George Streynsham Master.

The Century, Volume 19 online

. (page 154 of 160)
Online LibraryGeorge Streynsham MasterThe Century, Volume 19 → online text (page 154 of 160)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

boxes is given to each party. My wnts^
kit I stufied into a small, soft tzaveling-taf
the last time I was out, and it carried
well. Of course such an aiiangemeot pn^
eludes " boiled shirts " or " fried " gcwds
of any sort Your war-bag, Uke eveiyihk^
else, will be placed in that part of a mtilr
load where it will ride best, and the ntmos
stren^h of two men will be expended is
drawmg the lash-ropes ti^itly acroas ::.
Anything more linen than a handkeichidf
or whiter than any undershirt is, tfaefefixc*
treated with scorn and derision in camp, aad
old trowsers and coats, heavy flann^ ^uitL
coarse shoes and broad-brimmed felt h^
are the mode.

Finally comes the gala-day when tk
mules are to be saddled for Uie first tnK
after their long vacation, and everybody is
on hand to see the fim.

The western pack-mule is ^mall, stnevy,
and, like old Joey fiagstock, "tough, sk.
tough ! but de-e-vlish sly I " Most of them
are bred from Indian ponies and are bom
on the open plains. Having prev»xzs(f
been lassoed and branded, when three yeais
old they are driven (or inveigled) into »
corral and exhibited for sale as brtmckeL
An imtamed horse is a model of gentleness
beside them. Sometimes they are accQS*
tomed at once to the saddle by one of those
wonderful riders who can stick on the bad
of anything that runs, and more rarely tb^
are broken to harness; but ordinarily tbar
backs are trained to bear the pack, which is
generally the only practicable method of
transporting fireight through these nigged

The first time the pack-saddles are put
on, the excitement may be imagined. The
green mule, strong in his youth, having
been adroitly ** roped " or lassoed, is kd
out into an open space, stepping timidly,
but, not seeing any cause for alarm, quietly;
before he understands what it all means,
he finds that a noose of the rawhide lariat
about his neck has been slipped over his
nose, and discovers that his tormentors
have an advantage. He puUs, shakes his
head, stands upright on opposite ends, but
all to no avail. The harder he pulls, the
tighter the noose pmches his nostrils, so at
last he comes down and keeps still. Then
a man approaches slowly and circumspecdy,

Digitized by


y JT'r




^ elding behind him a leather blinder which
^ e seeks to slip over the mule's eyes. But
^^o long ears stand in t}ie way, and the

jst touch of the leather is the signal for
■ wo jumps— one by the beast and one by
"he man, for packers are wise enough in
- heir day and generation to fight shy of the

business end of a mule. The next attempt
s less a matter of caution and more of
strength, and here the animal has so much
advantage that often it must be lassoed
again and thrown to the ground.

It is a fine sight to witness the indigna-
tion of such a fellow 1 He falls heavily, yet
holds his head high and essays to nse.
But his fore-feet are manacled by ropes and
his head is fast Yet he will shake almost
free, get upon his hind-feet, stand straight

upon the sinch (as the girth is termed),
which holds firmly every hair-breadth, and
will finally crease the contour of the mule's
belly into tlie semblance of Cupid's bow.
But this one pull suffices to set him spring-
ing again — bucking, now, with arched back
and head between his knees, landing on
stiflf legs to jar his burden offi or falling
fiill weight on his side and rolling over to
scrape it fi-ee. He will sit on his haunches
and hurl himself backward ; will duck his
head and turn a somersault; finally will
stand still, trembling with anger and exhaust-
ion, and let you lead him away, conquered.
Simply putting on the aparejos is enough
for that day. On the next morning the
riding animals are saddled, the light packs
are placed upon the pack- mules and the jour-


up and dash down with all his weight in
fiitile efforts for liberty. Secured with more
ropes, allowed but three legs to stand upon
and cursed frightfully, he wwj/ submit, though
he never does it with good pace. It is
not always, however, that this extremity
is resorted to. Some animals make little
resistance while the strange thing is being
put upon their backs and the fastenings
adjusted — all but one ; but when an effort is
made to put that institution called a crup-
per under a young mule's tail, language fails
to express the character of the kicking 1
The light heels describe an arc from the
grotmd to ten feet above it and then strike
out at a tangent. They cut through the
air like whip-lashes and would penetrate
an impediment like bullets. But even
mule-flesh tires. Strategy wins. The crup-
per is gained and the &i^t hard pull made

ney into Cheyenne is made, where the
mules, stores and laboring men start west-
ward on a fireight-train, each party going
to some station convenient to its field of
labor, while the regular corps of scientific
workers waits behind for the luxurious eve-
ning express.

