Corsicana Daily Sun, Corsicana, Texas

October 22, 2012

Mules in our history

By Gelene Simpson
Corsicana Daily Sun

— When I was a youngster, parents had an expression for kids who didn’t mind instructions immediately. It was “stubborn as a mule.” I must admit that I may have warranted that term applied to me at times. And it didn’t help very much that my mother braided my hair and turned the braids under and tied them with ribbons. The boy who sat behind me called this hairdo “mule bridles.” He would grab my hair as if driving a pair of mules. If long braids were worn, they were in danger of being dipped in the ink well. So I guess mule bridles were a little better than that, but not much.

Personally, I don’t know any mules, but we did sing a song called “Would You Like to Swing on a Star?” It described the unfavorable characteristics of a mule. As I remember, it said that a mules had “long funny ears” and that “he kicks up at everything he hears.” Now, I saw that was not too good, but what really stuck in my childish mind was the part about the mules not liking to go to school. You see, I liked to go to school; so from this song, I received an unfavorable impression of the mule.

Even though I had no real experience with a mule, we did have a cow named “Muley.” (She had been dehorned, and I gathered that this condition was responsible for the name.)

My parents, of course, had a great deal of experience with mules. I recall a picture of mother standing with Grandpa Chapman in the field with their team of mules. This was in the Blooming Grove area probably in the early 1920s. And Daddy and Mother had a team of mules when they were in Oklahoma soon after they married in 1925. People in that day were acquainted with the location of the mule barn when they went to town. My parents kept a good many of the trappings used in hitching up a team of mules. Giving up the mules for a town job was a big change in their lifestyle.

They turned that page, but they kept the mementos of those bygone days. So I was delighted to read Clay Coppedge’s piece titled “The Underrated, Under-appreciated Mule.” The author reminds us that mules didn’t just pull the farmer’s plow; they also built railroads, and their strength came in handy when wagon trains crossed country going west. Remember that song “Mule Train?” It told about the “wind and rain,” as well as the many other hardships the mules helped our early pioneers face.

In other words, mules are responsible for a great deal of our national history, and you know how I do love history. Also you know my favorite hero — George Washington. Well, Coppedge tells that Washington “started the mule industry in this country.” It happened in this way. The King of Spain gave a mule to Washington, who bred horses and realized that the mule had qualities which horses lacked — mainly they (the mules) didn’t eat as much and worked a lot harder.

Coppedge also reminds us that, to the farmers in earlier days, the purchase of a team of mules was as vital as the purchase of motor vehicles are today. I can testify to this because in looking through my mother’s papers after her death, I found an agreement Daddy had signed to buy the team of mules they used in their first big crops after they married.

Mules pulled the wagons and hauled the cannons during the battles fought in this country also. In fact, army mules are some of the most celebrated for their stubborn tenacity. In one account of Union losses made to President Lincoln, his reply expressed more concern for the loss of 40 mules than for the capture of one of his generals.

I think that when the impossible was called for, that’s when they brought in the mule teams, 20 mule teams if necessary. I believe there is at least one huge mansion in Waco which the owner wanted to have facing a different direction. So he called for teams of mules and moved it around where he wanted it.

I know one thing. I am willing to give mules the credit they deserve for all the struggles they have been through in the building of our state and nation. And I don’t care whether they went to school or not.

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Gelene Simpson is a Daily Sun columnist. Her column appears on Tuesdays.