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The National Mule of The Year Award
I REALLY LOVE MULES
To anyone in or out of my section of the United States, the south to be exact, who have at one time or another, heard about mules, but never had access to information about mules, you are in luck, my friend. This article is for you, the amateur mule expert. And I dedicate this entire story to the American animal icon, the mule for serving such an illustrious and important service to us for hundreds of years. Now to be honest, I do not know if anyone (in our Hub Community) has ever attempted such a task in that of giving homage to such a lowly beast as the mule, but I’m going to crawl out on a limb and do my best to educate you and raise awareness on the direct-importance of our friend, the mule. Before I begin, here is some valuable information about mules.
A mule is the end-result of breeding a donkey jack with a horse. Most mules that I have been around are, for the most part, hard workers. But when the notion strikes them, they simply balk and will not move from the spot they are in. No matter how much the mule’s owner threatens or yells, the mule is an animal with its own mind.
Mules aren’t used that much in 2011 for farming purposes. Tractors pushed mules out of the agricultural production equation years ago. This is not an endorsement for tractors because for all intents and purposes, a mule may be slower in the field, but is more fuel-efficient as the mule only runs on hay and oats, not expensive diesel fuel that keeps tractors working.
Today, mule are used mostly for entertainment purposes such as towns in America who have a Founders’ Day Celebration or other crowd-pleasing events. I live in Hamilton, Alabama and there is a town twenty-five minutes from where I live, Winfield, Alabama, that has a day set aside the third Saturday every September, to honor the mule. Just the mule. The highly-successful and lucrative event is naturally called, Mule Day. Catchy name if you ask me.
This event was originated many years ago by a Winfield resident, Mr. Curt Estes. This yearly event has grown to be the biggest attraction in my home county, the county of Marion. Mule Day also attracts vendors from everywhere in the mid-south and any and all persons who are seeking political office on the state or local level. The Mule Day Celebration has arts and crafts exhibits; delicious food; non-famous bluegrass and country and gospel singers and performers; a Mule Day Queen who graces the Mule Day Parade; mule-judging for the best-looking mule or mule team pulling a wagon and other segments that would make any mule proud to be a beast of burden.
When I was a boy in 1961, my dad, the late Austin Avery, Hamilton, Alabama, owned a mule who’s name was “Grey Bones.” Why he named his mule this odd name is still a mystery, but “Grey Bones,” was a true-blue classic mule--loyal, obedient (most of the time), hard-working and I loved this mule as if it were a pet. Fact is, when my dad ceased farming to work at a public job, many is the time that I would sneak into the barn where this friendly mule stayed and feed it ear after ear of yellow corn. “Grey Bones” loved yellow corn. I loved to feed “Grey Bones,” but my dad was not thrilled at my humanitarian effort as he would raise no small amount cane when he would come home in the evening and find out about my mule-feeding efforts I had made during the day. Still, I loved our mule and was sad the day that my dad sold her to someone whose name escapes me, but I do know that the buyer of our “Grey Bones,” got a great mule when he became its owner.
Mules, like people, have been around way before our country was founded. I believe that the mule dates back to ancient Ireland where mules were used pretty much as they were used in the fledgling United States, for plowing fields and pulling wagonloads of produce and other farm-related items. A mule in these early days of our world was not a luxury, but a deep need of any farmer who wanted to be a success at his trade. Without a mule, the farmer would be forced to till his land by hand using a shovel for a plow and covering his seed that he planted with a rake or some other handy implement. I cannot say for sure if the early Irish or American pioneers named their mules as we did in latter times, but I would love to believe that they gave their mules the same respect as they gave their hunting dogs. You can see that I am a huge fan of the mule. For that, I make no apology.
Mules come in all colors--brown, white, gray and every mule has more-than-ample ears. And appetites to match. This is no scientific mystery for all the work a mule does (sometimes years ago) six days per week, no wonder they eat so much. I would eat a lot of feed if I had been a mule instead of a human being. You can bet your Liberty overalls that when mealtime came, I would be the first mule at the trough to enjoy some oats, corn, or fresh hay that my farmer/owner provided for me and I would not make the foolish mistake of complaining about my food with a loud and annoying bray so all my livestock friends could see and hear me. I would have been a grateful and humble mule.
You name the industry in early America and you can place a mule or mules in that business. From mining ore and coal to excavation, the mule had a severely-important place in early American industry. Mules were used to pull mining cars in and of coalmines in West Virginia and Kentucky and also do more than their share of helping early American loggers pull their logs from a wooded area to haul to market and yes, a team of valuable mules pulled the logs to market as well. I would be hard pressed to find any early American industry that didn’t require the services of an humble and sturdy mule. Well, I can think of one: bank robbing. Mules are not equipped by nature to be ridden at a fast pace to make a get-away by early bandits who made a living robbing banks. The mule’s distant cousin, the horse, got that job of hauling famous bandits such as Jesse and Frank James and Cole Younger to safety.
