The Northwestern Mule and His Driver
IF there is any one animal that can be defined only by a simple proposition of identity, that animal is a mule. A mule is a mule. When you have said that, you have defined him, stigmatized him, and given the only full and accurate description of him.
Zoölogically, of course, his solution is easy enough. He is a compromise, occupying an unenviable zoölogical diagonal between the horse and the ass, his individuality depending upon the proportions of these which combine in his composition. His external features are not difficult to portray. They lie within the skill of an indifferent artist. But he who attempts to dive down to the hidden springs of his character, to analyze his psychology and search the inward affections of his heart, has a task which might frighten the author of the Novum Organum. He has an animal to describe which had no place in the garden of Eden, and which was probably excluded altogether from the ark. Yet this fourfooted paradox, this psychological eccentricity, which, in common with its father, has been the butt of history for ages, has proved to be one of the most valuable improvements on the zoölogy of Eden which mankind has suggested or achieved.
General Washington is credited with introducing the mule into this country. It is one of the almost forgotten fruits of his administration for which we cannot be too grateful, since both in peace and war the animal has contributed not a little to the national name and prosperity. There is now no State in the Union to which the mule is entirely a stranger; and three of them, Missouri, Tennessee, and Kentucky, have become great mule nurseries. But the field for the mule’s highest and best activities is found west of the Mississippi, and especially in the new Northwest, where large numbers are required for the government service.
To those familiar with the government mule, an apology may seem to be needed for any reference to this animal in plain, church-going English. In the Northwest the mule is a victim of a special vocabulary. It is rarely mentioned without an epithet. The reader, it is hoped, however, will recognize those considerations of space and propriety which forbid the writer from making this article a contribution to profane literature.
The government no sooner adopts a mule than it naturalizes him. This is done by branding him with a conspicuous U S, which distinguishes him from “ private and unofficial ” mules, and, through a flattering absence of punctuation marks, converts him into a public pronoun in walking apposition with forty millions of people. He is then assigned either to pack, saddle, or team duty, according to the wants of the service. Nine out of ten mules find their sphere of duty in a six-mule team, which when harnessed to a government wagon and driven by the typical teamster is emphatically an American, and particularly a Western institution. Mules are a necessary element in every military movement; and they are the only means of transportation from one government post to another, where railroads have not penetrated. In General Stanley’s expedition to the Yellowstone River, which the writer accompanied as correspondent of the New York Tribune, two hundred and eighty of these wagons and sixteen hundred and eighty draft mules were required to carry forty days’ supplies for a force of twelve hundred infantry and about six hundred cavalry. In the Black Hills expedition, one hundred and fifty wagons and nine hundred mules were necessary to carry sixty days’ supplies for a command numbering nine hundred men and six hundred horses. It is only on expeditions of this kind, when compelled to travel a thousand miles or more without sight of a house or a white man, often over desert tracts of country with poor grass and little water, that the mule and the mule wain are appreciated, though it is always on such occasions that the animal is most abused. A wagon train is then a moving village containing everything which is necessary for the success of the expedition, which must be absolutely self-supporting. It is important to economize transportation: consequently the allowance of forage is reduced to the minimum. Three and a half pounds of corn a day was the limit for each animal on the Black Hills expedition. Had this amount been doubled only, — even then a small allowance, — it would have required thirty-seven more wagons and two hundred and twenty-two more mules to carry the additional forage. For work of this kind, under such conditions, horses would absolutely fail. The amount of fatigue, exposure, and abstinence which a mule will endure seems almost fabulous. Making long marches across dusty, shadeless plains, going for long intervals without water and with very little food, obliged to pull loads sometimes amounting to five thousand two hundred pounds up steep hills and through heavy sloughs, subject to cruel treatment and neglect from the teamster, the life of an expedition mule is miserable enough. No wonder that when the mule returns, he looks woefully angular and thin. The poor animal is frequently driven, until he completely gives out, when he is thanklessly turned into the herd of broken-down mules. There is scarcely a more melancholy sight than such a herd. It is a moving bone-yard. Gaunt, lean, with drooping ears, hips that rise like promontories above the general desolation, a disconsolate tail, and a woe-begone visage which would frighten an inexperienced ghost, — the poor, bankrupt mule is the most wretched parody on Gothic architecture that was ever forced on the public attention. Every vestige of meat has fled from his bones. He is a walking transparency, an animated hat-rack, and I have actually seen his hip bones irreverently used to hang teamsters’ hats on. During our homeward march from the Black Hills, more than one such starved victim laid down his tired frame on the earth which had refused to nourish him, and the benediction of a soldier’s bullet called the raven and the coyote to a meal which it cost the government one hundred and forty dollars to provide. A good mule is well worth the government price. In California I have known two thousand dollars to be paid for a single pair of mules. The native California mule is not large, but the mules sent to that State from Missouri expressly for hauling quartz are often sixteen hands high. Sixteen-mule teams, hauling eighteen thousand pounds in enormous wagons over the mountains, are not uncommon there.
