Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The Jack and Mule King

A slightly abridged version of this article appeared in Bend of the River, March 2010. I couldn't figure out how to say "jackass" in a family publication.

The Jack and Mule King by Alan Borer

What is the name of a male donkey?

Now don’t drag mules into the picture. They are the infertile offspring of a donkey and a horse. But just as a lady horse is a mare, what are the gender names of donkeys?

The female donkey is called a jennet, and a male donkey is a jack. You often hear the word jack connected with a once-perfectly-correct name for a donkey. This combination of jack and another word is no longer acceptable in polite society, so I will leave it to the reader to figure out. Anyone over the age of 15 (?) probably knows the expression I will not mention here.

In 1912, a farmer living in Maple Grove, Ohio (about halfway between Fostoria and Fremont in northern Seneca County) wrote a letter to Albert Krekler in West Elkton, another small town, this one in Preble County west of Dayton. S. W. Hoke described himself in the 1910 Census as a “general farmer” and was 56 years old, about the same age as his wife Johanna. Although we don’t know why, the older couple had adopted a three year old boy named Clifford. Perhaps he was the son of a relative, or brought from an orphanage. Maybe he would become the beloved boy of a childless couple, or adopted to work on the farm. There were many motives for adoptions in the past.

But whether for farm work or as a present for the new family member, S. W. Hoke was interested in getting a donkey. Donkeys are very useful farm animals. They are less temperamental than horses, and while they cannot pull the same weight as a horse, they can pull a large load, are better on uneven ground, eat less, and (perhaps most importantly) cost less than a horse. The Albert Krekler to which Hoke wrote was a dealer in donkeys and mules, and thus was a good source for the prospective donkey customer.

Albert Krekler (1861-1952) was a native of Warren County. He was “engaged in the mercantile business” for many years, but in 1899 he got out of the business world and bought a thirty-two acre farm north of West Elkton, Ohio, in Preble County. As a farmer, he “specialized in the raising of jacks.” He “increased his land holdings until he now (1915) owns eighteen farms in Ohio and Indiana and has become the largest breeder of jacks in the world.”

Krekler named his Ohio operation “Krekler’s Good Luck Stock Farms.” He specialized in “Black Spanish” jacks and jennys, and also carried mules and saddle horses. Krekler was sometimes called “The Jack and Mule King.” His livestock holdings were once noted as “The Home of 500 Jacks and Jennys, 1000 Mules, Saddle Horses, and Shetland Ponies.” Even in the twilight of the horse-drawn age, he made a good living for himself in the donkey business. He had a “lovely country home,” and a private racetrack where guests and friends could watch races on Sunday afternoons. Mr. Kekler died in March of 1952. He was married twice, and left a number of descendants. Even today, some of his barns and outbuildings can be seen in the countryside around West Elkton.

It is not clear whether Mr. Krekler felt pinched as the world turned away from livestock for power and switched to gasoline. World War 2 also seems to have played a role. The American Donkey and Mule Society reported that, ““In 1910, the numbers of donkeys and mules were changing. During the earlier wars, mules were in HUGE demand for Army use. The numbers might have been in the millions - but no true records were kept. After WWII, with the advent of mechanization for both the Army and for farm work, numbers of longears dropped drastically.”

On return envelopes that Albert Krekler sent to enquiring farmers, there was a vignette of a donkey. The donkey apparently was offering this invitation: “Come and see me. I know you will like me and take me home with you and I will make you plenty of money.” That may have been the wish of Mr. Hoke in Maple Grove. Albert Krekler was only too happy to grant that wish.

[I wish to thank Jessica Curtis of the Westerville Public Library for her help with this essay. A descendant of Albert Krekler also provided insights.]

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