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University of Missouri

Missouri Mules and Men

Missouri mule exhibit graces J-School.

Duane Dailey

Duane Dailey

For more than 40 years, Duane Dailey, BS Ag ’57, MS ’65, professor emeritus of MU Extension education, has been writing about and photographing the Missouri mule. An exhibit featuring his work is open through Oct. 31, 2014, at the McDougall Center Gallery in Lee Hills Hall at the Missouri School of Journalism. A gallery gala is from 4 to 8 p.m. Sept. 18. Below is an excerpt from the exhibit and sneak peak at some of his photographs.  

Too few people understand the Missouri mule, a beast of burden in peace and war. They worked farms, forests and mines, yet never shed a reputation for stubbornness, even cantankerousness. Those who knew them tell a better story: Mules are intelligent, hardworking, agile, quick to learn, dependable — and wiser than horses. “You must be smarter than a mule to work a mule,” they say. They admit mules have strong personalities and sense of preservation. Mules won’t do dumb things asked by unwise masters.

Longtime MU agriculture journalist and photojournalist Duane Dailey spent years photographing Missouri mules and their owners. Traveling with Dr. Melvin Bradley they interviewed the men and observed the mules as they plowed the earth, moved timber to saw mill trucks and performed at the Missouri State Fair. This work, created mostly in 1983, has never before been exhibited. What we learn from these stubborn, gentle, persistent creatures, and the men and women devoted to them, is a beautiful partnership between man and beast.

Missouri Mules

At mule shows, exhibitors cluck, whistle and wave hats to keep mules focused during judging. The ideal: Mule head held high and ears cocked forward in attention. The mules are inclined to turn their ears and hear the sounds behind them.

Missouri Mules

The sale barn in Maryville, Missouri, is filled with bidders and spectators from many states as mules were sold at a special auction. The mules tolerate the frantic auction action. That’s a point in their favor, as calmness draws a better price.

Missouri Mules

It took the whole family of Claude Oscar Adams Jr. from Lamar, Missouri, to show their mules at the Missouri State Fair, Sedalia. They entered every class, from mule colt to driving teams.

Missouri Mules

After working in the woods, Roy Pendergrass of Howell County Missouri looped the reins on the collars of his team and sent them back to the barn. They knew the way. Pendergrass, long retired, continued to work mules on his farm near the Arkansas border to harvest logs, mow pastures and do odd jobs. Working mules was recreation — that and trading coon dogs. Trading skills marked a good mule man.

Missouri Mules

Bigger is better when it comes to ears on Jacks and mules. Ears slanted forward might mean the Jack is giving you more attention than you want.

Missouri Mules

Between evening judging, mules are exercised outside the State Fair Coliseum.

Missouri Mules

Back in the stalls, a young viewer gets an up-close, hands-on view of a curious mule, trimmed and ready for show.

Missouri Mules

Bob Taber uses mules for cutting logs instead of a mechanical skidder, which damages young growth. “[Skidders] knock down trees bigger ’round than a stovepipe,” he says.

Missouri Mules

Taber prefers mules. “I’d like to own ’em all, but all I need is two.”

Missouri Mules

A new-generation mule exhibitor works while old timers, who had made their livings with mules, watch.

Missouri Mules

Russell Potter had a tractor. But, it didn’t start in winter. Gas was expensive. Sitting on it left him stoved up, he said. He preferred mules. Besides, he owned a jackass and Belgian mares. Breeding them, he made mules — keeping six — three teams on the 400-acre farm near Palmyra.