The pack mule is a uecessary supplement to the draft mule, and in mountainous and heavily timbered regions must often supersede him entirely. Mule packing is a fine art. With a welltrained mule and a well-trained packer, there is nothing imaginable, from a bag of oats to a load of crockery, that cannot be securely fastened on the mule’s back. Select the worst article you can think of to test the packer’s skill, and in an incredibly short space of time he will pack it as though he had been perfectly used to packing that very thing all the days of his life. When the packer has finished, the animal may jump, back, kick, rear, or roll, to rid himself of his burden, but with no more success than Christian had before he reached the cross. And yet you cannot find a knot in the whole complexity of rope and bundle. A pack saddle, or in Mexico an apparajo, which is a willow frame covered with canvas and stuffed with hay, always intervenes between the pack and the mule’s back, and a crupper and breast-strap with a strong girth keep the bundle in position. Pack mules in Mexico and California are so well trained that in the morning, when it is time to start, they will fall into single file and come up one by one to receive their burdens from the packer, moving off again as soon as loaded.
And here we must notice a curious fact which is wisely taken advantage of by a pack master. It is the fondness of a mule for a gray horse, but especially for a gray mare. Put a bell on the mare’s neck and a boy on her back, and start her off, and where she dares to lead the mules will dare to follow. It is contrary to the fifteenth amendment, to be sure, for mules to make such discrimination in regard to color, but is not that, however, a liberal and enlightened suffrage which leads them to prefer a female gray to a male one? A mule is exceedingly fond of a bell, but its affection for a light-colored horse does not depend on the music alone, as may be seen from the following incident, which the writer witnessed last year on the Yellowstone River, and which turned a good deal of vexation into uncontrollable merriment. General Custer, with four hundred and fifty cavalrymen, had been closely following the trail of a large party of Sioux Indians who had taken to the river and crossed. The Yellowstone at this point is from four hundred and fifty to five hundred yards wide, deep and very swift. Having waded our horses out to a sand-bar in the river, the problem was how to get over the rest. Half a dozen men from time to time tried to swim it on their horses, but only one or two succeeded; the strength of the current and the width of the river obliging the others to turn back. Along with our party were two hunters, Norris and Reynolds, the former mounted on a dun pony, the latter on a saddle mule which he had borrowed especially for this trip. The two hunters were old friends, but their animals had been acquainted only fortyeight hours. A strong and unaccountable friendship had sprung up between them.
Now there is a false tradition in the army that a mule cannot swim much. In view of a possible order to swim the river with our horses (an order which General Custer had too much sense to issue), Reynolds’s chances of getting across with his mule were freely canvassed. Reynolds himself was not very confident of crossing, on a mule, a swift river which had baffled the efforts of some of the best swimming horses in the regiment. “ However, boys,” said he, “ if the old gal can only make it, I reckon I can get over, myself.” Disgusted with the futile efforts of the cavalry at crossing, Norris, the other hunter, pulled off his boots, and mounting his Indian pony rode into the river. This movement did not escape the notice of the mule. The thought of parting gave her unutterable pain. Reynolds, her master, was at the other end of the island. She was free to act for herself. The struggle between love and cowardice lasted only a moment; then with a sudden bound the devoted beast rushed into the river, hearing on her back, besides all her saddle equipments, three days’ rations of coffee, sugar, and hard tack. A loud cheer from the soldiers, and laughter which made the hills ring, greeted this new version of Ruth and Naomi. “ Hold on a minute,” said a spectator, “ wait till the old gal gets some water in her ears, and you ’ll see her turn back.” But the mule had no such intention. She struck out nobly for the little dun pony, keeping her head clear out of water. Getting into the swift channel, the hunter’s coffee and sugar soon mingled with the cold running water; the hard tack likewise, accepting a new destiny, floated down the river. Thus relieved the mule pressed on, soon overtaking her companion and swimming so near to it that Norris, fearful of getting a kick, let go of his pony, and man, horse, and mule raced for the shore together. It was a lively sight, and we had a lively interest in the result. If at any time the hunter and his pony disappeared in the rushing torrent, a floating and conspicuous pair of ears were never lost to sight. The fierce current carried the three far down the river; it was nearly half an hour before they emerged in safety on the other side. I believe that Reynolds was entirely reconciled to the loss of his rations by the feeling of pride and satisfaction which this achievement legitimately created. The cavalry not being able to cross, Reynolds, for the sake of the exercise, swam the dangerous river and brought his mule back again with Norris and the pony. I may add that the soldiers’ notion that a mule with water-logged ears gets discouraged, and will not swim, is a libel.
