For Love
of a Mule

Joel Hendon

The origin of the mule is lost in antiquity, but it is known that they existed as far back as 3,000 years ago, perhaps much farther. The Bible reads in 2 Samuel 13:29 “Then all the king’s sons arose, and every man gat him upon his mule, and fled” They are an hybrid animal, usually the cross between a Jack Ass (male donkey) and a mare, but can also be from the opposite male/female of those breeds. Many call the cross between a female donkey and a male horse, a “hinny”.

Because they are hybrid, they are generally unable to reproduce. Male mules especially are sterile but there have been a number of females that have been able to conceive by either a male donkey or a male horse. But even so, they are basically considered as a non-reproducing breed.

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(Photo courtesy Gene Bartsch, Click HERE for more information.

Mules come in just about every color of the rainbow depending upon the coloring of their parents. But during my youth and in my area, the vast majority of them were a dark reddish-brown as seen in this photo. They are one of God’s most magnificent creatures. This cross between the donkey and horse, in this author’s eyes, inherited the best of both. The donkey is a wonderful small, and worthy pack animal for limited loads and has been a favorite for many people in the past. The old west depended heavily upon the donkey and/or the Mexican burro for packing personal belongings on desert treks. They have also been used for drawing carts and small wagons in many instances. I have personally never had any experience with these small ones so I cannot give you first hand details concerning them.

The history of mules used by the U.S. Army is an often overlooked item. Of course they also used horses in the cavalry but the mules were an indispensable part of wars throughout the 19th century. Whenever any war began, the military would purchase thousands of mules and train men to handle them. They carried heavy loads as pack animals and also pulled heavy wagons and wheeled weapons. Even in the first half of the 20th century, they were used even though to an ever lessening degree. Only in 1956 did the army decide to abolish their entire mule contingent. And they have even discussed reintroducing it since that time. Mules were chosen for these duties for several reasons.

They have a much more steady disposition when it comes to unusual circumstances. Horses have a more excitable nature and are also unwilling to go ahead with their duties in the face of danger. Mules, although they may be frightened, are far less likely to panic and run away than horses, and are easier to control and actually coax into continued obedience to their duty. Plus, pound for pound, mules are capable of pulling or carrying heaver loads than horses. Their chests are broader and their leg muscles stronger. Also, horses are feisty and are inclined to fight among themselves when in a corral or fenced area with a group.

These same features are the factors which caused the early American farmers to choose mules most often as their farm animals for pulling plows and wagons and many other chores. They had a slower, yet steady, gait than most horses and therefore were much easier for the plow hand to control the work of his plow. I began plowing almost as soon as I could handle a plow in hard and rocky soil and continued so until about 1946 when we completely abandoned farming.

(Photo courtesy Gene Bartsch  For more Click Here)

My first efforts behind the plow began shortly after my father bought a new mule, fairly young, well trained and very obedient. She had been named “Mag” by her earlier owner so we let it be. She was a beautiful animal and I loved her very much. She knew her job included her obeying every command and she did her very best to comply. Many people would become frustrated, hot and angry when plowing a field and I have known people to whip mules unmercifully. I can assure you, Mag never got a beating while owned by us. I often got very tired, hot and maybe short tempered but I could never have taken it out on her. After all, she was dripping with sweat also and was pulling that plow through hard red clay. All I was doing was trying to steer it and keep it in the ground.

When the day was overly hot, I would often pull out to the edge of the field and drive her under a shade tree to cool and get her breath. I normally had a bandana handkerchief in my pocket so I would kill any horseflies which were sucking blood from her back, then wipe her eyes and her back to absorb the sweat and any small trickle of blood the flies might have caused. I have almost cried at times when I would look at her. Somehow, mules look sad to me and there seems to be a tear trickling down their cheek almost all the time. Actually they are not sad, and the tear was not from her crying but was sweat or caused by constant insect activity around her eyes such as gnats and small flies. I always had a longing to be able to communicate with her so I could tell her how much I appreciated and loved her for her willingness to work, obey, and never cause me any trouble. I told my mother that but she told me not to worry, that Mag knew. I sincerely hope so. I always felt that there was a human in there but just couldn’t communicate it.

But when we stopped farming, Mag was beginning to show her age and besides, my dad said we could not afford to keep her and buy feed for her for no reason. I knew he was right but right or wrong, she would have had free run of our pasture and I would have fed her to her dying day. But a man wanted her to put in his pasture to help keep it from growing up. And, he wasn’t even going to work her! I thought my prayers had been answered so I willingly watched her being hauled away. I saw her owner a couple of years later and asked of her welfare and he said, “Old Mag is fine, she has gotten fat and is just enjoying every day of her life.” I was overjoyed and I never tried to see her or her owner again. I just wanted it to be that way.

the end

About the author: 

Joel Hendon was born September 20, 1930 near Gadsden Alabama. He attended public schools in Cherokee County, Alabama and after serving a tour of duty in the U.S. Army during the Korean War, attended Jacksonville State University, Jacksonville, Alabama majoring in Business Administration. He became a Christian in 1948, and although he followed secular work as a career and retired from Allied Signal Aerospace in 1997, he is an avid student of the Holy Bible and related works as well as biblical history. He produces a bi-weekly publication, The Household of Faith Ezine which is free for the asking. Archives are accessible at:  He is also the author of Final Stronghold, published in 2003, available from Amazon Books.


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