For the love of ol’ mules

Published 11:00 pm Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Falling in love with something as stubborn and ugly as an ol’ mule is not an easy thing to do. But, when Don Renfroe looked into an ol’ mule’s soft eyes and heard it honk, it was love at first sight.

Renfroe was the featured speaker at the Civil War Forum at the Troy Public Library Monday night and he made no apologies for his love affair with mules.

Although his program was titled “Mules and Their Contributions to American History,” it was obvious that Renfroe intended to put the mule in its rightful place in today’s world.

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He assured his audience that mules are more patient, sure-footed, hardy and long-lived than horses and they are considered less obstinate, faster and more intelligent than donkeys. He left it up to the audience as to how they would rank them but he made no bones about which is first on his list.

With tongue in cheek, Renfroe said according to the Good Book, God rested on the seventh day without having created the mule but soon realized the need for the marvelous animal.

He explained that a mule is the offspring of a male donkey and a female horse and, except, in a few believe-it-or-not births, does not reproduce.

“The mule was the beast of burden for America’s pioneers and the mule population increased greatly during the 1800s,” Renfroe said. “It’s true that, during the Westward Movement more oxen pulled the Conestoga wagons but many mules made that westward trip.

“During the financial collapse of 1837, the rush for the free land in the West made Missouri the mule capital of the country. In 1849, gold was discovered in California and mule trains headed that way.”

Sadly, Renfroe said, the mule never rose to a place of prominence in the Deep South but remained a beast of burden and a trusty friend of the farmer.

During the Civil War, the mules pulled the wagons that hauled supplies to the soldiers and thousands of mules were used for the same purpose during World War I.

“Troy was a big mule marketplace during the 1920s as farmers depended on mules to plow the fields and, therefore, for their livelihood,” Renfroe said. “The year 1954 was the first year that tractors outnumbered mules in our part of the state. That was the same year that we experienced the worst drought ever and there was a mass exodus to the cotton mills in Columbus, Georgia and that area.”

Renfroe told of a POW mule, Preston 08K0 that was a veteran of three armies, the English, Chinese and Korean.

“Preston 08K0 had a working knowledge of all three languages,” Renfroe said, laughing. “In 1957, military mules were retired and given to the agriculture department. “

A footnote to that was the mules are now packing supplies for the military.

“In Afghanistan, mules are being used again as packers and that’s no different from when they were packing 150 years ago during the Civil War,” Renfroe said as a closing note.