All hail the Southern mule
Your mid-week dose of Southern food news
Tyler Hendrix, a graduate student in the public history program at Georgia Southern University, started researching mules after The Welter-Johnson Heritage Site in Statesboro invited him to help secure a historical marker for their mule barn, which Hendrix describes as the yesteryear equivalent of a car dealership. In the days before tractors, Georgia traders arranged to have mules shipped from Kentucky and Missouri so they could sell them to farmers who couldn’t plow their fields without four-legged assistance.
Hendrix agreed to share with The Food Section everything that Southern eaters ought to know about mules.
Hanna Raskin: Nowadays, you could spend a good long time in the South and probably never see a mule. But I understand from your work that was not the case after the Civil War.
Tyler Hendrix: No. During that period, mules were extremely common. But they weren’t cheap. Back in the day, around 1900, a good mule could cost $200-$500, which was a huge amount of money.1
HR: Wow. How wealthy would you have to be to have a mule?
TH: Some poor farmers could lease them. But usually, farmers owned their own mules.
HR: And what were farmers using mules for?
TH: Just about anything you can imagine on the farm. Basically, that provided the motor power that tractors provide today. They were the original tractor.
HR: And they were also the original automobile, right? We always hear cars called horseless carriages, but it sounds like most people around here might have been getting around by mule. How fast can a mule go?
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