Burma was lost, said General Alexander, “because mechanization was sent when animal transport should have been used. There were only two main roads in all of Burma.” This is the same General Alexander who was directing field operations of British and American Forces, under General Eisenhower, in Tunisia. Alexander commanded British troops in Burma.
War is the most practical thing on earth! Man hasn’t yet made the machine that will replace the foot soldier or the pack mule. Terrain and weather still dominate the battlefield. When the going got tough in Tunisia: when food, ammunition and even water were needed by troops in position where trucks could not reach them; when fog enshrouded planes and jeeps spun in the mud, the pack mule was brought into action—Yes, 2,000 of them were reported by the press. And more important, mule pack trains supplied oil, repair parts and gasoline to stalled tanks, by routes wheeled vehicles could not traverse.
Normal supply routes were destroyed or blocked by enemy fire. And tanks, like cavalry, cannot be tied to supply routes. Supply must reach out and deliver. The tactical combination of armored with other forces, in a swiftly moving campaign is difficult, but the greater problem is supply and transport at the speed and range that are necessary—and the vaunted jeep has no place where the going is steep.
War Department radiocast of the Bureau of Public Relations, 3 April, 1943, stated: “the territory in which Americans in Tunisia have been fighting in so rugged, so wild, that even Jeeps cannot navigate the hills and so the American Army is being supplied by mule trains.”
In a recent test in the high Rockies at Camp Hale, Colo., between Jeeps, Ski troops and Pack Mules the mules won, with the Jeep first out, blocked by snow. Where motors can’t go, pack units will flow. The pack mule can go wherever a man can go, with the use of his hands.
The Press reports “long lines of mule trains are common sight in New Guinea.” Pack artillery is the artillery weapon for the jungle and the mountains of the tropics. Germany transported pack artillery by plane to Narvik, Norway. Italian mechanization failed in winter warfare in Greece, but Greek Pack Artillery climbed the mountains and plowed through the snow. Russia could not use its motorized equipment in winter, and Japan’s mechanization, due to mud and narrow mountain passes, failed in China.
With the Chinese fighting desperately, but without artillery, the Chinese Mission appealed for a packsaddle to 75 mm artillery on the small 800 pound Mongolian ponies. Thousands of these sturdy ponies are packing American 75 mm. Howitzers on specially designed Phillips’ saddles—to the distress of the Japanese! Three plants are engaged in the production of the saddles.
Press dispatch of 3 June, 1943—‘”The Chinese battle of Stalingrad’ was fought around Shilpei! The Japanese were unable to use their tanks and big guns in the mountains. They suffered about 30,000 casualties.” Chinese pack artillery had moved through and around the narrow passes and used their American 77 mm Howitzers with telling and deadly effect. The Tokyo Gazette reported: “The usefulness of the horse in modern warfare is one of the discoveries of the present
conflict, particularly in battles on the rugged steeps and in the narrow passes of the Chinese Mountains.”
The essential clue to success in modern warfare is a balanced load force of all arms, with the necessary teamwork between its component elements, plus a commander who has a really sound knowledge of the mechanism of the war—i.e. topography, movement and supply, with supply the greater problem.
The Phillips’ Packsaddle won its place in the world by competition with the packsaddles of the principal military powers. The saddle also won first place in tests conducted by the Army Service Boards, winning each of three 500-mile marches conducted by Pack Artillery Boards. No other piece of Army equipment ever won such recognition. Over 75,000 of these packsaddles were made in the last three years. Phillips’ Packsaddles are in use in all parts of the globe, where United Nations troops are fighting, and also in many friendly Allied countries.
Twenty thousand mules were purchased by the Army in the last eight months—while only 2,000 were purchased by all buyers in 1940.
The fact that roads are blasted both by artillery and bombs, and that mines are planted along normal routes, makes it all the more important that supply pack trains and pack artillery be made a part of military forces. Where packsaddles are necessary, all other matters are secondary.
Col. Albert E. Phillips Army Navy Journal, July 24, 1943
Mule Days program --1987
Many thanks to Ted Faye for sharing these pictures from his collection.
In the June 6, 1975 issue of the Los Angeles Times, Outdoor Writer Lupe Saldana wrote the following observation on Bishop Mule Days, then celebrating its sixth birthday:
“A new celebrity is emerging in the equine world, the lowly mule. Its sudden popularity for riding, racing and packing is making it a high-priced, highly prized animal. The price of a good mule has tripled lately, with selling a previously unheard-of price of $6,000.
A few years ago these ‘diamonds in the rough,’ as one packer calls them, sold for $200 to $400 with few takers. Now the asking price is $600 to $1,000 with lots of takers.
Members of the horsey set started saddling up mules as a lark about five years ago, and now the fad has caught on. Mule experts estimate that the riding of mules for pleasure has increased more than 10 times since 1970.
