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MULE CROSSING: Celebrating the Pioneer Spirit of the American Mule


By Meredith Hodges

Long before the Founding Fathers drafted our constitution, the roots of America were as a religious nation under God. Today’s mule also has his roots in religion. The mule’s ancestor—the donkey—is mentioned in the Bible numerous times as an animal acknowledged by God and blessed by Jesus Christ. The donkey was even chosen to bring Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem and, later, as the mount Jesus himself used for his ride into the city of Jerusalem.

Throughout the development of our country—one nation under God—the American mule has been used to pull the mighty Conestoga Wagons of the pioneering settlers moving Westward, as a pack animal for settlers, miners and traders, and as an important part of our country’s defense in times of war.

As early-nineteenth-century America continued to develop and its population grew, the American people came to depend more and more on self-sustaining agriculture. Because of the mule’s extraordinary ability to work long hours in sometimes harsh and unrelenting climates, his sure footedness which allowed them to cross terrain not accessible by any other means, and his resistance to parasites and disease, he became the prized gem of agriculture and remained so for the next hundred and fifty years.

From the day the Erie Canal first opened on October 26, 1825, mules and donkeys were always used to pull the heavy barges. Inevitably, songs like Thomas A. Allen’s “Low Bridge, Everybody Down,” which praises a mule named “Ol’ Sal,” became part of America’s folk song tradition. In the early days of the Erie Canal, men and their mules lived side by side on the barges—the mules were even brought onboard when they were not towing, and safety ramps were placed at intervals up the banks of the canals, in case an unlucky mule accidentally slipped into the canal and could not negotiate its steep walls to climb back out.

In 1882, the Harmony Borax Works opened with one big problem—how to get their product 165 miles across the treacherous Mojave Desert from Death Valley to the nearest railroad spur. The answer? Mules! “The borax wagons were built in Mojave at a cost of $900 each…When the two wagons were loaded with ore and a 500-gallon water tank was added, the total weight of the mule train was 73,200 pounds or 36 and a half tons. When the mules were added to the wagons, the caravan stretched over 100 feet. The Twenty Mule Teams hauled more than 20 million pounds of borax out of Death Valley between 1883 and 1889.” 1

When American coal mining was booming, the mule was such a valuable member of the mining process, that a good mining mule was considered to actually be more valuable than a human miner. Mining has always been a dangerous business, and the mining mule’s innate sense of self-preservation was well known. “Mules are very smart…They know what they can do and would never do anything they couldn’t or would not want to do. Mules were known to pull at least three full mine cars full of coal. If you hooked up a fourth car they would balk at any commands and just stand there. No way would they pull the fourth car!”

Because of their traits of strength, intelligence and loyalty, mules were a crucial part of our country’s greatest conflicts, from the Civil War through the Spanish American War, and in both World War I and World War II. A well-known tale from the Civil War states that, “In a battle at Chattanooga, a Union general’s teamsters became scared and deserted their mule teams. The mules stampeded at the sound of battle and broke from their wagons. They started toward the enemy with trace-chains rattling and wiffletrees snapping over tree stumps as they bolted pell-mell toward the bewildered Confederates. The enemy believed it to be an impetuous cavalry charge; the line broke and fled.” 3 During World War I, mules and horses were still the primary way that artillery was carried into battle. Although the 75mm Howitzers proved too heavy for most horses, it was a common sight to see the big guns strapped to the back of a sturdy mule.

One of the world’s greatest natural wonders, the Grand Canyon, has been home to mules since the 1800s. First brought in by prospectors, it was soon realized that the tourists wanted a way down to the Canyon floor, and so began the Grand Canyon mule pack trips. Famous mule-riding visitors to the Grand Canyon have included Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Howard Taft, famed naturalist John Muir and painter/sculptor Frederic Remington.

We Americans have worked alongside our mules and donkeys for centuries and have often taken their generous contributions for granted in the course of our country’s fast-paced growth, but the mule and donkey are likely to remain with us as long as they can find a way to make their contributions to society.

Those of us who attend Bishop Mule Days every year and many longears lovers across this country are very well-acquainted with the incredible assets of the mule, and look forward to singing his praises every year on October 26th, when Mule Appreciation Day rolls around. Let us never forget to thank our trusted companions for all they have contributed to building this great country of ours!

To learn more about Meredith Hodges and her comprehensive all-breed equine training program, visit LuckyThreeRanch.com or call 1-800-816-7566. Check out her children’s website at JasperTheMule.com. Also, find Meredith on FacebookYouTube and Twitter.

