The Mule – Part 1
from issue: 39-1
by Harvey Riley, Superintendent of the Government Corral, WA DC.
A Treatise On The Breeding, Training, And Uses To Which He May Be Put.
For those in the know, Harvey Riley’s treatise on the Mule (which came out immediately following the civil war) is a classic and valued to me. With slight edits to attempt to mollify the political-correctness police, we hope to offer the text pretty much in its entirety. Though written 150 years ago, this text is remarkably accessible and useful today. We are keen to read, in detail, your opinions on this article and mules in general. LRM
Editor’s Note: It is perhaps interesting to note that, at the time of this writing mules had a working history in North America of just 80 to 90 years. LRM
There is no more useful or willing animal than the Mule. And perhaps there is no other animal so much abused, or so little cared for. Popular opinion of his nature has not been favorable; and he has had to plod and work through life against the prejudices of the ignorant. Still, he has been the great friend of man, in war and in peace serving him well and faithfully. If he could tell man what he most needed it would be kind treatment. We all know how much can be done to improve the condition and advance the comfort of this animal; and he is a true friend of humanity who does what he can for his benefit. My object in writing this book was to do what I could toward working out a much needed reform in the breeding, care, and treatment of these animals. Let me ask that what I have said in regard to the value of kind treatment be carefully read and followed. I have had thirty years’ experience in the use of this animal, and during that time have made his nature a study. The result of that study is that humanity as well as economy will be best served by kindness.
It has indeed seemed to me that the Government might make a great saving every year by employing only such teamsters and wagon-masters as had been thoroughly instructed in the treatment and management of animals, and were in every way qualified to perform their duties properly. Indeed, it would seem only reasonable not to trust a man with a valuable team of animals, or perhaps a train, until he had been thoroughly instructed in their use, and had received a certificate of capacity from the Quartermaster’s Department. If this were done, it would go far to establish a system that would check that great destruction of animal life which costs the Government so heavy a sum every year.
NOTE. I have, in another part of this work, spoken of the mule as being free from splint. Perhaps I should have said that I had never seen one that had it; notwithstanding the number I have had to do with. There are, I know, persons who assert that they have seen mules that had it. I ought to mention here, also, by way of correction, that there is another ailment the mule does not have in common with the horse, and that is quarter-crack. The same cause that keeps them from having quarter-crack preserves them from splint – the want of front action.
A great many persons insist that a mule has no marrow in the bones of his legs. This is a very singular error. The bone of the mule’s leg has a cavity, and is as well filled with marrow as the horse’s. It also varies in just the same proportion as in the horse’s leg. The feet of some mules, however, will crack and split, but in most cases it is the result of bad shoeing. It at times occurs from a lack of moisture to the foot; and is seen among mules used in cities, where there are no facilities for driving them into running water every day, to soften the feet and keep them moist.
CHAPTER I – How Mules Should Be Treated In Breaking
I have long had it in contemplation to write something concerning the mule, in the hope that it might be of benefit to those who had to deal with him, as well in as out of the army, and make them better acquainted with his habits and usefulness. The patient, plodding mule is indeed an animal that has served us well in the army, and done a great amount of good for humanity during the late war. He was in truth a necessity to the army and the Government, and performed a most important part in supplying our army in the field. That he will perform an equally important part in the future movements of our army is equally clear, and should not be lost sight of by the Government. It has seemed to me somewhat strange, then, that so little should have been written concerning him, and so little pains taken to improve his quality. I have noticed in the army that those who had most to do with him were the least acquainted with his habits, and took the least pains to study his disposition, or to ascertain by proper means how he could be made the most useful. The government might have saved hundreds of thousands of dollars, if, when the war began, there had been a proper understanding of this animal among its employees.
