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Home arrow News arrow Local News arrow MULE DAYS HONORS VETERAN PACKER



By Gary Fletcher

Observer Staff Writer

ENTERPRISE — The weekend crowd at the Wallowa County Fairgrounds included people from 17 states, Germany and even a guy from Tasmania on a walk-about.

No one enjoyed the 22nd annual Hells Canyon Mule Days more than Merel Hawkins, who has spent most of his life in Wallowa except for when he served a hitch in the service in Germany.

As was his father 20 years ago, Hawkins was selected as the Mule Days grand marshal.

Merel, born at home in Wallowa on Aug. 16, 1936, to Glen and Mary Hawkins, is the fifth generation of a family that settled in the Wallowas in 1872. The family has been using pack stock here for more than 100 years while sheepherding, hunting and working for the U.S. Forest Service.

Merel was a professional packer for more than 20 years. One summer he packed nine tons of "powder" (dynamite) in to contractors constructing Forest Service trails.

His first summer packing was 1954, the year he graduated from high school. He began packing for Kenneth Hall at Wallowa Lake and for Hawkins' great-uncle, Roy Schaeffer, at Lapover Pack Station on the Lostine River.

In those days a horse could be rented for $5 a day, or $15 with a packer/guide. Merel continued packing, but worked winters at the Bates mill in Wallowa, and as a logger.

At Lapover, Merel came to know the late Justice William O. Douglas — famous for his love of the Wallowas. Douglas visited the Lostine Canyon many summers from the 1940s to 1960s.

Douglas was still visiting summers when Merel in 1958, his brother Wayne and their father Glken purchased Lapover from Schaeffer.

The Hawkinses ran 30 to 40 head of stock, including mules, for taking summer visitors to the high mountains and guiding hunters in the fall.

Merel remembers a time when eight of their mules came from the military at Fort Carson, Colo.

Merel generally oversaw Lapover, and worked on the family's Bear Creek ranch during any slack time. In 1980, the Hawkins family won the Tree Farmer of the Year award.

The Hawkins sold Lapover in 1972. Then Merel began a partnership with Carol Higgins, daughter of the late Red Higgins of Red's Horse Ranch on the Minam River in the Eagle Cap Wilderness.

Merel and Carol were married Sept. 2, 1974 — Labor Day of that year. Together they ran Red's Horse Ranch for several years until selling it.

They raised three daughters — Jenny, Mary and Nora — all three of whom can tie a diamond hitch blindfolded. They have worked for local guides and have suffered their share of mule bites and kicks.

Merel still goes to the mountains, but now he can leave the packing to "my three girls."


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