Horses and Business


THERE are no banks in Mongolia; horses are the currency of the country. For instance, if I ask a man what an article is worth, — a handsome snuff bottle, a jeweled headdress, an amberstemmed pipe, or a coral-studded flint case, — he answers ‘one horse’ or ‘five horses’ or ‘five hundred horses,’ according to the preciousness of the thing. When a Mongol, as sometimes happens in trade with Russians or Chinese or other foreigners, does receive money he immediately invests it in his horse herd by purchasing as many animals as it will buy.

Under the surface of Mongolia lie rich deposits of gold and silver. For centuries the Mongols have known that the metal is there; it is pretty, and they have always taken what they desired for personal adornment or the adornment of their bridles and saddles. But they value it so lightly that it has never occurred to them to use it as currency. The horse has remained from the earliest recorded time the measure of wealth, and is placed first in their scale of material and æsthetic importance.

The horse is for both utility and pleasure. Horse races are the most important feature of every gathering. Constant association with horses has not dulled the Mongols’ pleasure in the beauty of a galloping herd racing across the green plain with floating manes and tails. Men, women, and children draw rein to watch colts frolic. A splendidly built horse is a poem to a Mongol.

Old folk tell with bright eyes tales of the strength, speed, endurance, and intelligence of horses they have known. From generation to generation the stories of famous horses are passed down; they are the folklore of a people who have no literature. Every Mongol child is lulled to sleep with the legend of Bosafabo, a red chestnut stallion with a white star on his face who lived in Don ran cave in ancient times. Commoners, nobles, and even the Great Khan brought mares to him in the hope that he would sire their foals.

Bosafabo was intelligent, whimsical, fleet, and all-powerful. He was too wise to be controlled or bribed by men. Sometimes he drove the mare of a prince away and looked with favor on the mare of a commoner. He fathered a famous line of progenitors — horses brave and clever. Any wonderful horse to-day is spoken of as descended from Bosafabo.

The Mongols hold the horse in too high regard to use him lightly. They do not eat horseflesh; nor do they put heavy burdens on a horse, although the camel, the ox, and even the milch cow in necessity, draw their heavy carts and carry their packs. The horse is not tied up in a stall or confined in any way when not in use for riding; he roams free over the rolling prairie.

The Mongols are kind and loving to their animals — especially to their horses, who consequently have no fear of human beings. It was the horse that made it possible for the Mongols, in the time of Genghis Khan, to conquer half the known world. Until the age of mechanical vehicles the Mongol, who is from babyhood at home in the saddle, possessed the power to move most easily and quickly over the surface of the earth.

Mongolia is a rolling, undulating land, unbroken by the plough, uncut by fences or roads or railways, without towns or villages. It is an ideal count ry for motoring, and a land where there is no need to build roads — a motor car can be run in any direction over the turf. But, while the Mongol is charmed by the aeroplane flying across the sky like a bird, he who has cherished the horse for centuries does not favor the motor car.

I usually travel through Mongolia in the saddle. But last summer I had occasion to go to an eastern state quickly, so I went out from my Kalgan home in my seven-passenger car. I soon came into territory where the people had never seen an automobile; but they were not impressed by my horseless carriage. When I stopped at an encampment to ask the way, the family who directed me told me that my long shining car was an ugly thing compared with the natural grace of a horse. They said it smelled bad, and warned me against using it lest I should get nose trouble from breathing air polluted by it. They wondered at my possessing it, as it was neither beautiful nor sensible, but supposed that Chinese bandits had stolen all my horses, so that I had none to ride when I left Kalgan.

One woman told me that if I rode around on a soft-cushioned seat I should get fat and unhealthy; when the winter came I should be in poor shape, and might die. She advised me to abandon the car and borrow a good horse, and even offered to lend me one, but stipulated that I must not leave the foul-smelling car near her tent.

