The History of Hells Canyon Muledays

In the Spring of 1981, local ranchers and packers met with representatives of the Wallowa County Chamber of Commerce and USDA Forest Service to explore the idea of putting together a new county event. 
As a result, the mule - tough, intelligent, individualistic, often maligned, but the mainstay of the many packers and outfitters working in Wallowa County - was elevated to center stage for the first annual Hells Canyon Mule Days celebration on September 19 - 20, 1981.

Hells Canyon was an appropriate title because that area owes most of its early settlement and development to the mule which predominantly served as a major means of transportation to gain access to this rugged region of the county.

Given the well-known independence of Mule Days’ long-eared star, the entertaining , action-packed event has met its initial goal - both mule skinners and spectators alike can be part of this family oriented mule show, with events and games for all ages

 

HCMD 2017 Grand Marshal Bob Bales


The Hells Canyon Mule Days board of directors is pleased to announce that Wallowa County native Bob Bales is the 2017 grand marshal.


Born in Enterprise in 1934, Bales’s mother came to Wallowa County from Missouri, and his father was born and raised on Prairie Creek outside of Joseph.

Bales grew up in Joseph where he spent most of his time outdoors. He and his friend Max used to explore the moraines around Wallowa Lake and imagine what it must have been like for Chief Joseph when he was a kid playing on the same ground.


During middle and high school Bales started working with mules and horses, and he worked for Harley Tucker as a horse team driver during the summer haying season. After graduation he went to work for a local sawmill.

During the fall elk season, Bales would launch a raft at Minam after work and float the Grande Ronde river at night with a gas lantern hanging from a pole on the front of his boat. Making camp late at night, he would rise early the next morning to hunt elk, and if he was lucky he could fill his freezer with meat for the winter before he had to start his next work week.


“I had a few mishaps rafting, but nothing very dangerous,” said Bales.


In 1968 Bales moved to Salmon, Idaho to open a western wear and sporting goods store with his brother. Once the business was established, Bales said he was able to sneak away from the store to guide people into the mountains and down the rivers as a river guide, outfitter and packer, which was one of his favorite parts of the business.


Bales returned to Joseph in 1985, where he drove and repaired school busses for Joseph High School.

“It was a rewarding job to work there with the kids,” said Bales. “I felt very fortunate.”


Bales has two daughters, Theresa and Jennifer, and two sons, Jeff and Andy. Andy plays a large role in the Mule Days Max Walker Memorial Cowboy Poetry gathering.  In past years Andy has emceed the event and also has entertained with his traditional cowboy songs and poetry. This year he will be the featured artist for the Mule Days Saturday night concert.


After retiring, Bales took up leather working and eventually built a saddle that he uses to ride his horse and a mule that had a reputation for being a runaway. Bales said she put several people in the hospital, something he knew when he bought her, so he took her to Little Sheep Creek and started riding. Just as expected, the mule took off running, but Bales held on and let her have her way.


“She kept running and tired herself out, and finally she realized it wasn’t her idea anymore,” Bales said. The mule slowed up, and the two reached a lasting understanding.

 

 

Hells Canyon Muledays Grand Marshals

 

1981 – WADE HALL & ETHEL THOMAS
1982 – MIKE & JOYCE McFETRIDGE
1983 – GLEN HAWKINS & GRACE BARTLETT
1984 – LEE MANES & LYNN MITCHELL
1985 – JESS EARL & CLARA HEARING
1986 – LAWRENCE & ILENE POTTER
1987 – CARMEN MAXWELL & A. L. DUCKETT
1988 – JOE McCLARAN & MARY MARKS
1989 – OAKLEY JOHNSON & HAZEL BARTON/FLEET

1990 – JOE ONAIDIA & GUS MALAXA
1991 – EMORY CRAWFORD
1992 – MAX & MARCEL WALKER . 
1993 – JIM & JEAN BROOKS
1994 – JIM & LOIS BLANKENSHIP
1995 – GENE & MILDRED MARR
1996 – SAM & LAURA LOFTUS
1997 – DICK & BETTY HAMMOND
1998 – PEARL INGLE
1999 – DELBERT (DEB) WART

2000 – FRED TALBOTT
2000 – Noel & Genie Wright • Honorary
2001 – MANFORD & VERA ISLEY
2002 – MEREL HAWKINS
2003 – ARNOLD SCHAEFFER

2004 – BENNIE BANKS
2005 – DOUG & JANIE TIPPETT
2005 – Bonnie Shields • Honorary 
2006 – BOB CASEY
2006 – Gerald Perren • Honorary
2007 – BLANCHE MAXWELL                                                                                                                     
2007 – Gene & Bonnie Westberg • Honorary
2008 – JUANA MALAXA & MARIE ONAINDIA
2008 – Mike Brennan • Honorary
2009 – CARMEN KOHLHEPP
2009 – R. A. “Ace” Barton • Honorary

2010 – BIDEN & BETTY TIPPETT
2010 – Ben Tippett • Honorary
2011 – LEO TIPTON “Tip” PROCTOR
2011 – George Hixson • Honorary
2012 – GRANT & BARBARA WARNOCK
2012 – Duke & Rhee Lathrop • Honorary
2013 – LARRY & JUANITA WATERS  
2014 – DICK WALKER
2014 – Art Galbraith • Honorary (3-28-1937 • 7-11-2014)
2015 – DENNIS & PEGGY BRENNAN
2016 – MARVIN LOVELL
2017 – ROBERT “BOB” BALES