Eric Standridge is a freelance writer with an interest in history. His main focus is writing about Oklahoma.
What does Oklahoma have in common with a talking horse? Mr. Ed, of course! For those who don’t remember, Mr. Ed was a black and white television sitcom that ran from 1961 through 1966. The show featured a talking horse and his owner, Wilber Post. This iconic T.V. show was so popular because it was one of the few ever created by this time that centered on a non-human star.
The premise behind the show was that Wilber was the only one who could ever hear the talking horse. This made for a large number of comedic situations as people wondered just who Wilber was talking to.
Mr. Ed initially gained a small cult following, but this blossomed out until people all across the country were talking about the talking horse. Although the series hasn’t seen a new episode in over 50 years, it still remains a huge part of today’s pop culture.
Mister Ed Comes to Oklahoma
When Mister Ed finally went off air, the famous horse moved to a ranch just north of Tahlequah.
Well, one of the horses anyway. Technically, there were two horses that played the famous role.
“Bamboo Harvester” was the name of the main character. This was an American saddlebred part-Arabian gelding who was the main on-screen presence. Many who visit the Oklahoma site believe that the Mister Ed buried there was the start of the show. While this is partially true, the Palomino was one of two horses that played Mister Ed.
Two years after Mister Ed was canceled, the health of Bamboo Harvester began to suffer. Primarily, the horse had kidney problems and suffered from arthritis. According to co-star Alan Young, he states that that Mister Ed died from an accident while living in a stable in Burbank California. Lester Hilton, the horses’ trainer, was out of town the day that Mister Ed died. Seeing the horse thrashing on the ground, a caregiver thought that the horse was in distress. Having arthritis, the horse always struggled to stand. The caregiver saw this and administered a tranquilizer. Sadly, the horse died within hours. It was later cremated and the ashes were scattered by Lester Hilton in an unknown location near Los Angeles.
Following the death of Bamboo Harvester in 1970, a second palomino horse by the name of Pumpkin became the official Mister Ed. Pumpkin looked strikingly similar to Bamboo Harvester. The only difference was a patch of white that had to be covered over occasionally. Pumpkin was always on set during the filming, and posed for most of the publicity shots. The four-year-old was even trained to "talk" like Bamboo Harvester.
Pumpkin was trained in the same way that Bamboo Harvester was, including learning all of the same tricks in case if Harvester ever had to be replaced. As part of this training, Pumpkin was always on set where he learned to be relaxed around the commotion and cameras that comes with shooting a show.
Pumpkin stood in for many public appearances. One noted appearance was during the Hollywood Christmas Parade. Harvester had to be on seat early that morning and since the parade happened towards evening, the trainers were worried that that would put undue stress on the horse. Pumpkin stood in instead, with no one the wiser. He performed perfectly in front of a massive crowd.
For the rest of his career, Pumpkin went on to be filmed in many different television commercials and even starred on other shows such as Green Acres. Of note, Pumpkin starred in the Snak-Pak commercials as a talking horse, and then in Green Acres as “Mr. Fred”.
In retirement, Pumpkin moved to Oklahoma where he lived out the rest of his life on Snodgrass Farm, just north of Tahlequah.
According to local residents, Clarence Tharp purchased the property and settled there with Mister Ed. Clarence was the horses’ trainer. Prior to his death, residents would stop by to see Pumpkin where they would give him carrots and make his mouth wiggle like on the television show.
By 1979, Pumpkin was in ill health. He rallied for around two months before he was finally put down. Pumpkin passed in 1979 at the age of 33.
Mister Ed’s Gravesite
Following the death of Pumpkin, a small wooden cross and horseshoe was put up over the gravesite.
In 1990, residents decided that this was not enough. Two disc jockeys out of Tulsa led the campaign. Mel Myers and Steve “Banana” Bradley began a fundraiser through KMYZ-FM to purchase a stone marker that honored Mister Ed. After raising $525, and through donations from local residents, a new marker was placed over the top of Pumpkin’s gravesite.
The marker is engraved with the iconic opening image of Mister Ed’s head showing through the barn door. It also reads “According to media reports, Mr. Ed moved to Oklahoma in the late 1960s, after a successful Hollywood career. Mr. Ed continued to entertain and bring joy to many Oklahomans, finally retiring in this very field. May his memory live long.”
The 2,000 pound monument was engraved by Ron Hollister. Opening ceremonies included a color guard from the Tahlequah Roundup club, “flower” bouquets of carrots from the Girl Scouts, and several local politicians.
The marker was dedicated on August 26, 1990. It can be found off of Highway 82, just north of Tahlequah. The monument and grave can be found at 13600 E. 710 Rd., Tahlequah.
Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on March 19, 2018:
These details are very interesting. Thank you for sharing these memories of Mister Ed.