The average load for a pack mule is from two hundred and seventy-five to three hundred pounds. The heaviest weight which a pack master confessed he had ever imposed on a mule was eight hundred pounds, a piece of machinery which could not be divided. From fifty to one hundred mules make a good-sized train, though three or four hundred sometimes follow the same trail in close succession. Low, snug-built, chunky, short-coupled animals are the best for this work. The well-broken pack mule is proud of his burden. Should it by any means get loose, he quietly steps out of the line of procession and waits for a pack master to come and tighten it. The value of pack mules as an auxiliary to a wagon train was well shown on the Black Hills expedition. Packing our extra rations and forage on a few of these animals under charge of Mr. Wagner, our chief packer, we were enabled to make in three days a journey of a hundred miles over hills and mountains which would have embarrassed our train for two weeks.
The saddle mule in the West is also a frequent rival of the horse. For making long distances over the plains without forage he cannot be beaten unless by the Indian pony. A good saddle mule sometimes makes sixty or seventy-five miles a day without seeming to be much fatigued; and a trustworthy frontiersman assures me that he has known one to make one hundred miles between daylight and dark. But the saddle mule is not always reliable. If he takes it into his head to plant himself just where he is, he is very difficult to transplant. If he sues for a divorce, he usually contrives to get the law of gravity on his side.
The most eminent physical qualities of the mule are surefootedness, great strength, and remarkable toughness and vigor. Aristotle tells us that the age reached by the mule is greater than that of the horse or ass. “ For a mule,” he says, “has been known to live eighty years, as was the case with a mule at Athens when the temple was building. This mule, though exempt from servitude, on account of his age, yet being yoked to a car used to assist in drawing it; so that it was decreed that no one should drive him away when he approached any heap of corn.”
The mule is certainly a hard animal to kill, especially if he makes up his mind that he will not die. On the mountainside, burdened with a heavy pack, his foothold is as firm and sure as the earth on which it rests; but when the earth gives way, as it sometimes does, pack and mule go rolling over and over down the steep hill or precipice; the animal may be killed, apparently, two or three times before he gets to the bottom, but he has generally lives enough left to secure him a good old age and a natural death. I have seen a wheel mule fall and become buried under a heavily loaded wagon so completely that not a hint of the animal was visible. Yet when the wagon and load were removed, the mule got up and grazed as though nothing had happened, and seemed to be the only party there that was not surprised. I did hear of one mule in the West which died from violence. He fell into a quartz mill and was stamped to a jelly; then passed into the furnace and was roasted to a white heat, which made him perspire freely. On coming out of the furnace a foolish man declared he was dead. But it is said that when a curious skeptic pounded up some of the furnace quartz with a pestle, shortly after, the bray of the mule in the mortar was distinctly heard.
The mule is not the stupid animal he is represented to be. His powers of observation and memory are sometimes wonderful. Old teamsters say that a mule always knows a man who has fed him once. Take a train of two hundred and eighty army wagons all alike, and when it gets into camp let the train be parked, and the mules unharnessed and driven off together a mile or two away from the train. When it is time to give them their corn, if the animals are herded back to the train, with a strange instinct every mule will go right to his own wagon. I have heard old teamsters say that a good mule is a great deal more teachable than a horse, more knowing, and more affectionate. But I know of no animal whose moral education is so much neglected. He is a victim of his associates. When thoroughly corrupted there is no wickedness to which he is not equal. His hypocrisy then greatly helps him to succeed. I have seen him when he looked the perfect picture of meekness and humility; when it seemed that even Moses himself must defer to him in these crowning virtues. Yet if Moses or any other patriarch had ventured to approach him without a tribute of corn, the mule would have kicked him into the remotest antiquity. I have seen him deceive a wagon master himself, pretending that he could not go a step farther, but the moment he was released from harness, bounding off as fresh and lively as a colt.