Part of the credit for the new interest in mules goes to the Chamber of Commerce of Bishop. Its annual Mule Days celebration is the leading Southern California showcase for the old-time beasts of burden.
This folksy event staged at Bishop at the foot of the High Sierras started as a hometown happening in 1970. This year it showed signs of becoming a national attraction. A parade down Main St. over the Memorial Day weekend drew 20,000 people.
All motels were sold out, and record crowds jammed the Tri-County Fairgrounds for the three-day program. The big events were mule racing, reining, packing and shoeing.
Mules come in all sizes and colors, depending on the parents. They are the offspring of a male ass and female horse. Horses from ponies to Percherons are used.
The mule has long ears, a short mane, small feet and a tail with a tuft of long hairs at the end. From the jackass it gets its ability to conserve strength, work hard for long periods, carry heavy loads, be sure of foot – and be stubborn.
One thing that tends to hold down the price of mules is that both males and females are sterile. On rare occasions, a female mule bred to a male ass or stallion has produced an offspring.
Mule Days are conceived by Bob Tanner, a Sierra packer for 26 of his 45 years, as a way to get publicity for the slumping packing business. Glorifying mules was a byproduct.
….fifty mules were entered in 1970 events and this year there were 300. Entries, once mostly locals, this year came from Texas, Colorado, Idaho, Oregon, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, and many parts of California.
….What attracted the visitors?
….A college student from Riverdale, near Fresno, gave a typical answer: Mules are something special. They’re twice as smart as horses. That’s why it takes twice as long to train them.’
(He) said that because mules are so smart they refuse to immediately buckle under to man, but when they do come around they are superior to horses.
Others like mules because they are hardier than horses, easier to care for than horses, and make better pets and work animals.
Packers have always favored mules for backcountry carrying work because they are surefooted, carry heavy loads and are easy to keep in feed because they aren’t finicky what they eat.
They say it is impossible to overload a mule because if the animal feels overloaded it won’t budge.
There’s no comparison in longevity between mules and horses. Some mules are hearty at 30, living to 35. Horses are old at 15.
Critics say mules are treacherous and difficult to control.
“That’s true,’ a packer says, ‘but they aren’t born that way. They’re made that way. They’re smart and they won’t stand abuse. Treated with respect, they are worthy friends and loyal servants.’
Newcomers are advised that to successfully handle a mule a person must be firm and never show fear.
The mules and merchants aren’t the only ones who get a boost from Mule Days. The winner’s circle was dominated by women, who use skill rather than muscle to control their mules.
….Denton Sonke, manager of the Bishop chamber, says the women dominated the events ‘because they’re dedicated. ‘They spend lots of time training and riding their mules. The boys spend most of their time with hot rods.’
The mule business appears to have a bright future because the increase in prices has encouraged breeders to use thoroughbred mares. In the past the least desirable mares were used for breeding.
And Tanner says Mule Days has a big future ‘because this is a different kind of show…You never know what’s going to happen with a mule.’ “
Photos from 1975 printed in the 1976 Mule Days program.
Building the Mt. Whitney Trail
Each year thousands of hikers climb the strenuous trail to the summit of Mt. Whitney, but few realize the vital role the hardy Eastern Sierra packers---and their surefooted mules---played in building the steepest portion of that scenic trail.
Henry Thorne, the acting forest engineer in charge of construction for the Forest Service at that time, said the task couldn’t have been done with them.
Mules played an integral role in the building of many trails, as well as maintaining more than 700 miles of trail. But Thorne says none of them were as difficult as the portion of the trail from Consultation Lake to Whitney Pass, which includes the well-known 96 switchbacks.
In order to avoid deep annual snow drifts, it was necessary to re-route part of the Whitney trail to wind back and forth up the side of a sheer granite wall. This task was begun in July of 1947 when the Mt. Whitney Pack Train at Whitney Portal was contracted by the Inyo Forest to both haul heavy equipment to the 12,000-foot trail camp, and then to keep the hard-working crew supplied throughout the summer season.
Drilling cuts as deep as 36 feet into solid rock to make the Whitney trail wide enough was a major job that necessitated the use of an air compressor, which weighed a hefty 10,000 pounds. This Schramm compressor had to disassembled, small pieces carefully packed onto mules for the long journey to the new trail site, and then reassembled. Thorne said the heaviest piece was a crankshaft, which weighed some 344 pounds and was carried on one mule.
In addition to packing the heavy air compressor up the mountainside to drill into rocks, some 1,500 feet of pipe had to be packed up the trail. Air was then piped up the mountain to operate the compressor.
Packing heavy equipment on mules was no easy task. Thorne said it couldn’t be done on regular pack saddles, so a Mexican Aparejo pack saddle had to be used. Using these saddles required skills and expertise that the early packers had mastered, making them especially valuable in the transport of heavy equipment up the steep slopes.