Arrived at the station where your party
is to leave the railroad, field-work really
begins. The first days are uncomfortable,
but things soon settle to their places, and
with the organization of duties comes the
sense of having really cut loose fix)m civili-
zation. In an average party (one of the
five or six sub-divisions of the Survey) there
are six persons all told, and eight pack-
mules suffice to carry the luggage. Besides
these there are two extra pack-mules, four
or five for riding and at least one horse.

The moimtain mules all love company,

Digitized by




cling together and enjoy walking one be-
hind the other in long file; but no mule
has independence of judgment enough to
lead a train, even with a bit in his mouth.
On the other hand, all mules are " stuck


after " a horse, as the muleteers phrase it,
and advantage is taken of this to cause them
to travel steadily, and to keep them together
at night, by having a horse to lead the
march. This horse has a stock-bell roimd
its neck and is ridden by the cook, who is
thus debarred from anything except steadily
plodding along, while the others can ramble
off from the train as much as they please.
At night the bell-horse is hobbled and all
the mules are turned loose to graze about
the neighborhood, the tinkle of the bell giv-
ing us information of their position in the
morning, for there is little fear that they will
wander away from the horse unless stam-
peded, and that rarely occurs. Mules will
absolutely go daft over a horse, and there
are always fierce contests the first day a
train starts out as to which shall have the
coveted place next to the leader. It often
happens that for weeks afterward the victor
has to maintain his position by constant
exercise of heels and teeth, and with much
mulish profanity. I have seen two mules
fight so incessantly for the place next the
bell-horse when feeding, that they forgot to
eat all day.

The first day's ride through the miserable
outskirts of civilization is likely to be tiresome
and unsatisfactory. You have not become
accustomed to your mule, nor he to you.
You are sun-burned, and your eyes smart
with the alkali dust, — for the cool mount-
ains are not yet reached, — and your muscles
ache with the unwonted labor of riding.
You have been gazed at by the few persons
you met, and chaffed in the miners* camps,
""oing through a town or past a ranch die

mules have exerted themselves to enter every
gate and door-way, to go anywhere and
everywhere but where they ought; and the
amount of caution, invective and hard-riding
necessary to keep them together and under
their respective packs has been vexatious
and fatiguing, conducive neither to observa-
tion of scenery nor to the cultivation of
Christian virtues.

At last the march is finished, and you
hasten ahead, tumble off your beast and
unsaddle by the time the train comes up,
so that you can help remove the packs — an
operation the sagacious mules undergo with
the most exemplary quietude. A little later,
when the animals have cooled, the aparejos
are taken off, the bell-horse is hobbled, and
the whole herd is turned loose for the night
Their first move is to roll, removing the
perspiration, and scratching the backs grown
hot and irritated imder the heavy loads,
which, at first, often average 250 or 300
pounds. Then, how they eat! The sun sets,
twilight fades, the camp-fire is replenished,
and still they munch, munch at the crisp
grass ; the stars come out and the riders go
in, but the last glimpse of the mules in the
darkness shows them with their noses to the
ground. A pack-train intelligentiy cared for
will actually grow fat upon a four or five
months' trip of this kind, though they never
get a mouthful of grain the whole time.


Here let me say a word about the art of
" packing." Years ago everybody used the
old Mexican saw-buck saddle, and it still
bestrides the lacerated spines of unfortu-
nate burros; but it has generally yielded
place to the Califomian stuffed aparejo, the
shape of which is seen very weU in the
accompanying cuts. This is fastened
firmly to the long-suffering beast, by all the
strength of two men, who tighten the girth
by bracing their feet against the upright

Digitized by V^OOQ IC



mule's ribs. Then a long lash-rope, having
a broad, strong girth at one end, terminating
in a wooden hook, is laid across the aparejo,
and the packing begins. The burdens are
laid on so as to balance properly, and are
held in place until all, or the main part, is
in position. Then the ends of the lash-
rope are handed back and forth by the man
on each side, twisted and looped loosely
in a way very dexterous but utterly indescrib-


able, and finally, by moderate pulling, the
whole net-work is tightened. The load is
now criticised and balanced anew, small
articles are tucked in, and it is pronounced
ready. One man goes to the left side of
the animal and seizes a portion of the rope
which passes round the hook, while the
other, on the opposite side, turns his back
and passes the end of the lash-rope over
his shoulder so as to give him the greatest
possible pulling power. This done, he calls
back to his invisible mate :

"All set?"

