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Horses and Mules


In the early 1900s, horsepower was provided by, well … horses. They were commonly used in cities as well the country. In 1879, the first streetcars in Fargo were pulled by horses. This began to change when an electric system was established in 1904, but horses remained in use for many years. Postcards and photos from the early 1900s show horses sharing downtowns with trains, streetcars, and foot traffic.

But not everyone agreed that horses were the most efficient and cost effective means of transportation. In 1904, a controversy about horses was sparked by an article appearing in the The Fargo Forum and Daily Republican that claimed mules were superior to horses. On this date the paper printed an anonymous response. The writer said he had no wish to start a “horse-mule” controversy, but in all good conscience he could not let the previous article pass without comment.

In the March article, author E.S. Delancy of Valley City stated that large cities had gone to the use of mules almost exclusively. He said mules could stand up to the work on the hard streets better than horses. The responding author took exception, saying when he last visited large cities eight months before, he saw many splendid teams of draft horses. In fact, he said there were 300 teams of draft horses for every team of mules. He doubted that a large number of horses had been replaced by mules over the course of a few months, noting that such a development had not been mentioned in any of the newspapers.

One major difference between horses and mules was the price. A mule colt sold for $80, while a draft horse colt might cost $1,500. Nevertheless, many people in the hauling trade preferred horses. This was at least in part because of temperament. Horses can generally be coaxed into performing. Mules can be stubborn and it can be difficult to convince them to change their minds.

The anonymous author of the April letter stated he did not want to discourage people from using mules. He only wanted to point out that horses had advantages of their own. He also took issue with Delancy’s statement that “No man will lose money in the mule business.”

Dakota Datebook written by Carole Butcher


Fargo Forum and Daily Republican. “The Dakota Farmer.” 15 March, 1904.

Fargo Forum and Daily Republican. “Horses vs. Mules.” 15 April, 1904.

Andrew Mourer Papers. NDSU Archives. SC 0509.

NDSU Archives. "http://library.ndsu.edu/fargo-history/?q=content/early-streetcars" http://library.ndsu.edu/fargo-history/?q=content/early-streetcars Accessed 3/8/2016.