Through the centuries stallions and mares have come into Mongolia from the far corners of the earth. Early records tell of a vast camel-caravan trade with the Middle East which tapped the horse-breeding areas of Turkestan. Chinese historians comment on a system of barter with the peoples of Persia and Arabia by which they received horses that were in turn bartered with the Mongols of the plateau, ‘who value the horse first among all things,’ for furs, wool, cattle, and sheep.

The armies of Genghis Khan scoured the country from the Yellow Sea to the Levant, penetrating even to Moscow, selecting the best horses for military purposes from the country they passed through. They chose horses with the idea of increasing the speed, the weight-carrying ability, and the power of endurance upon meagre sustenance, of their own breed.


I have felt that I could improve upon the Mongol’s method by selective breeding, and since 1904 have brought into my herds various foreign stallions. My experience is that the first colts from the English and Australian stallions are leggy and lacking in hardiness. The Arabs are a trifle more successful. Most of the colts sired by these foreign stallions do not survive the first winter. The third generation are short, stocky, and sturdy — not radically different from the other colts of my herds.

Climatic conditions tend to thin out the herd on the Mongolian plain and leave only the horse possessed of unusual endurance. The strong characteristics of the imported strain persist; all characteristics that tend to weaken the physical strength of a horse are washed out by the fourth generation. The horse on the Mongolian plain lives by his wits; horses who have depended through generations on the intelligence of man are unable to cope adequately with wolves, blizzards, and the situation in which a horse must seek his own food. Stable feeding and watering of a breed weaken individual initiative in its descendants.

I think that the Arab is the most successful in combination with the Mongol horse, but a pure Arab — the offspring of an Arab mare and an Arab stallion — is not a success in Mongolia. Imported horses do not survive many seasons in Mongolia — excepting the Siberian horse, which comes from an even rougher climate.

If one examines any Mongol horse closely it is possible to find in it marks of the many different strains that have gone to make up its character. In particular, the muzzle is indicative of the Persian, and the hoof of the Turkestan. The Persian strain persists, I think, because the Persian is bred where he too has often to go for a long time without food. The English thoroughbred does not perpetuate his quality on the Mongolian plain because the kind of life the European horse has lived for generations does not prepare his offspring for the hardships of the plateau.

The middle of Mongolia, comprising that stretch which is known as the Gobi Desert, has for the greater part of the year such a scarcity of food that only those animals that are very hardy survive. The horses in this part of the country attain their full growth very slowly. They usually measure under thirteen hands, but I have taken out of this district horses of six or seven years and fed them well and found that in a year or two they grew a couple of inches in height.

The sand in the grass which these animals have to eat wears down their teeth, so that a foreigner looking into the mouth of one of them to discover the age is certain to put it two or three years in advance of what it really is. I have found that their teeth also grow better if the animals are taken out of this district and put into a good place, even after they have reached an age when an ordinary horse would have done with tooth growth.

When I look at the barrenness of this area I sometimes marvel that any animal can possibly manage to live here. The cold is not so severe as farther north, and there is seldom much snow to cover up what grass grows, but the rainfall is light and the soil looks like a sandy beach in many places. When rain does fall the desert grows green while one watches it.

The horses from this district are extremely game little animals and make excellent mounts if one has to go on a long, hard trip. Their weight-carrying ability, speed, and endurance are astonishing in comparison with their size. This area has given the China race courses more than one surprise in past years, and horses drawn from here were very useful to the Mongols in their last war with China, when by swift riding they trapped their invading foes.

Eastern Mongolia — that is, the part of Mongolia east of the Gobi — is famous as the breeding place for pacing horses. The Mongols like fancy pacing animals to ride, and they are much sought after by women, lamas, and folk who want to make a good appearance, at festivals, weddings, and similar gatherings. Wealthy Mongols pay enormous prices for pacers.

