From its perch on the side of the bluff near Smith Fork Creek and Highway 70, The Mule has been a fixture of the landscape since around 1906, greeting all who pass its way. Down through the years, many have inquired about The Mule, its origins, and who keeps it freshly painted.
There’s been all kinds of speculation, but the real story behind The Mule has been hiding in the open all along. Apparently residents weren't reading their Smithville Review the week of March 6th, 1957, or they’d rather nurture respective myths. At any rate, that week Dr. Wayne Robinson, a well known and respected resident and chronicler of the history around and under Snows Hill, claimed credit as the originator of the Mule. As rediscovered and brought to light by local historian Tommy Webb in an article for the Smithville Review in November 15, 2006 that reprinted Mr. Robinson’s story:
"In early October 1906, I climbed up the face of the Allen Bluff to a ledge and with some coal tar made a flat picture of a character from a famous comic strip of that day. Everybody remembers Maud, the mule. That was 51 years ago, and even though it has been exposed to the elements and to nearby earth-shaking explosions, erosion has dimmed it very little. On the same bluff is the name of Will T. Hale, which was inscribed about 85 years ago.”
The Maud he refers to was Maud the Mule, from Frederick Burr Opper's popular comic strip in that era, "And Her Name Was Maud!" Webb also notes:
“In 1979 Elmer Hinton brought up the question of who painted the mule in his column in the Nashville Tennessean, and on January 21, 1979, he had an answer. Lawrence D. Williams of Shelbyville, a cousin of Wayne Robinson, said that Dr. Robinson did the painting, he thought, about 1900. He also thought he did it to advertise the business of Wayne's father, Beverly Robinson, who was a mule trader.”
A second correction was in the Tennessean on February 25, 1979, and it came from Lucille Addington, Dr. Robinson's daughter. She said the mule was not painted as an advertisement: "The whole episode of the mule painting was a prank," she said. "It was prompted by a comic strip of that time which featured a mule named Maud. My father always spoke of the painting as Maud the Mule. He often recounted how he copied the drawing of the mule from the comic strip, enlarging the image by casting a shadow of it with an oil lamp onto paper fastened to a wall, then tracing around the shadow."
Today we might consider such a prank an act of graffiti, but The Mule has survived to become much more. It endures as a symbol of welcome to all, whether you’re justpassing through or proud to call the hills of DeKalb County home.