Mules in the Arts

Updated on January 9, 2020
DonnaCSmith profile image

Donna Campbell Smith is an author, freelance writer, and photographer. She has an AAS degree in equine tech and is a certified instructor.

Nicolaes Pietersz. Berchem - Muleteer by a Ford

public domain
public domain | Source

Mules in the Arts

Mules with their expressive eyes and long ears have been models for artists and photographers around the world. The painting of Columbus riding a white mule by A. G. Heaton is one example. Mules often show up in editorial cartoons and modern works of art. Their reputation for stubbornness may explain their popularity in political cartoons. The popular Snuffy Smith Sunday comic drawn by John Rose, includes Snuffy’s mule, Aunt Sukey in several strips. Mules have starred in films, been the subject of literature and song. You don’t have to think hard to remember some very famous mules.

Francis the Talking Mule is probably America’s most famous mule. Francis starred in seven movies during the early 1950s. The Francis character was an old army mule whose sidekick was a young soldier named Peter Stirling, played by Donald O’Connor. Francis got Peter out of trouble by talking good “mule sense” to him and only him. This led to hilarious consequences when Peter tried to let other’s know about Francis’ unique talent.

Francis real name was Molly, because “he” was a “she.” Trainer, Les Hilton, used a thread fed into Molly’s mouth to get her to “talk.” Molly worked her lips and mouth trying to spit out the thread, and the words were dubbed in to make it appear as though Francis was talking to Peter.

Francis was also the title character in a comic strip during the later 50s. Today the old movies have been released on video and DVD.

Another famous mule, whose name is often forgotten, is Ruth. Festus, played by Ken Curtis, rode Ruth into Dodge City in the long running television series, Gunsmoke. Curtis replaced Dennis Weaver who played deputy sheriff, Chester Goode. Anyone who watched the series can remember Festus fussing and grumbling at “Ole Ruth,” who was shown to possess the stereotypical trait of mule stubbornness. But, there was no mistaking the affection that they felt for each other.

A mule named Gus starred in a Disney movie by that same name in 1976. Gus played a football team’s mascot that got promoted to team member because of his kicking ability, bringing the losing team to victory.

One of the most famous real mascot mules was called Old Coaly. Coaly moved from Kentucky to Pennsylvania in 1857 as a two-year-old. He was brought to work on the campus of Pennsylvania State University by his owner’s son, Andy Lytle. Coaly worked hauling limestone to build “Old Main.” After the building was finished Coaly was purchased for $190 and continued to work on campus and surrounding farms. He was loved by the staff and students and became an unofficial mascot. After he died in 1893 his skeletal remains were preserved and are still on display at Penn State.

Mules in Song and Literature

The mule’s qualities and flaws have also been depicted in song. Jimmy Rogers wrote the “Mule Skinner’s Blues” in 1930. The ballad tells of a poor muleskinner who is asking the captain for a job. “I Had a Mule” is a folk song about an aggravating, kicking mule, and “Mule Train” was a popular country/western song.

Mules have been the inspiration of many folk tales. “Getting the Mule’s Attention” is an old favorite which is based on the mules reputation for stubbornness. “The Mule Egg” pokes fun at a city slicker who comes to Kansas to be a farmer. A neighbor convinces him the best way to get a mule is to hatch it from a mule egg. The neighbor gives the novice farmer a coconut, telling him it is a mule egg and he must sit on it night and day for three weeks to hatch it. The farmer’s family and he take turns sitting on the egg, and finally decide it is a dud. They throw it into the bushes with disgust. Out jumps a long-eared Jackrabbit. The farmer tries to catch the “baby mule” but returns home empty-handed, the rabbit being to fast for him. The farmer’s family runs out to see if he caught the baby mule. The farmer says, “No. And it’s just as well cause I don’t want to plow that fast anyway!”

© 2019 Donna Campbell Smith


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment
    • Emmy ali profile image

      Eman Abdallah Kamel 

      18 months ago from Egypt

      A very interesting article about the history of mules in art, I enjoyed reading it.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)