Courtesy Division of Tourism
Stubborn as a Missouri Mule
It's is a common expression that gives people the impression mules are stubborn. To the contrary, those who have experience working with these animals say they are intelligent and can be taught a work skill more quickly than a horse.
This stubbornness is really the mule’s instinct for self-preservation. Mules resist doing anything that places them in danger. Mules also live longer than horses, work better in heat, and require less feed. Missouri’s prominence in mule breeding goes back to the opening of the Santa Fe Trail in 1821. This route brought Spanish jacks to Missouri for breeding. Between 1850 and 1900 the demand for mules grew; however, the jacks from the Santa Fe trade produced small mules suitable primarily as pack animals while the growing need for farming, road building, and hauling loads of freight was for larger, more powerful mules.
As demand for larger mules grew, breeders sought larger jacks, such as the American Mammoth Jack being produced in several states, like Kentucky and Tennessee. Missouri breeders mated these jacks to draft mares, particularly the Percheron, to produce the large mules needed for heavy work. The offspring came to be known as the Missouri Mule.
By 1900, the mule population swelled to three million in the United States, many being produced in Missouri, the home of several large dealers. One dealer, Guyton and Harrington at Lathrop, sold thirty-seven million- dollars worth of mules to the British government during World War I, giving Lathrop the moniker Mule Capital of the World. Mules provided service in a variety of industries, but despite their valuable service, by the 1940s trucks and tractors had replaced mules.
Today, the mule still has many admirers. Saddle mules have become popular for use on trail rides, and mules are popular attractions in parades and at field demonstrations of old-time farming methods. To recognize the contribution the Missouri mule made to the state, the legislature named the mule the state animal in 1995 in a bill sponsored by Rep. Jerry E. McBride from Edgar Springs and Rep. Mary C. Kasten from Cape Girardeau and supported by the Missouri American Legion.