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   Chapter 4 DISEASES MULES ARE LIABLE TO.--WHAT HE CAN DRAW, ETC., ETC.

The Tale of Brownie Beaver By Arthur Scott Bailey Characters: 29731

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


The committee also say that the mule is a more steady animal in his draft than the horse. I think this the greatest mistake the committee has made. You have only to observe the manner in which a dray or heavily-loaded wagon will toss a mule about, and the way he will toss himself around on the road, to be satisfied that the committee have formed an erroneous opinion on that point. In starting with a load, the mule, in many cases, works with his feet as if they were set on a pivot, and hence does not take so firm a hold of the ground as the horse does. I have never yet seen a mule in a dray or cart that could keep it from jolting him round. In the first place, he has not the power to steady a dray; and, in the second place, they never can be taught to do it. In fine, they have not the formation to handle a dray or cart. What, then, becomes of the idea that they are as steady in drays or teams as the horse.

The committee also say that mules are not subject to such ailments as horses--spavin, glanders, ringbone, and bots. If I had the committee here, I would show its members that every other mule in the quartermasters' department, over fifteen and a half hands high, is either spavined, ringboned, or ill some way injured by the above-named diseases. The mule may not be so liable to spavin as the horse, but he has ringbone just the same. I cannot, for the life of me, see how the committee could have fallen into this error. There is this, however, to be taken into consideration: the mule is not of so sensitive a nature as the horse, and will bear pain without showing it in lameness. The close observer, however, can easily detect it. One reason why they do not show spavin and ringbone so much at the horse, is because our blacksmiths do not cut their heels as low as they do a horse's, and consequently that part of the foot is not made to work so hard. If you believe a mule has a ringbone, and yet is not lame, just cut his heel down low, and give him a few good pulls in a muddy place, and he will soon develop to you both lameness and ringbone. Cut his toes down and leave his heels high, and he will not be apt to go lame with it.

The committee also say that a Mr. Elliott, of the Patuxent Furnaces, says they hardly ever had a mule die of disease. This is a strange statement; for the poorest teams I ever saw, and the very worst bred stock, were on the Patuxent River, through the southern part of Maryland, and at the markets on Washington City. It is pitiable to see, as you can on market days, the shabby teams driven by the farmers of eastern and southern Maryland. A more broken-hearted, poverty-stricken, and dejected-looking set of teams can be seen nowhere else. The people of Maryland have raised good horses; it is high time they waked up to the necessity, and even profit, of raising a better kind of mule.

In regard to the draft power of mules, in comparison with horses, there are various opinions; and yet it is one which ought to be easily settled. I have tested mules to the very utmost of their strength, and it was very rare to find a pair that could draw thirty hundred weight a single year, without being used up completely. Now, it is well known that in the northern and western States you can find any number of pairs of horses that will draw thirty-five and forty hundred weight anywhere. And they will keep doing it, day after day, and retain their condition.

There was one great difficulty the Agricultural Committee of South Carolina had to contend with, and it was this. At the time it had the subject of the mule under consideration, he was not used generally throughout the United States. I can easily understand, therefore, that the committee obtained its knowledge from the very few persons who had them, and made the best report it could under the circumstances. Indeed, I firmly believe the report was written with the intention of giving correct information, but it failed entirely. In recommending any thing of this kind, great care should be taken not to lead the inexperienced astray, and to give only such facts as are obtained from thorough knowledge; and no man should be accepted as authority in the care and treatment of animals, unless he has had long experience with them, and has made them a subject of study.

A few words more on breaking the mule. Don't fight or abuse him. After you have harnessed him, and he proves to be refractory, keep your own temper, slack your reins, push him round, backward and forward, not roughly; and if he will not go, and do what you want, tie him to a post and let him stand there a day or so without food or water. Take care, also, that he does not lie down, and be careful to have a person to guard him, so that he does not foul in the harness. If he will not go, after a day or two of this sort of treatment, give him one or two more of it, and my word for it, he will come to his senses and do any thing you want from that time forward. Some persons assert that the mule is a very cunning animal; others assert that he is dull and stupid, and cannot be made to understand what you want. He is, I admit, what may be called a tricky animal; but, for experiment sake, just play one or two tricks with him, and he will show you by his action that he understands them well. Indeed, he knows a great deal more than he generally gets credit for, and few animals are more capable of appreciating proper treatment. Like many other species of animal, there are scarcely two to be found of precisely the same temper and disposition, if we except the single vice of kicking, which they will all do, especially when well fed and rested. And we can excuse even this vice in consideration of the fact, that the mule is not a natural animal, but only an invention of man. Some persons are inclined to think that, when a mule is a kicker, he has not been properly broken. I doubt if you can break a mule so that he will not kick a stranger at sight, especially if he be under six years old. The only way to keep a mule from kicking you is to handle it a great deal when young, and accustom it to the ways and actions of men. You must through kindness convince it that you are not going to harm or abuse it; and you can do that best by taking hold of it in a gentle manner every time it appears to be frightened. Such treatment I have always found more effective than all the beating and abusing you can apply.

