Welcome to Mule Nation Finally, the mighty American mule gets some long, overdue credit.

Dan Thrapp Mules true west
Legendary historian Dan Thrapp, the author of 14 books, including six on the Apache Wars, holds the reins of his mules while crossing the Andes in 1941.

My father, Allen P. Bell, was a stubborn Norwegian. And if you believe my wife, the apple didn’t fall far from the tree. But still, even with that reputation, when you begin a sentence with, “That old boy is stubborn as a…” the words Bell or Norwegian do not come to mind. No, only one word ends that sentence—mule!

mule mules true west
Left: Deb “Jackass Lady” Kidwell, the author of our May 2017 cover story, stands here with Genesis, her American Mammoth Jack. Right: Equine historian Lee Anderson raises his Hawken rifle while perched on Zelda.

So, it’s about time we paid tribute to these stubborn, but sturdy, steeds. Most mule people hate the “stubborn” attribute assigned to their favorite breed, but thanks to our resident equine experts, Lee Anderson and Deb Kidwell, True West is giving mules some long overdue respect and credit.

Another big tip of the hat goes out to Lynda A. Sánchez, of Lincoln, New Mexico, who regaled me with the local nuance of mule slang (the vaqueros in her family refer to mules as “machos,” which, as she points out, is strange since mules are pretty much sterile). She also shared a photo of Dan Thrapp, a compiler of frontier biographies, who had a love for mules. 

mule mules true west
This goofy photo was taken by Eadweard Muybridge during the 1880s.

The biggest takeaway for me from this issue was learning the crazy, different sizes and breeds of donkeys and mules. Check out that American Mammoth Jack standing by Deb. Wow! I can see why she wears her “Jackass Lady” moniker with pride.

The truth is, I have long admired these stubborn steeds. Besides, as the old vaqueros are fond of saying, “Until one has loved a mule, part of the soul remains unawakened.”

This Memorial Day, I will have the great pleasure of riding a mule as the grand marshal of California’s Bishop Mule Days Parade.

See what stubborn love can bring you?

bob boze bell bishop mule days true west
I will be riding in at the head of a long line of mighty mules, as the 2017 grand marshal of California’s Bishop Mule Days Parade on May 31!

What do you think?

Bob Boze Bell

In 1999, Bob Boze Bell and partners bought True West magazine (published since 1953) and moved the editorial offices to Cave Creek, Arizona. Bell has published and illustrated books on Billy the Kid, Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday, as well as Classic Gunfights, an Old West gunfight book series. His latest books are The 66 Kid and True West Moments.