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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

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 is 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 understand 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 any thing of the kind, and do not believe the mule ever existed
that could do it. It is a remarkably 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 hundred
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 by
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. I do not mention this to show that a
Mexican can do more with the mule than an American. He cannot. And yet
there seems to be some sort of fellow-feeling between these Mexicans and
the mule. One seems to understand the other completely; and in
disposition there is very little difference. And yet the Mexican is so
brutish in dealing with animals, that I never allowed one of them to
drive a Government team for me. Indeed, a low Mexican does not seem
disposed to work for a man who will not allow him full latitude in the
abuse of animals.

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 of the Greaser, 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 mules,
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

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 understands better what you want him to

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 Santelle, 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.

Next: Diseases Mules Are Liable To--what He Can Draw Etc Etc

Previous: The Disadvantages Of Working Mules That Are Too Young

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