I love the versatility of mules. Not only can they pull my wagon and farm implements but they can also carry my hunting camp into the mountains then pack the venison out. Let me tell you about an interesting project that seems to combine the skills of both disciplines of mulemanship.
The water flume and head gate at East Lake in the Hoover Wilderness had been in need of repair for years. The water from this lake is used by several cattle ranches in the Bridgeport area so a joint effort was made to repair it. As it is in a wilderness you can only travel by foot or horseback which made transporting materials to the job site a bit of a challenge. Most cowboys are good packers and every ranch has a pack saddle and panniers in the tack room to be used mainly for packing salt out to the range cattle. This chore was usually assigned to a green colt which helped round him out to a well seasoned ranch horse. However, the materials for this job were somewhat unusual so I was asked to come up with some ideas that didn’t require a helicopter and possibly utilize my more experienced mules.
The first item was the gate itself which was a large aluminum plate measuring 4 feet by 4 ½ feet and 3/8 inch thick weighing 75 pounds. This seemed simple; I could hang my large pack boxes high on the sawbuck and bridge the plate across then tie a box hitch to hold it all together. The next items were two pieces of 4 inch channel iron 8 feet long. Okay, we’ll hang those on each side of a mule angling over her neck in the same manner you would carry a couple of fence post. The last item was the real challenge, a threaded screw rod used for opening and closing the head gate when a large wheel is turned. This stainless steel rod measured 1 ¼ in diameter by 14 feet long and weighed 80 pounds. Too long to pack on one mule so I made a couple of platforms to sit on the sawbucks then attached a swivel devise to the platforms and then welded a cradle, made of horse shoes, to the swivels. My plan was to bridge the screw rod between two mules. The swivel devises would allow them to navigate the sharp turns with the rod spanding between them as long as they worked together. I’ll admit this was not an original idea but I’ve only heard about this method and never actually seen it done.
I chose Maude and Suzy; the two mules I felt would be most tolerant for this strange assignment. We felt confident after a short practice and were ready to go but then the whole project got put on hold for two years.
When the call finally came that all was a go for our little packing job there was no time for another practice. I was also informed that there will be a couple more items than we first talked about, two 8 foot 4x4’s. No problem I’ll just take another mule and hang these 4x4’s just like the channel iron.
We all met at the trailhead and all the ranches were well represented with Top hands. We loaded the first two items as planned but the 4x4’s turned out to be 4x6x10 foot timbers. I scratched my head, we could load these like fence post if we had an 18 hand mule otherwise they will drag the ground like a Travois. What we ended up doing was lashing the timbers to either side of the screw rod and loaded the whole thing on the two swivel mules. The timbers with the rod were all three guys could lift onto the mules. It seemed awfully top heavy to me but there was no way to counter balance it now.
I will tell you that I wasn’t as confident as before but up the trail we went and to our delight the two mules learned to work together real quick. Remember that these are Draft mules that are accustomed to working together on a wagon tongue and other farm implements so this just came natural to them. Fortunately we had some minor switchbacks on the trail to practice on before we came to the “Chute” which is a series of steep switchbacks only 15 yards apart. If you have ever tried to carry a large couch up a stairway then turn through a narrow doorway then you might have some idea what these two mules were accomplishing. As the lead mule makes the turn around the switchback she is now traveling almost 180 degrees in the opposite direction of the second mule with the rod and timbers suspended between them. Maude did get pushed into the rock wall at the first switchback but Suzy learned to slow her pace allowing Maude time to recover and continue on up the trail. Maude in turn had to slow down long enough for Suzy to make the turn behind her. They performed this maneuver a dozen times on the climb up the Chute.
It was several miles up the canyon to East Lake and we only had to stop a couple of times to make some minor adjustments. All the materials made it to the dam intact and were off loaded to the relief of Maude and Suzy. What a great feeling of success, one that I’m sure is shared with my long eared friends.