The depraved mule rejoices in his heart if he can make some one miserable. It is a trait for which in the West they have a specific term. They call it “ pure cussedness.” When a mule devotes his whole life to illustrating this idea, he finds a thousand opportunities and achieves a remarkable success. It is this instinct which prompts him to encourage the attentions of his driver for a year or two, just for the sake of getting a good chance to kick his brains out. It is this which leads him to stand still when other people would be better pleased if he would go. It is this which often decides him when he really does start, to send his rider on ahead of him. Perhaps, too, it is this spirit that gives the mule his strange idea of justice, which seems to be to visit upon others the afflictions which he suffers himself. Thus it is said that if a bad lot of mules are in line, and you kick one of them violently, instead of retaliating on the one who kicked him he simply kicks the mule behind him. The second mule passes the kick to the third, he to the fourth, and soon till the primary vengeance has gone the whole length of the line, leaving the last mule unjustified. Perhaps it is only an illustration of the principle that misery loves company, since by this device the mule first kicked secures the sympathy of the whole line.
The mule has always been credited with a great deal of freedom of the will. This it must be that makes him dislike his rope and picket pin. If he can break the rope or pull up the pin, he finds a new opportunity. Then, not until he has defrauded some less fortunate mule out of his grass, or broken a rival’s jaw, or pulled down two or three tents with his picket pin, does he go to bed happy.
The only personal objection I have to a mule is his neglect of camp courtesies, especially his passion for pulling down tents. He has a strange instinct, when self-freed, to consider that direction most convenient for him which is most inconvenient for everybody else. On the expedition our head-quarter tents were always ranged in a line, with a space, when camp was small, only large enough for a man to pass between them. Nearly every mule that pulled up his picket pin in our vicinity, though he might have a hundred miles of free, unobstructed prairie on the other side, determined to pass between these tents, dragging his long lariat and pin after him. No matter if the pin caught in one of our guy ropes or in a corner of the tent. He forgot the things that were behind and pressed forward to those that were before, leaving us to repair damages. Sometimes two mules tied to one rope would explore together. When this was the case both mules always tried to see which could get through the tent row first.
Sometimes the wanderer takes it into his head that he can sing. So long as he keeps this idea to himself nobody can complain. But a mule who has such a conceit is sure to publish it. One who has never heard a mule solo can form no idea of the rare cacophony it involves. No musical gamut can score it; no voice can imitate it. Only a mule can describe it. It is one of the grossest outrages on the public peace ever devised. Happy for the hearer if the bray be confined to one mule; but when two or three hundred happen to meet together and some base prompter among them says, “Brethren, let us bray,” the antiphonal response, which is never refused, is perfectly overwhelming. I remember one poor mule who lost his life because he would persistently exercise this gift in an Indian country, and so betray the command to the enemy. He was shot as a traitor and a nuisance.
There is no other animal, according to popular opinion, so commonplace in his character as a mule. Yet there is no other creature which has so many native piquancies. Even his virtues are piquant, and his vices are still more so. It is sometimes difficult for the observer to distinguish one from the other, yet in the mind of the mule I have no doubt they are clearly discriminated.
