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Helena in 75 Objects 6: BullWhacker

Eliza Wiley Independent Record

The bronze statue of a man cracking a whip on Helena’s Downtown Walking Mall celebrates the 19th century equivalent of the modern-day truck driver. Called by the highly evocative name of “Bullwhacker,” the statue celebrates the men (and a few women) who drove often reluctant oxen to transport supplies from Fort Benton down Mullan Road to the gold camps in Helena.

Bullwhacking was strenuous, a young person’s vocation. Bullwhackers were commonly “colorful” characters and given to expressing themselves with strong language. Although oxen are more even-tempered creatures than horses or bulls, they reportedly never did accept their lot as beasts of burden.

“They made their distaste clear in many interesting ways,” writes Richard Groby with the Sharlot Hall Museum in Prescott, Arizona.

The typical ox team was composed of a dozen of the recalcitrant beasts. Bullwhacker William Jackson described his pursuit of a team leader in his book, “Bullwhacking to Salt Lake City.”

“I trailed him for some time … but when he found out what I was up to he became wary and gave me a lively chase, dashing into the most crowded part of the corral while I kept up pursuit, encumbered with a heavy yoke, besides being knocked around, squeezed and stepped on most plentifully.”

Helena’s “Bullwhacker” sculpture is a distinctive memorial to one of the common and extraordinary people who made the city of Helena possible.

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