By Rick Edney
The fiberglass mules will soon be joining the wagons in the Borax 20 Mule Team exhibit at Laws Railroad Museum. The mules have been purchased with a generous grant provided by the Margaret Pillsbury Foundation.
An early Spanish Friar looked eastward toward a distant range of mountains and exclaimed “una gran sierra nevada,” translated to mean a great snow-covered mountain range. Thus, Friar Pedro Font named a truly grand mountain range, the Sierra Nevada Range of California. At the beginning of the 20th century, America was changing and California’s Eastern Sierra was no exception. Moving from an era of exploration and settlement, with the advent of automobiles and more leisure time, people were searching for adventure and recreation opportunities. The Sierra Nevada was the backbone of the state, and many looked toward that high mountain range to explore new adventures.
Horses and mules have been right along with us through this period of transition over 150 years. Having served for thousands of years as the first mode of transportation horses and mules have transitioned to mostly serve recreationists. Mules were the work animals used in: maintaining and building access trails, packing in supplies and camping equipment, and enabling Americans to reach scenic campsites into road-less mountain wonderlands. Packers fine-tuned their packing skills and became guides for visitors, leading adventure-seekers to remote campsites and educating them how to enjoy their extended stay as true mountaineers.
Consequently the packing and outfitting industry was born in the Sierra. As these new businesses grew and prospered into an industry unique to the Sierra Nevada mountains, the Packers’ Association developed. These farsighted men called it the High Sierra Packers’ Association, consisting of two units. These units were; the Western and the Eastern, representing each side of the range. They soon recognized the need to advertise and promote pack trip vacations and opportunities for horseback riding, hiking, camping, fishing, hunting and exploring. Sports shows were created in Southern California and the San Francisco Bay Area to cater and advertise to the emerging recreatiors. Packers and resort owners were at the forefront of this emerging market, manning the informative booths and introducing recreation opportunities to the public.
In 1969 an especially heavy winter kept mountain trails blocked by snow late into the season. This limited recreation opportunities. The local packers and the Forest Service Trail Supervisor discussed business remedies. They wondered if they could create a spring event focusing on packing competitions in Bishop. These intrepid Founders of Mule Days wanted to create an activity that would show the value and versatility of mules. They envisioned an event that could bring visitors from afar to Bishop to celebrate the hardworking, humble mule. In May of 1970, they launched the first Mule Day as one-day event. Suceed they did, and Mule Days has grown to six days of shows and the largest non-motorized parade in the country. Mule Days has been successful beyond their dreams and we honor their vision.
With that same spirit, the American Mule Museum seeks to carry forth that tradition by paying tribute to mules. These are the reliable mules who built the West, carried us to the tops of mountains, and entertain us. They inspire our cheers every Memorial Day weekend – the sturdy American Mule.
Join us as we carry this vision a step further into the future. Check out our website for updates and sign up for our newsletters! www.mulemuseum.org While at Mule Days, be sure to visit our Annual Silent Auction in the Douglas Robinson Building, Wednesday, May 22nd – Sunday, May 26th, 1 p.m.
By Jennifer Roeser
Dugan was a special animal from the day of his birth. Unfortunately he really wasn’t wanted by his owners, but luck was always on Dugan’s side. Dugan’s mother was a beautiful registered quarter horse and her owners were looking forward to a beautiful colt who would be a success in the show ring. Imagine their surprise when a long eared catch-colt arrived instead. They were so disappointed and did not want the tiny mule colt. Andy, their neighbor, loved mules and packed into the Sierra Nevada backcountry every summer. Andy offered to take the little mule and raise him on a bottle.
The little black mule foal, was named Dugan and he thrived on the offered bottles and people’s affections. He soon grew to be a beautiful mule; sleek and shiny, gentle, friendly and mischievous. He was broke to be a pack mule and joining Andy’s string of riding horses and pack mules. Andy was a professor and enjoyed spending his summer vacations packing into the backcountry wilderness of the Eastern Sierra with his animals.