Now if I had been a mule doing my job of obeying my owner and plowing a field in the hot sun and happen to see a majestic steed with a notorious lawbreaker sitting in his saddle riding by at the speed of the northern wind, I would be a little envious. That would be a natural response. Horses got most of the credit in early America like they do in 2011. You will never see a Kentucky Derby where jockeys all ride mules, will you? I think that will not be happening. I don’t like horses. The horses I have been around have mostly been egotistical and prideful--not wanting me to show them any friendly gestures such as patting their noses. Whereas all the humble mules I have been around have all appreciated my attempts to be friends with them. There is just something about an humble mule that cheers me up when I am blue. I can give credit to early recording artist, Frankie Laine, who scored a huge hit with his song, “Mule Train,” that told the saga in lyrical fashion about a regular train of mules that were packed to the bone with needed supplies being carried from the eastern United States to the areas toward the west whose residents were in need of the supplies the mules were carrying. Bravo, Frankie Laine! Laine also recorded the famous television theme song for Rawhide that starred a young Clint Eastwood. Now if the cattle drovers had just used mules instead of horses in this show, I would have been a happy man. But social pressures forced the producers to use horses instead of the all-American beast, the mule.
But our own United States Army did have an honored position for the lowly mule in World War I. The Army used mules to carry guns, ammunition and food rations to troops in far-away places on the battlefield and if you ask me, the mule should have been given some type of Congressional award for their services. The soldiers in World War I and all the wars our country participated in got some type of recognition if they went far and beyond the field of duty. But not the mule. Nooooo. Talk about double-standards. I still to this day resent how the mule has been treated in some of the areas of our country.
The obscure mule also scored another place of fame in the hit Western, Gunsmoke when Ken Curtis joined the cast of the show in its latter seasons as the hillbilly, vagabond, but honest to a fault, Festus Haggin, who served as Matt Dillon’s deputy to help keep order in Dodge City, Kansas. Festus rode a mule whose name was “Ruth,” and I was deeply-moved by Gunsmoke’s producers and writers who made me proud to be a fan of the mule.
While I am in the show business area, Walt Disney Studios scored a funny movie that starred a comical mule named, “Gus,” whose talent was kicking field goals for a football team. I believe that Tim Conway was Gus’ co-star to which I said in a loud voice, “It is about time” when the movie was released. I loved the way that the movie producers let “Gus” wear his own football helmet. That too made me feel proud to live in America.
I said in an earlier statement in this story that I loved mules. Well, I do. If they didn’t eat so much, I’d love to have a mule for a pet even today. I can assure you, my friends, that my southern gentlewoman of a wife, would hit the ceiling if I were to come home one day leading a mule who I named, “J.D.” as the mule would be strong, brave and not afraid of anything. My grandkids would love to visit me just to take rides on “J.D.” I know this for a fact. None of my adventurous grandkids are afraid to try dangerous things and that would include riding a mule. Oh, if things had been different in our country when a cat or dog and even a green parrot was chosen for the token pet of Americans instead of mules. I think that our country would be a better place to live if that had taken place. Then we would see mules in Purina (dog) Chow television ads and see people taking their pet mules for a walk in the evening. What a great place to live, in America if mules were used as our pets.
But alas, mules have accepted their humble station in life. Mule haven’t staged any public protests for how they have been mistreated. Yes, I said it. Mistreated. And shown no place of honor. And we all know about how good “Silver,” the Lone Ranger’s white stallion was. We get it. But if the Lone Ranger had rode a mule, the show would have been a lot more spellbinding. To me.
So now I have vented about the sorry treatment mules in our country have been given. And I have written paragraphs of support for my favorite animal, the mule. But I do not feel any more relieved. I still feel as depressed as I was when our friends, the mules, were cast aside in our country for not being useful as machines. But I lived through that dilemma, that dark time in our country’s history.
But if I could have my way and some government grants, I would design a program that would give the proper respect to the mule for all they have contributed to our country. Can you, for a moment, imagine in an honest way, how our country would have been without the efforts of the mule? I can answer that for you. Dismal and not built as fast as it was with the mule taking the brunt of all the hard work. And that, friends, is the gospel truth.
I would get our Federal Congress, Senate and the current president of the United States, to designate a National Mule Month every year, say, June or July, maybe July for we celebrate our independence in July, and let our president choose from our fifty states, a worthy mule to be honored with a lifetime supply of the mule’s favorite food, get to walk (or ride in a pretty trailer) down Fifth Avenue in New York and be on the cover of TIME magazine as Mule of The Year. And like the glory hog, Mr. Ed, the talking horse, yeah, I really “appreciated” that show, I would have the winning mule appear on The Jay Leno Show, Late Night with David Letterman and even get to bray on The Howard Stern Show on Serrius Radio for the world to hear. These things I would love to do for our allies, the mules.
And when I met with resistance from anyone--citizens or government officials who would argue that this was a foolish project or cost too much, then I would take a cue from my mule friends and just be down-right stubborn and not move and inch or give in until my mule project was made into law.
What better way to say, “Thank you,” to all the wonderful mules that have helped to make our country the greatest nation on earth.