April 27 - Matanzas Mule Day

Posted on April 27, 2020

Today is not about celebrating the species called Matanzas mules, because there is no species called "Matanzas mules"!

Mules, of course, are the sterile offspring of horses and donkeys. There happened to be at least one mule in the little town of Matanzas, Cuba, on this date in 1898.

But this was the onset of the Spanish-American War. And just off the coast of Matanzas were ships from the United States Navy. They bombarded the town. 

Now, when you hear the word "bombard," you imagine hundreds of shells being lobbed at buildings, piers, and walls, and you assume the tragic loss of many lives. I am happy to report that that didn't happen.

According to the story, no humans died from the U.S. bombardment - the only Cuban that lost its life that day was a single mule.

The story continues that the mule was buried with full military honors, a band playing a dirge, hundreds of mourners - possibly to humiliate the U.S. Navy.

Or...did this happen at all? If the story of a single casualty from a naval action being a mule, and that mule being buried with military pomp, would be humiliating, maybe the humiliating story was just made up?

A story in the New York Times on August 5, 1898, reprinted from The London Globe, tells about the funeral of the Matanzas mule, and someone named Chief Officer Smalls claims to have attended said funeral. There is a long time between April 27 and August 5 - plenty of time, back then, for news to travel, but also plenty of time to rumors to spread and for people to misremember stuff. 

Anyway, whether or not it happened, the Matanzas Mule is now enshrined in poems and songs, including lines in which mourners looked with pity on the poor "bombarded mule."

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