Part of this territory is covered by deep sand, through which only sparse, coarse grass can grow, but other parts have rich velvet green turf and are well supplied with water. The district is noted for the speed of the horses bred there, and, although a small state, has an excellent record as a place from which good race horses come. Its prince, and all his commoners as well, are very keen on producing the best possible animals, and are proud of every success won in competition against horses from other states.

The Mongol’s idea in a race is to test speed and endurance over a longer course than the Westerners ride. The shortest Mongolian race I ever saw was three English miles; the usual races are from ten to fifteen miles. The Mongol does not believe in a prepared race course, and races are run across country, under conditions identical with those which the horse will encounter if it is necessary for him to travel such a distance in an emergency.

In long races like these it is not always the horse of largest build that wins; in fact, more often than not it is the small, sturdy animal that comes galloping in first. News travels fast in Mongolia, and any horse that makes a record in a race is immediately sought after by many Mongols from different parts of the country. The owner and breeder of a winning animal is looked upon with admiration.

All over Mongolia horses are treated in the same manner. They are run always in herds numbering from two to five hundred — of sufficient size to fight off the wolves that are an everpresent menace. No grain is raised in Mongolia and horses are never grain-fed; they subsist on grass entirely, foraging for their own food. When one rides a Mongol horse it must be turned out to graze at night to keep it fit. In winter the horses will dig down under the snow for their food. If the winter is long and hard, all the weak members of a herd die before the spring. Under these conditions the Mongol horse is bred for endurance and can go for a long period of time without food; on the other hand, his stomach is not upset by heavy feeding in those times when there is an abundance to eat.


The Mongols do not believe in forced mating for their horses. They consider it an outrage against nature for a herd owner to select animals and breed them together. The young stallion begins to collect his mares at the age of five years, and as only a few mares mate before that age his family is made up of wives of nearly the same age as himself. He makes his selection from the colts in the herds, generally to the number of fifteen or twenty. These he will keep together as his own band regardless of the size of the actual herd; so that a horse herd is made up of a large number of smaller herds. These bands scatter for grazing, but come together immediately on the approach of danger, when they are commanded and regulated by the old stallions. There is usually one sagacious old fellow who takes charge in time of trouble. In country where there is no open water they all bunch together twice daily to go down to the well where they are watered by the herdsmen.

Even in a stampede a stallion does not forget his family; if any of his mares or foals fall behind in the mad rush, the stallion circles around behind and shepherds them into the herd. Or he will trot at the rear to guard against wolves.

A Mongol stallion’s solicitude for one of his mares at foaling time is great. He clears a circle round her and walks about keeping any of the other horses from coming near. When the colt is born he fondles it affectionately, seems to have intense pride in its attempts to stand on its wobbly legs, and will defend it with his life an instant after birth.

During the season when the young stallions are collecting their mares there are continual fights between these youngsters. Sometimes a quarrel over a particular young mare colt will last for days, during which the herd is kept in a turmoil by snapping, kicking young animals. A young stallion seldom attempts to steal a mare from the family of an older one; but in case he does, the older horse, clever in the ways of waging war, soon sends him about his business.

Some mares seem to be born coquettes and make constant trouble in their herds. They appear to cajole stallions into stealing them, and then, when the fight is on, run back to their own group.

Mares in Mongolia are milked, since mare’s milk is one of the principal foods. All young colts are broken to the halter during the milking season. Thus they are early used to man, and are generally easy to break to the saddle when the time comes. All colts are saddled in their second year, but are not ridden hard. It is the habit of the Mongol herdsmen to cut the tails of colts that have been broken, leaving one long strand that marks them as two-year-olds.

There are always more male colts born than it would be wise to keep for breeding, as they would kill each other in fights over the growing mares. The male colt that is not to be kept for breeding is castrated in his third year. The geldings in a herd usually stick together in bands of fifteen or twenty, but some geldings attach themselves to a stallion and his family.

The manes and tails of horses on the plateau grow very luxuriantly. Those of mares and geldings are sheared, and the coarse hair is used for making rope. The Mongols believe that it hurts the pride of a stallion to cut his tail or mane, so they allow them to grow naturally; often the tail drags on the ground, while the mane hangs to the front knees and bright eyes peer out through a thick, shaggy forelock.

