“Anything a horse can do, a mule can do better.” said U.S. District Court Judge Billy R. Wilson, when addressing the New South class taught by Dr. Tom DeBlack, professor of history.
Wilson was discussing on Nov. 10 the significance of mules in Southern and Arkansas agriculture and Wilson was accompanied by his own donkey and mule, Molly and Backyard Ben.
Mules have played an important role in the economy of the South since the Civil War. At that time in 1860 there were an estimated 600,000 mules in the United States, Wilson said.
Mules were also used in World War I. Wilson spoke of his father being in the cavalry and riding mules at the front during WWI.
In the 1920’s and 1930’s mules were being used everywhere, with an estimated 6 million mules in the United States during this time. Wilson said the majority were used in the south.
In fact, until the introduction of tractors, mules were the primary choice for agricultural labor. Wilson cited the functional advantages of a mule over a horse or a donkey. Mules can be used for work in stock, roping, hunting, and trail riding.
“While mules have to be trained younger than horses the result is a safer animal than a horse,” Wilson said.
“They inherit a strong sense of self-preservation from the donkey, which allows them to survive in conditions that both horses and donkeys would not.”