Probably no animal has been the subject of more cruel and brutal treatment than the mule, and it is safe to say that no animal ever performed his part better, not even the horse. In breaking the mule, most persons are apt to get out of patience with him. I have got out of patience with him myself. But patience is the great essential in breaking, and in the use of it you will find that you get along much better. The mule is an unnatural animal, and hence more timid of man than the horse; and yet he is tractable, and capable of being taught to understand what you want him to do. And when he understands what you want, and has gained your confidence, you will, if you treat him kindly, have little trouble in making him perform his duty.
In commencing to break the mule, take hold of him gently, and talk to him kindly. Don’t spring at him, as if he were a tiger you were in dread of. Don’t yell at him; don’t jerk him; don’t strike him with a club, as is too often done; don’t get excited at his jumping and kicking. Approach and handle him the same as you would an animal already broken, and through kindness you will, in less than a week, have your mule more tractable, better broken, and kinder than you would in a month, had you used the whip. Mules, with very few exceptions, are born kickers. Breed them as you will, the moment they are able to stand up, and you put your hand on them, they will kick. It is, indeed, their natural means of defence, and they resort to it through the force of instinct. In commencing to break them, then, kicking is the first thing to guard against and overcome. The young mule kicks because he is afraid of a man. He has seen those intrusted with their care beat and abuse the older ones, and he very naturally fears the same treatment as soon as a man approaches him. Most persons intrusted with the care of these young and green mules have not had experience enough with them to know that this defect of kicking is soonest remedied by kind treatment. Careful study of the animal’s nature and long experience with the animal have taught me that, in breaking the mule, whipping and harsh treatment almost invariably make him a worse kicker. They certainly make him more timid and afraid of you. And just as long as you fight a young mule and keep him afraid of you, just so long will you be in danger of his kicking you. You must convince him through kindness that you are not going to hurt or punish him. And the sooner you do this, the sooner you are out of danger from his feet.
It may at times become necessary to correct the mule before he is subdued; but before doing so he should be well bridle or halter-broken, and also used to harness. He should also be made to know what you are whipping him for. In harnessing up a mule that will kick or strike with the forefeet, get a rope, or, as we term it in the army, a lariat. Throw, or put the noose of this over his head, taking care at the same time that it be done so that the noose does not choke him; then get the mule on the near side of a wagon, put the end of the lariat through the space between the spokes of the fore wheel, then pull the end through so that you can walk back with it to the hinder wheel (taking care to keep it tight), then pass it through the same, and pull the mule close to the wagon. In this position you can bridle and harness him without fear of being crippled. In putting the rope through the above places, it should be put through the wheels, so as to bring it as high as the mule’s breast in front, and flanks in the rear. In making them fast in this way, they frequently kick until they get over the rope, or lariat; hence the necessity of keeping it as high up as possible. If you chance upon a mule so wild that you cannot handle him in this way, put a noose of the lariat in the mule’s mouth, and let the eye, or the part where you put the end of the lariat through, be so as to form another noose. Set this directly at the root of the mule’s ear; pull it tight on him, taking care to keep the noose in the same place. But when you get it pulled tight enough, let some one hold the end of the lariat, and, my word for it, you will bridle the mule without much further trouble.
In hitching the mule to a wagon, if he be wild or vicious, keep the lariat the same as I have described until you get him hitched up, then slack it gently, as nearly all mules will buck or jump stiff-legged as soon as you ease up the lariat; and be careful not to pull the rope too tight when first put on, as by so doing you might split the mule’s mouth. Let me say here that I have broken thousands of four and six-mule teams that not one of the animals had ever had a strap of harness on when I began with them, and I have driven six-mule teams for years on the frontier, but I have yet to see the first team of unbroken mules that could be driven with any degree of certainty. I do not mean to say that they cannot be got along the road; but I regard it no driving worthy of the name when a driver cannot get his team to any place where he may desire to go in a reasonable time – and this he cannot do with unbroken mules. With green or unbroken mules, you must chase or herd them along without the whip, until you get them to know that you want them to pull in a wagon. When you have got them in a wagon, pull their heads round in the direction you want them to go; then convince them by your kindness that you are not going to abuse them, and in twelve days’ careful handling you will be able to drive them any way you please.