« All set."

" G^iz/4f ittoher!"

There results a sudden and mighty strain
in concert, a dreadful groan escapes from
the poor mule, there is a stifled sound of
creaking and crushing, and in an instant
more the fastening is made and the work
is done. This lashing is all one rope, but it
is crossed and entwined till it seems half a
dozen. On the top of the load it forms
a rectangular or diamond shaped space,
which gives the process its name among the
packers. To know how to do it is a pass-
port to mountain society and establishes
credit. I remember once being alone at a
little stage station in Wyoming. I had on a
partially civilized coat and hat, and hence was
under suspicion among the party of men

assembled. Foolishly, I ventured an opinion
upon some subject, and, judging me by the
clothes I wore, I was prompdy snubbed.

" What right have you to lAiow anything
about it ? " a big Klamath man hurled at
me. " You're a tender-foot ! "

" Perhaps I am," I answered, meekly;
"but I can put the diamond hitch on a
mule ! "

" Can you do thai f Then, sir, you are
entitled to any opinion you please in
this 'ere court ! "

Even this lashing will not always
hold firm, however, against equi-asinine
contortions ; but it is incomparably su-
perior both for the welfare of the mule
and the safety of the burden to the
^ antiquated and cruel " saw-buck."
After sunset, the air in these high,
western regions grows rapidly cool, and
a chill air firom the snow-banks seems
to settle down and take possession of
!'/ the warm nooks where the sunbeams
\m have been playing all day. Now the
long-caped, blue cavalry overcoats
(bought in Denver or Cheyenne for
three dollars apiece) are unstrapped
fi-om behind the saddles, fi^sh wood is
piled upon the fire, the pipes are newly
filled, and the circling smoke, exploring the
recesses of the dark tree-tops, looks down
on an exceedingly contented company.

Then, as the fragrant herb glows in the
pipe-bowl, and the darkness shuts in the
fire and the little circle about it from the
great Without, tongues are unloosed, and
the treasures of memory are drawn upon to
enliven the hour. All these mountain-men
are great talkers, and most of them tell a
story in a very vivid way — a way purely
their own, sounding barbarous to other
ears, so full is it of slang, local phrases, and
profanity, but in a language perfectly under-
stood and with a wit keenly appreciated by
kindred listeners. Tales of Indian warfare
and border ruffianism in the old days of the
emigrant trail, the founding of the Mormon
settlements, the track-laying of the Pacific
railway and the gold discoveries; stories
of the road agents — ^robbers of the mails
and expresses, who never let a man out
of the country with any money, and of the
scarcely preferable vigilantes who sought
to rid the mountains of these human
wolves only to learn that the persons most
trusted in their councils were the ring-
leaders of crime. Between the road agents
and the vigilantes no man was safe. The
former might kill him to get him out of the

Digitized by V^jOOQ IC



way, the latter might hang him on the single
charge that the ruffians let him alone.

But the theme of all themes which is never
neglected, and which lasts clear through the
trip, is The Mule.

His mule is the mountain-man's main-
stay. He treats it much more kindly than
he does himself, and respects it far more
than he does his neighbor. He finds all
sorts of excuses for an habitual cut-throat ;
he simply hangs the mule-stealer.


