Physical Construction Of The Mule

I now propose to say something on the mule's limbs and feet. It will be

observed that the mule has a jack's leg from the knee down, and in this

part of the leg he is weak; and with these he frequently has to carry a

horse's body. It stands to reason, then, that if you feed him until he

gets two or three hundred pounds of extra flesh on him, as many persons

do, he will break down for want of leg-strength. Indeed, the mule is

weakest where the horse is strongest. His feet, too, are a singular

formation, differing very materially from those of the horse. The mule's

feet grow very slow, and the grain or pores of the hoof are much closer

and harder than those of the horse. It is not so liable, however, to

break or crumble. And yet they are not so well adapted for work on

macadamized or stony roads, and the more flesh you put on his body,

after a reasonable weight, the more you add to the means of his


Observe, for instance, a farmer's mule, or a poor man's mule working in

the city. These persons, with rare exceptions, feed their mules very

little grain, and they are generally in low flesh. And yet they last a

very long time, notwithstanding the rough treatment they get. When you

feed a mule, you must adjust the proportions of his body to the strength

of his limbs and the kind of service he is required to perform.

Experience has taught me, that the less you feed a mule below what he

will eat clean, just that amount of value and life is kept out of him.

In relation to feeding animals. Some persons boast of having horses and

mules that eat but little, and are therefore easily kept. Now, when I

want to get a horse or a mule, these small eaters are the last ones I

would think of purchasing. In nine cases out of ten, you will find such

animals out of condition. When I find animals in the Government's

possession, that cannot eat the amount necessary to sustain them and

give them proper strength, I invariably throw them out, to be nursed

until they will eat their rations. Animals, to be kept in good

condition, and fit for proper service, should eat their ten and twelve

quarts of grain per head per day, with hay in proportion--say, twelve


I wish here again to correct a popular error, that the mule does not

eat, and requires much less food than the horse. My experience has been,

that a mule, twelve hands high, and weighing eight hundred pounds, will

eat and, indeed, requires just as much as a horse of similar dimensions.

Give them similar work, keep then in a stable, or camp them out during

the winter months, and the mule will eat more than the horse will or

can. A mule, however, will eat almost any thing rather than starve.

Straw, pine boards, the bark of trees, grain sacks, pieces of old

leather, do not come amiss with him when he is hungry. There were many

instances, during the late war, where a team of mules were found, of a

morning, standing over the remains of what had, the evening before, been

a Government wagon. When two or more have been kept tied to a wagon,

they have been known to eat each other's tail off to the bone, And yet

the animal, thus deprived of his caudal appendage, did not evince much


In the South, many of the plantations are worked with mules, driven by

negroes. The mule seems to understand and appreciate the negro; and the

negro has a sort of fellow-feeling for the mule. Both are sluggish and

stubborn, and yet they get along well together. The mule, too, is well

suited to plantation labor, and will outlast a horse at it. The soil is

also light and sandy, and better suited to the mule's feet. A negro has

not much sympathy for a work-horse, and in a short time will ruin him

with abuse, whereas he will share his corn with the mule. Nor does the

working of the soil on southern plantations overtax the power of the


The Value of Harnessing properly.--In working any animal, and more

especially the mule, it is both humane and economical to have him

harnessed properly, Unless he be, the animal cannot perform the labor he

is capable of with ease and comfort, And you cannot watch too closely to

see that every thing works in its right place. Begin with the bridle,

and see that it does not chafe or cut him, The army blind-bridle, with

the bit alteration attached, is the very best bridle that can be used on

either horse or mule. Be careful, however, that the crown-piece is not

attached too tight. Be careful, also, that it does not draw the sides of

the animal's mouth up into wrinkles, for the bit, working against these,

is sure to make the animal's mouth sore. The mule's mouth is a very

difficult part to heal, and once it gets sore he becomes unfit for work.

Your bridle should be fitted well to the mule's head before you attempt

to work him in it. Leave your bearing-line slack, so as to allow the

mule the privilege of learning to walk easy with harness on. It is too

frequently the case, that the eyes of mules that are worked in the

Government's service are injured by the blinds being allowed to work too

close to the eyes. This is caused by the blind-stay being too tight, or

perhaps not split far enough up between the eyes and ears. This stay

should always be split high enough up to allow the blinds to stand at

least one inch and a half from the eye.

Another, and even more essential part of the harness is the collar. More

mules are maimed and even ruined altogether by improperly fitting

collars, than is generally believed by quartermasters. It requires more

judgment to fit a collar properly on a mule than it does to fit any

other part of the harness. Get your collar long enough to buckle the

strap close up to the last hole. Then examine the bottom, and see that

there be room enough between the mule's neck or wind-pipe to lay your

open hand in easily. This will leave a space between the collar and the

mule's neck of nearly two inches. Aside from the creased neck, mules'

necks are nearly all alike in shape, They indeed vary as little in neck

as they do in feet; and what I say on the collar will apply to them all,

The teamster has always the means in his own hands of remedying a bad

fitting collar. If the animal does not work easy in it, if it pinch him

somewhere, let it remain in water over night, put it on the animal wet

the next morning, and in a few minutes it will take the exact formation

of the animal's neck. See that it is properly fitted above and below to

the hames, then the impression which the collar takes in a natural form

will be superior to the best mechanical skill of the best harness-maker.