The Mongol horse seldom lies down to sleep at night. He is on guard against wolves until daylight, when he takes what sleep he needs. Young colts often lie down to rest among the herd, but they are never stepped on, even in the rush to the watering trough. Very young foals scamper back and forth between the legs of the grown horses, romping like kittens as they try their growing strength, and even the worsttempered grown animal does not kick at them.

As soon as there is any sign of the horses’ common enemy, the wolf, the whole herd rush together, the colts on the inside, the mares in a ring around them with their hind legs out so that they can kick if attacked, and the stallions and the geldings ranging free on the outside. In the clear Mongolian air I have heard the snapping of teeth a mile away when a fight has been on.

The stallions and the geldings do not hesitate to attack a wolf, and give chase the instant one draws near, but wise old stallions do not allow themselves to be lured away from the mares and foals. A favorite wolf trick is for one or even more of their pack to attract the attention of a herd and try to get the strong animals to gallop after them. This leaves the weak unprotected, and other wolves leap in and make a kill. Then later all join in a nice feast. Herds with old staliions lose fewest of their young to the wolves.


New Year’s Day is the great holiday of Mongolia, and on that day there is a unique horse race which has no beginning and no end, yet on which the reputations of horse breeders are made or lost.

On New Year’s morning all the people in Mongolia dress in the brightest colors and the best clothes they possess. Even the poorest, tiniest child will have some gay ribbon tucked into his attire. People rise before the sun and hasten to salute each other with the usual snuff-bottle salutation, followed by the presentation of a silk scarf on outstretched hands to every friend and relative in the encampment. Then, after some tea and mutton, the real fun of the day begins.

Mongol encampments arc scattered here and there over the country. There is such distance between them that it takes a day’s hard riding for a Mongol man or woman to pay the calls to relatives and friends which are required by custom. The fastest and strongest horses are saved up for this occasion, and gayly dressed people gallop in every direction over the prairie.

This is a very special occasion for the herdsman, because on this day, according to common law, the freedom of the herds is his. No owner can make objection if one or more of his very best animals are killed on this day. For months previously the herdsmen have boasted to rivals that they will show them the dust in this race.

The racers do not meet at any particular place; each person starts out from his or her own home. Horses are raced until set of sun or until rider and beast are tired out. The gallop is from tent to tent, and the rule is that every rider must stop at every yurta he comes to long enough to give the New Year greetings, wish the occupants of the tent prosperity in their herds and flocks, and accept food and drink, prepared and ready in abundance on this day. Then, when a decent visit has been paid, the rider is free to mount again and tear away as fast as he can to the next yurta.

The horse that stands this strain the best is proclaimed throughout the countryside as a very good horse, and is a source of pride and satisfaction to both owner and herdsman. A herdsman riding a black horse from one of my herds was credited with first place in the New Year race in his state last year. Immediately I had many offers for this horse. Even in far-away states I was congratulated by commoners and nobles, who had heard of my horse’s prowess in the surprising way that news travels in Mongolia.

The horses on the Mongolian plain are possessed of surprising speed, and their owners ride them at a gallop and cover distances in quick time. They know how to take care of their horses, however, and it is very seldom that one of them comes to harm. As soon as a horse shows fatigue he is allowed to go free in the herd, where he can set his own pace and yet have the constant exercise that hardens his muscles.

I have a friend in China who is keenly interested in racing horses in one of the port cities. He came up to Mongolia one time and was so amazed at the speed of the Mongol horse that he set busily to work timing the fastest horses he saw with his racing stop watch. He bought many horses on these speed records, despite my advice. He felt confident that he had come upon a miracle: the horses he had selected would win every event in every port city; their recorded gallops were faster than the records on any race course, and he knew China race courses well.