The mountain-mule is a perpetual study.
No animal in the world possesses so much
individuality and will develop in a given
time so many distinct phases of character.
His sagacity in some directions is balanced
by most desperate stupidity in others. A herd
shows a wide range of variation in tracta-
bility and in other traits among its members.
You cannot fail to note this in their differ-
ent countenances, to which the long ears
lend so much expression; but all their
characteristics are positive, and are asserted
in the most startiing manner. They are
crotchety, too, and it is often impossible to
overcome their prejudices. One I knew
who would never allow himself to be caught
to have his pack put on or re-adjusted until
all the rest had been attended to ; then he
was quite ready and docile. Another was
a good, gende riding animal,' and had no
objection to your pipe, but you must get oflf
to light it; strike a match in the saddle
and Satan entered into his breast on the
instant. This same fellow had an insuper-
ble objection to entering water, — an unfort-

unate trait, for before crossing an unknoira
stream with a pack-train it is desirable to
know what sort of a ford it is, and the man
who rode this mule was the one whose duty
it generally was to make the test. The ani-
mal would walk straight down to the margin,
then rear upon his hmd-legs and spin round
like a flash.

Fording a river, where the current is deep
and rapid, is a dangerous experience for a
pack-train. The attendants must ride on
the lower side and keep the mules from
drifting down-stream. They are very sure-
footed and plucky under their loads so long
as they keep up, but let one fall down, and
there is not an instant to be lost if you would
save him and his cargo. Leap into the water
and help him up without an instant's delay,
for if he gets any water in those big fariy
ears of his he will do nothing to save him-
self, but will lie there and drown without
a struggle, ^ules can swim very well,
however, if they are willing to try. I once
had one take me out of a veiy awkward
predicament in that way.

All mules are very particular and private
about their ears. They wont allow them to
be touched or interfered with. These long
and mobile members are very expressive
in their various attitudes, but I could
never learn satisfactorily what each position
signified, unless it was that the next move-
ment would be precisely the opposite of
what was apparently intended. The para-
dox is the brute's model of mental action.
Never was a mule more irmocent in ap-
pearance than one which Mr. W. was quietly
riding just ahead of me, one afternoon. I
was half asleep, when I felt a smart blow on
my stirrup. I thought a stone had been
kicked up. A moment after the tapadetv
was struck, and I was just begirming to
realize the truth, when I saw the heels of
Mr. W.'s mule fly up. Probably nothing
but a quick movement of my leg saved it
from being broken. What caused that beast
to kick at me three times without provoca-
tion ? anything but " pure cussedness ? "

Their tails, too, being very horse-like, are
objects of great pride with them and they
decidedly resent any fooling with them. The
worst spell of kicking I ever saw, I think, was
once when I accidentally struck backward
with my three-lashed Indian guist and got
one thong entangled in Darby's caudal ex-
tremity. Such a frightened and thoroughly
indignant beast I never bestrode and hope
never to again ; but, in the expressive phrase
of that hard-riding region I "stayed by him.''

Digitized by




I had a mule once that would bray fero-
ciously and incessantly whenever it was out
of hearing of the train's bell. It was an
excessively anno3dng habit, and, persuasion
failing, I one day dug my spurs into its ribs,
and hammered its head first with a strap,
then with the butt of my pistol, every time
the hideous voice was raised. I felt that
there was no sense in the absurd practice,
and I was bound to break it. But after an
hour or two it was hard to keep my seat,
for about once a minute the beast would
duck its head and jump as though propelled
from a cannon, uttering a terrible bray,
apparently just to invite punishment So I
changed my tactics, and paid no attention
whatever to the habit, and in a couple of
days had no further annoyance. Mules know
what disturbs you, and malignandy do that
one thing regardless of pain to themselves.
Another mule I had was an exemplar of this
trait He had a trick of swelling himself
out when I put the saddle on, so that it was
impossible to make the girth tight : I might
as well have tried to draw in Uie waist of a
steam-boat boiler, and to secure the saddle
properly, I always had to catch him unawares,
after we had got started.

It is not easy to gain a mule's confidence,
and, on the other hand, he rarely merits
yours. I have known one to carry his
rider in the most exemplary manner for
hundreds of miles, and then one morning
begin a series of antics and develop an
unruliness as uncomfortable as it was unex-
pected. Sometimes you can train them
with considerable satisfaction, but you never
feel quite sure of them. They are for-
ever doing something surprising, heroically
pulling through real difficulties to give up
tamely before some sham obstacle. This is
partly owing to their absurd timidity. If
one scares, all the rest are panic-stncken.
A piece of black wood, like the embers of
an old fire, will cause almost any mule to
shy. A bowlder of a certain shape was inva-
riably regarded with distrust by one I used to
ride. Rattlesnakes they hold in just abhor-
rence; bears paralyze them with terror;
Indians they cannot be spurred to approach.
This excessive timidity is the result of their
social habits. A mule cannot bear to be
left alone, and although he knows he can
go straight back from wherever you mav
take him, following the trail like a hound,
yet he considers himself hopelessly lost and
forlorn when he can no longer hear the
bell. It is his use and habit to go with it
It means everything which makes life happy

for him, and he will endure very much pun-
ishment before forsaking it However, two
or three away together all day keep one
another company and get along very well.

