Did you ever wonder how the “Show Me State” became linked with the stubborn mule? Missouri owes its preeminence in the mule raising industry to Jackson County and the early Santa Fe Trail days.

Captain William Becknell from Franklin, Missouri. was an Indian fighter, veteran of the War of 1812 and a western explorer. He and four companions packed a trifling amount of merchandise on some horses Sept. 1, 1821, and headed out west for barter with Iatan or Comanche indians. Instead, they met a party of Mexican rangers who convinced them to take their merchandise to Santa Fe, which at that time was still a part of the Republic of Mexico.

Their wares were eagerly purchased at a handsome profit. They returned to Missouri about Jan. 31, 1822, with coins, silver bullion, gold bullion, furs, mules and donkeys. There are no records of mules in Missouri prior to that date. As the Santa Fe trade grew, more and more mules were brought back to Jackson County. Sometimes as many as 1,300 at a time were driven across the Independence Square. Mexico’s mules, though small, were superior to horses for packing the vast distance across the hot, waterless deserts, and the scarce feed supply between here and Santa Fe. The first few years of trade were done with pack mules prior to the use of covered wagons.

The ancestor of the Missouri mule came from Spain, the land of the silver mines, where it was used as a pack animal, recommended for its strength and sureness of foot. From Spain the mule was carried to Mexico; there again, the silver mines claimed its service. They were traded to the Americans and found their way back to Independence, Westport and other river towns. But it remained for the Missouri farmer to take it and make it the most useful domestic animal to bless the state.

The Missouri farmers have bred the mule until they have developed a reputation, without a doubt, for the best mule anywhere. The Missouri mule industry found its place in World War I and World War II as thousands of mules packed soldiers and supplies into the mud and mountain terrain where nothing else would go.

The mule has been given a bad rap down through the years as being dumb and stubborn. Actually they are highly intelligent creatures. They are more similar in personality to that of a dog than they are like a horse. Their stubbornness comes from their intelligence. If they think harm may come to them in a given situation, they will refuse to carry out orders. That sounds pretty smart to me.

Remember Francis the Talking Mule? He was a Missouri Mule. Co-star Donald O’Connor and Francis made six post-war movies together, which came to an end in 1955 at O’Connor’s request. He was afraid the talking mule would ruin his career, as Francis received more fan mail than he did. Maybe he was right because we haven’t heard much from O’Connor since, however in later years he admitted the movies made with the mule grossed more money than all his dance routines and musicals combined. Actor Chill Wills' gravely voice was a natural for Francis.

Francis was purchased from the feedlot of Ed Frazier of Drexel, Missouri, in Cass County for $200. The famed mule disclosed a remarkable personality and a flair for the limelight.

Since the end of World War II the trucks and tractors have replaced their usefulness and their numbers have dwindled immensely. Most Missouri mules are raised for show stock today, for the fairs and livestock shows.

See you at the Santa-Cali-Gon Festival on the Independence Square.

Reference: “The Missouri Mule: His Origin and Times” by Melvin Bradley

To reach Ted W. Stillwell send e-mail to Ted@blueandgrey.com or call him at 816-896-8692.