In Memoriam of Bobby Tanner

1959 to 2024

It is with great sadness the Death Valley Conservancy confirms the passing of Bobby Tanner on June 22, 2024. Bobby was essential to the re-creation and operation of the Twenty-Mule Team, and a dear friend. He will be sorely missed. Our thoughts are with his immediate family, Claudia and Bo, as well as his extended family and his many friends and colleagues.

In Memoriam of Bobby Tanner

In order of appearance: Bobby with one of his mules (2011); Bobby in the Mule Days arena with the Twenty Mule Team wagons (2024); Bobby with Claudia and Bo (2022)

Robert Hugh “Bobby” Tanner Obituary

Born to Robert and Jean Tanner, Robert Hugh Tanner “Bobby” was born in Bishop, California on October 29th in 1959.

In 1960, shortly after Bobby was born, his parents purchased Red’s Meadow Resort and Pack Station. Thereafter, Bobby spent every summer of his life working at Red’s with his family. Bobby spent countless hours leading pack strings into the Sierra Nevada mountains. This family business instilled not only a way of life, but the foundation for what would become one of his life’s passions.

His love for the outdoors was reflected in the sports that he enjoyed the most. Bobby was an avid skier and grew up racing on Mammoth Mountain. His love for the sport kept him continuously fine tuning and improving his skiing. Bobby’s immense talent and dedication in the sport led him to become a coach for the Mammoth Masters Ski Team.

Bobby graduated from Bishop Union High School in 1978 and was a proud Bronco football player. After graduating in 1978, he went on to play football at the University of Redlands for one year. Bobby later finished his degree and graduated from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.

After graduating from Cal Poly, he began his first business, Tanner Hay Co. and later, in 1994 he purchased Rock Creek Lodge.

With his return to the Owens Valley, Bobby returned to one of his passions, football. His love for community, youth and the sport led him to become an assistant football coach at BUHS for some years. Recently, Bobby returned to the field and the coaching staff as his son joined the program. Bobby was an inspiration and role model to countless Bronco athletes.

As a young businessman and entrepreneur himself, Bobby was a strong supporter of small local businesses and organizations, believing they were the key to a thriving community.

In the history of Mule Days, the contribution of the Tanner family is truly monumental. As the son of Bob Tanner, one of Mule Days’ founders, Bobby was a part of the classic Eastern Sierra event since the very first show in 1970 when, as a boy of 10 years old, he led a pack string in the first parade. Thrilling audiences with his riding antics, Bobby’s exceptional skill as a mule man only grew over the years. Learning from the last living teamsters of the famed 20 Mule Team, Bobby assembled the first 20 Mule Team in decades for Mule Days in the 1980’s. Bobby’s teams of 20 mules, pulling two huge freight wagons and a water tank just as borax miners did in Death Valley over a century ago, is a unique and special attraction that has drawn people to Mule Days for more than 40 years. In addition to bringing entertainment and fun to the event as a competitor, Bobby served for many years as a Board member, and was President of the Board in 1990. As a leader of Mule Days, Bobby kept Mule Days focused on the fun, the spirit of Mule Days that continues to entertain crowds who come from all over the world. Bobby was inducted into the Mule Days Hall of Fame in 2000. Mule Days would not be what it is today without Bobby’s contribution. He is part of the soul of Mule Days and will be greatly missed by the Mule Days family.

Starting in the early 1980s, Bobby and his father began a decades-long effort to revive the 20 Mule Team. Bobby reverse engineered the long-lost historic 20 Mule Team jerk-line hitch and publicly demonstrated it, most notably to pull six historic ore wagons in Ketchum, Idaho’s annual Wagon Days Big Hitch Parade. By 1998, the Pasadena Tournament of Roses Equestrian Committee had heard of Bobby’s work and approached him (and Rio Tinto Borax) to carry the Tournament of Roses president and Family in the Borax wagons in the big parade. Based on the success of that 1999 parade appearance, the focus shifted to re-creating the original borax wagons. Bobby was instrumental in helping to research and design the replica wagons now on display at the Laws Museum. He ultimately drove the team and these full-scale replica wagons in parades across the country, including another appearance in the 2017 Tournament of Roses Parade, the 2017 Washington DC Fourth of July Parade, and at Death Valley National Park’s 25th Anniversary Celebration. Bobby most enjoyed the handling of the team and wagons at the annual Bishop Mule Days parade and show. Bobby secured the legacy of the 20 Mule Team for present and future generations to come.

In 2006, during the Bishop Mule Days celebration, Bobby met the love of his life, Claudia Moya. Bobby and Claudia were married in 2008 and a year later, they completed their family, and Bobby’s proudest accomplishment, their son Bo. Bobby, Claudia and Bo spent their summers in the high country and winters on the mountain, continuing the family legacy. Bobby was much more than a devoted husband and a loving father, he was a best friend.

Bobby was preceded in death by his father Robert C. Tanner. He is survived by mother, Jean Tanner of Reno, wife Claudia, and son, Bo of Bishop, sister and brother-in-law Suzanne and Harvey Bertrand of Reno. A Celebration of Life to honor Bobby will be held later in the fall.