There is another fault the mule has to contend against. It is the common belief among teamsters and others that he has less confidence in man than the horse has, and to improve this they almost invariably apply the whip. The reason for this want of confidence is readily found in the fact that mule colts are never handled with that degree of kindness and care that horse colts are. They are naturally more stubborn than the horse, and most of those persons who undertake to halter or harness them for the first time are even more stubborn in their disposition than the mule. They commence to break the animal by beating him in the most unmerciful manner, and that at once so excites the mule's stubbornness, that many of them, in this condition, would not move an inch if you were to cut them to pieces. And let me say here that nothing should be so much avoided in breaking this animal as the whip. The young, unbroken mule cannot be made to understand what you are whipping him for.

It is a habit with mule drivers in the army, many of whom are men without feeling for a dumb animal, to whip mules just to hear their whips crack, and to let others hear with what dexterity they can do it. It has a very bad effect on the animals, and some means should be applied to stop it. Army teamsters and stable-men seem to regard it as a virtue to be cruel to animals. They soon cultivate vicious habits, and a bad temper seems to grow up with their occupation. It naturally follows, then, that in the treatment of their animals they do just what they ought not to do. The Government has been a very severe sufferer by this; and I contend that during a war it is just as necessary to have experienced and well trained teamsters as it is to have hardened and well trained soldiers.

The mule is peculiar in his dislikes. Many of them, when first harnessed, so dislike a blind bridle that they will not work in it. When you find this, let him stand for say a day in the blinders, and then take them off, and in forty-nine cases out of fifty he will go at once.

It has been said that the mule never scares or runs away. This is not true. He is not so apt to get frightened and run away as the horse is. But any one who has had long experience with them in the army knows that they will both get frightened and run away. They do not, however, lose all their senses when they get frightened and run away, as the horse does. Bring a mule back after he has run away, and in most cases he will not want to do it again. A horse that has once run away, however, is never safe afterward. Indeed, in all the tens of thousands of mules that I have handled, I never yet found an habitual runaway. Their sluggish nature does not incline them to such tricks. If a team attempts to run away, one or two of them will fall down before they have gone far, and this will stop the remainder. Attempt to put one up to the same speed you would a horse, over a rough road, and you will have performed wonders if he does not fall and break your bones.

The mule, especially if large, cannot stand hard roads and pavements. His limbs are too small for his body, and they generally give out. You will notice that all good judges of road and trotting horses like to see a good strong bone in the leg. This is actually necessary. The mule, you will notice, is very deficient in leg, and generally have poor muscle. And many of them are what is called cat-hammed.

Working Condition of Mules.--Most persons, when they see a good, fat, slick mule, are apt to exclaim: "What a fine mule there is!" He takes it for granted that because the animal is fat, tall, and heavy, he must be a good work animal. This, however, is no criterion to judge by. A mule, to be in good condition for work, should never be any fatter than what is known as good working condition. One of fourteen and a half hands high, to be in good working condition, should not weigh over nine hundred and fifty pounds. One of fifteen hands high should not weigh over one thousand pounds. If he does, his legs will in a very short time give out, and he will have to go to the hospital. In working a mule with too much flesh, it will produce curbs, spavin, ringbone, or crooked hocks. The muscles and tendons of their small legs are not capable of carrying a heavy weight of body for any length of time. He may not, as I have said before, show his blemishes in lameness, but it is only because he lacks that fine feeling common to the horse.

I have, singular as it may seem, known mules that have been spavined, curbed, and ringboned, and yet have been worked for years without exhibiting lameness.

Avoid spotted, or dapple mules; they are the very poorest animal you can get. They cannot stand hard work, and once they get diseased and begin to lose strength, there is no saving them. The Mexicans call them pintos, or painted mules. We call them calico Arabians or Chickasaws. They have generally bad eyes, which get very sore during the heat and dust of summer, when many of them go blind. Many of the snow-white mules are of the same description, and about as useless. Mules with the white muzzle, or, as some term it, white-nore white, and with white rings round the eyes, are also of but little account as work mules. They can stand no hardship of any kind. Government, at least, should never purchase them. In purchasing mules, you must look well to the age, form, height, eyes, size of bone and muscle, and disposition; for these are of more importance than his color. Get these right and you will have a good animal.

