Submitted By
Anne Amthor
The Mule Barn Theatre Guild was organized in 1976 to advance the cultural program of Tarkio College through financial and physical contributions to the Tarkio College Mule Barn Theatre. The octagonal four-story brick mule barn was located on David Rankin’s farm (Ranch 12) on the perimeter of Tarkio (now Park Street) to house equipment and the many mules and horses used in the fields nearby. David Rankin was a pioneer farmer and entrepreneur and became the owner of America’s Largest Feeding Farm circa 1900.
Following a production of “The Sound of Music” in 1968 that was held in the Tarkio High School auditorium, plans to renovate the historic David Rankin mule barn were underway. For the next 21 years the Guild raised funds through various means to update and restore the structure into one of the most well-known theaters in the United States. Tarkio College students held productions at the barn during the school year and took part in musicals during the summer season.
After the barn burned to the ground in February of 1989 the Guild, along with Tarkio College theater students, built a 76 seat theater in the coffee shop of the historic Walnut Inn on Main Street in Tarkio with the idea the productions could continue there until a new theater was built. However, Tarkio College was forced to close in 1991 ending the relationship with the Guild and the theater department productions. The Guild continued to manage the Walnut Inn and offer productions from area artists. As the next few years passed, the expenses for the Walnut Inn increased while the Guild membership, as well as the number of theater-goers, decreased.
In 1994, the Guild hired a family from San Diego, California, to manage the restaurant. This effort did not prove to be a good decision so in November of 1995, the Guild leased the Walnut Inn to Youth Services International/Tarkio Academy, who had purchased the Tarkio College campus and wanted the building to serve as a project for their Generals Entrepreneur students. This project did not develop as planned so after much consideration the Guild sold the Walnut Inn to Wildcat Enterprises in 1997. The Walnut Inn was torn down in 2017.
The Guild, along with the Tarkio Chamber of Commerce, continued to plan and implement a full schedule of cultural arts activities for students at Tarkio R-I Schools as well as Tarkio Academy. Programs included a poster contest for the annual CABA baseball tournament, the Paul Mesner Puppets of Kansas City, Youth Theater Camp, Arts as a Basic Program, Artist in Residence, Missouri Cultural History, Phil Baker Music Show for Children, and the Imaginary Children’s Theater of St. Louis. The Arts as a Basic program featured the field trips to Platte Purchase Living History Arts Festival, the Nelson Atkins Art Gallery in Kansas City, the Star Hill Prairie Art Center in Rock Port, MO, Babes in Toyland at the Folly Theater in Kansas City, St. Joseph Symphony Christmas Concert, a folk music concert in Tarkio, Pony Express Museum in St. Joseph and programs by Archaeologist Mike George and storyteller Gladys Coggswell. The Arts as a Basic program continued for several years.
In 2000, the Guild was contacted to sponsor fundraising for a new library. The Tarkio Resource Center, home of the Tarkio Branch Library, was dedicated in 2005. Programs included Read First, Read from the Start, Battle of the Books, Book Reviews, Writer’s Forum, Poetry Contests, Summer Programs for Reading and Math, Quiz Bowls, Board Game Days, Community Awareness, knitting and sewing classes.
In 2011, the Guild added two areas to preserve Tarkio’s history. Located in the lower level of the Resource Center, the Tarkio History Center houses information on David Rankin, the Walnut Inn, Tarkio depot and other items relating to the history of Tarkio. Also included are family histories, minutes from Tarkio organizations, copies of the Tarkio Avalanche and many other items relating to our community. Thirty-two Tarkio history scrapbooks compiled each year from 1964 to 1997 are located on the main floor of the Resource Center. To view the scrapbooks, please visit the library during the times it is open to the public or call the Resource Center for an appointment.
The Guild continues to sponsor Battle of the Books in March, the drama department at Tarkio High School and Dr. Suess at Tarkio Elementary in the spring. Missoula Children’s Theatre has visited Tarkio for the past 16 years. Members of the Guild welcome new teachers and administrators to Tarkio with a luncheon in August.
The Guild meets the second Tuesday of each month at 5:30 p.m. in the Resource Center. New members are always welcome!