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   Chapter 3 COLOR, CHARACTER, AND PECULIARITIES OF MULES.

The Tale of Brownie Beaver By Arthur Scott Bailey Characters: 16028

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


After being in command of the upper corral, I was ordered, on the 7th of September, 1864, to take charge of the Eastern Branch Wagon Park, Washington. There were at that time in the park twenty-one six-mule trains. Each train had one hundred and fifty mules and two horses attached. There were times, however, when we had as many as forty-two trains of six-mule teams, with thirty men attached to each train. In a year from the above date we handled upward of seventy-four thousand mules, each and every one passing under my inspection and through my hands.

In handling this large number of animals, I aimed to ascertain which was the best, the hardest, and the most durable color for a mule. I did this because great importance has been attached by many to the color of these animals. Indeed, some of our officers have made it a distinguishing feature. But color, I am satisfied, is no criterion to judge by. There is an exception to this, perhaps, in the cream-colored mule. In most cases, these cream-colored mules are apt to be soft, and they also lack strength. This is particularly so with those that take after the mare, and have manes and tails of the same color. Those that take after the jack generally have black stripes round their legs, black manes and tails, and black stripes down their backs and across their shoulders, and are more hardy and better animals. I have frequently seen men, in purchasing a lot of mules, select those of a certain color, fancying that they were the hardiest, and yet the animals would be widely different in their working qualities. You may take a black mule, black mane, black hair in his ears, black at the flank, between the hips or thighs, and black under the belly, and put him alongside of a similar sized mule, marked as I have described above, say light, or what is called mealy-colored, on each of the above-mentioned parts, put them in the same condition and flesh, of similar age and soundness, and, in many cases, the mule with the light-colored parts will wear the other out.

It is very different with the white mule. He is generally soft, and can stand but little hardship. I refer particularly to those that have a white skin. Next to the white and cream, we have the iron-grey mule. This color generally indicates a hardy mule. We have now twelve teams of iron-gray mules in the park, which have been doing hard work every day since July, 1865; it is now January, 1866. Only one of these mules has become unfit for service, and that one was injured by being kicked by his mate. All our other teams have had more or less animals made unfit for service and exchanged.

In speaking of the color of mules, it must not be inferred that there are no mules that are all of a color that are not hardy and capable of endurance. I have had some, whose color did not vary from head to foot, that were capable of great endurance. But in most cases, if kept steadily at work from the time they were three years old until they were eight or ten, they generally gave out in some part, and became an expense instead of profit.

Various opinions are held as to what the mule can be made to do under the saddle, many persons asserting that in crossing the plains he can be made to perform almost equal to the horse. This is true on the prairie. But there he works with every advantage over the horse. In 1858, I rode a mule from Cedar Valley, forty-eight miles north of Salt Lake City, to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, a distance of nearly fourteen hundred miles. Starting from Cedar Valley on the 22d of October, I reached Fort Leavenworth on the 31st of December. At the end of the journey the animal was completely worn down.

In this condition I put her into Fleming's livery stable, in Leavenworth City, and was asked if she was perfectly gentle. One would suppose that, in such a condition, she would naturally be so. I assured the hostler that she was; that I had ridden her nearly a year, and never knew her to kick. That same morning, when the hostler went to feed her, she suddenly became vicious, and kicked him very severely. She was then about twelve years old. I have since thought that when a mule gets perfectly gentle he is unfit for service.

Proprietors of omnibuses, stage lines, and city railroads have, in many cases, tried to work mules, as a matter of economy; but, as a general thing, the experiment proved a failure, and they gave it up and returned to horses. The great reason for this failure was, that the persons placed in charge of them knew nothing of their disposition, and lacked that experience in handling them which is so necessary to success. But it must be admitted that, as a general thing, they are not well adapted for road or city purposes, no matter how much you may understand driving and handling them.

The mule may be made to do good service on the prairies, in supplying our army, in towing canal boats in hauling cars inside of coal mines--these are his proper places, where he can jog along and take his own time, patiently. Work of this kind would, however, in nearly all cases, break down the spirit of the horse, and render him useless in a very short time.