If any gentleman wants to purchase a mule for the saddle, let him get one bred closer after the mare than the jack. They are more docile, handle easier, and are more tractable, and will do what you want with less trouble than the other. If possible, also, get mare mules; they are much more safe and trusty under the saddle, and less liable to get stubborn. They are also better than a horse mule for team purposes. In short, if I were purchasing mules for myself, I would give at least fifteen dollars more for mare mules than I would for horse. They are superior to the horse mule in every way. One reason is, that they possess all their natural faculties, while you deprive the horse of his by altering.

The most disagreeable and unmanageable, and I was going to say useless, animal in the world, is a stud mule. They are no benefit to anybody, and yet they are more troublesome than any other animal. They rarely ever get fat, and are always fretting; and it is next to impossible to keep them from breaking loose and getting at mares. Besides, they are exceedingly dangerous to have amongst horses. They will frequently fly at the horse, like a tiger, and bite, tear, and kick him to pieces. I have known them to shut their eyes, become furious, and dash over both man and beast to get at a mare. It is curious, also, that a white mare seems to have the greatest attractions for them. I have known a stud mule to take a fancy to a white mare, and it seemed impossible to keep him away from her. Mules of all kinds, however, seem to have a peculiar fancy for white mares and horses, and when this attachment is once formed, it is almost impossible to separate them. If you want to drive a herd of five hundred mules any distance, turn a white or gray mare in among them for two or three days, and they will become so attached to her that you may turn them out, and they will follow her anywhere. Just let a man lead the mare, and with two men mounted you can manage the whole herd almost as well as if they were in a team. Another way to lead mules is, to put a bell on the mare's neck. The mules will listen for that bell like a lot of school children, and will follow its tinkling, with the same instinct.

Another curious thing about the mule is this: You may hitch him up to-day for the first time, and he may become sullen and refuse to go a step for you. This may be very provoking, and perhaps excite your temper; but do not let it, for ten chances to one, if you take him out of the harness to-day and put him in again to-morrow, that he will go right off, and do any thing you want him. It is best always to get a young mule well used to the harness before you try to work him in a team. When you get him so that he is not afraid of the harness, you may consider your mule two-thirds broke.

I have seen it asserted that a team of mules was more easil

y handled than a team of horses. It is impossible that this can be so, for the reason that you never can make a mule as bridle-wise as a horse. To further prove that this cannot be so, let any reinsman put as many mules together as there are horses in the "band wagon" of a show, or circus, and see what he can do with them. There is not a driver living who can rein them with the same safety that he can a horse, and for the very reason, that whenever the mule finds that he has the advantage of you, he will keep it in spite of all you can do.

Mule Raising.--I never could understand why it was that almost every person, that raises stock, recommends big, ugly gollips of mares, for mule-breeding. The principle is certainly a wrong one, as a little study of nature must show. To produce a good, well-proportioned mule, you must have a good, compact, and serviceable mare. It is just as necessary as in the crossing of any other animal. It certainly is more profitable to raise good animals than poor ones; and you cannot raise good mules from bad mares, no matter what the jack is. You invariably see the bad mare in the flabby, long-legged mule.

It has been held by some of our officers, that the mule was a better animal for Government service, because he required less care and feed than the horse, and would go longer without water. This, again, is a grave mistake. The mule, if properly taken care of, requires nearly as much forage as the horse, and should be groomed and cared for just the same. I refer now to team animals. Such statements do a great deal of injury, inasmuch as they encourage the men who have charge of animals to neglect and abuse them. The teamster who hears his superior talk in this way will soon take advantage of it. Animals of all kinds, in a wild and natural state, have a way of keeping themselves clean. If left wild, the mule would do it. But when man deprives them of the privileges by tying them up and domesticating them, he must assist them in the most natural way to keep themselves clean. And this assistance the animal appreciates to its fullest extent.

How to Handle a Mule Colt.--Owners and raisers of mules should pay more attention to their habits when young. And I would give them this advice: When the colt is six months old, put a halter on him and let the strap hang loose. Let your strap be about four feet long, so that it will drag on the ground. The animal will soon accustom himself to this; and when he has, take up the end and lead him to the place where you have been accustomed to feed him. This will make him familiar with you, and increase his confidence. Handle his ears at times, but don't squeeze them, for the ear is the most sensitive part of this animal. As soon as he lets you handle his ears familiarly, put a loose bridle on him. Put it on and take it off frequently. In this way you will secure the colt's confidence, and he will retain it until you need him for work.