He stabled and fed his animals. Their coats took on a new glossy sheen. They even seemed to grow in size a little. Their teeth improved. But in the race tryouts their galloping speed was found to have dropped down to a level which made them no better and no worse than the average horse in China.

Another friend of mine, an Australian, pleased with the condition of his horses after six months of stable care and excellent grain-feeding, assured me that they were faster than any horses running uncared for in the Mongolian herds. He brought his horses up to the plateau again, with grooms to look after them, grain-feeding them all the way, attending carefully to their exercise, and making certain that they had plenty of water to drink. They looked fine. They were sleekly groomed, and well fed in comparison with the shaggy horses on the plateau that had all their lives subsisted entirely on grass in a climate where grass is scarce more than six months of the year.

He generously offered big prizes for any Mongol horses that could beat his in races, and courses were mapped out over which the races were to be run. The news spread far and wide, and horses began to come in from this state and that, straggling in every day until the date set for the competitive racing.

The Mongol owners admired the Australian’s horses; they commented enviously upon the conditions of his life which made it possible for him to take such good care of them. Many remembered the animals, as I had bought them for him from the Mongolian herds. ‘They are beautiful, but can they run?’ more than one man and woman asked.

The hour of the race came. Just as it was to start, still another Mongol came loping in over the hills. ‘Wait!’ the racers cried. ‘This is a good horse coming. He should have a try with the rest of us.’

‘He looks tired,’ my Australian friend said.

‘A little,’ was the answer. ‘He has been taking part in the annual races held by the Prince of Durbit. He has done well. He won first place in the gelding race over a ten-mile course two days ago.’

‘What has he been doing since?'

The Mongols looked surprised, and someone answered: ‘He has been on the way here; it is a good many miles, and his rider has brought him as fast as he could. The news of your prize money traveled far. Never before in Mongolia have we been paid for winning races. It is wonderful. Heretofore our only recompense has been the sport and the prestige one got for winning.’

The new arrival looked dusty, bedraggled, and tired; his head drooped and his tail hung listlessly. The horses were drawn up in a line, and experienced jockeys who had come from China for the race rode the Australian’s entrants. I gave the signal. I expected to see the horses that had had every care imaginable during the past six months win easily, but they were left behind in the first few furlongs by the horses that had never had veterinary attention, muscle-building grain, careful exercise, or shelter from cruel blizzards. Even the tired, dusty horse that had won a ten-mile race on one day and journeyed for two more to reach the place of this race stretched out, leaving the visitors enveloped in a cloud of dust. The horses that had covered themselves with glory on the China race course were defeated easily.

The horses that ran so far ahead of the visitors were no better than those that were left behind. Many of them were not so good. A year earlier, before they had had such care, these losing horses had won races in Mongolia, defeating the very horse that won first place on this occasion. When Mongol horses are stabled the magic swiftness seems to drop from their legs.

Absolute freedom to run in the herd makes for real speed and entirely overbalances the advantages of civilization. My friend David Fraser, China correspondent for the London Times, has had most marvelous success in racing — not because the horses I have selected for him from Mongolia are peculiarly swift, but because he understands the needs of the horse that has been used to freedom. He keeps his horses’ hoofs cut down to the size which was natural when they came from the plateau. Shoeing makes the hoof grow unnaturally high, and this throws the horse’s weight on leg muscles other than those he has been accustomed to use. He hacks his horses innumerable miles across country every day, trotting and cantering from Chinese village to Chinese village. Then when the racing season comes his horses are hard and still have in their limbs a goodly measure of that speed which was theirs on the Mongolian plain.


Business in Mongolia is peculiar to the land and to the temperament of the people. The Mongols are not a race of traders and cannot be dealt with in the same manner as people who enter naturally and eagerly into trade. Big business can be done successfully in Mongolia, but the trader must be possessed of the tact of the diplomat and must be of a character which makes him akin to the people of the plateau and able to understand conditions there. The Mongol does not seek commercial dealings, but he is quite interested and ready to do business if approached in the right way. A thorough knowledge of the language and a wide Mongolian friendship are the first requisites of success.

