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Mosby: Mules had key roles in the outdoors

Posted: March 8, 2014 - 2:39pm

A recent item in the Yesterdays column of the Log Cabin Democrat told of a 39-year-old mule.

Interesting animals, mules. We tend to think of them as relics, something from days long ago, but mules are still around and still in use although much less than once was the case.

Present generations of hunters and other outdoors participants have four-wheelers. One brand is even named Mule. Bygone generations had mules. The machines and the animals serve similar purposes in hunting. They get people back in rough country better than walking can do. And they carry out results of the hunt too.

This writer never owned a mule, never hunted with one, never plowed or cultivated with one. But I’m a mule appreciator. In my teen years, an older fellow who used a mule said, “You always can depend on a mule to get you there and to get you home.”

Remember the long-running “Gunsmoke” program on television? Festus, played by Ken Curtis, rode a mule. Festus was an Arkansan on “Gunsmoke,” but Curtis was a native of Colorado.

Some years back I interviewed and photographed a hunting mule and his owner who lived near Enola. This was a jumping mule. At the owner’s command, the mule would jump into the back of a pickup truck.

Well-known in our language is the phrase “stubborn as a mule.” Less well-known is “surefooted as a mule.”

OK, city folks, what is a mule? It is a hybrid animal, the offspring of a donkey daddy and a horse mama. Horse daddies and donkey mamas also produce offspring, and these are called hinnys — not nearly as in demand as mules are.

According to Wikipedia, “The mule possesses the even temper, patience, endurance and sure-footedness of the donkey and the vigor, strength and courage of the horse. Operators of working animals generally find mules preferable to horses: mules show more patience under the pressure of heavy weights, and their skin is harder and less sensitive than that of horses, rendering them more capable of resisting sun and rain. Their hooves are harder than horses’, and they show a natural resistance to disease and insects. Many North American farmers with clay soil found mules superior as plow animals.

“Mules are generally less tolerant toward dogs (much like donkeys) than horses are. They are also capable of striking out with any of their hooves in any direction, even sideways if needed. Mules exhibit a higher cognitive intelligence than their parent species. This is believed to be the result of hybrid vigor, similar to how mules acquire greater height and endurance than either parent.”

In deer hunting, mule users as a rule had no problem with putting a deer carcass on the mule’s back and heading out of the woods with it. Horses sometimes shied and bucked when someone loaded them with a deer.

Yes, you have to feed and care for a mule, but don’t four-wheeler users have this responsibility too?

This is all a bit of nostalgia.

We can talk about mules as opposed to Mules, the machines. But the four-footed beasts of burden are from the past and won’t substitute for today’s all-terrain vehicles which are much a part of today’s hunting and outdoors scene.

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