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   Chapter 5 PHYSICAL CONSTRUCTION OF THE MULE.

The Tale of Brownie Beaver By Arthur Scott Bailey Characters: 18480

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


I now propose to say something on the mule's limbs and feet. It will be observed that the mule has a jack's leg from the knee down, and in this part of the leg he is weak; and with these he frequently has to carry a horse's body. It stands to reason, then, that if you feed him until he gets two or three hundred pounds of extra flesh on him, as many persons do, he will break down for want of leg-strength. Indeed, the mule is weakest where the horse is strongest. His feet, too, are a singular formation, differing very materially from those of the horse. The mule's feet grow very slow, and the grain or pores of the hoof are much closer and harder than those of the horse. It is not so liable, however, to break or crumble. And yet they are not so well adapted for work on macadamized or stony roads, and the more flesh you put on his body, after a reasonable weight, the more you add to the means of his destruction.

Observe, for instance, a farmer's mule, or a poor man's mule working in the city. These persons, with rare exceptions, feed their mules very little grain, and they are generally in low flesh. And yet they last a very long time, notwithstanding the rough treatment they get. When you feed a mule, you must adjust the proportions of his body to the strength of his limbs and the kind of service he is required to perform. Experience has taught me, that the less you feed a mule below what he will eat clean, just that amount of value and life is kept out of him.

In relation to feeding animals. Some persons boast of having horses and mules that eat but little, and are therefore easily kept. Now, when I want to get a horse or a mule, these small eaters are the last ones I would think of purchasing. In nine cases out of ten, you will find such animals out of condition. When I find animals in the Government's possession, that cannot eat the amount necessary to sustain them and give them proper strength, I invariably throw them out, to be nursed until they will eat their rations. Animals, to be kept in good condition, and fit for proper service, should eat their ten and twelve quarts of grain per head per day, with hay in proportion--say, twelve pounds.

I wish here again to correct a popular error, that the mule does not eat, and requires much less food than the horse. My experience has been, that a mule, twelve hands high, and weighing eight hundred pounds, will eat and, indeed, requires just as much as a horse of similar dimensions. Give them similar work, keep then in a stable, or camp them out during the winter months, and the mule will eat more than the horse will or can. A mule, however, will eat almost any thing rather than starve. Straw, pine boards, the bark of trees, grain sacks, pieces of old leather, do not come amiss with him when he is hungry. There were many instances, during the late war, where a team of mules were found, of a morning, standing over the remains of what had, the evening before, been a Government wagon. When two or more have been kept tied to a wagon, they have been known to eat each other's tail off to the bone, And yet the animal, thus deprived of his caudal appendage, did not evince much pain.

In the South, many of the plantations are worked with mules, driven by negroes. The mule seems to understand and appreciate the negro; and the negro has a sort of fellow-feeling for the mule. Both are sluggish and stubborn, and yet they get along well together. The mule, too, is well suited to plantation labor, and will outlast a horse at it. The soil is also light and sandy, and better suited to the mule's feet. A negro has not much sympathy for a work-horse, and in a short time will ruin him with abuse, whereas he will share his corn with the mule. Nor does the working of the soil on southern plantations overtax the power of the mule.

The Value of Harnessing properly.--In working any animal, and more especially the mule, it is both humane and economical to have him harnessed properly, Unless he be, the animal cannot perform the labor he is capable of with ease and comfort, And you cannot watch too closely to see that every thing works in its right place. Begin with the bridle, and see that it does not chafe or cut him, The army blind-bridle, with the bit alteration attached, is the very best bridle that can be used on either horse or mule. Be careful, however, that the crown-piece is not attached too tight. Be careful, also, that it does not draw the sides of the animal's mouth up into wrinkles, for the bit, working against these, is sure to make the animal's mouth sore. The mule's mouth is a very difficult part to heal, and once it gets sore he becomes unfit for work. Your bridle should be fitted well to the mule's head before you attempt to work him in it. Leave your bearing-line slack, so as to allow the mule the privilege of learning to walk easy with harness on. It is too frequently the case, that the eyes of mules that are worked in the Government's service are injured by the blinds being allowed to work too close to the eyes. This is caused by the blind-stay being too tight, or perhaps not split far enough up between the eyes and ears. This stay should always be split high enough up to allow the blinds to stand at least one inch and a half from the eye.

Another, and even more essential part of the harness is the collar. More mules are maimed and even ruined altogether by improperly fitting collars, than is generally believed by quartermasters. It requires more judgment to fit a collar properly on a mule than it does to fit any other part of the harness. Get your collar long enough to buckle the strap close up to the last hole. Then examine the bottom, and see that there be room enough between the mule's neck or wind-pipe to lay your open hand in easily. This will leave a space between the collar and the mule's neck of nearly two inches. Aside from the creased neck, mules' necks are nearly all alike in shape, They indeed vary as little in neck as they do in feet; and what I say on the collar will apply to them all, The teamster has always the means in his own hands of remedying a bad fitting collar. If the animal does not work easy in it, if it pinch him somewhere, let it remain in water over night, put it on the animal wet the next morning, and in a few minutes it will take the exact formation of the animal's neck. See that it is properly fitted above and below to the hames, then the impression which the collar takes in a natural form will be superior to the best mechanical skill of the best harness-maker.

