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.