The Mule has been described as being without ancestry and posterity. The fact that the mule is sterile does not lessen the value of the role it has played in history. "They helped build our country" is the motto of the American Donkey and Mule Society and history does bear out this statement's validity. The mule is a result of crossing a Jackass with a female horse. Due to differences in genetic character, such a crossing is theoretically impossible, but reality, in this case, has the final word. Mules have been bred for various uses since ancient times. They were first bred in America in the 1700s and became important in agriculture and the settlement of the west.
Mules are found in various conformations. The mule takes on the characteristics and conformation of its dam. Mules are found in very small sizes, for example, when the mare is a Shetland Pony. The mule also may be quite large when the dam is a draft breed. These Mammoth Mules stand about 16 hands high. The most obvious and consistent characteristic of the Mule is its long ears, although the actual length of the ears in Mules varies a great deal. The head is relatively large and is carried lower than that of a horse. The Mule has relatively short legs with excellent bone. Coloring is varied, although the belly, muzzle and legs are often lighter than the rest of the body.
The history of the Mule would ultimately have to begin with the origins of its parents, the ass (Equus Asinus) and the horse (Equus Caballus). Mules have been bred in the wild where wild asses and horses run in the same area. Mules have been deliberately bred by man since ancient times. Mules have a diverse history. The Hittites held them as far more valuable than a chariot horse, and the Mule was the favored mount of the kings of Israel in Biblical times. In the Middle Ages, the Mule was the chosen mount of the clergy. In more recent history, the mule helped settle the American west, and in the south, was the backbone of agriculture.
George Washington played a major role in the development of the Mule in America. William Carmichael, an American diplomat in Spain, wrote to a Spanish diplomat requesting royal permission to send a Spanish jack to George Washington since exportation of large jacks (Catalan, Andalusian and Zamorano Leones) was against the law and punishable by death if one was caught smuggling one out of Spain. One jack arrived at Gloucester, MA on Sept 26, 1785 from Bilbao, Spain after a six week sea voyage. Another jack that had been sent on another ship died at sea. No jennets were sent with the Spanish jacks. The jack (Royal Gift) arrived at Mount Vernon with his Spanish groom on Dec. 5, 1785. In 1876 Lafayette sent George Washington "Knight of Malta." and two Maltese jennets. George Washington bred Royal Gift to one of the Maltese jennets and foaled out a jack foal he named, "Compound" and Washington produced many more out of a jennet he imported from Suriname who was most certainly of Spanish origin. Surprisingly enough, there were Maltese jacks and other large jacks standing at stud in the colonies long before George Washington received his jacks. Advertisements can be found in the Charleston, SC and VA newspapers from about the 1760's onward. Thomas Jefferson bought a team of mules in 1781. George Washington was the most famous proponent of the mule of his time and was the first to breed the large donkeys required to improve mule production in the colonies.
Crosses of the Spanish and Maltese strains created highly-valued stock called the "compound." By 1840, a quality Jack used for Mule breeding could fetch up to $5000 in Kentucky, then as now a leading Mule-breeding state.
Some correction and additional historical info supplied by Lake Nowhere Mule and Donkey Farm June-23-2014.
1. Asinus 2. Donkey 3. Mare