During the thirty-five years that I have been in Mongolia many foreign firms have expended millions in an attempt to start business, but have lost their money and closed down.

The Russians and the Chinese have been the most successful. The early Russian tea traders did extremely well, and built up great fortunes. For many hundreds of years the caravan route through Mongolia was the only tea route overland to Europe, and the Mongol camel puller was the only man capable of transporting freight successfully across the Gobi. Thousands and thousands of camels went from Kalgan or Urga loaded with tea for reshipment by cart to Siberia. Camels and oxen from all over Mongolia were engaged in this trade, which was a thriving business when I first came to live in the country.

The Russian tea traders dealt carefully with the Mongol nobles across whose states they desired to travel. They made gifts to the princes — not exceedingly valuable gifts, but presents chosen with careful attention to what a Mongol prince would like from the Western world. And they treated the people who freighted for them thoughtfully and generously. In Kalgan, in Urga, and in all the trade stations along the way, big kitchens were provided as well as warm sleeping quarters for the men when they came in. At these trade stations the Mongols were the guests of the Russians. They could stay as long as they liked, and were served with all the food and drink they could consume.

The Mongols, accustomed to welcoming into their own yurtas any traveler needing food or rest, appreciated this courtesy and did not presume upon it. They conducted themselves in the trade stations exactly as they would have done in any Mongol encampment through which they passed when traveling.

This courtesy on the part of the Russians, together with fair pay for the conveyance of freight, created a good feeling. The Mongols were very willing. and did their work well. They looked upon the Russian tea agents as real friends, and brought them many valuable presents. A genial, friendly atmosphere characterized the trade up to the time when the Manchurian TransSiberian railway brought it to an end by opening a quicker and more economical tea route.

The Russian tea traders were fine types of men. The trade was a business centuries old, in which fathers passed their experience down to their sons. There was garnered much wisdom through the years. The Mongols trusted the young man who came out, because they had known his father and grandfather; and the young man knew how to deal with the Mongols, because his father also knew their fathers.

The Mongol likes tea, and he appreciated the necessity for the Russian to import tea from China, since it did not grow in Russia. The job of conveying it across the Gobi was a courtesy which any friendly people might undertake for another. The packing of camels and oxen and the management of a caravan across the plateau were work similar to what the Mongol had done all his life.

Not all Russian businesses have succeeded so well. The Russian Asiatic Bank sent out men and opened offices in many places in North Mongolia about twenty years ago. It was unable to do business and had to close down. The Mongols were not interested in banks and did not consider them a necessity. They had put their money into horses for ages past, and had done very well. They had no desire to keep fewer horses and possess instead a paper book which said they each had so much wealth. Possession to the Mongol is a material, tangible thing. He holds a position in his community in proportion to the size of his horse herd, and has a feeling of satisfaction in the possession of living animals. The Mongols looked with distrust on this attempt to bring a new set of values into their lives. The bankers were self-invited guests; the Mongols ignored them.

About this same time the Moscow Export Company sent an expedition into North Mongolia to discover the trade needs of the people. They found the Mongols’ lives bare of almost every article of European necessity, so they sent out scores of salesmen with tons of goods. Eventually the salesmen and their goods went home again.

Russian and French prospectors visited North Mongolia and found rich deposits of gold, and on the strength of their reports the Mongol Ore Mining Company, with a capital of three million gold rubles, was founded. Baron Von Grote got the concession from the Empress Dowager of China by making her a small present of perhaps fifty thousand gold rubles in value. I worked with this concern from 1900 to 1902.

Machinery, such as has been successfully used in other parts of the world for gold mining, was sent from Europe at heavy expense. We expected to dredge sand, but when we delved a little below the surface we found we had to tackle stone and boulders, so more machinery had to come out from Europe at more expense. The workers were not skilled in the use of these machines, and we had to abandon them and resort to digging the gold out of the earth with pick and shovel and cleaning it by hand.