In bridling the young mule, it is necessary to have a bit that will not injure the animal’s mouth. Hundred of mules belonging to the Government are, in a measure, ruined by using a bridle bit that is not much thicker than the wire used by the telegraph. I do not mean by this that the bridle bit used by the Government in its blind bridles is not well adapted to the purpose. If properly made and properly used, it is. Nor do I think any board of officers could have gotten up or devised a better harness and wagon for army purposes than those made in conformity with the decision of the board of officers that recommended the harness and wagon now used. The trouble with a great many of the bits is, that they are not made up to the regulations, and are too thin. And this bit, when the animal’s head is reined up too tight, as army teamsters are very likely to do, is sure to work a sore mouth.
There are few things in breaking the mule that should be so carefully guarded against as this. For as soon as the animal gets a sore mouth, he cannot eat well, and becomes fretful; then he cannot drink well, and as his mouth keeps splitting up on the sides, he soon gets so that he cannot keep water in it, and every swallow he attempts to take, the water will spirt out of the sides, just above the bit. As soon as the mule finds that he cannot drink without this trouble, he very natural- ly pushes his nose into the water above where his mouth is split, and drinks until the want of breath forces him to stop, although he has not had sufficient water. The animal, of course, throws up its head, and the stupid teamster, as a general thing, drives the mule away from the water with his thirst about half satisfied.
Mules with their mouths split in this way are not fit to be used in the teams, and the sooner they are taken out and cured the better for the army and the Government. I have frequently seen Government trains detained several minutes, block the road, and throw the train into disorder, in order to give a mule with a split mouth time to drink. In making up teams for a train, I invariably leave out all mules whose mouths are not in a sound state, and this I do without regard to the kind or quality of the animal. But the mule’s mouth can be saved from the condition I have referred to, if the bit be made in a proper manner.
The bit should be one inch and seven-eights round, and five inches in the draw, or between the rings. It should also have a sweep of one quarter of an inch to the five inches long. I refer now to the bit for the blind bridle. With a bit of this kind it is almost impossible to injure the mule’s mouth, unless he is very young, and it cannot be done then if the animal is handled with proper care.
There is another matter in regard to harnessing the mule which I deem worthy of notice here. Government teamsters, as a general thing, like to see a mule’s head reined tightly up. I confess that, with all my experience, I have never seen the benefit there was to be derived from this. I always found that the mules worked better when allowed to carry his head and neck in a natural position. When not reined up at all, he will do more work, out-pull, and wear out the one that is. At present, nearly all the Government mule-teams are reined up, and worked with a single rein. This is the old Virginia way of driving mules.
I never heard but one reason given for reining the heads of a mule-team up tight, and that was, that it made the animals look better.