Once the air compressor and piping was packed up the mountain, the mules became a vital link to the outside for supplies of all kinds: groceries to feed the hardworking crews, wood to keep their tents warm on cold nights, dynamite powder to blast through the hard rock, and much more.
Thorne recalls that packing the heavy equipment took about four strings of five mules each, and then one string was used to service the camp almost daily.
“If it hadn’t been for mules, the whole job couldn’t have been done at all,” said Thorne. “This country never would have made it without them old mules. That’s for sure.
“And I don’t think anybody could ever find a better bunch of people to work with than the packers on the Eastern Sierra because they were always cooperative, they always helped,” he added. “They wanted the work done, and they’d go all out to help you.”
The packers were also extremely helpful to Thorne who worked for the Forest Service for more than 30 years before retiring in 1963. “I’d worked lots of mules in the Mid-West,” he said. “But they had the load behind them—not on their back. So I had to learn a lot when I came here. The packers were helpful in teaching me. What I know, I owe to them.
The 12-man trail crew was a hard-working, hardy bunch who were supervised by Relles Carrasco. Equally important was Carrasco’s wife Lizzie, the famed cook. “They were a great crew to work with,” Thorne recalled. “They never asked about the pay. They asked if Lizzie was cooking. Lizzie was an awful cook.”
The job took two seasons to complete, and it was often times a hazardous task. The men, while drilling on the side of a steep bluff, were held by ropes for safety. But in spite of the extreme danger, the only serious injury during the heavy construction was a broken leg suffered by one of men due to a rock slide.
In July of 1948 the final phase of the Whitney job was begun and on Sept. 8, the first group to the completed trail was the Wilderness Riders of America accompanied by Forest Service personnel and members of the Mt. Whitney Pack Train. Thirty-five people with their pack and riding stock used the trail this first day.
Before completion of the new trail, about 200 people used it over a busy weekend. In recent years a quota system was enacted to protect the environment from overuse, and now 75 people are allowed up the trail each day to climb Mt. Whitney—the highest mountain in the continental United States.
Rebecca Cheuvront 1986
by Holly Subia
It is no surprise, and well known, that people used mules to haul heavy loads long before they had large tucks. And the “Mac Truck” of mules came from France.
The Poitou mule came from two distinct parents. The sire was the Poitou jack, the largest donkey breed in the world. The Poitou donkeys are known for their long dreadlock like coats and their large size. They can get up to 16 hands in height. The dam is a Poitevin mare. Poitevin horses are a large, heavy draft horse used throughout France in agriculture and other draught work. The Poitou mule was sought after the world over, known for it’s strength and gentle nature. The mules were often 17 hands heigh. The demand for these mules was so high a Poitevin mare would usually have one horse foal and then all other foals would be mules. The mules were used in agriculture, freighting and in the military. But after World War II and the industrial age, all three breeds where no longer in such demand and saw a huge reductions in population. The Poitevin region of France once produced around 19,000 mules a year. The annual average of Poitou mules born now is 20 a year.
All three breeds, Poitevin horse, donkey and mule are considered endangered breeds. There has been a process but in place to evaluate Poitou donkeys that are not pure bred. If the donkey passed the evaluation it will be included into a breeding program to increase the population of Poitiu donkeys. Today, Poitevin mares will often only have one mule foal in a lifetime. Mares are in a 4 year breeding rotation with stallions. This is to reduce inbreeding and have foals that are not related. These foals will produce the Poiteven foals in the future. The Poitou mule might have to be in decline for a while to assure strong foundation stock for the future. Mules are lucky creatures; they can go extinct but as long as we have horses and donkeys we can make more mules.
By Meredith Hodges
There was a time before the industrial age when one-third of all fifteen million mules on earth were being utilized by the United States. Mules worked in the fields, carried our packs, pulled heavy barges on the canals, plodded through darkness in the mines, guided supply wagons and streetcars about the cities, carried tourists to exotic places like the Grand Canyon and transported army supplies and light artillery for the government. And to help with all the back-breaking labor he faced, man’s invention of the hybrid mule was truly a stroke of creative genius. “No cultural invention has served so many people in so many parts of the world for so many centuries with energy, power and transport as the mule.”
During the surge westward, heavy Conestoga wagons laden with all the possessions one could carry were often pulled by teams of mules that were either leased or owned by the early settlers. When cattlemen developed breeds like Texas Longhorns that could endure the harsh climate of the Great Plains, their mules pulled the chuck wagons that followed the large herds as they were driven the long distances to market. Improved farm equipment beckoned farmers to tame the west and what else could manage the vast land and long work hours save the mule? During these times, little thought was given to the possibility that this coveted land was already occupied by numerous Indian tribes.
