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.

Images

Cartoon Promoting Electrification

Cartoon Promoting Electrification

Notice how the artist has depicted the mule as gaunt or sickly. Before the streetcars were electrified, it would not have been uncommon to see these overworked animals all over the city. | Source: The Mascot" newspaper, 21 October, 1893 issue, via microfilm in New Orleans Public Library Image is in the Public Domain, Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. | Creator: "Gumbo" View File Details Page

Mules on the Levee

Mules on the Levee

The levee was refuge for human and animal alike as rain caused the Mississippi River to rise. | Source: Image is in the Public Domain, Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. View File Details Page

Mules Pull a Turkish-Themed Float During Rex Parade

Mules Pull a Turkish-Themed Float During Rex Parade

One of the myriad duties of a New Orleans mule involved pulling the Mardi Gras parade floats. | Source: Image Courtesy of the Louisiana Division/City Archives, New Orleans Public Library. View File Details Page

Mule-Drawn Garbage Truck

Mule-Drawn Garbage Truck

New Orleans mules also hauled the city's garbage trucks. While certainly less glamorous than a Mardi Gras parade, the removal of waste is a necessary task. Mules continued to perform this role until 1953, when the city purchased enough trucks to allow the last of its trash mules to retire. | Source: Image Courtesy of the Louisiana Division/City Archives, New Orleans Public Library. View File Details Page

Mule and Streetcar in Front of Former U.S. Mint

Mule and Streetcar in Front of Former U.S. Mint

What looks to be a rather deserted cityscape in this photograph is at present a bustling city street. If you visit the historic French Market and find yourself standing on Barracks St., compare this image to the busy scene today. | Source: Image is in the Public Domain, Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. View File Details Page

Mule and Automobile Share City Street

Mule and Automobile Share City Street

Electrification did not come all at once. For years, mules trotted down city streets alongside automobiles. | Source: Image is in the Public Domain, Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. View File Details Page

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 Historical.
| Source: Karen Snyder | Creator: Karen Snyder View File Details Page

Cite this Page:

Alison Laurence, “Mules and Modernization,” New Orleans Historical, accessed July 26, 2017, http://neworleanshistorical.org/items/show/137.
comments powered by Disqus

Share this Story