Mules and Modernization

Stop 2 of 4 in the Animals in the French Quarter tour

Facing Jackson Square, one should see a line of mules and their drivers ready to take visitors on a trip around the French Quarter. Now a tourist attraction, these animals played a vital role for New Orleans before the advent of motorized vehicles. Heartier than horses, mules could endure this hot and humid climate. New Orleanians put them to work hauling garbage trucks, pulling streetcars, and even towing the Mardi Gras parade floats.

Near the end of the 19th century, New Orleans residents began to notice that many of the city's mules were overworked and malnourished. These emaciated animals struggled to pull their cars and, in some cases, fell down dead in the street still harnessed. In 1888, concerned Louisianans formed a local chapter of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (LASPCA) in order to fight for better treatment of the city's beasts of burden. The LASPCA, along with the New Orleans Police Department and local newspapers, raised awareness and ensured improved conditions for the mules. The organization may also have hastened the arrival of the electric streetcar. New Orleans, satisfied with mule-drawn cars, had been slow to make the change to electric cars, though the technology had been available by the mid-1880s. But pressure from the LASPCA as well as economic incentive (these electric streetcars were much more cost efficient) ensured that by 1893, New Orleans was welcoming electricity and retiring its mules.

Because the LASPCA was established in order to aid mules, whereas in other cities the mistreatment of domestic animals like dogs and cats was the impetus, many New Orleans residents have confidence that the carriage mules are well treated. And this is primarily true; however, recently controversy has erupted over this same issue once again. In December 2011, one of these mules died while pulling a carriage along Bourbon Street. Protestors responded with the same passion of a century before. As it turned outs, this carriage driver was operating without a license. The LASPCA responded by assuring all who might be concerned that the organization works with the carriage companies directly and ensures that the horses are given the "best care possible."

To move to the next location and learn about how mosquitoes have affected the New Orleans population, cross Decatur St. Be sure to look out for traffic. Head into Jackson Square and stop when you reach the fountain at the far end of the park, near St. Louis Cathedral.

Video

Mules (& monkeys), from View From the Stoop
The video segment regarding the period when mules were evident in streets throughout the city is excerpted from View From the Stoop, a documentary produced in the early 1980s. Filmmaker Karen Snyder has allowed her film to be used in New Orleans...
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