The next thing requiring particular attention is the harnessing. During the war it became customary to cut the drawing-chains, or, as some call them, the trace-chains. The object of this was, to bring the mule close up to his work. The theory was taken from the strings of horses used in drawing railroad cars through cities. Horses that are used for hauling cars in this manner are generally fed morning, noon, and night; and are able to get out of the way of a swingle-tree, should it be let down so low as to work on the brakes, as it did too frequently in the army. Besides, the coupling of the car, or the part they attach the horse to, is two-thirds the height of a common-sized animal, which, it will be seen at a glance, is enough to keep the swingle-tree off his heels. Now, the tongue of a Government wagon is a very different thing. In its proper condition, it is about on an average height with the mules’ hocks; and, especially during the last two years of the war, it was customary to pull the mule so close up to the swingle-tree that his hocks would touch it. The result of hitching in this manner is that the mule is continually trying to keep out of the way of the swingle-tree, and, finding that he cannot succeed, he becomes discouraged. And as soon as he does this he will lag behind; and as he gets sore from this continual banging, he will spread his hind legs and try to avoid the blows; and, in doing this, he forgets his business and becomes irritable. This excites the teamster, and, in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred, he will beat and punish the animal cruelly, expecting thereby to cure him of the trouble. But, instead of pacifying the mule, he will only make him worse, which should, under no circumstances, be done. The proper course to pursue, and I say so from long experience, is to stop the team at once, and let all the traces out to a length that will allow the swingle-tree to swing half way be- tween the hock and the heel of the hoof. In other words, give him room enough to step, between the collar and swingle-tree, so that the swingle-tree cannot touch his legs when walking at his longest stride. If the above rule be followed, the animal will not be apt to touch the swingle-tree. Indeed, it will not be apt to touch him, unless he be lazy; and, in that case, the sooner you get another mule the better. I say this because one lazy mule will spoil a good team, invariably. A lazy mule can be kept up to his work with a whip, you will say; but, in whipping a lazy animal, you keep the others in such a state of excitement that they are certain to get poor and valueless.
There is another advantage in having the drawing-chains worked at the length I have described. It is this: The officers that formed the board that recommended the drawing-chain also recommended a number of large links on one end of the chain, so that it could be made longer or shorter, as desired. If made in conformity with the recommendation of that board of officers, it can be let out so as to fit the largest sized mule, and can be taken up to fit the shortest. When I say this, I mean to include such animals as are received according to the standard of the Quartermaster-General’s department.
CHAPTER II – The Disadvantages Of Working Mules That Are Too Young
A great many of the mules purchased by the Government during the war were entirely too young for use. This was particularly so in the West, where both contractor and inspector seemed anxious only to get the greatest number they could on the hands of the Government, without respect to age or quality. I have harnessed, or rather tried to harness, mules during the war, that were so young and small that you could not get collars small enough to fit them. As to the harness, they were almost buried in it. A great many of these small mules were but two years old. These animals were of no use to the Government for a long time. Indeed, the inspector might just as well have given his certificate for a lot of milk cows, so far as they added to our force of transportation. Another source of trouble has been caused through a mistaken opinion as to what a young mule could do, and how he ought to be fed. Employers and others, who had young mules under their charge during the war, had, as a general thing, surplus forage on hand. When they were in a place where nine pounds of grain could be procured, and fourteen of hay, the full allowance was purchased. The surplus resulting from this attracted notice, and many wondered why it was that the Government did not reduce the forage on the mule. These persons did not for a moment suspect, or imagine, that a three year old mule has so many loose teeth in his mouth as to be hardly able to crack a grain of corn, or masticate his oats.
