The streets of Tombstone filled with braying burros Saturday as nearly 70 donkey-human teams competed in the third annual Desert Donkey Dash.
“This is my first pack burro race,” said Robin Brown of Edgewood, New Mexico, who was teamed up with a small burro named Ollie. “This is so much fun. I love seeing all the donkeys here and I’m looking forward to starting the race.”
The event, which is tied to the town’s Schieffelin Days celebration, is a tribute to Tombstone’s rich mining history and prospector Ed Schieffelin, who is credited as the town’s founder. In 1877 Schieffelin ventured out into the rugged hills surrounding what is now Tombstone and struck it rich in silver. As news of Schieffelin’s discovery spread, fortune seekers flocked to the area and Tombstone was born.
Running alongside a pack burro, Donkey Dash participants compete in a 3-, 6- or 13-mile race as they tackle the rough terrain surrounding Tombstone.
Seventy teams were signed up for Saturday’s event.
“Pack burro races started in Colorado in 1949 as a tribute to Colorado’s mining,” said Robert Davenport, who introduced the quirky sport to Tombstone with its first race three years ago. “Pack burro races are sanctioned under the Western Pack Burro ASS-ociation (WPBA) and they are held in mining towns only.”
With the exception of the miniature-sized donkeys, the four-legged competitors are required to carry a regulation packsaddle, pick, shovel and gold pan, representing all the essentials used by early prospectors. Donkeys wear a halter attached to a lead line no longer than 15 feet, which human-handlers use to navigate their running companion.
While the donkey races are the anchor event for Tombstone’s annual Schieffelin Days celebration, rock drilling, mucking competitions and activities for kids also filled Saturday’s family-friendly lineup.
Marvin Sandoval with Buttercup, a two-time world champion team from Leadville, Colorado, won the 13-mile race, while Marvin’s wife, Lisa Sandoval, won the 6-mile race with her burro, Nugget.
“This is absolutely fantastic,” Tombstone Marshal Jim Adams said at the start of Saturday’s race. “My wife, Joey, and I fired the opening shot for the Donkey Dash and it’s great to see this kind of participation for the event. It brings something different to Tombstone.”
Bill Lee is from Idaho Springs, Colorado, and dresses as an old-time prospector while participating in burro races all over the West.
“I’ve been competing in these races for 40 years,” he said. “Next weekend we’ll be in Inyokern, California, for another race. My goal in doing this is to compete and educate people about the purpose of these burros. Today, I ran the short race with a burro named Levi that I borrowed from Good Enough Mine Tombstone.”
Lee is passionate about burro racing because he feels they help preserve the history of different mining towns.
At 73, Lee says he was probably the oldest competitor in Saturday’s race. He’s recovering from health issues related to COVID and was recently hospitalized for more than two months.
“I entered the short race today because I’m still building up my lungs and muscle strength,” he said. “Last year, I actually competed in 13 races, 10 in Colorado, two in Arizona and one in California. My longest race last year was 29 miles, and the shortest was 4 miles.”
Kathy Jenkins of Oatman owns a burro sanctuary.
“We have 10 burros here today, and eight of them are assigned to Fort Huachuca soldiers,” she said. “We come to these events to promote our burro rehabilitation and rescue efforts and support these events. We supply burros to people who want to compete but don’t have one of their own.”
Merchants along Allen Street applaud the pack burro races and the fact it draws a very different crowd to Tombstone.
“I love that it brings an athletic crowd to Tombstone,” said Lilly Hritz, owner of Lilly’s Tombstone Memories. “None of the other events incorporate animals into activities the way this one does. The burro races also have fun activities for kids to participate in while they learn about the town’s mining history and the role that pack burros had.”
Donkey Dash proceeds will benefit a list of nonprofit organizations, including the Tombstone Animal Shelter and two Cochise County donkey rescues.
“This event gets bigger and better every year,” Davenport said. “Spectators are delighted with the donkeys and the races draw a really good crowd. The burro racing community is a tightly knit group and they come from all over the country to support this event.”
Next year’s Donkey Dash will fall on April 1, 2023 Davenport said.
For information about the event, contact Davenport at 520-335-4255 or visit Schieffelin Days Donkey Dash on Facebook.