The soldiers were caught in an impossible situation. They were bound by duty to protect and serve the early ranchers, miners, farmers and their families, but were unable to derive any profit from their duty. Indian attacks raged at every turn and mules helped carry the artillery and supplies the army needed to protect its citizens. The armies had been used to fighting in an entirely different climate and, when faced with the gale winds, plunging temperatures and blizzards like they had never seen on the Great Plains, it was often the mule that provided the perseverance and determination to see it through. On rare occasions, the mule served as the only source of food, saving the lives of desperate families and often-hungry Indians.
People are generally surprised to learn of the loyal and affectionate nature of the mule. For some reason, they want to believe in a stubborn and vengeful character, but when one reads accounts from individuals, one finds mules to be quite the opposite. In the mid-1800s, the U.S. government, in its infinite wisdom, recognized the value of the mule, yet made foolish provisions for its soldiers in their regard. It was clear that they did not fully understand this animal that resembled the horse but acted nothing like it.
In training mules to harness, they often cut traces to the harness so short and hung so low that the mule’s heels would be clipped by the swingle trees when they walked forward. Not wanting to injure itself, the mule would stop when it became sore. This act was acknowledged as laziness. It was only through the good sense of the real mule teamsters that these kinds of errors were corrected. Swingle trees were hung higher between the hock and the heel to allow for a full stride, and traces were subsequently invented with larger chain links at the ends of the drawing-chains to allow for adjustments in length.
The American government purchased many mules that were two and three years old—entirely too young for use. If they had purchased mules all over the age of four, it would have saved a lot of heartache and expense. Contractors and inspectors seemed to be more concerned with the numbers they could sell to the government than the quality and usefulness of the animals. When purchased for use, this invariably resulted in the mules being put onto a train with teamsters who knew nothing of their character. Those who know mules know the deep affection they develop for human beings with whom they spend much time. Thousands of young mules were rendered useless by the government’s incompetence and ignorance as to their maintenance and training.
Harvey Riley, author of The Mule, published in 1867, recounts, “While on the plains, I have known Kiowa and Comanche 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 could do this, I never could tell.” Maybe it’s as simple as, “You can catch more flies with honey than you can with vinegar!”
Packing was of great importance to government mules, as they were required to carry a wide variety of heavy items over treacherous terrain. In the Northern and Western territories and in Old and New Mexico, nearly all business was done with pack mules and pack donkeys. The Indians adopted the Spanish way of packing, as the Spaniards were noted experts. The Americans developed their own American pack saddle, but it was abandoned soon after its creation.
“While employed at the Quartermaster’s 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…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,” Harvey Riley remembers.
In 1942, while in the service of the U.S. Army, Art Beaman became familiar with mules in a most curious way. He was working as an Operations Sergeant for a Headquarters in Northern California that determined whether troops were ready for combat. The troops consisted of 204 enlisted men, two veterinarian officers, four horses and 200 mules. Being a non-rider, Art was on and off his horse three times in the first ten minutes of the trip into the mountains. The First Sergeant finally decided to put him on a mule and open his eyes to the redeeming qualities of his mount. The next day, Art was able to say, “That mule and I were really a team…by this time, I trusted my mule so completely that I could have stood up and sang the national anthem as we slipped and skidded along!”
The aftermath of this story is really funny. About a week before his pack troop was to be deployed to the South Pacific, some sideways thinker in the Quartermaster Corps sent 200 green-broke replacement mules for his troop. Not wishing to trade the now fully broke mules for the green-broke mules, Art left the 200 mules on the train overnight while he pondered this dilemma. When he returned the next day, he told the men in charge, “There are the old mules and we have the new ones! Evidently, they believed me, or they didn’t care one way or the other, and the green mules were on their way back to Washington!”
Those who have experienced the spiritual connection with mules all have their own individual stories to tell. From The Black Mule of Aveluy, by Charles G.D. Roberts, comes one of the most amazing World War I battlefield stories I’ve ever heard. It is the story of a man and a big black mule on a rain-scourged battlefield. “The mule lines of Aveluy were restless and unsteady under the tormented dark. All day long a six-inch high-velocity gun firing at irregular intervals from somewhere on the low ridge beyond the Ancre, had been feeling for them. Those terrible swift shells, which travel so fast on their flat trajectory that their bedlam shriek of warning and the rendering crash of their explosion seem to come in the same breathless instant, had tested the nerves of man and beast sufficiently during the daylight; but now, in the shifting obscurity of a young moon harrowed by driven cloudrack, their effect was yet more daunting.”
A second shell screamed down into the lines, scattering deadly splinters of shell ropes, tether-pegs and mules. When it was all said and done, one lone black mule stood back, still tied to the picket line, unable to free himself. With eyes wide in terror, he sought respite from the onslaught, but was unable to find any. Suddenly, a man with tousled, ginger-colored hair appeared at his nose, put his arms around the mule’s neck, as the mule coughed and sputtered, still stunned from the blast. The man quickly untied the black mule and another that was left from the blast and got them to safety.