Of all strange and unheard-of situations in which animals find themselves, those which the mule seeks out and occupies are the most serious and the most comical. Unharness a six-mule team, place the animals side by side and fasten their heads together, and drive them down to water; there do not live six animals of another species that can twist themselves into such strange knots. The Gordian knot was nothing in comparison. It seems impossible for them to keep their tails all the same way. Before you get back you will find that the outside mules have got into the middle, and that the heads of two or three are just where their tails should be. At the outset the relationship would be numerically described as follows: —
1 2 3 4 5 6
Returning from water the arithmetic would be
3 2 1 9 5 4
The kicking and fighting in the disturbed numeration would terminate seriously if the teamster did not with his “ black snake ” hold the balance of power, and whip the confusion into unanimity. The fact is, a mule has a keen zest for giving surprises. His capability and resource in this direction are remarkable. Perhaps Absalom was never more surprised in his life than when his mule “went under the thick boughs of a great oak, and his head caught hold of the oak, and he was taken up between the heaven and the earth; and the mule that was under him went away.” Whether this instinct for surprises shows itself in his head or in his heels, the mule never fails to make an impression. Perhaps a morbid love of notoriety affects him. At all events he is strongly ambitious. Of all his ventures and enterprises, I know of none more elevated and illustrious than one which occurred on the Yellowstone. We had camped about two o'clock in the afternoon in the river valley, and turned the mules out to graze near by. Back from the river was an almost inaccessible bluff, two hundred and fifty feet high, commanding a view of the scenery for miles around. About two hours after pitching our tents we happened to cast a glance at the top of this bluff, and there, to the astonishment of everybody, was a solitary mule on its very highest point, coolly and calmly taking a survey of the surrounding country. The peculiar exaggeration which the atmosphere in that latitude gives to objects seen against the sky made him seem about twelve feet high. There he stood in calm and lofty serenity, manifesting no emotion whatever except that of perfect self-satisfaction. How the animal got up there nobody knew. What he went for was still less evident. There was good grass on the plain; the bluff was perfectly barren. The mule had traveled twenty miles that day, and could not be lacking exercise. Two conjectures offered themselves to the superficial mind: he had gone up there on volunteer picket duty, or else to take a view of the scenery. But there was only one adequate reason: he climbed that hill because he was a mule. And so as a result of this effort to fathom and analyze the mule, we come back to the very proposition with which we started, the simple proposition of identity. The mule is a mule. What more could be said ?
But no characterization of the mule is complete without an adequate notice of the teamster. He is an intellectual and moral hybrid, almost as much of an enigma as the mule. It is hard to say which of the two, mule or teamster, exercises greater influence over the other, and it is hard to say in which direction the influence is better. General Zachary Taylor, who hated teamsters so that he could scarcely hear one in his sight, would no doubt decide in favor of the mule. As a class, teamsters are made up of that peculiar sort of drift-wood which the stream of civilization always leaves here and there along its borders. They are nearly all wanderers and adventurers. Many have served at mining, wooding, and boating, and take to teaming as a collateral pursuit. Many are farmers’ sons who have left their homes deluded by the hope of high wages in the West. When their small stock of money is gone they are glad enough to engage as teamsters for thirty dollars a month. Indeed, when a man of any calling is thoroughly “ broke ” in the Northwest, he generally repairs to teaming to mend his fortunes. The variety of professions represented in this work of redemption is sometimes very strange. On the Yellowstone expedition we had two hundred and eighty teamsters. While the majority were men who could hardly be said to have ever had any settled occupation, there were not a few who had seen nobler walks of life. Store-keepers, school-teachers, clerks, doctors, lawyers, were sprinkled here and there in the motley array. A lawyer at Bismarck, a little frontier town on the Missouri, near our startingpoint, having lost his only case the day before the departure of the expedition, despairing of his bread and butter for the rest of the summer, immediately engaged as a teamster. The son of a prominent clergyman in Washington was determined to go on this expedition. He applied for a position in the scientific department, but failing, disguised himself, went to the quartermaster’s, and signed the teamster’s contract. In the Black Hills expedition many adventurers engaged, simply to see the new country. Among them was the son of a wealthy gentleman in the West, who was determined to go and could go in no other capacity. I have never personally known the clergy to be represented, but the fact that one of the teamsters was persistently called “Parson” showed a disposition to recognize the claims of the profession. The typical teamster, however, is one who is born and bred to his business.
The teamster’s duties are simple but arduous. He drives his team on the march, and in camp sees that they are well cared for. The art of driving a six-mule team in the Eastern States is almost unknown. It is not a government of “ gees ” and “haws,” nor a sixfold complication of reins. A single line from the driver to the mouth of the guide or left lead mule, called the line mule, is the only telegraph. A series of jerks on the line turns the obedient leader to the right, a continuous pull guides him to the left. A stick called a “ jockey stick,” fastened by a chain at one end to the collar of the line mule, and at the other to the bit of his companion leader, compels the latter to second the motions of his consort. The wheel team is under the immediate control of the driver, who rides on the back of the near mule, holding his line in his left hand, his cowhide whip (his black snake) hanging with a professional grace around his neck, ready for any emergency. The plain, unornamental part of the business is easy. It is only when he gets to a bad crossing, involving perhaps a steep descent, a heavy slough at the bottom, and a high and difficult “ come-out, ” on the Other side, that the teamster has a chance to display the resources and adornments of his profession. Going down-hill the teamster never swears at his mules; descending elocution is confined to the single word “wah-oo,” uttered with a strong accent on the last syllable and in the teamster’s most persuasive voice. None but a green hand ever thinks of saying “whoa.” This is horse dialect, and mules have little respect for it. When the wagon has fairly got to the bottom and the mire has begun to swallow its wheels, then the teamster is transformed. Then it is that unshipping his whip and opening his battery of oaths he bombards his team with blows and objurgations until every ounce of their strength is put into the collar. Rising on his saddle he launches his ubiquitous whip at the off wheeler and the swing mules, pounds his saddle mule with his heels, and vents a peculiar, vivifying shriek at the distant ears of his leaders. The originality, picturesqueness, fluency, and irreverence of the teamster’s exhortation to his mules under such circumstances baffles all decent description. No one has a full appreciation of the ultimate power and genius of eloquence until he has heard a teamster discourse from his nigh wheel mule. His profanity is generally shocking, but in its spirit it is more interjectional than blasphemous. The truth is, his curses are only a vulgar patois. The mule understands it, and governs himself accordingly.
