Becoming official on May 31, 1995, legislation signed by Gov. Mel Carnahan solidified what Missourians had known for over 150 years -- the Missouri mule had made their state famous all over the world. In the eyes of many Missourians, the mule's strength, hardiness, stamina and agility made it the perfect choice as the animal to represent Missouri.
A New Breed
The first mules were brought to Missouri over the Santa Fe Trail from Mexico in 1822, reportedly by a trading party led by William Bucknell. A cross between a female draft horse and a male donkey, mules were bred to be tough workers. Missouri breeders took further steps to breed a mule from huge donkeys. The resulting animal was larger, stronger, tougher, yet more agile and easier to control than draft horses or other mules. Soon, they became known as Missouri mules and were sought after worldwide.
Cotton to Coal
Missouri farmers used mules to pull heavy loads, but they didn't stop there. They marketed their hardy mules to farmers for the strenuous work in their cotton fields and for transporting coal from the mines. Missouri mules were so much in demand that nearly half of the farmers also became mule dealers. Mule shows and sales were highly successful ways to sell hundreds of mules on the spot. As county fairs became popular in the 1840s and 1850s, mules won prizes for their size and appearance and could be bought and sold there.
The Way West
Missouri mule dealers realized that if mules made sturdy pack animals for carrying materials and merchandise, they were ideal for helping pioneers making the journey westward. Missouri became known as "the jumping off place" because so many settlers used it as their staging ground to prepare for the trip. Situated at the edge of the frontier, Missouri was the ideal place to stock up on supplies for the long trip. Missouri's tough mules were known for being able to withstand the hazards and terrain they'd encounter along the way.
Mules at War
Both Union and Confederate forces needed mules during the Civil War and turned mostly to Missouri to supply them. Prices for the animals fell to less than half of what they once were, however, and it took years for Missouri mule dealers to recover to pre-war levels. In World War I, the Missouri company Guyton and Harrington supplied 350,000 mules to British and American forces. Missouri mules were also used to carry troops and supplies in World War II. Native son Harry Truman included a Missouri mule team in his inaugural parade. Widespread use of mules died off when the tractor was invented. Today, Missourians use their mules mostly for fun but celebrate their mutual history.
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Barbara Bean-Mellinger is an award-winning writer in the Washington, DC area. She writes nationally for newspapers, magazines and websites on topics including careers, education, women, marketing, advertising and more. She holds a Bachelor of Science from the University of Pittsburgh.