After the attack at Aveluy, the black mule and his new driver were given the job of carrying up shells to the forward batteries. Early that next afternoon, they were plunging deep into rugged territory along a sunken road, muddy from perpetual rain showers, when suddenly the inexplicable happened and there was an array of star-showers that blinded the mule. “When he once more saw daylight, he was recovering his feet just below the rim of an old shell-hole. He gained the top, braced his legs, and shook himself vigorously.” His panniers were still heavily loaded and his driver was not in sight. He soon saw his driver clinging to the far edge of the shell-hole, sinking rapidly in the mud. “He reached down with his big yellow teeth, took hold of the shoulder of Jimmy Wright’s tunic, and held on. He braced himself and, with a loud, involuntary snort, began to pull.”
Jimmy Wright remembered the blast and saw where he was. He was afraid his shoulder had been blown off, yet he could move both arms and discovered something was pulling on him. “He reached up his right arm—it was the left shoulder that was being tugged at—and encountered the furry head and ears of his rescuer! Reassured at the sound of his master’s voice, the big mule took his teeth out of Wright’s shoulder and began nuzzling solicitously at his sandy head.”
For centuries the mule loyally traversed the course of history with man, though it was never given credit for its valuable contributions. In fact, men perpetrated stories to the opposite and the mule’s legacy became one of laziness, stubbornness and disobedience. Only those humans who were of a character to willingly explore the spirit of the mule were there for its redemption. We are thankful that their stories have withstood the test of time. Throughout history, man believed that he was making progress with each new age, but the blind farmer will tell you, “There’s no such thing as a seeing-eye tractor, and while I am farming with my mule, I can hear the birds sing. I never could with a tractor!” Perhaps we should take note and stop to smell the roses.
To learn more about Meredith Hodges and her comprehensive all-breed equine training program, visit LuckyThreeRanch.com or call 1-800-816-7566. Check out her children’s website at JasperTheMule.com. Also, find Meredith on Facebook and Twitter.
© 2016 Lucky Three Ranch, Inc. MULE CROSSING All Rights Reserved.
MULES IN THE MILITARY
Today’s modern technological advances in the military have provided gadgets and robotics that once seemed straight out of a sci-fi movie. In recent years, the Army experimented with a robotic mule that could carry ammunition and other combat supplies for the soldiers. Since the first version was too noisy for combat, an electric version was created but could not carry more than 40 pounds.  A few decades ago, the use of equine was almost abandoned in the military since there was not a definitive need. But the wars in Afghanistan created a necessity for pack mules which are now an integral part of the U.S. Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center in Bridgeport, California.
Big Dog robotic mule – Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.
In the 1800s, as the West was expanding, mules were a huge resource and commodity for the military – serving as pack animals for the western outposts and pulling wagons to move supplies throughout the West. In the 1850s, military outposts and forts were established in the unsettled West in key locations to provide protection for commerce and emigration.
Fort Riley in Kansas is one of the forts that was established in the 1850s to help protect American interests. After the conclusion of the Civil War, Fort Riley aided in the protection of the railroad lines that crossed Kansas. In the following decades, Fort Riley became an important fixture while hosting various regiments of the infantry and cavalry and in 1887 became the site of the U.S. Cavalry School. Fort Riley had a strong equine program that taught cavalry tactics to new mounted recruits. Part of their training also involved using pack mules for various tasks.
In the 1940s, Fort Riley trained with mules and Jeeps for different tasks in wartime. Contrary to popular belief, a Jeep cannot travel everywhere in difficult terrain. The mules were referred to as the four-legged Jeep.
During the Civil War, mules were crucial in the war efforts – they pulled supply wagons, artillery equipment, and ambulances. At the onset of the Civil War, it was estimated that there were more than a million mules in the country – with most of them residing in the South. Mules were also used as pack animals to transport regimental gear, ammunition, and rations. Additionally they pulled the C & O Canal Boats (Chesapeake and Ohio Canal) which hauled cargo and coal. Some said the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal was the dividing line between the Union and the Confederates, making the mules a target for confiscation by troops from the other side.
Mules were also a valuable asset in WWI, WWII, and the Korean War. Again they provided the power to move supplies and ammunition while also serving as pack animals. At the outbreak of the Great War, the British army did not have any mules. According to the 1922 British War Office, England purchased 275,097 mules from America. Mules were transported overseas in specially-designed freighters that were modified with special stalls that could accommodate up to 500 mules. In WWII, mules were commonly transported in C-47s and C-46s to reach war zones, loading six to eight mules on each load in rope stalls.