Another point in that case is this: at three years old, a mule is in a worse condition, generally, than he is at any other period in life. At three, he is more subject to distemper, sore eyes, and inflammation of all parts of the head and body. He becomes quite weak from not being able to eat, gets loose and gaunt, and is at that time more subject and more apt to take contagious diseases than at any other change he may go through. There is but one sure way to remedy this evil. Do not buy three year old mules to put to work that it requires a five or six year old mule to perform. Six three year old mules are just about as fit to travel fifteen miles per day, with an army wagon loaded with twenty-five hundred and their forage, as a boy, six years of age, is fit to do a man’s work. During the first twelve months of the war, I had charge of one hundred and six mule-teams, and I noticed in particular, that not one solitary mule as high as six years old gave out on the trips that I made with the teams. I also noticed that, on most occasions, the three year olds gave out, or became so leg-weary that they could scarce walk out of the way of the swingle-tree, whereas those of four and upward would be bright and brisk, and able to eat their forage when they came to camp. The three year old mules would lie down and not eat a bite, through sheer exhaustion. I also noticed that nearly all the three year old mules that went to Utah, in 1857, froze to death that winter, while those whose ages varied from four, and up to ten, stood the winter and came out in the spring in good working condition. In August, 1855, I drove a six-mule team to Fort Riley, in Kansas Territory, from Fort Leavenworth, on the Missouri River, loaded with twelve sacks of grain. It took us thirteen days to make the trip. When we reached Fort Riley there were not fifty mules, in the train of one hundred and fifty, that would have sold at public sale for thirty dollars, and a great many gave out on account of being too young and the want of proper treatment. In the fall of 1860, I drove a six-mule team, loaded with thirty hundred weight, twenty-five days’ rations for myself and another man, and twelve days’ forage for the team, being allowed twelve pounds to each mule per day. I drove this team to Fort Laramie, in Nebraska Territory, and from there to Fort Leavenworth, on the Missouri River. I made the drive there and back in thirty-eight days, and laid over two and a half days out of that. The distance traveled was twelve hundred and thirty-six miles. After a rest of two days, I started with the same team, and drove to Fort Scott, in Kansas Territory, in five days, a distance of one hundred and twenty miles. I went with Harney’s command, and, for the most part of the time, had no hay, and was forced to subsist our animals on dry prairie grass, and had a poor supply of even that. Notwithstanding this, I do not believe that any mule in the team lost as much as ten pounds of flesh. Each of these mules, let me say, was upward of five years old.
In 1858, I took a train of mules to Camp Floyd, in Utah, forty-eight miles south of Salt Lake City. During the march there were days and nights that I could not get a drop of water for the animals. The young mules, three and four years old, gave out from sheer exhaustion; while the older ones kept up, and had to draw the wagons along. Now, there are many purposes to which a young mule may be put with advantage; but they are altogether unfit for army purposes, and the sooner the Government stops using them, the better.
When they are purchased for army use, they are almost sure to be put into a train, and turned over to the tender mercies of some teamster, who know nothing whatever about the character of the animal. And here let me say that thousands of the best mules in the army, during the war, were ruined and made useless to the Government on account of the incompetency and ignorance of the wagon- masters and teamsters who had to deal with them. Persons who own private teams and horses are generally particular to know the character of the person who takes care of them, and to ascertain that he knows his business. Is he a good driver? Is he a good groom? Is he careful in feeding and watering? These are the questions that are asked; and if he has not these qualities he will not do. But a teamster in the army has none of these questions put to him. No; he is intrusted with a valuable team, and expected to take proper care of it, when he has not the first qualification to do so. If he is asked a question at all, it is merely if he has ever driven a team before. If he answers in the affirmative, and there are any vacancies, he is employed at once, though he may not know how to lead a mule by the head properly. This is not alone the case with teamsters. I have known wagon-masters who really did not know how to straighten out a six-mule team, or, indeed, put the harness on them properly. And yet the wagon-master has al- most complete power over the train. It will be readily seen from this, how much valuable property may be destroyed by placing incompetent men in such places. Wagon-masters, it seems to me, should not be allowed, under any circumstances, to have or take charge of a train of animals of any kind until they are thoroughly competent to handle, harness, and drive a six-animal team.
There is another matter which needs essential improvement. I refer now to the men who are placed as superintendents over our Government corrals and depots for animals. Many of these men know little of either the horse or the mule, and are almost entirely ignorant of what is necessary for transportation. A superintendent should have a thorough knowledge of the character and capacity of all kinds of animals necessary for a good team. He should know at sight the age and weight of animals, should be able to tell the most suitable place for different animals in a team, and where each would be of the most service. He should know all parts of his wagon and harness at a glance, be able to take each portion apart and put them together again, each in its proper shape and place, and, above all, he should have practical experience with all kinds of animals that are used in the army. This is especially necessary during war.
