Tennessee State Library and Archives


Mules are hybrids that have played an important role in the farming, military, and cultural life of Tennessee and the South.  This exhibit is a serious and light-hearted look at the mule’s effect on family life and humor.

Mules are more sure-footed than horses and mature earlier.  They’re actually gentle, intelligent beings that not only work hard but are often times considered part of the family.  True, he might stop working when he thinks it’s time, but a kindly cared for mule will happily plow and haul all day.

Often thought of as stubborn animals, mules have gotten a bum rap for this reputation.  They have an innate sense of self-preservation and will not put themselves in danger or work past their capacity.  On occasion, the mule’s opinion may differ from the owner’s.

Lucille Keith with midget mule, 1939, Department of Conservation Photograph Collection.
In this staged photograph, Lucille Keith tugs at a 3-month old, 40-pound midget mule, owned by Lex Watson of Columbia.
Jack the star at the W. B. Massey Farm, n.d., Library Photograph Collection
U. S. Mail at Jamestown, Fentress County, Tennessee, 1940, Department of Conservation Photograph Collection
Mules have traditionally been used to haul milk wagons, farm produce, and even caskets to the gravesite.
Unknown African American man sitting on a garbage cart pulled by a mule in Memphis, Tennessee, n.d., Library Photograph Collection
Hauling garbage belies the dignity of the mule as he is a very proud creature.



Mule Advertising

Horseradish Trademark Reward Poster
Horseradish Trademark, 1924, Tennessee Trademark Books Reward Poster, March 15, 1870, Library Broadside Collection
Gabriel Broadside
Gabriel Broadside
Gabriel Broadside, February 23, 1872, Library Broadside Collection The Celebrated Malta Broadside, February 23, 1874, Library Broadside Collection

Mule Humor

And Her Name Was Maud!
Maud the mule first appeared, in Hearst newspapers, on July 24, 1904.  A creation of Frederick Burr Opper (January 2, 1857 - August 27, 1937), Maud quickly became a household name.  Most of the Maud comics ended with someone being kicked into the air by Maud.  The most common casualty was her owner, Si.  Besides appearing in her own comic strip, And Her Name Was Maud, Maud also appeared in two of Opper’s other comics, Happy Hooligan and Alphonse and Gaston.


Columbia in Maury County, Tennessee is home to one of the largest Mule Day celebrations in the world.  It all started sometime in the 1840’s when a livestock show and market brought people into town on the first Monday in April.  In the early days, this day was known as “Breeder’s Day”.  The early “Breeder’s Day” was a far cry from what Mule Day is now.  There were no parades, no pool tournaments, no log loading competitions, and no liars’ contests.  All of those things came later.  In 1934, Columbia’s Mule Day was born.  The April 2, 1950, edition of The Daily Herald estimated that a crowd of between 15 to 20 thousand people viewed the parade on that first Mule Day.  Now, over 200 thousand individuals flock to Maury County each year in celebration of the mule.  A quote from an ad in the March 31, 1938, edition of The Paris Post-Intelligencer sums Mule Day up nicely.  “It is right and just that the lowly mule be thus honored.”

Mule Day Royalty, April 4, 1949, Department of Conservation Photograph Collection
Bettilyn Barnes, the 1949 Mule Day Queen, is shown with the King Mule, Brown’s Sunshine, at the Mule Day Celebration in Columbia, Tennessee.
Mule Trot, circa 1938, Looking Back at Tennessee Collection
This photograph was taken at the Mule Ball during the annual Mule Day celebration in Columbia, Tennessee.  It depicts dancers performing a dance called the “Mule Trot.”
Brown’s Sunshine, April 4, 1949, Department of Conservation Photograph Collection
Brown’s Sunshine was the 1949 King Mule at the Mule Day celebration in Columbia, Tennessee.
Miss Evelyn Morgan, April 3, 1939, Department of Conservation Photograph Collection
Miss Evelyn Morgan of Columbia, Tennessee, leader of the Sixth District group in the Mule Day Parade, primps before the parade starts.

