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Getting to Know… Donna Bird, Executive Director of Mule Days – Part 2

Entertainment, the return of the bed roll race, Harry Holland, and more!

Getting to Know… Donna Bird, Executive Director of Mule Days – Part 2

donna bird mule days

Last time, we talked about how Donna Bird, who grew up in the Eastern Sierra, learned the value of community contribution from her family. Despite being initially shy, she became a leader in 4-H, improving her public speaking skills through a unique incentive program.  

As the sole full-time employee of Mule Days, Donna plays a pivotal role in organizing the event, which has grown from a one-day affair in 1970 to a six-day international attraction. Mule Days, with its fascinating history and community spirit, continues to captivate audiences worldwide.

This week, Donna talked a little about the entertainment at Mule Days, and Tomas Garzilazo, who is a world famous Charro. A Charro refers to a a skilled horseman or horsewoman who is typically associated with Mexican horsemanship traditions. Charros are known for their expertise in riding and handling horses, as well as their mastery of traditional roping and equestrian skills. Tomas performs internationally, and Donna is thrilled to have Tomas, his wife Justine, and his son Luis perform this year at Mule Days. “They take extreme pride in their horsemanship skills… and we are so fortunate to have them here,” Donna said.

Fun Fact: Charros are often recognized by their distinctive attire, which includes a wide-brimmed sombrero, a decorated jacket or vest, tight-fitting trousers, and intricately designed leather boots.

She also talked about bringing back the “infamous” bed roll race. “I can’t imagine why anyone wants to fling their body onto a tarp that is tied behind a racing mule,” Donna said, “but mule people like to do this!”

The Calvary will be back for Sunday entertainment. Frankie Punkintown Smith will be there.  The Bobs and Steve will be there, as well. Congressman Kevin Kiley will be present as the Grand Marshall, and Senator Marie Alvarado-Gil will also be in attendance. They are both proponents of protecting the backcountry.

Changing gears, Donna talked about Harry Holland and his importance to Bishop. “He came into town and made a name for himself as an entertainer, a businessman, and a visionary.” He also happens to be Donna’s grandfather. Harry was born in England in 1882, and was the second youngest of six children. His father, Thomas, came to America to help build a Masonic lodge. Soon after, he returned to England, packed the family up, and arrived in the United States in New York in 1888. Their final destination was to be Texas, and by the time they got there Harry was eight. “That’s when things get mysterious,” Donna said.

donna bird
Harry Holland, 1950. Photo courtesy of Holland Family Archives

There were ties that were broken with the family, and Harry was separated from his family when he was eight. There is not any documented evidence that he was orphaned or adopted, and it’s something that Harry rarely if ever spoke about. At eight or nine years old, Harry and his brother Charles somehow found a way to support themselves. The only details he ever shared were that he and his brother made ends meet by shining shoes, working with sheepherders, and doing other odd jobs to scrape out a living.

He had the equivalent of a fourth grade education, but his mind was sharp and he was so driven that he was able to succeed greatly at life. He eventually ended up in Wyoming with his brother being sheepherders. During that time frame, he was somehow shot in the jaw but survived. A conflict between a cattleman or something else, the details of the event remain vague.

Somewhere around this time, Harry bought a book and learned how to throw his voice as a ventriloquist. After doing this, he became intrigued with the traveling entertainment industry.  Because of this fascination, he learned to juggle, play the drums, and entertained many as a magician, traveling across the United States with a traveling troupe. Eventually, this lead him to the small town of Bishop for a performance. He traveled on, but shortly turned around to come back to the Owens Valley (who can blame him?).  It is said that he was so struck by the area, that he couldn’t help but return.  

donna bird
Bishop Opera House, 1910. Photo courtesy of Holland Family Archives


In 1910 in Bishop, Harry got a job at the opera house on East Line Street. He didn’t get along with the manager, and decided to take a big chunk of his money and bought some moving picture equipment. On Main Street where Rusty’s Saloon is now, he opened up the Gem Theater and showed moving pictures. 

Fun Fact: Using hand-cranked projectors, Harry captivated audiences with thrilling films, including one scene of a rushing train that became a favorite, prompting screams and cheers from the audience. He used what he dubbed the “Armstrong Method”: when one arm gets tired of cranking, you move to the other arm.

Mule Days is May 21-26, 2024.  Be sure to catch Donna Bird on the newest “Get Real with Jesse Steele” podcast.

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Donna Tatum
Donna Tatum
1 month ago

Love you Donna Bird and the Holland family ♥️
Wishing you great success!

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