I have seen it asserted that there were mules that had been known to trot in harness in three minutes. In all my experience, I have never seen any thing of the kind, and do not believe the mule ever existed that could do it. It is a remarkably good road horse that will do this, and I have never yet seen a mule that could compare for speed with a good roadster. I have driven mules, single and double, night and day, from two to ten in a team, and have handled them in every way that it is possible to handle them, and have in my charge at this time two hundred of the best mule teams in the world, and there is not a span among them that could be forced over the road in four minutes. It is true of the mule that he will stand more abuse, more beating, more straining and constant dogging at him than any other animal used in a team. But all the work you can get out of him, over and above an ordinary day's work, you have to work as hard as he does to accomplish.

Some curious facts have come under my knowledge as to what the mule can endure. These facts also illustrate what can be done with the animal by persons thoroughly acquainted with his character. While on the plains, I have known Kiowa and Camanche Indians to break into our pickets during the night, and steal mules that had been pronounced completely broken down by white men. And these mules they have ridden sixty and sixty-five miles of a single night. How these Indians managed to do this, I never could tell. I have repeatedly seen Mexicans mount mules that our men had pronounced unfit for further service, and ride them twenty and twenty-five miles without stopping. I do not mention this to show that a Mexican can do more with the mule than an American. He cannot. And yet there seems to be some sort of fellow-feeling between these Mexicans and the mule. One seems to understand the other completely; and in disposition there is very little difference. And yet the Mexican is so brutish in dealing with animals, that I never allowed one of them to drive a Government team for me. Indeed, a low Mexican does not seem disposed to work for a man who will not allow him full latitude in the abuse of animals.

Packing Mules.--The Mexican is a better packer than the American. He has had more experience, and understands all its details better than any other man. Some of our United States officers have tried to improve on the experience of the Greaser, and have made what they called an improvement on the Mexican pack-saddle. But all the attempts at improvement have been utter failures. The ranchero, on the Pacific side of the Sierra Nevadas, is also a good packer; and he can beat the Mexican lassoing cattle. But he is the only man in the United States who can. The reason for this is, that they went into that country when very young, and improved on the Mexi

can, by having cattle, mules, and horses round them all the time, and being continually catching them for the purpose of branding and marking.

There is, in Old as well as New Mexico, a class of mules that are known to us as Spanish, or Mexican mules. These mules are not large, but for endurance they are very superior, and, in my opinion, cannot be excelled. I am not saying too much when I assert, that I have seen nothing in the United States that could compare with them. They can, apparently, stand any amount of starvation and abuse. I have had three Spanish mules in a train of twenty-five six-mule teams, and starting from Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, on Colonel (since General) Sumner's expedition, in 1857, have travelled to Walnut Creek, on the Santa Fé route, a distance of three hundred miles, in nine days. And this in the month of August. The usual effects of hard driving, I noticed, showed but very little on them. I noticed also, along the march, that with a halt of less than three hours, feeding on grass that was only tolerably thick, they will fill up better and look in better condition for resuming the march, than one of our American mules that had rested five hours, and had the same forage. The breed, of course, has something to do with this. But the animal is smaller, more compact than our mules, and, of course, it takes less to fill him up. It stands to reason, that a mule with a body half as large as a hogshead cannot satisfy his hunger in the time it would take a small one. This is the secret of small mules outlasting large ones on the prairies. It takes the large one so long to find enough to eat, when the grass is scanty, that he has not time enough for rest and recuperation. I often found them leaving camp, in the morning, quite as hungry and discouraged as they were when we halted the previous evening. With the small mule it is different. He gets enough to eat, quick, and has time to rest and refresh himself. The Spanish or Mexican mule, however, is better as a pack animal, than for a team. They are vicious, hard to break, and two-thirds of them kick.