Paris Fish Fry

Mule Day Celebration in Paris, Tennessee, April 5, 1948, Looking Back at Tennessee Collection. This photograph was taken on the north side of the Henry County Courthouse during Paris’ annual Mule Day celebration

The “World’s Biggest Fish Fry” takes place in Paris, Tennessee each year.  What most people don’t know about this celebration is that it started off as an annual Mule Day event.  Paris’ First Annual Mule Day took place on April 4, 1938. The event was sponsored by The Paris Post-Intelligencer newspaper.  As tractors gained in popularity, they started taking the place of mules in agriculture.  As the use of mules declined, the area Chamber of Commerce started looking for a replacement for “Mule Day”.  In 1953, the Chamber of Commerce introduced the “Fish Fry” to take the place of “Mule Day.”

Mules on the Farm

The Importance of Mules in Agriculture
Mules were the key element in Tennessee’s farm economy.  Between 1870 and 1880, mules replaced oxen as the main work stock in Tennessee.  The extension of mule power amounted to a technological revolution in agriculture, allowing farmers to handle more land, get over their fields faster and achieve higher productivity.
Tennessee became an acknowledged center of mule training, and animal “Broke” here were highly regarded for their adaptability and performance.  Tennessee farmers took pride in their ability as teamsters and were proficient at breaking in mule colts to the Southern cotton and sugar fields.

Although tractors made their first appearance in Tennessee during the 1920s, they were initially little more than a curiosity.  Some held an almost religious attitude that nothing but mules and men should tread on good earth.  It wasn’t until after World War II mechanization replaced mules on a majority of Tennessee farms.  However, many small farmers were still working with mules well into the 1950s.

Cole sorghum mill near Camden, Tennessee, October 4, 1940, Department of Conservation Photograph Collection

This sorghum mill belonged to John Cole and was located about 5 or 6 miles South of Camden, Tennessee on Highway 69.  Nelson Cole, grandson of John Cole, reported that the individuals in the photograph were Pauline Hargis, Rural Cole (son of John Cole), Fay Howe, Johnell Moore, Reba Nell Pace, and Harold Cole.  Mr. Cole also stated that the mules in the photograph were named, Bigun’ and Littleun’.

Allen Home in Berlin, 1914, Looking Back at Tennessee CollectionShown with the mules are Otis Fisher, Dr. A. Allen, Mrs. A. Allen, Harris Allen, and an unknown woman.
Jeff Ralph and Another Male with Several Mules, Standing Near a Barn in Angleton, Texas, ca. 1910s, Sabin Photograph Collection
Mules were used for many agricultural purposes in Tennessee.  This mule team is hooked up to a plow and getting ready for the day’s work in the field.
Dark-fired Tobacco in Robertson County, Tennessee, August 9, 1946, Department of Conservation Photograph Collection
Mules were favored because they were surefooted, smart, strong, and performed well in the summer heat.  Farmers of cotton or tobacco preferred to own mules instead of oxen or workhorses, even though they were more expensive. 


Mules in the Military

Mules in the Military
Because mules are hardier and surer of foot than horses, they have played an integral role in the U. S. Army’s logistical operations.  The Army’s Quartermaster Department has had the responsibility of procuring and training animals for military use since its inception in 1775.  Before 1908 the Quartermaster Department simply purchased horses and mules through bids.  In 1908, however, Congress created the Quartermaster Remount Service, whose function was to procure, process, train, and issue horses, mules, and dogs for military use as well as to train personnel in animal management.

The Quartermaster Remount Service played a vital role in both World Wars.  During World War I approximately 571,000 horses and mules were processed by the Service for use in Europe; more than 68,000 were killed in the course of action.  By the end of the war, the Remount Service totaled 948 officers, 30,661 enlisted men, and 789 civilians.  While the Remount Service was operational during World War II, World War I was the last major conflict which saw the Army use horses and mules in such large numbers.

Though they were used in smaller numbers during World War II, mules still played a valuable role.  Because of the terrain, mules were widely used in Army campaigns in Italy and Burma; from 1944-1945 the Remount Service used about 14,000 mules in these campaigns.  From 1943-1945 civilian merchant ships, which had been requisitioned by the U. S. government, transported 7,800 mules overseas for use by the Army and also shipped an additional 3,500 mules to Great Britain as part of Lend Lease.

