“I got a mule and her name is Sal,
Fifteen miles on the Erie Canal.
She’s a good old worker and great old pal,
Fifteen miles on the Erie Canal.”
For many, Jan. 19, 2024, started as a normal day at the John Johnston Farm and Indian Agency. Winter was present. Administration and maintenance staff were busy, and the site was closed for the winter break. The animals still needed to be fed and checked on. Late that morning, I received a sad telephone call informing me that Kit, the mule, had died.
For some, I suppose that news would not be particularly tragic. But for me and the General Harrison Canal Boat boat crew, it was a big deal. An old friend had completed her life cycle.
Kit was not the first animal to expire at the Farm. In the 50 years since opening, multiple animals (large and small) have died. As one of the only canal sites in Ohio with working animals to care for, the process had been going on long before Kit and her brother, Jake, arrived to help interpret history.
I was first introduced to Kit about 17 years ago. Kit and Jake lived near the farm of an elderly couple who took them to local county fairs. The site director and I were part of the Ohio Historical Society team that traveled to southeast Ohio to purchase and deliver the animals back to Piqua. The driver of the transport trailer had to back the vehicle across a narrow bridge and back a short lane just to get close to the barn. Once they arrived in Piqua, the process of adjustment started.
For the first couple of years, I completed the daily grooming and preparation of the animals for work. Cold or hot, wet or dry, we prepared each workday to interpret history for the visitors.
Several times a year, the farrier would visit to show the animals. On one occasion, Kit pushed her left leg out, tossing the farrier out of the barn into the grass. The farrier was not amused.
Kit and her partner pulled the canal boat up and down the canal. In the last couple of years, we noticed that she was slowing down. But she always kept the pulling position on the left as the lead animal.
It was a sad day for the boat crew and all employees who knew her. She helped the John Johnston Farm and Indian Agency teach visitors about Ohio’s first superhighway – the Miami Erie Canal.
Goodbye, old friend and faithful worker.
The writer is a canal boat captain at the John Johnston Farm and Indian Agency located in Piqua.