Take a look at the jerseys for the sports teams of the United States Military Academy at West Point. At first glance, you’d probably assume that their mascot is a golden knight — which is strange, because they’re known as the “Black Knights.” What’s even more strange is that their mascot isn’t a knight at all; it’s a mule.
That’s right. The West Point mascot is the crossbreed between a horse and a donkey — just as it is for the rest of the US Army. It isn’t the best looking animal by any stretch of the imagination, nor is it anywhere close to being the most majestic. But all of the things it represents — strength, wisdom, and
stubbornness determination — sum up the Army as a whole.
And the U.S. Army has been using mules ever since.
Shortly after Army and Navy football teams first met on the gridiron in 1890, both sides went to working coming up with a mascot. The Navy was first to field one. The goat named named El Cid made his first appearance in 1893 at the fourth meeting between the two branches. Navy tried out a few mascots over the years, but eventually decided that the goat was their best choice. Since 1904, they’ve been represented by the cleverly named Bill the Goat.
The Army, however, didn’t waiver between selections. They quickly settled on and stuck with the mule, as the animal has a rich history within the military. In fact, the earliest accounts of mules being recognized for their warfare potential date all the way back to the dawn of recorded history in Egypt. Even George Washington was fond of mules, having been the first to raise them in the colonies. He was the driving force behind their use by the Revolutionary Army.
West Point officially adopted the mule as their mascot in 1899, but the life of an animal mascot was a little different back then. Instead of selecting a single animal to enjoy some pampered time in the spotlight, the Army would simply select a random mule from the stables to proudly march about the field. They continued this practice for roughly forty years.
If the Army was playing a home game, they’d borrow one from a nearby handler. If they were playing an away game, they’d try to find one wherever they ended up — typically, a less-than-successful endeavor. In 1939, the Army decided to finally settle on a single, official mascot. A mule named Mr. Jackson became the first Army mule.
While many mules have since taken on this duty, it’s important to note that at least one mule in the stable must always be named Ranger after the elite infantrymen. This is part of a stipulation put in place by Steven Townes, a graduate of West Point from the class of 1975, former mule rider and Army Ranger. Townes would eventually become the CEO and founder of Ranger Aerospace LLC. after his military career concluded.
As his way of giving back to West Point, the Ranger regiment he served in, and the mules he once cared for, he established an endowment to forever fund, house, and maintain the mules at West Point. For his generosity, he has unofficially been granted the title of “mule donor in perpetuity.”