Nationalist Chinese officers visiting Columbia’s Mule Day, ca. late 1940s, Looking Back at Tennessee Collection

The Army’s increasing use of mechanized transport during and after World War II brought about a decreasing need for animal transport.  As a result, the Remount Service’s breeding program was shut down in 1948, and the last two pack units were deactivated in 1957.  Although the U. S. Army no longer uses them, mules continue to play an active role in military operations around the globe.  As part of U. S. aid to the mujahideen in the late-1980s, approximately 2,000 Tennessee mules were shipped to Afghanistan.  The Pakistani army also maintains several pack units for delivering relief supplies to the mountainous parts of the country that are subject to frequent earthquake activity.

The U. S. military was not the only one with an interest in mules.  The Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902) is believed to be the first war in which American mules were exported for military purposes.  Tens of thousands of mules, oxen, and horses were killed during the Boer War.  Later, Tennessee mules were exported to the British before the US entered World War I (1914-1918).

Mules in Action

Even though mules were used for hauling supplies, they did not always operate safely behind the front lines.  The following examples document just two of the many instances when Army mules found themselves in the thick of the action.

On July 1, 1863, the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg, Union and Confederate forces engaged to the northwest of Gettysburg.  Union troops were pushed back through the town in the course of the fighting.  The troops in I Corps began to run low on ammunition during their fighting retreat. As they fell back towards Seminary Ridge, 10 mule-drawn wagons crested the ridge and delivered 75,000 rounds of much needed ammunition to the men of I Corps.  This action prevented their fighting retreat from turning into a full scale rout. While the Union army had 10,000 mules at the Battle of Gettysburg, it can be argued that it was the action of these few mules that was ultimately responsible for the Union victory.

Showing ways of sending patients to the hospital, 137th Ambulance Corps.  Camp de Galbert, Alsace, GermanyAugust 31, 1918, Frierson-Warfield Papers

The other example comes from World War I.  In October 1918 Sgt. Laurence Lumpkin was leading a pack of 10 mules carrying barbed wire to forward elements of the First Division near Exermont, France.  As Sgt. Lumpkin and his mules neared the line, they came under direct fire from German artillery, machine guns, and snipers.  Despite losing 5 of his 10 mules, Sgt. Lumpkin pushed on and delivered the wire.  He then went back and brought up a second load of wire, coming under fire once again.  For his actions, Sgt. Lumpkin was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.

The Army Mascot

For the fourth Army-Navy football game in 1893, the U. S. Naval Academy adopted a live goat as its mascot.  In 1899 an officer at the Philadelphia Quartermaster Depot decided that Army needed a mascot of their own for their upcoming game against Navy.  An oversized white mule being used to pull an ice wagon was selected to be that mascot.  After 1899 mules were frequently present at football games, but it was not until 1936 that Army adopted one mule as a regular mascot.

Mr. Jackson (1936-1948) – A former Army pack mule and the first mule to serve as a regular West Point mascot.
Poncho, a.k.a. Skippy (1939-1958) – A small burro donated by Ecuadorian Ambassador Colon Alfaro.
Hannibal I (1948-1964) – Originally named “Bud,” but renamed by the cadets.
K.C. Mo (1957-1969) – Came from Kansas City, MO (name pronounced “kay-se-moe”).
Trotter (1957-1972) – Earned his name by being able to maintain a trotting gait for 8 hours.
Hannibal II (1964-1980) – Donated by the Hannibal, MO Chamber of Commerce.
Buckshot (1964-1986) – A gift from the United States Air Force Academy and the only female mule to serve as mascot.
Spartacus, a.k.a. Frosty (1973-1994) – A gift from Missouri Governor Warren E. Hearns.
Ranger I (1978-1995) – A gift from the Ranger Association of World War II.
Black Jack (1985-1989) – A gift from then-Senator Albert E. Gore, Jr.
Traveler, a.k.a. Dan (1990-2002) – Named for his ability to do certain fancy steps, like sidestepping.
Trooper, a.k.a. Ernie (1990-2002) – A highly trained, saddle-type mule.
Raider (1995-present) – A gift from the Quincy Notre Dame Foundation of Quincy, IL.
Ranger II, a.k.a. George (2002-present) – Named in honor of the 75th Ranger Regiment.
General Scott, a.k.a. Scotty (2002-present) – Named in honor of Lieut. General Willard Scott, Jr., former USMA Superintendent.


Tennessee State Library and Archives
403 Seventh Avenue North
Nashville, TN 37243
Phone: 615.741.2997 Fax: 615.741.6471
Email: exhibits.tsla@tn.gov