CHAPTER III – Color, Character, And Peculiarities Of Mules
After being in command of the upper corral, I was ordered, on the 7th of September, 1864, to take charge of the Eastern Branch Wagon Park, Washington. There were at that time in the park twenty-one six-mule trains. Each train had one hundred and fifty mules and two horses attached. There were times, however, when we had as many as forty-two trains of six-mule teams, with thirty men attached to each train. In a year from the above date we handled upward of seventy-four thousand mules, each and every one passing under my inspection and through my hands.
In handling this large number of animals, I aimed to ascertain which was the best, the hardest, and the most durable color for a mule. I did this because great importance has been attached by many to the color of these animals. Indeed, some of our officers have made it a distinguishing feature. But color, I am satisfied, is no criterion to judge by. There is an exception to this, perhaps, in the cream-colored mule. In most cases, these cream-colored mules are apt to be soft, and they also lack strength. This particularly so with those that take after the mare, and have manes and tails of the same color. Those that take after the jack generally have black stripes round their legs, black manes and tails, and black stripes down their backs and across their shoulders, and are more hardy and better animals. I have frequently seen men, in purchasing a lot of mules, select those of a certain color, fancying that they were the hardiest, and yet the animals would be widely different in their working qualities. You may take a black mule, black mane, black hair in his ears, black at the flank, between the hips or thighs, and black under the belly, and put him alongside of a similar sized mule, marked as I have described above, say light, or what is called mealy-colored, on each of the above mentioned parts, put them in the same condition and flesh, of similar age and soundness, and, in many cases, the mule with the light-colored parts will wear the other out.
It is very different with the white mule. He is generally soft, and can stand but little hardship. I refer particularly to those that have a white skin. Next to the white and cream, we have the iron-grey mule. This color generally indicates a hardy mule. We have now twelve teams of iron-gray mules in the park, which have been doing hard work every day since July, 1865; it is now January, 1866. Only one of these mules has become unfit for service, and that one was injured by being kicked by his mate. All our other teams have had more or less animals made unfit for service and exchanged.
In speaking of the color of mules, it must not be inferred that there are no mules that are all of a color that are not hardy and capable of endurance. I have had some, whose color did not vary from head to foot, that were capable of great endurance. But in most cases, if kept steadily at work from the time they were three years old until they were eight or ten, they generally gave out in some part, and became an expense instead of profit.
Various opinions are held as to what the mule can be made to do under the saddle, many persons asserting that in crossing the plains he can be made to perform almost equal to the horse. This is true on the prairie. But there he works with every advantage over the horse. In 1858, I rode a mule from Cedar Valley, forty-eight miles north of Salt Lake City, to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, a distance of nearly fourteen hundred miles. Starting from Cedar Valley on the 22d of October, I reached Fort Leavenworth on the 31st of December. At the end of the journey the animal was completely worn down.
In this condition I put her into Fleming’s livery stable, in Leavenworth City, and was asked if she was perfectly gentle. One would suppose that, in such a condition, she would naturally be so. I assured the hostler that she was; that I had ridden her nearly a year, and never knew her to kick. That same morning, when the hostler went to feed her, she suddenly became vicious, and kicked him very severely. She was then about twelve years old. I have since thought that when a mule gets perfectly gentle he is unfit for service.
Proprietors of omnibuses, stage lines, and city railroads have, in many cases, tried to work mules, as a matter of economy; but, as a general thing, the experiment proved a failure, and they gave it up and returned to horses. The great reason for this failure was that the persons placed in charge of them knew nothing of their disposition, and lacked that experience in handling them which is so necessary to success. But it must be admitted that, as a general thing, they are not well adapted for road or city purposes, no matter how much you may under- stand driving and handling them.
The mule may be made to do good service on the prairies, in supplying our army, in towing canal boats, in hauling cars inside of coal mines – these are his proper places, where he can jog along and take his own time, patiently. Work of this kind would, however, in nearly all cases, break down the spirit of the horse, and render him useless in a very short time.
