1861 prairie traveler – pack mules

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Historic advice on packing and saddles for pack mules and horses. 36 pages.


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    CHAPTER IV.Packing. Saddles. Mexican Method. Madrina, or Bell-

    mare.Attachment of the Mule illustrated.Best Methodof Packing. Hoppling Animals. Selecting Horses andMules.Grama and bunch Grass.European Saddles.

    California Saddle. Saddle Wounds. Alkali. Flies.Colic.Rattlesnake Bites.Cures for the Bite.

    PACKING AND DRIVING."With a train of pack animals properly organized

    and equipped, a party may travel with much com-fort and celerity. It is enabled to take short cuts,and move over the country in almost any directionwithout regard to roads. Mountains and brokenground may easily be traversed, and exemption isgained from many of the troubles and detentionsattendant upon the transit of cumbersome wagon-trams.

    One of the most essential requisites to the outfitof a pack train is a good pack-saddle. Various pat-terns are in use, many of which are mere mstru-ments of torture upon the backs of the poor brutes,lacerating them cruelly, and causing continuedpain.

    The Mexicans use a leathern pack-saddle withouta tree. It is stuffed with hay, and is very large.

    Craig MeadeURLstamp


    covering almost the entire back, and extending fardown the sides. It is secured with a broad hairgirth, and the load is kept in position by a lash-rope drawn by two men so tight as to give the un-fortimate beast intense suffering.

    A pack-saddle is made by T. Grimsley, No. 41Main Street, St. Louis, Mo. It is open at the top,with a light, compact, and strong tree, which fitsthe animal's back well, and is covered with raw


    hide, put on green, and drawn tight by the con-traction in drying. It has a leathern breast-strap,breeching, and lash-strap, with a broad hair girthfastened in the Mexican fashion. Of sixty-five ofthese saddles that I used in crossmg the RockyMountains, over an exceedingly rough and brokensection, not one of them woimded a mule's back,


    and I regard them as the best saddles I have everseen.

    No people, probably, are more familiar with theart of packing than the Mexicans. They under-stand the habits, disposition, and powers of themule perfectly, and will get more work out of himthan any other men I have ever seen. TJie muleand the donkey are to them as the camel to theAi-abtheir porters over deserts and mountainswhere no other means of transportation can beused to advantage. The Spanish Mexicans are,however, cruel masters, having no mercy upon theirbeasts, and it is no uncommon thing for them toload their mules with the enormous burden of threeor four hundred pomids.These muleteers believe that, when the pack is

    firmly lashed, the animal suj^ports his burden betterand travels with greater ease, which seems quiteprobable, as the tension forms, as it were, an ex-

    ternal sheath supporting and bracing the muscles.It also has a tendency to prevent the saddle fromslipping and chafing the mule's back. With suchhuge cargas as the Mexicans load upon their mules,it IS impossible, by any precautions, to prevent theirbacks and withers from becoming horribly mangled,and it is common to see them working their animalsday after day in this miserable plight. This heavypacking causes the scars that so often mark Mexi-can mules.

    The animal, in startmg out from camp in the


    morning, groaning under the weight of his heavyburden, seems hardly able to move ; but the pack

    soon settles, and so loosens the lashing that after ashort time he moves along with more ease. Con-stant care and vigilance on the part of the mule-teers are necessary to prevent the packs from work-ing loose and falling oif. The adjustment of a car-ga upon a mule does not, however, detain the cara-van, as the others move on while it is being righted.If the mules are suffered to halt, they are apt to lie

    down, and it is very difficult for them, with theirloads, to rise; besides, they are likely to strain

    themselves in their efforts to do so. The Mexicans,in traveling with large caravans, usually make theday's march without nooning, as too much timewould be consumed in unloading and packing upagam.

    Packs, when taken off in camp, should be piledin a row upon the ground, and, if there be a pros-

    pect of rain, the saddles should be placed over them,

    and the whole covered with the saddle-blankets orcanvas.

    The muleteers and herders should be mountedupon well-trained horses, and be careful to keep theanimals of the caravan from wandering or scatter-ing along the road. This can easily be done byhaving some of the men riding upon each side, andothers in rear of the caravan.

