#EqHist2018: Abbie Harlow on “The Use of Burros and Mules in Defining Race”

All month long we will be featuring speaker’s abstracts for the upcoming Equine History Conference: Why Equine History Matters. Register now!

Rather Risk His Life in a Carriage Than Suffer on A Mule’s Back: The Use of Burros and Mules in Defining Race
Abbie Harlow, Arizona State University

       “As draught beasts, beasts of burden, and for field labor, [mules] surpass any other animal in the world; and the use of them allows the noble horse to be applied to his own proper use … and not to field labor or the rude and sordid drudgery to which he is too often degraded.”[1] This 1857 article, “Mules and Mule-Breeding,” argued for the use of mules as draft animals in place of horses, partially because mules were better suited to field work, but also to remove “the noble horse” from labor demeaning to their status. Newspaper articles, breeding handbooks, government publications, and personal journals noted the uses of mules, and burros, for low-status labor such as field work, mining, and pulling public transport wagons. Horses, these articles argued, should be reserved for higher-status work such as pulling carriages, hunting parties, and saddle-riding.[2] Many of these articles linked the physical labor performed by mules and burros to their handlers who were often African American or Mexican American.[3] This paper will explore how, in linking the lower-status labor and animals to minority groups, these white authors created a negative association between the humans and animals, applying the negative stereotyped traits of one to the other. These associations affected the treatment of and dialogue about the humans and the animals as white Americans associated negative traits of the animals to the humans and refused to work with or own the animals.

[1]  “Mules and Mule-Breeding,” Weekly Vincennes Gazette, Vincennes, Indiana, (December 30, 1857).

[2] “Mules and Mule-Breeding,” Weekly Vincennes Gazette; Emma D.E.N. Southworth, “The Hidden Hand,” The National Era, Washington, D.C. February 10, 1859; “Horses, Mules, and Asses on Farms.” Census Bulletin no. 103. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1891.

[3] “Asses and Burros,” U.S.Census of Agriculture, 1900: Volume V, Part I Farms, Live Stock, and Animal Products. (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1902), cxcvi-i; “Mules.” U.S.Census of Agriculture, 1900: Volume V, Part I Farms, Live Stock, andAnimal Products. (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1902), cxcix.

Abbie Harlow also coined the #AndBurros hashtag at #ASEH2018

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