I have seen it asserted that there were mules that had been known to trot in harness in three minutes. In all my experience, I have never seen anything of the kind, and do not believe the mule ever existed that could do it. It is a remark- ably good road horse that will do this, and I have never yet seen a mule that could compare for speed with a good roadster. I have driven mules, single and double, night and day, from two to ten in a team, and have handled them in every way that it is possible to handle them, and have in my charge at this time two hun- dred of the best mule teams in the world, and there is not a span among them that could be forced over the road in four minutes. It is true of the mule that he will stand more abuse, more beating, more straining and constant dogging at him than any other animal used in a team. But all the work you can get out of him, over and above an ordinary day’s work, you have to work as hard as he does to accomplish.
Some curious facts have come under my knowledge as to what the mule can endure. These facts also illustrate what can be done with the animal be persons thoroughly acquainted with his character. While on the plains, I have known Kiowa and Camanche Indians to break into our pickets during the night, and steal mules that had been pronounced completely broken down by white men. And these mules they have ridden sixty and sixty-five miles of a single night. How these Indians managed to do this, I never could tell. I have repeatedly seen Mexicans mount mules that our men had pronounced unfit for further service, and ride them twenty and twenty-five miles without stopping.
Packing Mules. – The Mexican is a better packer than the American. He has had more experience, and understands all its details better than any other man. Some of our United States officers have tried to improve on the experience and have made what they called an improvement on the Mexican pack-saddle. But all the attempts at improvement have been utter failures. The ranchero, on the Pacific side of the Sierra Nevadas, is also a good packer; and he can beat the Mexican lassoing cattle. But he is the only man in the United States who can. The reason for this is, that they went into that country when very young, and improved on the Mexican, by having cattle, mules, and horses round them all the time, and being continually catching them for the purpose of branding and marking.
There is, in Old as well as New Mexico, a class of mules that are known to us as Spanish, or Mexican mules. These mules are not large, but for endurance they are very superior, and, in my opinion, cannot be excelled. I am not saying too much when I assert, that I have seen nothing in the United States that could compare with them. They can, apparently, stand any amount of starvation and abuse. I have had three Spanish mules in a train of twenty-five six-mule teams, and starting from Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, on Colonel (since General) Sumner’s expedition, in 1857, have travelled to Walnut Creek, on the Santa Fe route, a distance of three hundred miles, in nine days. And this in the month of August. The usual effects of hard driving, I noticed, showed but very little on them. I noticed also, along the march, that with a halt of less than three hours, feeding on grass that was only tolerably thick, they will fill up better and look in better condition for resuming the march, than one of our American mules that had rested five hours, and had the same forage. The breed, of course, has something to do with this. But the animal is smaller, more compact than our miles, and, of course, it takes less to fill him up. It stands to reason, that a mule with a body half as large as a hogshead cannot satisfy his hunger in the time it would take a small one. This is the secret of small mules outlasting large ones on the prairies. It takes the large one so long to find enough to eat, when the grass is scanty, that he has not time enough for rest and recuperation. I often found them leaving camp, in the morning, quite as hungry and discouraged as they were when we halted the previous evening. With the small mule it is different. He gets enough to eat, quick, and has time to rest and refresh himself. The Spanish or Mexican mule, however, is better as a pack animal, than for a team. They are vicious, hard to break, and two-thirds of them kick.
In looking over a book, with the title of “Domestic Animals,” I notice that the author, Mr. R. L. Allen, has copied from the official report of the Agricultural Committee of South Carolina, and asserts that a mule is fit for service sooner than a horse. This is not true; and to prove that it is not, I will give what I consider to be ample proof. In the first place, a mule at three years old is just as much and even more of a colt than a horse is. And he is as much out of condition, on account of cutting teeth, distemper, and other colt ailments, as it is possible to be. Get a three year old mule tired and fatigued, and in nine cases out of ten he will get so discouraged that it will be next to impossible to get him home or into camp. A horse colt, if able to travel at all, will work his way home cheerfully; but the young mule will sulk, and in many instances will not move an inch while life lasts. An honest horse will try to help himself, and do all he can for you, especially if you treat him kindly. The mule colt will, just as likely as not, do all he can to make it inconvenient for you and him.
