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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' storage 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 travelled 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 knows 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 answer 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 almost 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.

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Previous: How Mules Should Be Treated In Breaking

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