Meet the living mule mascots of Colby’s past

When I decided to attend Colby, my younger brother was desperate to get a piece of clothing he could wear to flaunt his Colby pride. When he unwrapped the classic blue and white t-shirt I gave him, he beamed. “That’s so cool!” he said. “I didn’t know Colby’s mascot was a white stallion!”

Much to my brother’s dismay, our mascot is not a fiery stallion but is instead a humble mule, the offspring of a mare and a male donkey. Fortunately, the Colby Mule’s history is slightly more illustrious than its parentage.

The legend of Colby’s mule begins in the fall of 1923, due to a string of successes celebrated by the Colby football team against Bowdoin and the University of Maine. The football team was historically regarded as a dark horse against traditionally stronger teams, but due to the volume of their upsets, Joseph Coburn Smith, a 1924 graduate and an editor of the Echo, suggested that Colby ought not be identified as a “dark horse” but instead a “white mule.” After seeing this editorial, several students managed to borrow a white mule named Nancy from a local Kennebec farm, and, after painting her blue and gray, paraded her around for the state championship game against Bates. Colby won 9-6 due to a reportedly strong kicking game, and, according to an Echo article published in the fall of 1925, the mule was “accepted as a good omen” and a solid “standard of determination and grit” for the athletes to embody.

After Nancy’s death, Colby found a new mascot named Aristotle. Although according to his papers he was the son of a Japanese stallion and a female jackass, there were arguments that he may in fact have been a hinny or a donkey instead of a mule. Regardless, his beloved presence rallied the student body and alumni in a manner previously unseen at Colby football games, and in Aristotle’s obituary he was noted to have had “an uncanny faculty for hee-hawing every time Colby made a touchdown.” Ironically, Aristotle is noted to have had a disinclination to kick; though the student section would often chant “kick, mule, kick,” Aristotle’s student handler, a freshman, was unable to urge him to do so. This may have been part of the reason that Aristotle was deemed, in an Echo article written by Bob Slavitt in 1948, the “orneriest…Mule in all Christendom.”

There were several mules used on the football field after Aristotle, including a true white mule named Ybloc and a celebrated donkey named Louis, who landed a role with the Metropolitan Opera as a member of the cast for Aida. However, there were several attempts to rid the campus of the mule. The most notable of these occurred in the late 1980s and early 90s. Dean of the College Earl Smith earned the nickname “Mooseman” for his efforts to change the mule to a moose, but there was relatively intense backlash from several alumni and students. He even received an anonymous letter with a vague threat to “Drop the moose business or else!” Around the same time, another complaint came in the form of an alumni letter to the editor, which expressed astonishment at “the substitution of our much loved and respected Colby Mule for a grossly oversized animal that spends most of its life dredging decaying plant matter off the bottom of murky ponds.” Over time, the effort to change the mascot slowly dwindled, and after the University of Maine at Augusta declared their mascot the moose, Dean Smith officially surrendered his dream of the Colby Moose. “All hope is lost,” he reportedly said. “We’re stuck with a sterile mule.”

That is not to say, however, that the mule hasn’t undergone subtle transformations over the last decade. Beginning around 2000, there was a slow but steady change to remove the word “white” from the official mascot name. The only remaining reference to the color of our mascot is buried on the Colby Athletics history page. This was in part due to a conscious decision in admissions materials to increase diversity at Colby beginning around 2003, because the word “white” had received somewhat negative feedback. However, the removal of the word “white” was more a matter of shifting the emphasis of the mascot, not necessarily changing it.

Around campus, though, there seems to be no desire to abandon the faithful mule. “It definitely grows on you,” Gerardo Diaz ’19 said. “It’s your school, it’s your spirit. The mule is also and unexpected mascot; it’s not the generic bobcat, or tiger, or knight. It’s exciting.”

Here’s to another hundred years of the mule.