Back in a time very different from today, draft animals were the power behind all Southern farms. In Hickman County, Tennessee the draft animal of choice was the mule. Every farm had one, some had two. A mule pulled the plow in the field that grew the crop that sustained the family. Mules were vital to a way of life.
Mules were as much a part of the Hickman County farm as Grandmother’s apron. Mules were named, tended to, cared for, and in some instances, a part of the family. Mules reigned in folklore and tall tales of the South. Most stories told about growing up on the farm, give an honorable mention to the mule.
In Centerville, THE place to buy or trade a mule since April 1937 was Copley Bros. Mule Barn just east of the Centerville Square on Columbia Avenue. Whether buying or trading, a large crowd of bib-overall wearing farmers would gather on an appointed day at the Mule Barn to watch the fast pace action of the mule trade business. An auctioneer would ring a large bell at twelve noon starting the auction. He would then “call” the auction over the sound of mules braying, a sight and sound to behold.
Two or three times a year, the Copley brothers, Gilbert and Percy, would travel out west to purchase yearling colt mules from some big spread in Kansas or Missouri. Buying a hundred or more, the young mules were shipped back to Centerville via train. When they arrived at the Centerville Depot, the mules would all follow a white mare, led by the Copley brother’s employee, George Miller, to the Centerville Square and on to the Copley Bros. Mule Barn on Columbia Ave. All traffic would stop and heads would turn to watch the parade of mules.
Held in a pen at the barn, the mules would be watered and fed. Mules of similar coloring and size would be paired together and sold as a team.
Livestock trading was the number one industry in Hickman County back in the day, with Copley Bros. Mule Barn being the prime location for buying / trading mules until the death of Percy Copley in 1987.