There is another thing about collars, which, in my opinion, is very important. When you are pursuing a journey with teams of mules, where hay and grain are scarce, the animals will naturally become poor, and their necks get thin and small. If once the collar becomes too large, and you have no way of exchanging it for a smaller one, of course you must do the next best thing you can. Now, first take the collar off the animal, lay it on a level, and cut about one inch out of the centre. When you have done this, try it on the animal again; and if it still continues too large take a little more from each side of the centre until you get it right. In this way you can effect the remedy you need.

In performing a long journey, the animals will, if driven hard, soon show you where the collar ought to be cut, They generally get sore on the outer part of the shoulder, and this on account of the muscle wasting away. Teamsters on the plains and in the Western Territories cut all the collars when starting on a trip. It takes less time afterward to fit them to the teams, and to harness and unharness.

When you find out where the collar has injured the shoulder, cut it and take out enough of the stuffing to prevent the leather from touching the sore. In this way the animal will soon get sound-shouldered again. Let the part of the leather you cut hang loose, so that when you take the stuffing out you may put it back and prevent any more than is actually necessary from coming out.

See that your hames fit well, for they are a matter of great importance in a mule's drawing. Unless your hames fit your collar well, you are sure to have trouble with your harness, and your mule will work badly. Some persons think, because a mule can be accustomed to work with almost any thing for a harness, that money is saved in letting him do it. This is a great mistake. You serve the best economy when you harness him well and make his working comfortable. Indeed, a mule can do more work with a bad-fitting collar and harness than a man can walk with a bad-fitting boot. Try your hames on, and draw them tight enough at the top of the mule's neck, so that they will not work or roll round. They should be tight enough to fit well without pinching the neck or shoulder, and in fine, fit as neatly as a man's shirt-collar.

Do not get the bulge part of your collar down too low. If you do, you interfere with the machinery that propels the mule's fore legs. Again, if you raise it too high, you at once interfere with his wind. There is an exact place for the bulge of the collar, and it is on the point of the mule's shoulder. Some persons use a pad made of shee

pskin on the toe of the collar. Take it off, for it does no good, and get a piece of thick leather, free from wrinkles, ten or twelve inches long and seven wide; slit it crosswise an inch or so from each end, leaving about an inch in the centre. Fit this in, in place of the pad of sheepskin, and you will have a cheaper, more durable, and cooler neck-gear for the animal. You cannot keep a mule's neck in good condition with heating and quilted pads. The same is true of padded saddles. I have perhaps ridden as much as any other man in the service, of my age, and yet I never could keep a horse's back in good condition with a padded saddle when I rode over twenty-five or thirty miles a day.

There is another evil which ought to be remedied. I refer now to the throat-latch. Hundreds of mules are in a measure ruined by allowing the throat-latch to be worked too tight. A tight throat-latch invariably makes his head sore. Besides, it interferes with a part which, if it were not for, you would not have the mule--his wind. I have frequently known mules' heads so injured by the throat-latch that they would not allow you to bridle them, or indeed touch their heads. And to bridle a mule with a sore head requires a little more patience than nature generally supplies man with.

Let a mule's ears alone. It is very common with teamsters and others, when they want to harness mules, to catch them by the ears, put twitches on their ears. Even blacksmiths, who certainly ought to know better, are in the habit of putting tongs and twitches in their ears when they shoe them. Now, against all these barbarous and inhuman practices, I here, in the name of humanity, enter my protest. The animal becomes almost worthless by the injuries caused by such practices. There are extreme cases in which the twitch may be resorted to, but it should in all cases be applied to the nose, and only then when all milder means have failed.

But there is another, and much better, method of handling and overcoming the vices of refractory mules. I refer to the lariat. Throw the noose over the head of the unruly mule, then draw him carefully up to a wagon, as if for the purpose of bridling him. In case he is extremely hard to bridle, or vicious, throw an additional lariat or rope over his head, fixing it precisely as represented in the drawing. By this method you can hold any mule. But even this method had better be avoided unless where it is absolutely necessary.