To show of how little service three year old mules are to the Government, I will give the number handled by me during part of 1864 and 1865.
On the 1st of September, 1864, I had charge of five thousand and eighty-two mules; and during the same month I received two thousand two hundred and ten, and issued to the Armies of the Potomac, the James, and the Shenandoah, three thousand five hundred and seventy-one, which left us on hand, on the 1st of October, three thousand seven hundred and twenty-one. During the month of October we received only nine hundred and eighty, and issued two thousand five hundred and thirty, which left us on hand, on the 1st of November, two thousand one hundred and seventy-one. During November we received two thousand one hundred and eighty-six, and issued to the army one thousand seven hundred and fifty-seven, which left us on hand, on the 1st of December, two thousand four hundred and thirty mules. Now mark the deaths.
During the month of September, 1864, there died in the corral fifteen mules. In October, six died. In November, three; and in December, eight. They were all two and three years old.
On the 1st of May, 1865, we had on hand four thousand and twelve head, and received, during the same month, seven thousand nine hundred and fifty- eight. We issued, during the same month, fifteen thousand five hundred and sixty-three, leaving us on hand, on the 1st of June, six thousand four hundred and eighty-seven. During this month we received seven thousand nine hundred and fifty-one, and issued eleven thousand nine hundred and fifteen. Our mules during these months were sent out to be herded, and the total number of deaths during the time was twenty-four. But two of them were over four years old. Now, it occurs to me that it would be a great saving to the Government not to purchase any mules under four years old. This statement of deaths at the corral is as nothing when compared with the number of deaths of young mules in the field. It is, in fact, well established that fully two-thirds of the deaths in the field are of young animals under three years of age. This waste of animal life carries with it an expense it would be difficult to estimate, but which a remedy might easily be found for.
Now, it is well known that when a mule has reached the age of four years, you will have very little trouble with him, so far as sickness and disease are concerned. Besides, at the age of four he is able to work, and work well; and he also under- stands better what you want him to do.
The committee appointed to report on this subject say many mules have been lost by feeding on cut straw and corn meal. This is something entirely new to me; and I am of opinion that more Government mules die because they do not get enough of this straw and meal. The same committee say, also, that in no instance have they known them to be inflicted with disease other than inflammation of the intestines, caused by exposure. I only wish that the members of that committee could have had access to the affidavits in the Quartermaster-General’s department – they would then have satisfied themselves that thousands of Government mules have died with almost every disease the horse is subject to. And I do not see why they should not be liable to the same diseases, since they derive life and animation from the horse. The mule that breeds closest after the jack, and is marked like him, is the hardiest, can stand fatigue the best, and is less liable to those diseases common to the horse; while those which breed close after the mare, and have no marks of the jack about them, are liable to all of them.
In the beginning of this chapter I spoke of the color of mules. I will, in closing, make a few more remarks on that subject, which may interest the reader. We have now at work three dun-colored mules, that were transferred to the Army of the Potomac in 1862, and that went through all the campaigns of that army, and were transferred back to us in June, 1865. They had been steadily at work, and yet were in good condition, hardy, and bright, when they were turned in. These mules have a black stripe across their shoulders, down their backs, and are what is called “dark-colored duns.” We also have the only full team that has gone through all the campaigns of the Army of the Potomac. It was fitted up at Annapolis, MD, in September, 1861, under Captain Sautelle, A. Q. M. They are now in fine condition, and equal to any thing we have in the corral. The leaders are very fine animals. They are fourteen hands high, one weighing eight hundred, and the other eight hundred and forty-five pounds. One of the middle leaders weighs nine hundred, the other nine hundred and forty-seven pounds, and fourteen hands and a half high.
to be continued…