When a teamster gets stuck at a crossing, his companions give him but one bit of advice. They tell him to “grab a root.” The idea pictured, I suppose, is that of a drowning man catching at a shrub or root on the ank. Freely translated it means, Make the best of your resources. If a man’s horse ran away with him a teamster would advise him to grab a root. If a railroad train ran off the track, or a boiler explosion took place, the teamster would advise everybody to grab a root. If a man fell desperately in love or were going to be hung, he would tell him to grab a root; and if he could not do it in this world to seize the first chance in the other one.
The devotion of some teamsters to their mules is as conspicuous as the neglect of others. I knew one who cried like a child when a favorite team, which he had driven for years, was taken from him. The noisy, strenuous style of driving which belongs to the average teamster, and which the novice affects, is not without distinguished exceptions. Old “Buckskin Joe” — by the way, a generic name in the West—has driven forty-four years and has never broken a tongue or tipped over a wagon. Yet he seldom whips or curses a mule, and heartily despises the professional buncombe. “ I don’t see no use in so much beatin’ and hollerin’,” he would say; “ I don’t want none with my mules. When I tell ’em what’s wantin’, they allers pull every ounce that’s in ’em; and a man can’t ask no more.”
Old Joe is quite a character in his way. He began to team when he was ten years old, and though now fifty-four, with his beard long and gray, he is still fond of this rough life. Six feet high, erect in form, with long hair falling nearly to his shoulders and a beard like the Elijah pictured in the Sunday - school books, you might take him for one of the later Scripture patriarchs, if his modern suit of buckskin and a hat which Noah might have worn at the flood did not present a contradiction in dates. At ten years of age Joe ran away from home and found his way into the West, which he has pretty thoroughly explored, though not yet to his satisfaction. “ I hev been pretty much over the country,” said he, “ hev seen Mexico, Californy, Nevada, Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho, and I’m getting rather old now; but if I can make a riffle I want to git to Washington Territory yet.”
I first made Joe’s acquaintance on the Yellowstone trip last year, and found him again driving one of the cavalry company teams on the Black Hills expedition. I frequently relieved the monotony of the march by riding alongside of him, taking lessons in the art of mule driving, and listening to his curious monologues. What Joe does not know about mule driving is not worth knowing. His bits of personal experience, his observations on passing events, such as the sudden appearance of a jack rabbit or an antelope, and his sage remarks on mules and their character formed a strange mélange. He never became so absorbed in conversation that he forgot to speak a word in season to his mules. “ Boxer, Boxer,” he would suddenly interpolate, and the wheel mule rejoicing in that name would swing to the right just in time for the wheels to clear a dangerous hole.
“That’s the advantage,” he would continue, “ of hevin’ a good pair of wheelers, and it’s a good thing to git your mules so they ’ll know jest what yer mean when yer speak to ’em. I can allers calculate on old Boxer, and this one too ” (pointing to Maggie, his saddle mule) “ allers swings jest when I speak to her. Both of ’em allers know when to let up and when to pull; you bet they do, and half of the time I need n’t tell 'em. These are two mighty good mules. The hull team ’s a good one. There’s a lot of new drivers here that ’ud like to see me git stuck; but I an’t stuck yet. Many of them fellers have lightened up too; but I’m drawin’ jest as much as when I started. Custer’s awful hard on a march, though. A man can’t keep his mule lookin’ fat if he don’t hev nothin’ to eat. Yesterday them mules was harnessed from four o’clock in the mornin’ till nine at night; didn’t hev no chance to graze at all. Yet they expect a man to keep his mules lookin’ jest so. A few more marches like that would kill the hull lot of ’em. (Gwah, gwah.)