© 2012, 2013, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2021, 2022 Lucky Three Ranch, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

1 http://www.20muleteammuseum.com

Mine Stories, The No. 9 Mine & Museum,Lansford, PA

The Horse in the Civil War, by Deborah Grace



MULE CROSSING: In Celebration of Mule History


By Meredith Hodges

George Washington imported the first jacks into the United States on October 26, 1785. The two jacks were a special gift to him from the King of Spain, although one died during the crossing. Royal Gift made it to become the sire of Washington’s mules at Mount Vernon. Two hundred years later, October 26th became Mule Appreciation Day as a result of mule’s increased popularity in modern times. George Washington was one of the very few in his time who recognized the value of breeding good mares to jacks for the best mules, at a time when most people were breeding mares that were unfit for horse production. The mule, being the hybrid cross between a male donkey called a jack, and a female horse called a mare, generally inherits the best characteristics from both parents. He is a stronger and more durable animal than the horse, requires less feed for good health, is more surefooted and is more resistant to parasites and disease than is the horse. He is smarter and less likely to injure himself than the horse, and if bred and trained properly, he possesses a disposition that is affectionate, humorous and more willing than that of the horse. In 1992, the American Donkey & Mule Society celebrated its 25th Anniversary in support of mules and donkeys.  In 1967, inspired by “Platero,” a gentle donkey and friend owned by the Hutchins family, the A.D.M.S. was founded by Paul and Betsy Hutchins and has grown into an appreciative organization of over 4000 members. They have encouraged people internationally to start their own clubs and organizations in support of Longears. As a result, the mule has enjoyed more different working and recreational uses now than ever before!

Although his primary use has been and still is as a pack animal, the mule has become a viable saddle animal, competing in all of the same types of events as horses. He has his own shows, as well as competing against horses in other types of shows. He is a curious animal and commands attention and interest wherever he goes. Mules and donkeys have been exhibited in the opening ceremonies at the Olympic Equestrian games years ago. There was an A.D.M.S. entry in the Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena on New Year’s Day 1992 and they have been exhibited at many horse shows and events across the United States. Special interest groups have been formed to help to preserve the integrity of these wonderful animals in an effort to educate people as to their use in the world today.

The Donkey Sanctuary in Great Britain rescues abused donkeys and allows them to live out the rest of their lives in peace, comfort and good health. Some of the donkeys are used at yet another place called the Slade Centre in Great Britain in a handicapped drive and ride program, while the Donkey Protection Trust provides experts in the field to poorer countries for healthier and more economically productive use of their donkeys where lives are actually dependent upon them. Interest in these remarkable animals has spanned many miles around the world and has brought people and cultures together for a common cause.

Special people dedicated to the positive promotion of Longears have educated others about these valuable assets to our society, and have helped to dispel old rumors and unkind attitudes about them. The result of their work is apparent in the lives of many people who have had the opportunity to be exposed to mules and donkeys. Mules and donkeys have bridged gaps among people, cultures and religions. Their contributions can be found in many aspects of our lives.

In 1992, the Lucky Three Ranch in Loveland, Colorado, in keeping with the spirit of Longears, developed an apprenticeship program for students wishing to learn about the many aspects of the Longears industry. It originated as an effort to have a cultural exchange of ideas and attitudes worldwide. It was basically a program to teach the student how to train and manage mules and donkeys, but it also covered the economic, commercial and social aspects as well. We were proud to accept our first student, Ruth Elkins from Great Britain, in October of 1992. It was her wish to not only learn as much as she could about Longears, but to introduce an American Dressage Mule to her country when she returned. She had hopes of inspiring a new and interesting challenge to others in her own country. How appropriate that our first student should arrive during the very month that we have designated to appreciate mules! This now online program has since been revised and is called the TMD Equine University – open to students from the U.S. and around the world who can understand English. For those who cannot, we have our website at www.luckythreeranch.com translated into French and Spanish, and three manuals that correspond with our Training Mules and Donkeys DVD series are also translated into French, Spanish and German.

Historically, mules have been primarily responsible for helping to build this country into what it is today. They aided the cavalries in the acquisitions of land. They pulled covered wagons of settlers thousands of miles across the new frontier. They worked in the coal mines, along canals and in the Southern cotton fields, as well as other crops. Mules helped build some of our major recreational facilities, such as the Rose Bowl, and have helped provide safe access to treacherous mountain recreational areas, such as the Grand Canyon, where the use of horses is questionable… and the list goes on!

Today, the mule still makes his tangible contribution to our social growth and development. He is an animal which has evolved with the times and there seems to be no end to his capabilities and contributions. New uses are continually being discovered for this highly versatile and adaptable animal, limited only by our own imaginations. It’s only fitting that we take the time to appreciate Longears on October 26th, an animal who has contributed so much to all of our lives. Thank you, mules…and donkeys, too! Life might not be as sweet, were it not for you!

To learn more about Meredith Hodges and her comprehensive all-breed equine training program, visit LuckyThreeRanch.com or call 1-800-816-7566. Check out her children’s website at JasperTheMule.com. Also, find Meredith on FacebookYouTube and Twitter.

© 1992, 2016, 2021 Lucky Three Ranch, Inc. All Rights Reserved.