During both wars, the mules were subjected to poisonous gases so that special protection was provided for them. The Hague Convention of 1907 prohibited the use of poison gases and weapons but more than 124,000 tons of gas were dispersed by the end of WWI. The poison gas took a terrible toll on mules, donkeys, horses, dogs, and pigeons.
Donkeys have also been used extensively in wartime
Besides wartime activities, the military also used mules for delivering aid. In 1906, the US Army was tasked with getting supplies to San Francisco after the devastating fire and earthquake. Congress appropriated $2.5 million in emergency aid. The Army played a major role in relief and refugee efforts and used mule trains to move the supplies to the city.
Mule trains delivered aid and supplies to an estimated 300,000 people in San Francisco who had lost their housing after the devastating earthquake and fires in 1906. Photo Courtesy of Library of Congress, George Kleine Collection.
Mules were used extensively in the military in the 1800s. Photo courtesy of Library of Congress, Circa 1909.
This photo is from WWI, rights to publish this picture was purchased from Alamy.
The American Mule Museum loves to hear from the fans and supporters. Here is a great letter that we wanted to share with all the readers.
Dear American Mule Museum Personnel,
My name is Ryan Damboise and I am from Bristol, Connecticut. I am very thankful to have found the American Mule Museum website because it is providing the benchmark from which my orientation to the American mule is reliably proceeding. My goal is to work as a packer, and much of what I have learned about packmules is the result of your work on the AMM website. I want you to know this because I am preparing for my journey into the mule’s domain, and I am relying heavily on your work to successfully navigate this learning process. It is important to me that I inform you of your role in my self-directed learning, especially because you are helping determine the quality of my preparation as I continue toward my stated goal. I value and appreciate the significant effort involved in your research and writing, as well as the ongoing investment you are making to advance the public’s understanding of the American mule. My progress has been made possible, in large part, due to your concerted effort on behalf of the American mule.
I have begun structuring my knowledge base of mule information by reading all of Ms. Marye Roeser’s Mule Tales articles. I have savored each for its artistic flavor and richly informative gleanings. I have also read the blog, the newsletter archive, and have explored many of the websites under the links tab. In fact, I purchased a copy of Ms. Merideth Hodges’ Training Mules and Donkeys because of the link you provided to the Lucky Three Ranch website. I also purchased a copy of Dr. Robert Miller’s Understanding Horse Behavior — The Secrets of the Horse's Mind because I saw a reference to him on Ms. Hodges’ website and was reminded of having seen his name on the schedule of the Bishop Mule Days Celebration's 50th Anniversary proceedings (which is also linked to on your website).
I am directing all of my resources, meager though they are, to building a properly set foundation that my future packing team-members can be confident in. I have my Bachelor of Animal Science with several years' experience working as a horse wrangler and trail guide (though not currently), however, I don’t yet have experience shoeing. I have begun to remedy this because I know I need to be a skilled horseshoer in order to be a responsible packer. To familiarize myself with the foremost advances in horseshoeing, I have recently participated in the 17th Annual International Hoof Care Summit. The consensus from related conversations was that I ought to attend a horseshoeing school.
My hope is to develop horseshoeing (mules hoeing) proficiency at a program immersed in the mule packing tradition. Would I be correct in thinking the Sierra Horseshoeing School is one such program? Does it continue to operate in Bishop? If it does, would you be so kind as to provide me with the name and contact information of the person with whom I should establish contact? It would be great because I could give a hand at AMM too.
Thank you very much for your generous insight.
With best personal regards,
Ryan, thank you for letting us know that you have found our work helpful and inspiring. We love getting letters to hear how the AMM has touched lives and inspired people to work with, learn about, and teach others about mules. Please feel free to contact us further if we can help you along your path working with mules.
FISH PLANTING PRIOR TO AERIAL STOCKING OF HIGH SIERRA LAKES
Written by Marye Roeser
After World War II ended in 1946, California Department of Fish and Game began aerial fish planting using Army planes and pilots to plant hatchery raised fingerling trout in the lakes and streams of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Much of the Sierra is road less wilderness and is not accessible by vehicle. Prior to aerial drops, fingerling trout were planted in these lakes with strings of mules carrying special fish cans and then on the backs of packers and crew to their destination. These early aerial drops were still not able to plant all lakes due to the restrictions of the early airplanes of that time.
Fish hatcheries scattered around the Sierra collected trout eggs and raised trout until they could be planted in the area lakes and streams. Rainbow Trout were the most commonly planted and golden trout were planted in high lakes where suitable habitat was found. Special aerated tanker trucks hauled the “catch-able" fish to the appropriate lakes and streams that they could access. Since the majority of the Sierra lakes and streams are located away from roads; commercial pack stations provided mule transportation for these tiny fish. Their destination; new watery homes in the vast Sierra Nevada range. Fish and Game trucks would haul fingerlings to pack stations where they would transfer the fingerlings to fish cans. These fish cans would then travel by mule back to the high lakes and creeks. These specially designed and constructed cans hold the little fish in water while traveling until they could be poured into the destination lakes and streams. A mule can carry one can on each side hooked onto the packsaddle and lashed in place.