“ Yes, Babe is a pretty fair line mule, but not like some I’ve seen. I’ve seen line mules yer could drive jest as well with a twine string; yer wouldn’t have to pull hardly an ounce to make ’em haw. There’s a heap of difference in line mules. Yer can make some of ’em gee by jest jinglin’ the chain. It makes a big difference how yer drive ’em, too. I was drivin’ in Californy in ’65, and there was a feller there who was tryin’ to drive a line mule and could n’t make her go nohow. He got a big heavy bit for her, like them they use for the cavalry; but he could n’t make her go. She would kick and rear awfully. Well, I took her, and threw away that bit and put in one of these little mule bits just the same as this team hev, and I driv her without any trouble at all. She was a good — gwah, Maggie, gwah; a feller has to look out for his wheelers here; there’s sick lots of bad places. All a man wants to do in a bad place is to look at the end of his tongue and watch his leaders. If yer keep watch of yer tongue yer can tell within an inch where yer wheels ’ll go, and if yer watch yer leaders too you can pull out right. " (Good advice for many other situations in life.) “Yes, I’ve made a little money by teamin’, but we don’t git paid now as we used to. Last year was the fust time I ever driv for thirty dollars a month. The most I ever got was a hundred and twenty-five a month, in Mexico; I did n’t keep much of it, though. In Californy then they was payin’ a hundred and fifty a month for teamsters. Well, I got enough to buy a lot in Sioux City, and I put a little house on it. I wanted to make it all right, so I — golly! see that jack rabbit; can't them fellers go! Run, jack, run! the dog’s after yer.” (Anybody who knows a jack rabbit, or has timed a streak of lightning, will deem this advice superfluous.) “ Well, I wanted to make it all right, so I made it over to the old woman, and had the papers and everything fixed jest so. I never had any children, but I ’dopted a little gal and brought her up, and she got married. Well, the old woman got ailin’ ’bout two years ago, and she died, and she made all the property over to my ’dopted daughter, and made her husband boss of all the papers. ’Ministrator I think they call it. The house and land was worth three thousand dollars, but the feller went and sold it for thirteen hundred. I never got a cent on it.” And Joe laughed as he thought of his bad luck. Many men would have sworn.
“ Once before,” he went on, “ I got together ’bout nineteen hundred dollars. I lent it to a feller to start a ranch with, but I never seen any of it ag’in. I’ve made up my mind that it ’s no pertic’lar use to save money; and I think now that I ’ll jest keep enough to bury me, and use up the rest as I go ’long.” And Joe gave another of his philosophical laughs.
“ I hev n’t got no relations and I hev n’t got nobody to take care of, and I guess I ’ll stick to this the rest of my life. I s’pose I might hev been worth suthin now, if I hadn’t been so rovin’.
“Like my mules? Yes, I do; and I think my mules like me. There’s a heap o’ ’fection in a mule. Maggie, here, will stop eatin’ her corn any time if yer jist rub her ears; and if yer keep on rubbin’ she’ll lie right down like a kitten; she likes pettin’. I allers take good care of my team. I think how it is with myself. Sometimes I ’ve been mighty hungry and mighty thirsty and I ’d hev been mighty glad if some one had been roun’ to give me a feed. An’ I know that mules hev feelin’s just like a man. But some of those new drivers don’t care a durn whether their mules git watered or not. Maggie’s a cur’us gal ’bout that. She’s mighty pertic’lar. If you drive her inter water and it gets riled at all, she won’t drink a bit. Up there in the Black Hills we had splendid water, but she would n’t drink any for two days. She was n’t sick neither. Guess you must be suthin of a camel, eh, Mag? ’T an’t so with Boxer; he ’ll drink whenever he gits a chance. Nice mule, an’t he? He’s allers jest as steady as yer see him now. Allers keeps along jest so. Yer always know how to depend on him. Whenever there’s any pullin’ to be done he’s roun’. Gwah, Maggie, gwah! That was a bad place to break a hame strap. I don’t like those hame buckles anyhow. I think holes is better.
