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Mules Can Jump! All About Arkansas Mules
We’ve all heard the phrase “as stubborn as a mule” but in reality, mules are intelligent, hard-working animals that have a long history in the Arkansas. Mules are the result of crossing a male donkey with a female horse. The lineage of the American mule can be traced all the way back to George Washington.
The newly minted country had few mules and Washington felt mules would be crucial to the agricultural development of the nation. He asked Spanish King Charles III if he could have a royal jack (male donkey) to begin a breeding program. At the time, it was illegal to export a Spanish jack. The Spanish mule breeding program was highly regarded and Spanish mules were prized. The donkey arrived in 1785 and the history of mules in America began.
Washington’s bet paid off, especially in the South. By 1808, the U.S. had around 855,000 mules. Their endurance made them the preferred farm animal in the South. They consumed less than a horse, were hardier animals and worked longer. Soon mules pulled wagon trains across the southwest and became the backbone of the army as well.
In 1850, Arkansas had an estimated 12,000 mules. By the next decade, that number jumped to over 57,000 and continued to rise as mules plowed fields, pulled wagons through the steep Ozark and Ouachita mountains and even pulled streetcars through Little Rock and Ft. Smith. The number of mules peaked in the 1930s. During the Depression era, over 350,000 Arkansas mules worked the fields to help plant and harvest crops for a hungry population.
Photo Credit: Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, [reproduction number, e.g., [LC-F82-1234]
Like the horse, the mule suffered a sharp decline after World War II as modern farm equipment came into widespread use. However, you can still find mules in Arkansas.
Loyd Hawley has been raising mules in Prairie Grove for over 30 years. Like many mule enthusiasts, he originally rode horses and stumbled into the world of mules. He bought a pair of mules and took them to a mule show. The Hawley family was already competing in horse shows. Loyd says they decided to enter every event in the mule show. “We didn’t do worth a darn, but we sure had fun.” That first mule show was just the beginning of the adventure for the Hawleys.
Loyd had always been interested in genetics and saw an opportunity in mule breeding. At the time, people would breed mares they considered lower quality to a jack to produce a mule. Loyd decided to look for the best breeding stock he could and try to produce a higher quality mule. He purchased a daughter of quarter horse racing champion Easy Jet and bred her to Arkansas Red, a high-quality jack donkey.
He built his herd of broodmares up to 35, each mare known for different abilities. Loyd’s dedication to superior breeding has produced many fine mules over his long career. Most of his animals are used for trail riding and he prides himself on matching the potential owner to the right mule. “I’ve made people mad because I wouldn’t sell a mule that I knew wouldn’t work out for them.”
Mules are prized for their surefootedness and sense of preservation. Horses spook quite easily and will take a rider with them, but mules have a steadier personality. They provide a safer trail experience, especially for less experienced riders. Loyd says he’s seen an increase in Baby Boomers buying mules as Boomers retire and decide they’d like to ride but prefer a gentle animal with an easy gait.
Robin Post, of Post Farms Mules in Dolph, Arkansas, agrees that mules are an amazing ride. She and her husband have bred and raised mules for 20 years. Like Loyd, they started small and bred a jack to a Missouri Fox Trotter mare. They loved the mule and bred the mare again a year later to have a matching set. Though the mules were originally for pulling a wagon, they did so well, they broke the mules to ride. Robin says, “When we started riding them, we were absolutely hooked.” Now the Posts have 25 brood mares. They’ve sold mules all over the U.S. as well as France, Canada and Mexico.
As for why the Posts made the transition to breeding mules, Robin finds that question easy to answer. “I think mules are so sure-footed and they will bond to their owners easily. They are very intelligent and willing to please, with each having its own personality They have a nice long stride and it makes a very soft ride. I believe anything a horse can do a mule can do, too.”
If you’re intrigued by the idea of mules, but not ready to purchase your own, you can head to the Pea Ridge Mule Jump held in Pea Ridge Oct. 14. Mule jumping originated from coon hunting. When hunters encountered a fence, they would dismount their mules, throw a blanket over the fence and encourage the mules to jump. Mules aren’t natural jumpers, but they can jump, and they do so from a standing start.
The Pea Ridge mule jump has three jumping events as well as some rodeo-style events. They also boast live music and over 100 vendors. Find out more about the mule jump festival at pearidgemulejump.com. Whether you visit the mule jump or decide to check out mules for their trail riding abilities, you’ll find an animal with a presidential past that’s played an important, if underrated, role in Arkansas history.
Photos of Post Farms Mules courtesy of Post Farms and used with permission.
