Wallace and the Donkey

In 1877, the Republicans won the controversial presidential election between the Republican Rutherford B. Hayes of Ohio and the Democratic nominee, Samuel Tilden of New York. With his party in power General Lew Wallace anticipated a reward for his support. The first offer that came to him in 1878 from President Hayes was the diplomatic position of minister resident and consul general to Bolivia—a position that today would be called an ambassadorship. After some consideration, Wallace declined the position saying that it was too far away from his family and offered inadequate compensation.

Within weeks, Wallace received the offer of an appointment as governor of the New Mexico Territory. For a variety of reasons, Wallace accepted this appointment. Wallace’s time in New Mexico was eventful and added much to his personal story. To share some of his New Mexican experiences, Wallace sent a shipment of souvenirs and curiosities back home to his friends and family. These tokens included boxes of minerals, furs, Indian blankets, and beads. Included in this rail shipment was also a small burro that he planned to give to a neighbor’s child as a pet.

When the rail car reached its destination and the receiving clerk was checking the shipment against the manifest, everything looked to be in order except for one item. In going down the list he noted the description “burro.” The agent assumed that someone at the shipping end was sending a chest of drawers—or bureau—and had spelled the word phonetically. As he checked the bill of lading, there was nothing in the rail car that resembled a piece of furniture—just a little, long-eared, donkey that was not on the bill.

Following company procedure, when irregularities were discovered the agent promptly telegraphed back to the shipper that “Car No 27390, Albuquerque, consigned Wallace, arrived minus one bureau, plus one jackass. Please trace and notify.” Although Wallace was not always noted for his brevity in writing, he personally sent the short telegraph response back: “Change places with the jackass.”

Sources: Crawfordsville Review, December 5, 1896
The Sword & the Pen, Ray Boomhower

The General Lew Wallace Study & Museum celebrates and renews belief in the power of the individual spirit to affect American history and culture.

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