“ Yer see that feller drivin’ over there in that other string? Well, he ’s a pretty good driver, but he whips his mules too much. Yer see that saddle mule of his is use’ to bein’ on the off side, and he’s usin’ it now on the near side. Of course it an’t use’ to bein’ there, and it bears off to the left all the time. It’s only nat’ral it shoitld. Yer know a man gits use to hevin’ one seat at the table, and it don’t seem nat’ral to set anywhere else. I never tried Boxer as a nigh wheeler, and I should n’t want to, either. He’s a pretty high-strung mule for such a steady one. But that off swing there I would n’t ride for a hundred dollars. I don’t believe any man living could set on her back if she was n’t willin’, and I don’t think she would be. She ’s very touchy if you don't speak to her. I came up to her once and touched her without speakin’, and she jumped clean out of the harness in two minutes. One of them infantry fellers was walkin’ ’long side of her t’ other day, and I saw it fretted her and I asked him if he would n’t fall back. By and by he came up again and jest kept right 'long side. I jest got down and told him that if he did n’t git away I’d see if I wasn’t young enough to make him; so he quit. A man must take his mules’ part, yer know.
“ I use’ to take a heap of trouble to fix up my team. It was a government team, too. That one I had in ’66 was a fine one. I had some housin’s made out of buffalo and lined nice with red, yer know, and scollups cut to make ’em look smart. I bought a steel bow and some fine bells; a mule likes bells you know; they cost me eleven dollars. I paid two dollars apiece for rosettes, three dollars for some martingales, and spent six dollars just for ribbon. All the fixin’s cost forty-six dollars, all out of my own pocket. That ’s played out now. It don’t pay to dec’rate yer mules, because after these expeditions they take yer team away. S’pose I shall lose this team too. Them wagon masters are beginnin’ to bet now how much Boxer can pull when they git him again at Lincoln. Last winter he won lots o’ bets. He pulled eighteen men on a sled on the hare ground ’gainst two other mules which could only pull seventeen. I ’ll be hanged, though, if they ever git any of these mules while I hev ’em. ’T an’t right to take a mule out of the stable when he’s been workin’ all day, and then go to pullin’ him out of his skin jest to see how much he ’ll draw. Wall, I guess that’s camp ahead; do you see how them mules know it? I tell yer there’s a heap o’ human natur’ in mules. Gwah, Maggie, gwah! ”
And with a jerk or two on the line to let “ Babe ” know what was wanted, Joe and his team moved off towards the head-quarter tent.
It is surprising what skill teamsters attain in driving with a single line. Old Joe could turn his wagon round within its own length, and did not grumble that a bridge was narrow if you gave him two or three inches on each side of the wheels. The facility with which the veteran distinguishes his mules is equally surprising to a novice. Weed out the few grays and duns, and the mules in a fifteen hundred herd look very much alike. But an old teamster, when he has once driven a team, can tell them in the largest herd, if he sees them half a mile off. A novice whom I recall had less success. “ How many of your mules have you got? ” said an angry wagon master to him one morning, about half an hour after it was time to be harnessed. “ All but five,” was the doleful reply.
The teamster’s pastimes are simple, but not always innocent. Wherever there is a sutler, a large share of his time and earnings are spent at the bar. An indispensable part of his outfit is a pack of cards. His philosophy of life, his creed, his hopes and expectations for the future, are all implied in those fiftytwo elements. No expedition goes out without three or four professionals, who engage as teamsters. On the Yellowstone expedition there were several who reaped a good harvest. The most successful, nicknamed “ Governor Wise,” took home three thousand dollars as the result of four months’ work. One of his best “ hauls,” known only to a few, was made one night just after we had buried the one unfortunate teamster who was killed on the trip. The game lasted all night, and when the bugle sounded reveille, Wise had made fifteen hundred dollars. It is only professionals who can play such heavy games. The teamster’s wages do not admit of large stakes; but he will stake all he has. Let a hundred teamsters be paid off, and in three or four days nearly the whole amount of money will be in the hands of three or four men. Many an expert gambler has graduated wealthy from a mule’s back. At Fort Bridger an accomplished teamster made sixteen thousand dollars from his comrades in three months. There is a man in Leavenworth to-day worth fifty thousand dollars, who made it in the same way. But reverses are equally noticeable. A man at " Dobetown,” Utah, owned property worth one hundred and seventy-five thousand dollars in gold. He lost it all in a single game of poker, and to keep from starving was obliged to take a black snake and drive a team side by side with the man who told me the story. “ But,” said old Martin, “ it cured him of gambling.”
S. J. Barrows.