In looking over a book, with the title of "Domestic Animals," I notice that the author, Mr. R.L. Allen, has copied from the official report of the Agricultural Committee of South Carolina, and asserts that a mule is fit for service sooner than a horse. This is not true; and to prove that it is not, I will give what I consider to be ample proof. In the first place, a mule at three years old is just as much and even more of a colt than a horse is. And he is as much out of condition, on account of cutting teeth, distemper, and other colt ailments, as it is possible to be. Get a three year old mule tired and fatigued, and in nine cases out of ten he will get so discouraged that it will be next to impossible to get him home or into camp. A horse colt, if able to travel at all, will work his way home cheerfully; but the young mule will sulk, and in many instances will not move an inch while life lasts. An honest horse will try to help himself, and do all he can for you, especially if you treat him kindly. The mule colt will, just as likely as not, do all he can to make it inconvenient for you and him.

To show of how little service three year old mules are to the Government, I will give the number handled by me during part of 1864 and 1865.

On the 1st of September, 1864, I had charge of five thousand and eighty-two mules; and during the same month I received two thousand two hundred and ten, and issued to the Armies of the Potomac, the James, and the Shenandoah, three thousand five hundred and seventy-one, which left us on hand, on the 1st of October, three thousand seven hundred and twenty-one. During the month of October we received only nine hundred and eighty, and issued two thousand five hundred and thirty, which left us on hand, on the 1st of November, two thousand one hundred and seventy-one. During November we received two thousand one hundred and eighty-six, and issued to the army one thousand seven hundred and fifty-seven, which left us on hand, on the 1st of December, two thousand four hundred and thirty mules. Now mark the deaths.

During the month of September, 1864, there died in the corral fifteen mules. In October, six died. In November, three; and in December, eight. They were all two and three years old.

On the 1st of May, 1865, we had on hand four thousand and twelve head, and received, during the same month, seven thousand nine hundred and fifty-eight. We issued, during the same month, fifteen thousand five hundred and sixty-three, leaving us on hand, on the 1st of June, six thousand four hundred and eighty-seven. During this month we received seven thousand nine hundred and fifty-one, and issued eleven thousand nine hundred and fifteen. Our mules during these months were sent out to be herded, and the total number of deaths during the time was twenty-four. But two of them were over four years old. Now, it occurs to me that it would be a great saving to the Government not to purchase any mules under four years old. This statement of deaths at the corral is as nothing when compared with the number of deaths of young mules in the field. It is, in fact, well established that fully two-thirds of the deaths in the field are of young animals under three years of age. This waste of animal life carries with it an expense it would be difficult to estimate, but which a remedy might easily be found for.

Now, it is well known that when a mule has reached the age of four years, you will have very little trouble with him, so far as sickness and disease are concerned. Besides, at the age of four he is able to work, and work well; and he also understands better what you want him to do.

The committee appointed to report on this subject say many mules have been lost by feeding on cut straw and corn meal. This is something entirely new to me; and I am of opinion that more Government mules die because they do not get enough of this straw and meal. The same committee say, also, that in no instance have they known them to be inflicted with disease other than inflammation of the intestines, caused by exposure. I only wish that the members of that committee could have had access to the affidavits in the Quartermaster-General's department--they would then have satisfied themselves that thousands of Government mules have died with almost every disease the horse is subject to. And I do not see why they should not be liable to the same diseases, since they derive life and animation from the horse. The mule that breeds closest after the jack, and is marked like him, is the hardiest, can stand fatigue the best, and is less liable to those diseases common to the horse; while those which breed close after the mare, and have no marks of the jack about them, are liable to all of them.

In the beginning of this chapter I spoke of the color of mules. I will, in closing, make a few more remarks on that subject, which may interest the reader. We have now at work three dun-colored mules, that were transferred to the Army of the Potomac in 1862, and that went through all the campaigns of that army, and were transferred back to us in June, 1865. They had been steadily at work, and yet were in good condition, hardy, and bright, when they were turned in. These mules have a black stripe across their shoulders, down their backs, and are what is called "dark-colored duns." We also have the only full team that has gone through all the campaigns of the Army of the Potomac. It was fitted up at Annapolis, Md., in September, 1861, under Captain Santelle, A.Q.M. They are now in fine condition, and equal to any thing we have in the corral. The leaders are very fine animals. They are fourteen hands high, one weighing eight hundred, and the other eight hundred and forty-five pounds. One of the middle leaders weighs nine hundred, the other nine hundred and forty-seven pounds, and fourteen hands and a half high.

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