When the Mammoth Lakes Pack Outfit acquired the five “stall mates”, Dugan was 5 years old and he went right to work as a pack mule. But he soon proved his exceptional ability to jump out of the mule corral. Early one morning the packers noticed Dugan was missing, nowhere to be seen. Dugan was later found happily snacking at the hay stack. Later that morning, a trail ride left the yard and Dugan was sighted happily following the group out of the yard. Next, Dugan turned up in the dude horse corral and was returned to his rightful place in the mule corral. Again, he was seen following another trail ride down the trail. Everyone wondered, “Hmm – what was going on!” It was soon discovered that Dugan was jumping out of the mule corral. He would cannily hide out in the forest while the pack trips went out. Once the coast was clear, Dugan would jump into the Dude Horse Corral or slip into a trail ride as the group was leaving the yard.
Hunting season soon arrived with very early mornings. One experienced group of hunters that had ridden with Mammoth Lakes Pack Outfit before planned a trip to Deer Creek. The group would just be gone for the day and would go without a guide. One man in the group was new but the old timers assured the pack station that he would be coached by them and all would be well. Just at daybreak, as the group was riding up the trail the pack station cook looked out the window and saw Dugan following along. The packers assured the cook that Dugan would soon return to the yard. But this time he didn’t! Later that afternoon, who should come riding into the yard alone? The “new guy” from the group headed for Deer Creek. And he was riding Dugan! The man was carrying his rifle, riding without benefit of saddle or bridle. He was clinging to Dugan’s scanty mane and somehow staying a muleback. Dugan, head held high, proudly carried the hunter into the yard. Dugan knew right were to go! He stopped at the tie racks, he had clearly been watching the riding horses. Open mouthed, the pack station crew stood amazed. The hunter casually slid off Dugan and nonchalantly told his story as though this was not at all unusual.
It seemed that somehow the “new guy” had become separated from his hunting buddies. He spotted a buck and remembered that he had been told not to shoot from horseback. He got off his horse and sighted in on the buck. He aimed, fired, and missed. Only then, did he notice the dust kicked up by his quickly departing horse. He then remember that he was also supposed to tie his horse securely to a tree and then aim and shoot. So, he found himself lost, afoot and with no deer to show for his trouble. He began trudged along the trail he hoped was headed in the right direction to locate his buddies, or his horse. After a while he began to worry a little. Suddenly, a friendly unsaddled mule appeared, like a gift from heaven, and the mule walked right up to him. “Well,” he thought, “I can ride him to find our group.” Dugan had come to the lost hunter’s rescue. Not knowing anything about Dugan, the hunter managed to climb on the mule’s back with his rifle, clutching to Dugan’s mane. The man put his faith in Dugan to find the rest of the group. However, Dugan amazingly and unhesitatingly marched back to the pack station with a new found purpose.
The “new guy” did not located his partners nor his horse as Dugan carried him to the pack station. But the man was very happy to find himself back at the pack station sipping coffee, telling his story, and enjoying the cook’s offer of a late lunch! After hearing this tail, several packers looked at each other and one declared, “Well heck, we could use a saddle mule around here!” The rest of the hunters, and the missing horse, joined up with a packer and his string of mule returning home. They were happy to find their lost friend in the kitchen sharing the tale of his adventure.
What Dugan was trying to tell us all along was that he was a riding mule, not a pack mule. Dugan was quickly saddled, a packer hopped aboard and Dugan proudly made circles around the yard. That night Dugan was put away in the dude horse corral and begin a long, successful career as a saddle mule. From that day forth, he never again jumped out of his corral because Dugan knew he was in the right place. Dugan carried many people, young and old, through the mountains on day rides and pack trips. While riding Dugan, a young rider was once overheard asking his mother, “Mom, why does this horse have longer ears than yours?” If that young rider could have heard Dugan answer; he would have heard, “Because I am better. I’m a MULE.” -By Marye Roeser
Forest Service mules join Smokey Bear in the 130th Annual Tournament of Roses Parade
The theme of the 130th Annual Tournament of Roses Parade, January 1st, 2019, was “The Melody of Life”. The United States Forest Service entry was, U.S. Forest Service pack mules celebrate Smokey’s 75th Birthday. The entry highlighted the fact that mules have supported Smokey in his mission to spread the message of preventing wildfires.