    In herding mules it is customary among prairietravelers to have a bell-mare, to which the mules


    soon become so attached that they will follow herwherever she goes. By keeping her in charge ofone of the herdsmen, the herds are easily controlled;and durmg a stampede, if the herdsman mounts her,and rushes ahead toward camp, they will generallyfollow.

    In crossing rivers the bell-mare should pass first,

    after which the mules are easily induced to take tothe water and pass over, even if they have to swim.Mules are good swimmers unless they happen, byplunging off a high bank, to get water in their ears,when they are often droT;vTied. Whenever a mulein the water drops his ears, it is a sure indicationthat he has water in them, and he should be takenout as soon as possible. To prevent accidents ofthis nature, where the water is deep and the banksabrupt, the mule herds should be allowed to enterslowly, and without crowding, as otherwise theyare not only hkely to get their heads under water,but to throw each other over and get injured.The tnadrma^ or bell-mare, acts a most import-

    ant part in a herd of mules, and is regarded by ex-perienced campaigners as indispensable to their se-curity. She is selected for her quiet and regularhabits. She will not wander far from the camp. Ifshe happen to have a colt by her side, this is no ob-jection, as the mules soon form the most devotedattachment to it. I have often seen them leavetheir grazing when very lumgry, and flock arounda small colt, manifesting their delight by rubbing it


    with their noses, licking it with their tongues, kick-ing up their heels, and making a variety of othergrotesque demonstrations of affection, while thepoor little colt, perfectly unconscious of the causeofthese ungainly caresses, stood trembling with fear,but unable to make his escape from the compactch'cle of his muhsh admirers. Horses and asses arealso used as bell animals, and the mules soon becomeaccustomed to following them. If a man leads orrides a bell animal in advance, the mules follow, likeso many dogs, in the most orderly procession.

    " After traveling about fourteen miles," says Bay-ard Taylor, " we were joined by three miners, andour mules, taking a sudden liking for their horses,jogged on at a more brisk pace. The instincts ofthe mulish heart form an interesting study to thetraveler in the mountains. I would (were the com-parison not too ungallant) liken it to a woman's, forit is quite as uncertain in its sympathies, bestowingits affections when least expected, and, when be-stowed, quite as constant, so long as the object isnot taken away. Sometimes a horse, sometimesan ass, captivates the fancy of a whole drove ofmules, but often an animal nowise akin. LieutenantBeale told me that his whole train of mules oncegalloped off suddenly, on the plains of the Cima-rone, and ran half a mile, when they halted in ap-parent satisfaction. The cause of their freak wasfound to be a buffalo calf which had strayed fromthe herd. They were frisking around it in the great-


    est delight, rubbing tlieir noses against it, throwinglip their heels, and making themselves ridiculous byabortive attempts to neigh and bray, while the calf,imconscious of its attractive qualities, stood trem-bling in their midst."

    " If several large troops," says Charles Darwin," are turned into one field to graze in the morning,the muleteer has only to lead the madrinas a littleapart and tinkle their bells, and, although theremay be 200 or 300 mules together, each immedi-ately knows its own bell, and separates itself fromthe rest. The affection of these animals for theirmadrina saves infinite trouble. It is nearly impos-sible to lose an old mule, for, if detained several

    hours by force, she will, by the power of smell,like a dog, track out her companions, or rather themadrina ; .for, according to the muleteer, she is thechief object of afiection. The feeling, however, isnot of an individual nature, for I beheve I am rightin saying that any animal with a beU will serve as amadrina."Of the attachment that a mule will form for a

    horse, I will cite an instance from my own observa-tion, which struck me at the time as being one ofthe most remarkable and touching evidences of de-votion that I have ever known among the brutecreation.

    On leaving Fort Leavenworth with the army forUtah in 1857, one of the officers rode a small mule,whose kind and gentle disposition soon caused him


    to become a favorite among the soldiers, and theynamed him "Billy." As this officer and myselfwere often thrown togethe