There is another thing about collars, which, in my opinion, is very

important. When you are pursuing a journey with teams of mules, where

hay and grain are scarce, the animals will naturally become poor, and

their necks get thin and small. If once the collar becomes too large,

and you have no way of exchanging it for a smaller one, of course you

must do the next best thing you can. Now, first take the collar off the

animal, lay it on a level, and cut about one inch out of the centre.

When you have done this, try it on the animal again; and if it still

continues too large take a little more from each side of the centre

until you get it right. In this way you can effect the remedy you need.

In performing a long journey, the animals will, if driven hard, soon

show you where the collar ought to be cut, They generally get sore on

the outer part of the shoulder, and this on account of the muscle

wasting away. Teamsters on the plains and in the Western Territories cut

all the collars when starting on a trip. It takes less time afterward to

fit them to the teams, and to harness and unharness.

When you find out where the collar has injured the shoulder, cut it and

take out enough of the stuffing to prevent the leather from touching the

sore. In this way the animal will soon get sound-shouldered again. Let

the part of the leather you cut hang loose, so that when you take the

stuffing out you may put it back and prevent any more than is actually

necessary from coming out.

See that your hames fit well, for they are a matter of great importance

in a mule's drawing. Unless your hames fit your collar well, you are

sure to have trouble with your harness, and your mule will work badly.

Some persons think, because a mule can be accustomed to work with almost

any thing for a harness, that money is saved in letting him do it. This

is a great mistake. You serve the best economy when you harness him well

and make his working comfortable. Indeed, a mule can do more work with a

bad-fitting collar and harness than a man can walk with a bad-fitting

boot. Try your hames on, and draw them tight enough at the top of the

mule's neck, so that they will not work or roll round. They should be

tight enough to fit well without pinching the neck or shoulder, and in

fine, fit as neatly as a man's shirt-collar.

Do not get the bulge part of your collar down too low. If you do, you

interfere with the machinery that propels the mule's fore legs. Again,

if you raise it too high, you at once interfere with his wind. There is

an exact place for the bulge of the collar, and it is on the point of

the mule's shoulder. Some persons use a pad made of sheepskin on the toe

of the collar. Take it off, for it does no good, and get a piece of

thick leather, free from wrinkles, ten or twelve inches long and seven

wide; slit it crosswise an inch or so from each end, leaving about an

inch in the centre. Fit this in, in place of the pad of sheepskin, and

you will have a cheaper, more durable, and cooler neck-gear for the

animal. You cannot keep a mule's neck in good condition with heating and

quilted pads. The same is true of padded saddles. I have perhaps ridden

as much as any other man in the service, of my age, and yet I never

could keep a horse's back in good condition with a padded saddle when I

rode over twenty-five or thirty miles a day.

There is another evil which ought to be remedied. I refer now to the

throat-latch. Hundreds of mules are in a measure ruined by allowing the

throat-latch to be worked too tight. A tight throat-latch invariably

makes his head sore. Besides, it interferes with a part which, if it

were not for, you would not have the mule--his wind. I have frequently

known mules' heads so injured by the throat-latch that they would not

allow you to bridle them, or indeed touch their heads. And to bridle a

mule with a sore head requires a little more patience than nature

generally supplies man with.

Let a mule's ears alone. It is very common with teamsters and others,

when they want to harness mules, to catch them by the ears, put twitches

on their ears. Even blacksmiths, who certainly ought to know better, are

in the habit of putting tongs and twitches in their ears when they shoe

them. Now, against all these barbarous and inhuman practices, I here, in

the name of humanity, enter my protest. The animal becomes almost

worthless by the injuries caused by such practices. There are extreme

cases in which the twitch may be resorted to, but it should in all cases

be applied to the nose, and only then when all milder means have failed.

But there is another, and much better, method of handling and overcoming

the vices of refractory mules. I refer to the lariat. Throw the noose

over the head of the unruly mule, then draw him carefully up to a wagon,

as if for the purpose of bridling him. In case he is extremely hard to

bridle, or vicious, throw an additional lariat or rope over his head,

fixing it precisely as represented in the drawing. By this method you

can hold any mule. But even this method had better be avoided unless

where it is absolutely necessary.

It is now August, 1866. We are working five hundred and fifty-eight

animals, from six o'clock in the morning until seven o'clock at night,

and out of this number we have not got ten sore or galled animals. The

reason is, because we do not use a single padded saddle or collar. Also,

that the part of the harness that the heaviest strain comes on is kept

as smooth and pliable as it is possible for it to be. Look well to your

drawing-chains, too, and see that they are kept of an even length. If

your collar gets gummy or dirty, don't scrape it with a knife; wash it,

and preserve the smooth surface. Your breeching, or wheel harness, is

also another very important part; see that it does not cut and chafe the

animal so as to wear the hair off, or injure the skin. If you get this

too tight, it is impossible for the animal to stretch out and walk free.