Susie, a lovely Forest Service mule shows off the “Smokey Bear” panel celebrating Smokey’s 75th Birthday. Mules have served significant roles in supporting wildland firefighters since 1905. They travel long distances into the wilderness to supply firefighters and rangers. Smokey & his mules – perfect partners!
The American Mule Museum congratulates the Forest Service packers, firefighters, mules and of course Smokey for an incredible display of service and history.
The American Mule Museum (AMM) is working together with Laws Railroad Museum and the Death Valley Conservancy to build a Death Valley 20 Mule Team exhibit. This will be the first collaborative instillation the AMM has participated in and it will be located at the Laws Museum, four and a half miles north of Bishop on Highway 6.
A new building has been constructed to house this exhibit that will include reproductions of the wagons the 20 Mule Team pulled in Death Valley. Two of the three wagons are already on site. The wagon used to haul water is still being constructed and will hopefully be on site by Mule Days. The funds to build the three wagons were raised by the Death Valley Conservancy. This group collaboration will result in a unique venue to tell the history of the 20 Mule Team. The AMM has ordered a team of fiberglass mules to represent the Wheelers, or the mules that pulled closest to the front of the first wagon. Around this main installation will be exhibits that share the impact mules have had on the local area and the Western United States. Interpretive displays will share history of mules in the area and the jobs they performed including work related to agriculture, transportation, mining, and recreation.
This collaboration is one of the ways the AMM is using funds raised by members to uphold their mission while continuing to work towards a location to house the Mule Museum.
The American Mule Museum (AMM) is looking to a more modern museum model. The modern museum model is thinking outside of the box, or outside the building in this case. Today’s new museums are using three main exhibit examples that might not fit with everyone’s idea of how museums should look. One example is setting up standalone kiosk type exhibits in public spaces. Another way modern museums are building exhibits is working collaboratively with other organizations to install exhibits in already existing museums or public buildings. The third example of a modern museum utilizes the Internet, where a virtual museum can be built and information can be easily accessed at any time. The AMM is involved with all three of these models.
The AMM has already installed two standalone kiosk type exhibits in Bishop, CA. One is at the Tri-County Fair Grounds, just inside the main gate. The exhibit at the Tri-County Fair Grounds has nine panels of information and photographs. Most of the panels show examples of different ways mules have impacted the area. This exhibit can be accessed at just about any time and has helped spread information about mules and the AMM. The second outside exhibit installed by the AMM is at the Bishop City Park behind the Chamber of Commerce building. It is a small exhibit of two panels that informs people how mules have been used for packing in the Sierra Nevada and about the Bishop Mule Days celebration. The smaller exhibit is in a high traffic location and will help get the AMM more exposure to the general public. Both exhibits share great history and numerous pictures of mules at work.
The AMM is working collectively with Laws Railroad museum and the Death Valley Conservatory to build a large exhibit located at the Laws Museum. The exhibit will be in a large barn that will house reproductions of the wagons that were pulled by the Death Valley 20 Mule Team. This installation will include not only the wagons but other interpretive displays describing the work mules did in the Owens Valley. Because people are already open to learning new things while visiting a museum. Laws is an excellent location to expose people to the huge impact mules have had in the local area. Laws is also a controlled location to keep the exhibit safe and preserved. The AMM is continuously looking for new partners to help develop installations in new places.
The internet is a great tool for the AMM to share the information, which has been gathered so far, with the public. Information such as stories and photos are being archived so that they can be shared on the AMM webpage. Film clips and audio files can also be shared on the website. The webpage has proven to be an excellent way for people all over the world to share even more information about mules with the AMM.
The AMM has been in step with a modern idea of what a museum can be. Through these modern examples of how a museum can get information to the public the AMM is moving forward and continuing to grow. These are some of the ways the AMM is using funds raised to continue their mission.