There was plenty of gold in the locality. The Mongols looked on interestedly at the work, but did not cooperate in it. Digging great quantities of gold out of the earth did not appeal to them as a profitable way in which to spend their days.


Russian fur-trading concerns carried on by men of the character of the Russian tea traders did a good business up to the time of the Russian Revolution. Mongolia is a sparsely populated land with a cold climate, and fur-bearing animals thrive here in much greater numbers than the Mongols have need of. If properly approached, the people are quite willing to enter upon an export trade in furs.

The tarbagan, or marmot, a little animal which lives in a hole in the ground and multiplies very rapidly, is abundant in North Mongolia, Northeastern Mongolia, and Northwestern Mongolia, and is not difficult to catch. The Mongol hunter camps out in the plateau in a little tent. The marmot is a very inquisitive animal, and as soon as he sees or hears anything strange he sits up on his hind legs and peers around. The Mongol hunter, knowing this, carries a banner of red cloth, which he waves in the air while he crawls close enough to kill his prey.

Mongols also use dogs to catch marmots, and a well-trained dog will bring home many of them every day. The dog watches until the marmot leaves his home; then he takes up a position that blocks his victim’s avenue of return. When the marmot is caught in this way, with the dog between him and his home, he rises up on his hind legs to fight the dog, who kills him with one snap of the teeth on his backbone, just below the head.

The Mongol hunter and his dog make an even division of the spoils, the flesh going to the dog and the fur to the hunter, who rough-cures the skin. The Mongol does not value the fur very highly, but there is a large demand for it in foreign markets. Its value has increased a hundred per cent since I first came to Mongolia. Millions of skins are exported annually, and yet the supply seems undiminished.

Wolves are plentiful in Mongolia, and the Mongol wages continual war against them. They feed well on animals from the domestic herds, on young antelopes, on hares, and even on rats and mice. They have a thick, healthy coat.

Mongols make use of wolfskins. but do not value them so very highly — perhaps because they have such an intense dislike of the wolf. The pelts are very good, and much in demand for export trade. They have multiplied many times in value since I came to Mongolia. The wolf is lassoed, trapped, poisoned, shot with bow and arrow or the gun — in fact, killed in every possible way the Mongols can think of. The winter pelt only is of value.

The Mongols have a superstition that if they kill a litter of young by digging them out or smoking them to death the mother and father wolf will track to his yurta the man who has done this unsporting deed and there kill one or more of his children in revenge.

The pre-Rc volution Russian fur traders went out of business with the Revolution, so they are no longer in the market. Many other European and American firms have sent scouts all over Mongolia and, observing the abundance of furs, plunged into the trade. One after another, throughout my thirty-five years, they have failed and have had to close down because of their lack of understanding of the disposition of the Mongol, their inability to use the language, and their ignorance concerning climate and political conditions.

Numerous concerns, both large and small, have made attempts to do business in Mongolia. Two with the largest capital investment were the English concerns, Kaufman and Company and the International Export Company. The former invested heavily in North Mongolia a few years ago, but got very little in return except trouble, and closed down with a debit balance. The International Export Company, who do very well in China preparing meat and eggs and other products in their factories for Western consumption, made preparations to deal in sheep in Southern Mongolia, but they too had to close down after a few years.

In barter and trade with the Mongols, the Chinese have been the most successful of any race so far. The Chinese merchant has infinite patience. The managers of big wholesale houses send traders out into Mongolia with a pack of goods and a blue cloth tent, and wait a year or two for return on goods. The Chinese merchant puts up his tent near the encampment of a Mongol family, below a lamasery, or not far from the yamen of a prince. He makes himself known in a courteous way to the people near whom he camps, and does not push his goods upon them, but diplomatically lets them see that he has things which they might find useful. He is a peddler carrying bright silk and cotton goods, embroidery thread, beads, food basins, long Mongolian pipes fashioned with an artistic stem to tempt the purchaser, tobacco pouches filled with a tobacco which he recommends as soothing after a hard day in the saddle, millet, and flour. He studies the character of the Mongol and brings only such goods as he is fairly certain he can create a market for.