In 1952, Lou Roeser remembers helping in the yard at Mammoth Lakes Pack Outfit with a fish planting trip to plant small trout fingerlings. These fingerlings were raised in the Hot Creek Fish Hatchery and trucked to the pack station in a fish planting truck. Stout, gentle pack mules were saddled and cinched ready for the fish cans to be loaded with tiny, young fish. As soon as the cans were packed on a mule that mule would be kept moving by the mounted packer as additional packed mules were tied into the mule string. Trout need adequate oxygen in the cold water and this constant movement kept the water in the cans aerated so the little fish could obtain their necessary oxygen. The mule packer would then move out on the trail leading to the lakes. Employees from California Fish and Game accompanied the packer and mule string to organized the pouring out of the fish at the chosen site(s). The mules were brought as close as possible to the fingerlings planned destination. When the mule strings could not be brought to the waters edge the men than backpacked the fish cans the rest of the way.
That same year, Russ Johnson, the owner of McGee Creek Pack Station and Cliff Brunk with California Dept. of Fish and Game, packed golden trout up to Baldwin Lake and a creek above Horsetail Falls. They led the mules as far as feasible. They then hiked, carrying the cans on their backs the remainder of the way.
Today, California Department of Fish and Wildlife conducts aerial fish planting with more modern aircraft and schedules air drops every 3 years for each lake. Lakes with more fishing pressure are planted more often. The “Packer with the Mule String” planting method was used throughout the Sierra Nevada range to stock backcountry lakes for many years and still today in some more inaccessible basins. The Sierra have become famous for the great fishing opportunities to be found in many of the lakes, river and creeks throughout the mountain range.
Mules, a Family Business
100 years and still going strong.
Submitted by Jennifer Roeser
Written by Michaela Reese
The Reese name has been one in the same with hard work, family values, and good business for nearly one hundred years. The Reese Brothers have taken pride in their family business and have created a way of life for generations to follow and flourish. The journey began in the nineteen twenties with Rufus Reese Sr. starting the family’s long and deep traditions within the mule trading business that has carried on for four generations. Dickie and Rufus Reese are the third generation to continue their family business and stretch it from mules being used to pack, as outfitters, traverse the Grand Cannon, and used in the military.
The mules arrive at Greenwood Farms and are taken into the family’s massive gray barn to be clipped, saddled or harnessed, and prepped for their jobs and lives ahead. Some mules are bought for show, others for their brute strength and aid many of the Amish communities in and around Middle Tennessee. From the crop in rural fields Pennsylvania to the French Quarter of New Orleans, Louisiana the Reese mules are used and depended on everyday. Nation wide the Reese Brother’s Mule Company can be seen providing park services in the Midwest, giving carriage rides in California, and quail hunts in South Georgia. Many other business families buy mules from Greenwood Farms and in turn sell them to others in places around the U.S. They sell to individuals or to other businesses. These animals have many functions that Dickie and Rufus capitalized on to ensure the well being of their future family members. The thought of Rufus Sr. in Nashville, Tennessee auctioning and bargaining for his great grandchildren’s future is enough to make anyone proud to know, or be part of, this family.
When the brothers took over the family business it was due to a horrific accident resulting in the loss of their father in 1979. The brothers picked up the business with a skill and finesse that not many could achieve. Dickie took over the accounting side having graduated from The University of Tennessee with an Animal Science degree. Rufus, with his no-nonsense attitude, took over the trading of the mules and auctioning. The brothers were, and are, the power-houses of the mule trading world and work exceptionally well together. Dickie states, “We never really fought. Rufus is absolutely the perfect partner.” They worked hard everyday together, learning from one another and gaining the respect of men and women worldwide. Rufus humbly states, “We don’t consider ourselves mule trainers, we keep our operation simple and sell what we buy. The less we have to handle a mule the more profit there is in him.” The ability of the two brothers to save and keep their family business has resulted in the newest generation joining the business. Richard Reese is Rufus’s son. Rufus has taught, and still teaches, his son the way of life on the Greenwood Farm on which Richard grew up. Throughout the years the farm has never really changed just increased in size and ability to profit. The farm makes its name in cattle, mules, and of course mule auctions. The Reese Brothers are famous for their mule consignments in the three big sales. They occur in January, February, and November in Westmoreland, Tennessee. The preparation and work it takes to orchestrate such a sale is awe inspiring and only possible due to the way Richard, Dickie, and Rufus work together.
