Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Mighty Mules & Shave Tails

February 14, 2017
   I'm hard at work on a big feature story we are planning for May: How the mighty mule conquered the West. For me it's turned out to be a bit of a love story, so it's perfect for Valentine's Day.

Mountain Men On Mules

  I was more than a little surprised to find out how many legendary Westerners rode mules. Buffalo Bill rode a mule when he was a scout. Wild Bill Hickok rode a mule when he was in the Army. The list goes on and on.

Daily Whip Out: "Wild Bill Mule Man"

Turns out almost all the early expeditions were mule mounted.

Mule Man Frank Dellenbaugh

The Shavetail
   "Shavetails were new and untrained mules sent to a packtrain. A packer shaved the new arrivals' tails and roached their manes to distinguish them from the bell sharps, who knew to follow the sound of the bell on the mare's neck and to line up before their own packsaddles at the sound of the bell each morning. Shavetails tended to wander around and get into trouble."
—Emmett M. Essen, "Shavetails & Bell Sharps: The History of the U.S. Army Mule

Crook Nails The Packtrain
   "The officer who was recognized as using packtrains to full advantage was George Crook. He took such pains to organize his civilian trains with efficient packers, well-bred, barrel-bellied mules, and properly fitted Mexican packsaddles that other commands initially scoffed at his efforts. Only after his troops performed so well in subduing the Paiutes and Apaches and he was promoted over some forty senior-ranked officers of the line to become a department commander did other envious officers take notice and begin organizing trains of their own based on the Crook model. Until then some had ridiculed him with a little ditty about his mule packers."
—Emmett M. Essen, ibid

I'd like to be a packer
And pack with George F. Crook
And dressed up in my canvas suite.
And be for him mistook.
I'd braid my beard in two long tails,
And idle all the day
In whittling sticks and wondering
What the New York papers say.
—Downey, Indian Fighting Army

   And, of course, as I've said before, not everybody was, or is, a fan of these mighty mules:

A Hybrid Outrage Upon Nature
"[Since before the Mexican War] many soldiers were, therefore, closely acquainted with mules, and most looked upon them with scorn. To them this hybrid cross of the ass and the noble mare was an outrage upon nature, a monstrosity, unapproachable in devilment, fathomless in cunning, and the originator of a distinct and uninterrupted series of tricks. The mule showed little dexterity except of the accurate flinging of its hooves or its ability to step on the nearest solder's feet or gear."
—James W. Steele, 1883

"A mule is as good as a horse until you need a horse."
—Baxter Black


  1. hate to seem hogish but more please

  2. All the bad things they say about them is true, all the good things are also true. To know them is to love them.

  3. Anonymous2:03 PM

    Sure foot, stubborn really wonderful animals , thx for this.

  4. What we know is true: they will take care of themselves. And if you can hold on, they will take care of you.

  5. BBB, I think your followers would like to know what the 'bells' mean. One bell indicates that the mule is broke to pack. Two bells indicates that he is broke to pack and drive. Three bells indicates that he is broke to pack, drive and ride. Regarding the 'bell mare', the mule's mama is a mare, and for some reason mules adore white or grey mares. Put a bell on this mare and the mules will follow her like puppies. When camped for the night, the bell mare would be picketed, or hobbled and the mules would hang out close to her. She was many times referred to as the Madrina. Best, Deb (and the longears)


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