Speaking of the sensitiveness of the mule's ear, a scratch, or the slightest injury to it, will excite their stubbornness and make them afraid of you. I have known a mule's ear to be scratched by rough handling, and for months afterward it was with the greatest difficulty you could bridle him. Nothing is more important than that you should bridle a young mule properly. I have found from experience that the best way is this: stand on the near side, of course; take the top of the bridle in your right hand, and the bit in your left; pass your arm gently over his eye until that part of the arm bends his ear down, then slip the bit into his mouth, and at the same time let your hand be working slowly with the bearings still on his head and neck, until you have arranged the head-stall.

It would be a saving of thousands of dollars to the Government, if, in purchasing mules, it could get them all halter and bridle-broken. Stablemen, in the employ of the Government, will not take the trouble to halter and bridle-break them properly; and I have seen hundreds of mules, in the City of Washington, totally ruined by tying them up behind wagons while young, and literally dragging them through the streets. These mules had never, perhaps, had a halter on before. I have seen them, while tied in this manner, jump back, throw themselves down, and be dragged on the ground until they were nearly dead. And what is worse, the teamster invariably seeks to remedy this by beating them. In most cases, the teamster would see them dragged to death before he would give them a helping hand. If he knew how to apply a proper remedy, very likely he would not give himself the trouble to apply it. I have never been able to find out how this pernicious habit of tying mules behind wagons originated; but the sooner an order is issued putting a stop to it, the better, for it is nothing less than a costly torture. The mule, more than any other animal, wants to see where he is going. He cannot do this at the tail of an army wagon, though it is an excellent plan for him to get his head bruised or his brains knocked out.

Some persons charge it as an habitual vice with the mule to pull back. I have seen horses contract that vice, and continue it until they killed themselves. But, in all my experience with the mule, I never saw one in which it was a settled vice. During the time I had charge of the receiving and issuing of horses to the army, I had a great many horses injured seriously by this vice of pulling back. Some of these horses became so badly injured in the spine that I had to send them to the hospital, then under the charge of Dr. L.H. Braley. Some were so badly injured that they died in fits; others were cured. Even when the mule gets his neck sore, he will endure it like the ox, and instead of pulling back, as the horse will, he will come right up for the purpose of easing it. They do not, as some suppose, do this because of their sore, but because they are not sensitive like the horse.

Packing Mules.--In looking over a copy of Mason's Farrier, or Stud Book, by Mr. Skinner, I find it stated that a mule is capable of packing six or eight hundred pounds. Mr. Skinner has evidently never packed mules, or he would not have made so erroneous a statement. I have been in all our Northern and Western Territories, in Old and New Mexico, where nearly all the business is done by pack animals, mules, and asses; and I have also been among the tribes of Indians bordering on the Mexican States, where they have to a great extent adopted the Spanish method of packing, and yet I never saw an instance when a mule could be packed six or eight hundred pounds. Indeed, the people in these countries would ridicule such an assertion. And here I purpose to give the result of my own experience in packing, together with that of several others who have long followed the business.

I also purpose to say something on what I consider the best mode of packing, the weight suitable for each animal, and the relative gain or loss that might result from this method of transportation, as compared with transportation by wagon. In the first place, packing ought never to be resorted to, because it cannot be done with profit, where the roads are good and wagons and animals are to be had. In mountains, over deserts and plains of sand, where forage is scant, and water only to be had at long intervals, then the pack is a necessity, and can be used with profit. Let it be understood, also, that in packing, the Spanish pack-mule, as as well as saddle, is the most suitable. Second: The Spanish method of packing is, above all others, the most ancient, the best and most economical. With it the animal can carry a heavier burden with less injury to himself. Third: The weight to be packed, under ever so favorable circumstances, should never be over four hundred and fifty pounds. Fourth: The American pack-saddle is a worthless thing, and should never be used when any considerable amount of weight is required to be packed.

If I had previously entertained any doubt in regard to this American pack-saddle, it was removed by what came under my observation three years ago. While employed in the quartermasters' depot, at Washington, D.C., as superintendent of the General Hospital Stables, we at one time received three hundred mules, on which the experiment of packing with this saddle had been tried in the Army of the Potomac. It was said this was one of General Butterfield's experiments. These animals presented no evidence of being packed more than once; but such was the terrible condition of their backs that the whole number required to be placed at once under medical treatment. Officers of the army who knew Dr. Braley, know how invariably successful he has been in the treatment of Government animals, and how carefully he treats them. Yet, in spite of all his skill, and with the best of shelter, fifteen of these animals died from mortification of their wounds and injuries of the spine. The remainder were a very long time in recovering, and when they did, their backs, in many cases, were scarred in such a manner as to render them unfit ever after for being used for a similar purpose. The use of the American pack-saddle, and lack of knowledge on the part of those in charge as to what mules were suitable for packing, did this. The experienced packer would have seen at a glance that a large portion of these mules were utterly unfit for the business. The experiment was a wretched failure, but cost the Government some thousands of dollars.

