marshal, according to Lozier. 

“It’s quite an honor,” Hixson said.

Hixson moved from Colorado to a ranch of 4,000 Mexican steers in Long Creek, Ore., in 1968. Only a few years later Hixson stumbled across a life-changing opportunity.

 

Mules and memories

In December 1971, Bill Schaan of Baker Livestock Auction Co. met Hixson through livestock sales. Schaan had bred 40 Shetland mares to his Spanish jack, resulting in 26 white mules. Schaan challenged Hixson to train the mules to pull a float in the Rose Parade in June 1972. In less than seven months, Hixson broke a 20-mule hitch with the help of his sons, Monty and Bret, and a few friends.

“They weren’t even broke to lead yet — we just drug ’em out and hooked ’em up to the wagon,” Hixson said. “It was a pretty wild ride; we had a lot of wrecks.”

Before the Rose Parade, they entered the hitch into two Oregon parades — Spray and John Day — where they won first place. Afterward, the hitch pulled the float for Sandy, Ore., in the Rose Parade and won first place. The float spanned 140 feet.

“We had the longest float. The parade people said we wouldn’t make the corners, but we did,” Hixson said.

From then on, Hixson and the 20-mule hitch traveled to parades and shows all over the Northwest — winning awards nearly everywhere they went. The hitch entered the Westward Ho! Parade during the 1972 Pendleton Round-Up.

After 12 years, it was the end of the road for Hixson and the hitch, and in 1983 Schaan sold the mules to J.R. Simplot.

“They wanted me to go with them, but I said no. I’d had enough of ’em,” Hixson said. Instead, he went back into the business of cattle, and raised steers at his ranch in Long Creek. 

In 2000, Hixson moved to Pendleton. Two years ago, Hixson was encouraged by his sons to write “Tales of a Mule Twister” — a story about his life as a rancher and the 20-hitch team of white mules.

Today, Hixson still rides and ropes — and as Lozier said — he still “enjoys the cowboy life.”

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