This attachment to the train, while it has
been the salvation of many an outfit, be-
comes a great nuisance on the march. Mile
after mile you plod along in the rear at a
right-foot, left-foot, right-foot, left-foot jog
which in the course of seven or eight hours
wears out muscles and patience. The sun
beats down, the dust rises up, and your
only entertainment is the cow-bell hung on
the neck of the leader. The first hour you
do not mind it much ; the second it grows
wearisome ; the third, painful, and you hold
your ears to shut out the monotonous
clangor ; the fourth hour you go crazy — ^all
life centers about that tireless hammering,
and endless conning, till, in unison with the
ceaseless copper-clatter of that ding-dong
bell, your mind loses itsdf in

Hokey pokey winky wang,
Linkum lankum muscodang.
The Injun swore that he would hang
The man that couldn't keep warm.

You cannot get away fix)m it What is
misery to you is melody to the mule, and if
you try to ride him outside of the music of
the bell, he may, perhaps, be made to go,
but it will be in such a protesting, haltinp^,
lame and blind way, with such " uncertain
steps and slow," turnings of reproachful eye
and brayings of uplifted voice, that you will
find it better to endure the evils of the
pack-train than to attempt to escape from it.
Of course, if you go clear away, out of
sight and sound, the beast is obliged to
content himself; but on the march this is
not always pleasant or practicable.

But a diversion awaits. It is afternoon.
Everybody is dozing. The distant line of
trees which marks the day's destination is
in sight, and the mules have been well-
behaved all day. Plodding along in front
of you at a rapid walk, very demurely,
heads down, eyes half-closed, ears monoton-
ously wagging, you think they have forgot-
ten all their pranks, abandoned all inten-
tions of wickedness concocted in the restful
leisure of the early morning, and you fall
into admiring contemplation of their exceed-
ing docility and sweetness. Meanwhile, the
aparejo and load of a certain little buckskin-
hued Cayuse mule have been slipping back-
ward, and he, knowing it, has made no
sign, but has quiedy wriggled and swelled
himself until he has got far enough through
the sinch to try his experiment. With the

Digitized by




suddenness and agility of a grasshopper he
now gives a tremendous leap toward one side,
bucks high in the air a dozen times in as
many seconds, dancing about and kicking,
stands straight up on his hind-legs, and falls
over backward; next he squirms rapidly
through the loosened girths until he can
bring his heels to bear, and kicks boxes, bags
and bundles until the saddle slips down
over his legs and confines them like a hand-
cuff Then he rolls over and quietly nib-
bles the grass within reach, waiting, in the
most exasperating unconcern, until you shall
come and release him.

It will readily be understood that an east-
em man finds the tricks and treachery, lively
heels and diabolical disposition of the mule a
constant check upon the enjoyment of western
work and wandering. The mule-packers are
the most desperately profane men I have ever
met; they exhibit a real genius in "good
mouth-filling oaths." Considering the vexa-
tion to which they are subjected, and which
they must not otherwise retaliate, lest they
should injure the precious endurance and
carrying power upon which their lives depend,
and which make mules far more valuable
than horses for mountain service, it is not
surprising. And though these strong and
agile animals will stand for hours when the
bridle-rein of one is merely thrown over the

ear of his neighbor, under the delusion that
they are securely hobbled, they are very wise
and cunning, and can doubtless talk among
themselves ; but it is an unfortunate fact that
their wisdom is all exerted for wickedness,
and their conversation used chiefly in plotting
combined mischief. And it is my honest
and serious opinion, founded upon much
observation, that so long as any considerable
numbers of mules are employed there, it is
utterly useless for missionaries to go to the
Rocky Mountains.



Whose eye has marked his gendering? On his throne

He dwells apart in roofless caves of air,

Online LibraryGeorge Streynsham MasterThe Century, Volume 19 → online text (page 154 of 160)