The Chinese merchant knows that the Mongol does not have money, and he is quite content to take animals and their by-products in payment for his goods. Animals are plentiful, and so he gets a goodly number for a small article. The Mongol does not quibble over the price of any article he desires; Mongol men and women do not bargain. There is good profit in the business for the patient Chinese merchant, and if he makes himself well liked he finds a welcome in every encampment. News of a man’s character spreads rapidly in Mongolia, and little things make or break success in business here. The t rader gathers his produce at intervals and sends it down by camel caravan or in driven herds to his head office in China.

In North Mongolia now the Soviet Government of Russia have entered into coöperative business with the young Mongols. It is still too early to predict how they will succeed. They have established a wool trust, a transport company, and a system of traveling merchants similar to that of the Chinese. Coöperation with the Mongols has in it a germ of success.


Communication and transportation are important factors in trade. Sometime before 1900, a Danish engineer named Sheirn surveyed the shortest route from Kalgan to Kiakhta via Urga and built a telegraph line which connects China with Europe. By this line one can send messages across Mongolia; but the Mongols have not encouraged the building of branch lines.

This telegraph line is an everlasting wonder to the Mongol people. They fail to understand the importance of it, and argue that there is little need to send messages so quickly. It has been difficult to teach them to leave the telegraph poles alone. Often in the past the Mongols have used the poles and the wires for things which seemed to them more important than telegraphy. The wire they find especially good to tie around water troughs and fasten things generally, and the poles extremely handy to split up and light fires with. Except for the telegraph line there is no way to send messages in Mongolia but by couriers riding horse or camel.

Nowadays, therefore, the man in foreign business may receive by cable or telegram in a few hours’ time an order from his home office for so many hundred pounds of camel wool; but he must take into consideration the fact that it will take days or weeks, or perhaps months, for the order to go out to the Mongols to bring in the camel wool. Then, after the order has been received on the Mongolian plain, there is the matter of transporting the goods to be taken into consideration.

In the late 1890’s, Herbert Hoover, now the President of the United States, then a young engineer, came up to look over the country and investigate the possibilities of railway construction. He stayed for two or three weeks and made a survey for the railway connecting the Mongolian border with the Chinese capital. The Chinese Government did not give Mr. Hoover’s company this concession, but used the data which he collected and built a road themselves.

Since its construction this line has always been badly managed, because of the political turmoil in China. Yet it has paid well. The passenger cars are always crowded when the trains leave Kalgan. There is always a terrific scramble for places, and a goodly number of passengers who do not secure even standing room and have to wait for the next train. The condition concerning freight is the same; the amount of produce held at the station for transportation is always two or three times greater than the capacity of the freight cars.

There are no railways at all on the Mongolian plateau. The ox and the camel are the transportation stand-bys, as they have been for centuries. Camel caravans are made up of groups of ten or eleven camels tied together with loose strings and led by a camel puller. Altogether there may be a thousand or more camels in a caravan.

Caravans cannot be hurried, for the Mongol takes his own time. Centuries of experience have taught him how much a camel can successfully do, and he will not push his animals beyond their endurance. Camel caravans can penetrate to every nook and comer of Mongolia, bringing out valuable products for export. The Mongol camel puller will guide his caravan straight across the plain to any desired destination and there pack his loads and take good care of them, but often he will be a year, or two or three years, bringing in the goods.

I once had a caravan which came in with all my merchandise for export four years after I had expected it. Wool, furs, and so forth, were all in good order, and an inventory tallied exactly with my bookkeeper’s lists. It is impossible to do business in Mongolia and get a quick return on one’s capital.