Postcards: A visitor’s fascination with mules rekindles a Ray Countian’s interest

By Linda Emley

After celebrating Thanksgiving and my birthday on Black Friday, I thought my fun was done but I soon found out it had just begun.
The next day I had the honor of introducing a Hollywood girl named, Charlene to two Ray Countians named Hershey and Charlie.
These two guys are mules who live in Camden and were the stars of the show.
The weather was perfect for our road trip to Camden and it was an adventure none of us will soon forget. We all enjoyed feeding them apples and grass as we shared fun stories.
It all started about a month ago when Keith Bowen asked me if I knew anyone that had a Missouri Mule because his sister was coming to town for Thanksgiving and wanted to see one.
I then heard the story how Charlene has been fascinated by mules since her childhood, but never got to meet one. We decided it would be fun if she could feed an apple to a mule and could cross that off her bucket list.
After a few days, I realized there were several donkeys around Ray County, but mules seemed to have become a thing of the past. While working at the Eagleton music jam, I asked several people if they had any

Charlene, a visitor from California, was able to remove ‘meet a mule’ from her bucket list Nov. 30 when she met two of the horse-donkey crosses living in Camden. (Submitted photo by Linda Emley)

Charlene, a visitor from California, was able to remove ‘meet a mule’ from her bucket list Nov. 30 when she met two of the horse-donkey crosses living in Camden. (Submitted photo by Linda Emley)

mules and all I got was more donkey stories.
That all changed when Mac Proffitt heard my story and informed me his brother had some mules on his farm in Camden. The details were worked out and the “mule meet and greet” was added to my calendar of events.
Maybe this would be a good time to explain how a mule is different from a donkey or a horse. A mule is the offspring of a male donkey and a female horse. In other words, a mule is a creature  that wasn’t on Noah’s Ark. A horse has 64 chromosomes, and a donkey has 62, so a mule ends up with 63 chromosomes. A mule can be male or female, but because of the odd number of chromosomes, they can’t reproduce.
Any good Missourian has heard the expressions “Missouri Mules.” There have been mules in our state since the 1820s.
From 1870 to 1900, Missouri was the largest mule-holding state in America, so we earned our title. The term “Missouri Mule” became famous in 1904 when W.A. Elgin from Platte County and his six-mule team beat all the competition at the St. Louis Exposition.
Locally, mules were used in coal mines and by farmers, so Ray County had its share of mules. Several people I talked to remember mules being sold at the sale barn that used to be in Richmond. Ray County was known statewide for its mule sales.
My grandfather, Ola Landon Martin, worked in a coal mine for a short time and he told me a story about a mule I’ll never forget. The poor-old mule was working in a Ray County coal mine when he made the mistake of passing gas. He was standing too close to an open lantern and it blew the ole mule to “kingdom come.” I was mortified when I heard this story, but the guys always laughed when my dad retold it many years later.
I’ve been searching all the old Ray County newspapers looking for a few more mule stories and haven’t come up with any yet, but there is one good mule story that I am working on.
It’s the story about a mule named Jule. This mule story has been told many times over the years, but I plan on sharing it again because it is one of my favorite local tales.
Major Robert Williams and his mule Jule survived the Civil War and shared many good years together in Swanwick after the war.
I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase ”stubborn as a mule.” While researching this story, I found out that mules are really smart and their stubborn streak is actually their way of being cautious and not just doing what they are told to do. They say a mule never forgets, so it’s a good idea to stay on his good side because he will always remember that time you got mad and yelled at him.
I think my new California friend Charlene has made a believer out of me because I think mules are pretty cool, too.

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