I ought to mention, however, that the class of mules on which this experiment was tried were loose, leggy animals, such as I have heretofore described as being almost unfit for any branch of Government service. But, by all means, let the Government abandon the American pack-saddle until some further improvements are made in it.

Now, as to the weight a mule can pack. I have seen the Delaware Indians, with all their effects packed on mules, going out on a buffalo hunt. I have seen the Potawatamies, the Kickapoos, the Pawnees, the Cheyennes, Pi-Ute, Sioux, Arapahoes, and indeed almost every tribe that use mules, pack them to the very extent of their strength, and never yet saw the mule that could pack what Mr. Skinner asserts. More than that, I assert here that you cannot find a mule that will pack even four hundred pounds, and keep his condition sixty days. Eight hundred pounds, Mr. Skinner, is a trying weight for a horse to drag any distance. What, then, must we think of it on the back of a mule? The officers of our quartermasters' department, who have been out on the plains, understand this matter perfectly. Any of these gentlemen will tell you that there is not a pack train of fifty mules in existence, that can pack on an average for forty days, three hundred pounds to the animal.

I will now give you the experience of some of the best mule packers in the country, in order to show that what has been written in regard to the mule's strength is calculated to mislead the reader. In 1856, William Anderson, a man whom I know well, packed from the City of Del Norte to Chihuahua and Durango, in Mexico, a distance of five hundred miles or thereabout. Anderson and a man of the name of Frank Roberts had charge of the pack train. They had seventy-five mules, and used to pack boxes of dry goods, bales, and even barrels. They had two Mexican drivers, and travelled about fifteen miles a day, at most, though they took the very best of care of their animals. Now, the very most it was possible for any mule in this train to get along with was two hundred and seventy-five pounds. More than this, they did not have over twenty-five mules out of the whole number that could pack two hundred and fifty pounds, the average weight to the whole train being a little less than two hundred pounds. To make this fifteen miles a day, they had to make two drives, letting the animals stop to feed whenever they had made seven or eight miles.

In 1858, this same Anderson packed for the expedition sent after the Snake Indians. His train consisted of some two hundred and fifty or three hundred mules. They packed from Cordelaine Mission to Walla Walla, in Oregon. The animals were of a very superior kind, selected for the purpose of packing out of a very large lot. Some of the very best of these mules were packed with three hundred pounds, but at the end of two weeks gave out completely.

In 1859, this same Anderson packed for a gentleman of the name of David Reese, living at the Dalles, in Portland, Oregon. His train consisted of fifty mules, in good average condition, many of them weighing nine hundred and fifty pounds, and from thirteen to fourteen hands high. His average packing was two hundred and fifty pounds. The distance was three hundred miles, and it occupied forty days in going and returning. Such was the severity of the labor that nearly two-thirds of the animals became poor, and their backs so sore as to be unfit for work. This trip was made from the Dalles, in Oregon, to Salmon Falls, on the Columbia River. Anderson asserts it, as the result of his experience, that, in packing fifty mules a distance of three hundred miles with two hundred and fifty pounds, the animals will be so reduced at the end of the journey as to require at least four weeks to bring them into condition again. This also conforms with my own experience.

In 1857, there was started from Fort Laramie, Nebraska Territory, to go to Fort Bridger with salt, a train of forty mules. It was in the winter; each mule was packed with one hundred and eighty pounds, as near as we could possibly estimate, and the train was given in charge of a man of the name of Donovan. The weather and roads were bad, and the pack proved entirely too heavy. Donovan did all he could to get his train through, but was forced to leave more than two-thirds of it on the way. At that season of the year, when grass is poor and the weather bad, one hundred and forty or one hundred and fifty pounds is enough for any mule to pack.

There were also, in 1857, regular pack trains run from Red Bluffs, on the Sacramento River, in California, to Yreka and Curran River. Out of all the mules used in these trains, none were packed with over two hundred pounds. To sum up, packing never should be resorted to when there is any other means of transportation open. It is, beyond doubt, the most expensive means of transportation, even when the most experienced packers are employed. If, however, it were necessary for the Government to establish a system of packing, it would be a great saving to import Mexicans, accustomed to the work, to perform the labor, and Americans to take charge of the trains. Packing is a very laborious business, and very few Americans either care about doing it, or have the patience necessary to it.

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