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This article provides additional empirical evidence concerning the choice of the mule as the dominant draft animal in southern agricultural production in the latter 19th and early 20th century. While the mule was uniquely suited to the crops and climate of the region, two divergent arguments have been presented as to why the mule was the dominant draft animal in southern agricultural production. This research reevaluates these arguments and provides evidence that it was, in fact, the characteristics of this hybrid that made it the preferred draft animal for the South.
Given the importance of draft animals—horses, mules, and oxen—in the development of the American economy, it is surprising how little attention has been paid to their contribution. Moreover, this is not, in most cases, attributable to a lack of empirical evidence; the vast majority of the work on draft animals to date is found in oral history and folklore literature. While this literature delighted in presenting the sentiments and personal stories of a few rather than attempting to provide a broader perspective, it does provide valuable historical information. Not surprisingly, however, the sentiments of a few, perhaps sometimes embellished, occasionally led to conclusions that are not consistent with predictions. For example, recent evidence supports the superiority of mules over horses and oxen in southern agricultural production, which refutes the notion that southerners used the mule for cultural reasons (Garrett 1990; Kauffman 1993). As Rockoff (1991: 243) states, “One of the main functions of the economic historian, from the point of view of economics, is to examine the foundation of these myths.”