Dickie and Rufus retired, for the most part, in 2018 and have granted the farm to Richard to continue, for many years to come. Richard’s natural skill continues to impress, and provide for, the farmers and business men that depend on the Reese Brother’s Mule Company. Richard has two teachers that know the very inner workings of not only the mules they care for but also the ideals they stand for. Rufus’s daughter Rilla Reese Hanks has also taken after her family name and started up a business for herself and her family. She graduated from The University of Tennessee at Knoxville with a Masters in Animal Science, just like her uncle. She then went on to graduate with her Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine in 2013. Just like Richard; she grew up on Greenwood Farms and has amassed a huge knowledge from working with horses and mules her entire life. Rilla and her husband Drew started their own breeding of mules in 2016 and she is consulted frequently on health issues as a Veterinarian. Dickie still works the three big mule auctions and Rufus can be seen in the barns working with and ensuring the mules are taken care of. Even though the Brothers are retired their relentless passion for their farm, animals, and family is awe inspiring.
One hundred years of business is no small accomplishment especially considering the advancement of technology. Throughout all of life’s struggles Dickie and Rufus Reese have been a shining beacon of hard work, family values, and good family business. These men have worked incredibly hard creating a way of life in Middle Tennessee that will live on in the hearts and minds of many Reese generations to come.
Don’t miss the famous Tennessee Sales that take place the second Saturday of January, February, March, October, and November. There is a specialty sale the second Friday of January known at the Colt Sale and a sale during the Great Mule and Donkey Celebration at Shelbyville in July each Year. Check out the website at: www.reesemules.com.
By Marye Roeser
Frank Shaw was a colorful indivedual. He was an early pioneer, rancher, and teamster in Mono County and the Eastern Sierra. In 1865, he owned a cattle ranch in Adobe Valley which lies to the east of Mono Lake. Bodie, California and Aurora, Nevada were adjacent to Adobe Valley and Shaw’s ranch. Frank grew hay on his ranch and pastured his cattle on the meadow lands. He purchased some good draft horses in Columbia, California to start his herd then raised and trained his own draft horses. Frank aquired a Mammoth Jack to breed to some of his mares and produce good large mules. The jack was reportedly mean so he built a high-walled corral to keep him in.
Shaw was also in the freighting business as part of his ranching operations. He would haul hay and supplies to Eastern California/Western Nevada mining camps and haul out ore on the return trips. He was considered to be a long line, or long jerk line, teamster. He would use as many as 32 mules on a long line team and even hook up to 3 freight wagons together. The Studebaker Co. built Nevada Wagons for hauling ore and supplies. Frank Shaw likely used some of those wagons as they were popular in this area and local wagon makers built variations of that know style of wagon.
F. M. Smith discovered borax at Teel’s Marsh, near Hawthorne, Nevada in 1872. Adobe Valley is just west of Teel’s Marsh and the nearby small mining town of Marietta. Teel’s Marsh was a playa wetland in 1870 often covered with standing water. Columbus Marsh, near Tonopah, Nevada was already in production and not a long distance away. Shaw located borax in his own Adobe Valley and freighted some to Bodie. At that time, most borax was imported from Europe or other areas in the world. Entrepreneurs searched for borax minerals in the United States as they recognized the importance and the demand for local sources.
As Smith developed his borax mining works at Teel’s Marsh he needed freighters to move the mineral to markets demanding the product. Bodie was one of those markets and used borax in gold mining. The Teel’s Marsh borax works soon became the largest borax operation in the world. Smith mined the product and contracted the hauling to private freighters. Frank Shaw was soon hauling borax from Teel’s Marsh to Bodie with his long line teams.
Rhodes Marsh was 9 miles south of Mina, Nevada near what is now Highway 95. There were maybe 200 acres of salt ponds at Rhodes Marsh. Salt was hauled from Rhodes Marsh to Aurora, Nevada beginning in 1862. Borax was discovered in Rhodes Marsh the 1870s. The area had a simular borax production as Teel’s Marsh. From 1874 to 1881, one ton per day was produced at Rhodes Marsh. Beginning in the late 1860s Frank Shaw hauled hay from his ranch to Rhodes Marsh. As Frank was known to haul ore on his return trips, it is quite likely he hauled borax back to Aurora and later Bodie.
In about 1880, Smith moved his operation to Death Valley where he discovered more borax. There Smith set up Harmony Borax Works. The location in Death Valley was very remote and Smith needed to freight the borax produced at the mine to the railroad in Mojave. Smith was having to use his own wagons and teams to make the long haul to the Mojave railroad. Since Smith had previously dealt with Frank Shaw at Teel’s Marsh, Smith contacted Shaw around 1881 or 82. Smith purchased 18 mules and 2 draft horses from Shaw along with two wagons. This is how 2 wagons and a team of 18 mules and 2 horse became one of the first “Death Valley 20 Mule Teams!”