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.

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