Pack Mules made the difference on Angel Island

Mules played an important part in the development of Angel Island. They served as the primary source of transportation on Angel Island during the late 1800’s.The mule barn at Camp Reynolds was constructed 1870 and served as a barn and adjacent blacksmith shop. You can still see the hitching posts used to tie the mules in the concrete the left of the road leading into Camp Reynolds. Mules have played an important role in military action throughout this nation’s history. Pack mules provided unlimited mobility to cavalry, infantry, and artillery units.

In 1495, Christopher Columbus brought four jack donkeys and two jenny donkeys to the New World, along with horses. These animals would be instrumental in producing mules for the Conquistadores in their exploration into the American mainland. (Mules are a hybrid of donkeys and horses) However George Washington played the major role in the development of the mule population in America. He recognized the value of the mule in agriculture and became the first American mule breeder. His success is in large part due to a gift from the King of Spain. King Charles gave Washington two jennies (female donkeys) and a 4 year old male named appropriately “Royal Gift”. The Spanish donkeys were a larger breed donkey than the ones found in America and the introduction of the famous Andalusian donkey would eventually help to reshape the landscape of the country.

After the Revolutionary War, Washington started a program to develop a larger, stronger mule to be used on farms – - to replace horses in the field. In less than fifteen years Washington had 58 mules working at Mount Vernon. It is said that mules from Washington’s stock became the forerunners of mules that were the backbone of American agriculture for generations in the southern U.S.

By 1808, the U.S. had an estimated 855,000 mules worth an estimated $66 million. Mules were rejected by northern farmers, who used a combination of horses and oxen, but they were popular in the south – - where they were the preferred draft animal. One farmer with two mules could easily plow 16 acres a day. Mules not only plowed the fields, but they harvested crops and carried the crops to market.

During the Civil War mules were depended upon to transport artillery and supplies. The Union Army used about one million mules – - which they purchased from dealers. In 1864 alone, the Union Army purchased 87,791 mules. The South, on the other hand, used only half as many mules – - which the soldiers had to provide on their own. Mules, therefore, were taken from Southern farms for military use, making work at the farm much more difficult. Some historians have speculated that the shortage of mules might have contributed to the South’s ultimate defeat. It was reported that President Lincoln, when reviewing Union army troops, paid more attention to the comfort of the mules than of his officers.

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