It is now August, 1866. We are working five hundred and fifty-eight animals, from six o'clock in the morning until seven o'clock at night, and out of this number we have not got ten sore or galled animals. The reason is, because we do not use a single padded saddle or collar. Also, that the part of the harness that the heaviest strain comes on is kept as smooth and pliable as it is possible for it to be. Look well to your drawing-chains, too, and see that they are kept of an even length. If your collar gets gummy or dirty, don't scrape it with a knife; wash it, and preserve the smooth surface. Your breeching, or wheel harness, is also another very important part; see that it does not cut and chafe the animal so as to wear the hair off, or injure the skin. If you get this too tight, it is impossible for the animal to stretch out and walk free. Besides obstructing the animal's gait, however, the straps will hold the collar and hames so tight to his shoulder as to make him sore on the top of his neck. These straps should always be slack enough to allow the mule perfect freedom when at his best walk.

And now I have a few words to say on Government wagons. Government wagons, as now made, can be used for other purposes besides the army. The large-sized Government wagon is, it has been proved, too heavy for four horses. The smaller sized one is nearer right; but whenever you take an ordinary load on it (the smaller one) and have a rough country to move through, it will give out. It is too heavy for two horses and a light load, and yet not heavy enough to carry twenty-five hundred or three thousand pounds, a four-horse load, when the roads are in any way bad. They do tolerably well about cities, established posts, and indeed anywhere where the roads are good, and they are not subject to much strain. Improvements on the Government wagon have been attempted, but the result has been failure. The more simple you can get such wagons, the better, and this is why the original yet stands as the best. There is, however, great difference in the material used, and some makers make better wagons than others. The six and eight-mule wagon, the largest size used for road and field purposes, is, in my humble opinion, the very best adapted to the uses of our American army.

During the rebellion there were a great many wagons used that were not of the army pattern. One of these, I remember, was called the Wheeling wagon, and used to a great extent for light work, and did well. On this account many persons recommended them. I could not, and for this reason: they are too complicated, and they are much too light to carry the ordinary load of a six-mule team. At the end of the war it was shown that the army pattern wagon had been worked more, had been repaired less, and was in better condition than any other wagon used. I refer now to those made in Philadelphia, by Wilson & Childs, or Wilson, Childs & Co. They are known in the army as the Wilson wagon. The very best place to test the durability of a wagon is on the plains. Run it there, one summer, when there is but little wet weather, where there are all kinds of roads to travel on and loads to carry, and if it stands that it will stand any thing. The wagon-brake, instead of the lock-chain, is a great and very valuable improvement made during the War. Having a brake on the wagon saves the time and trouble of stopping at the top of every hill to lock the wheels, and again at the bottom to unlock them. Officers of the army know how much trouble this used to cause, how it used to block up the roads, and delay the movements of troops impatient to get ahead. The lock-chain ground out the wagon tire in one spot. The brake saves that; and it also saves the animal's neck from that bruising and chafing incident to the dead strain that was required when dragging the locked wheel.

There is another difficulty that has been overcome by the wagon-brake. In stopping to lock wheels on the top of a hill, your train get into disorder. In most cases, when trains are moving on the road, there is a space of ten or fifteen feet between the wagons. Each team, then, will naturally close up that space as it comes to the place for halting to lock. Now, about the time the first teamster gets his wheel locked, the one in the rear of him is dismounting for the same purpose. This being repeated along the train, it is not difficult to see how the space must increase, and irregularity follow. The more wagons you have to lock with the drag-chain, the further you get the teams apart. When you have a large body of wagons moving together, it naturally follows that, with such a halt as this, the teams in the rear must make twenty-five halts, or stops, and starts, for everyone that the head team makes.

When the teamster driving the second team gets ready to lock, the first, or head team, starts up. This excites the mule of the second to do the same, and so all along the train. This irritates the teamster, and he is compelled to run up and catch the wheel-mules by the head, to make them stop, so that he can lock his wheels. In nine cases out of ten he will waste time in punishing his animals for what they do not understand. He never thinks for a moment that the mule is accustomed to start up when the wagon ahead of him moves, and supposes he is doing his duty. In many cases, when he had got his wheels locked, he had so excited his mules that they would run down the hill, cripple some of the men, break the wagon, cause a "smash-up" in the train, and perhaps destroy the very rations and clothes on which some poor soldier's life depended. We all know what delay and disaster have resulted from the roads being blocked up in this manner. The brake, thanks to the inventor, offers a remedy for all this. It also saves the neck and shoulders of every animal in the train; it saves the feet of the wheelers; it saves the harness; it saves the lead and swing mules from being stopped so quick that they cut themselves; and it saves the wheels at least twenty per cent. Those who have had wagons thrown over precipices, or labored and struggled in mud and water two and three hours at a time, can easily understand how time and trouble could have been saved if the wagon could have been locked in any way after it started over those places. The best brake by all odds, is that which fastens with a lever chain to the brake-bar. I do not like those which attach with a rope, and for the reason that the lazy teamster can sit on the saddle-mule and lock and unlock, while, with the chain and lever, he must get off. In this way he relieves the saddle-mule's back.

We all know that, in riding mules down steep or long hills, you do much to stiffen them up and wear them out.

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