Besides obstructing the animal's gait, however, the straps will hold the

collar and hames so tight to his shoulder as to make him sore on the top

of his neck. These straps should always be slack enough to allow the

mule perfect freedom when at his best walk.

And now I have a few words to say on Government wagons. Government

wagons, as now made, can be used for other purposes besides the army.

The large-sized Government wagon is, it has been proved, too heavy for

four horses. The smaller sized one is nearer right; but whenever you

take an ordinary load on it (the smaller one) and have a rough country

to move through, it will give out. It is too heavy for two horses and a

light load, and yet not heavy enough to carry twenty-five hundred or

three thousand pounds, a four-horse load, when the roads are in any way

bad. They do tolerably well about cities, established posts, and indeed

anywhere where the roads are good, and they are not subject to much

strain. Improvements on the Government wagon have been attempted, but

the result has been failure. The more simple you can get such wagons,

the better, and this is why the original yet stands as the best. There

is, however, great difference in the material used, and some makers make

better wagons than others. The six and eight-mule wagon, the largest

size used for road and field purposes, is, in my humble opinion, the

very best adapted to the uses of our American army. During the rebellion

there were a great many wagons used that were not of the army pattern.

One of these, I remember, was called the Wheeling wagon, and used to a

great extent for light work, and did well. On this account many persons

recommended them. I could not, and for this reason: they are too

complicated, and they are much too light to carry the ordinary load of a

six-mule team. At the end of the war it was shown that the army pattern

wagon had been worked more, had been repaired less, and was in better

condition than any other wagon used. I refer now to those made in

Philadelphia, by Wilson & Childs, or Wilson, Childs & Co. They are known

in the army as the Wilson wagon. The very best place to test the

durability of a wagon is on the plains. Run it there, one summer, when

there is but little wet weather, where there are all kinds of roads to

travel on and loads to carry, and if it stands that it will stand any

thing. The wagon-brake, instead of the lock-chain, is a great and very

valuable improvement made during the War. Having a brake on the wagon

saves the time and trouble of stopping at the top of every hill to lock

the wheels, and again at the bottom to unlock them. Officers of the army

know how much trouble this used to cause, how it used to block up the

roads, and delay the movements of troops impatient to get ahead. The

lock-chain ground out the wagon tire in one spot. The brake saves that;

and it also saves the animal's neck from that bruising and chafing

incident to the dead strain that was required when dragging the locked


There is another difficulty that has been overcome by the wagon-brake.

In stopping to lock wheels on the top of a hill, your train get into

disorder. In most cases, when trains are moving on the road, there is a

space of ten or fifteen feet between the wagons. Each team, then, will

naturally close up that space as it comes to the place for halting to

lock. Now, about the time the first teamster gets his wheel locked, the

one in the rear of him is dismounting for the same purpose. This being

repeated along the train, it is not difficult to see how the space must

increase, and irregularity follow. The more wagons you have to lock with

the drag-chain, the further you get the teams apart. When you have a

large body of wagons moving together, it naturally follows that, with

such a halt as this, the teams in the rear must make twenty-five halts,

or stops, and starts, for everyone that the head team makes.

When the teamster driving the second team gets ready to lock, the first,

or head team, starts up. This excites the mule of the second to do the

same, and so all along the train. This irritates the teamster, and he is

compelled to run up and catch the wheel-mules by the head, to make them

stop, so that he can lock his wheels. In nine cases out of ten he will

waste time in punishing his animals for what they do not understand. He

never thinks for a moment that the mule is accustomed to start up when

the wagon ahead of him moves, and supposes he is doing his duty. In many

cases, when he had got his wheels locked, he had so excited his mules

that they would run down the hill, cripple some of the men, break the

wagon, cause a smash-up in the train, and perhaps destroy the very

rations and clothes on which some poor soldier's life depended. We all

know what delay and disaster have resulted from the roads being blocked

up in this manner. The brake, thanks to the inventor, offers a remedy

for all this. It also saves the neck and shoulders of every animal in

the train; it saves the feet of the wheelers; it saves the harness; it

saves the lead and swing mules from being stopped so quick that they cut

themselves; and it saves the wheels at least twenty per cent. Those who

have had wagons thrown over precipices, or labored and struggled in mud

and water two and three hours at a time, can easily understand how time

and trouble could have been saved if the wagon could have been locked in

any way after it started over those places. The best brake by all odds,

is that which fastens with a lever chain to the brake-bar. I do not like

those which attach with a rope, and for the reason that the lazy

teamster can sit on the saddle-mule and lock and unlock, while, with the

chain and lever, he must get off. In this way he relieves the

saddle-mule's back.

We all know that, in riding mules down steep or long hills, you do much

to stiffen them up and wear them out.

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