6 Million Mules
Here is the history of the American mule in numbers. In 1786, there were zero—at least none on record in the new United States. In 2007, there were 28,000. But in 1925—the very peak of American muledom— there were nearly 6 million mules in the United States, most of them in the South, most of them in harness, most of them plowing. They had their century, the mules, and a glorious one it was, no matter how humble or forgotten the creatures may seem to us now. Mules first came into wide use in the 1830s, and by the 1930s they were vanishing quickly, replaced by the tractor. In that century of animal traction, there is a lost music—the legendary cursing of mule teamsters, the urging words spoken by farmers and sharecroppers, the songs sung as they and the mules went about their work. There were men who said more to their mules than they ever did to their mates.
Tractors weren’t the only reason the number of mules fell off so sharply after 1925. Biology itself has something to do with it. In his memoirs, Ulysses S. Grant recalled the herds of wild horses in southern Texas—as numerous, he wrote, as the herds of bison farther north. Turn horses and donkeys—the parents of the mule—into the wild, and you’ll soon have far more horses and donkeys than the wild can sustain. But turn a herd of mules into the wild, and it will last no longer than the lifespan of the longest-lived mule. A mule has 63 chromosomes instead of the donkey’s 62 and the horse’s 64. That difference makes the mule sterile.
If another creature’s numbers fell so sharply, we would say that it was drifting toward extinction. But can an animal that is already unable to reproduce itself become extinct? Here we wander into surprisingly deep philosophical waters. Mules are not a species or subspecies. They’re not even a breed. Or rather, each individual mule is a breed unto itself. Mules come in broad types that depend on the genetic lottery and the breeds of their parents. Some are tall, some short, some iron gray, some nearly black or chocolate brown with fawn-colored trimmings, as if a light mule had borrowed a dark-colored mule skin that was just too small for it. Some mules look like a cross between a jackrabbit and a Great Dane, and some are creatures of astonishing dignity, worthy of the riders in most equestrian statues. But no matter what they look like, they regard you with their ears as much as their eyes. A mule’s ears are no more mobile than a horse’s. There’s just so much more ear to mobilize.
In one sense, the mule is simple—it is usually, preferably, the offspring of a jack (a male donkey) and a mare (a female horse). Jack plus mare equals mule. Nothing to it—or so it would seem. But mares abound, and good jacks never have. Thus, the mule-making business—a former mainstay of the South—requires the subsidiary business of making good jacks and jennets, which is the name for female donkeys. Dr. L.W. Knight, a 19th-century “jackologist” from Murfreesboro, Tenn., called a female donkey a “jennet jack.”
In the United States, getting good jacks meant importing them at first, beginning with an Andalusian jack and jennet the king of Spain gave to George Washington in 1787. (Lafayette gave Washington a Maltese jack.) Nineteenth-century jack breeders like Knight became serious students of all foreign breeds, including the Catalonian and the Poitou, a large, heavy-boned French jack with profuse, curling hair, as well as what Knight calls “celebrated premium jacks” and “renowned sweepstake premium jennet jacks.” Jack breeding still goes on, of course, under the auspices of the American Mammoth Jackstock Registry. Otherwise where would we get mules?
Donkeys and horses diverged from a common ancestor around 2.4 million years ago. Both are members of currently extant, entirely successful but completely separate species. Imagine a world in which you could create a human version of the mule, a half-human hybrid. To do so, you would need to have on hand another currently extant, entirely successful hominid species, one that evolved after we both diverged from a common ancestor some 2.4 million years ago. In those days, long before the Neanderthals, Homo habilis was alive. If humankind is the horse, some collateral descendant of Homo habilis would be the donkey. Or vice versa.
It would be an interesting world. We would be sharing the planet with another hominid species prospering right alongside us—no more and no less evolved than we are, physically similar but visibly different. We would be largely repugnant to each other. We could interbreed, but only if coerced by a third, more dominant species that liked the result of our interbreeding. The offspring would be incredibly useful, superior in some ways to either of their parents. But they would be sterile, and probably doomed to a life of hard labor and prejudice.
This is a world right out of science fiction. This is the world of the mule. As the great Harvey Riley—author of The Mule: A Treatise on the Breeding, Training, and Uses To Which He May Be Put—wrote in 1869, the mule “is not a natural animal, only an invention of man.” Aristotle wondered about that, as did Darwin. “That a hybrid,” Darwin wrote, “should possess more reason, memory, obstinacy, social affection, and powers of muscular endurance, than either of its parents, seems to indicate that art has here out-mastered nature.”
The great event cutting across the history of the American mule was the Civil War. In the war’s last eight months alone, some 74,000 mules passed through the Eastern Branch Wagon Park in Washington, D.C., where Harvey Riley was superintendent. How many mules served in the war, North and South, is impossible to say, but the number probably approached half a million, most of them pulling the army’s livelihood in wagons. John Billings, the author of Hardtack and Coffee, or The Handwritten Story of Army Life (1888), says simply, “the South could not have been worsted in the Rebellion had it not been for the steady re-enforcement brought to the Union side by the mule.”
The Civil War introduced mules to tens of thousands of humans who had never met any of their kind before. For some—like the freed slaves who believed they would be given 40 acres and a government-surplus mule—this was a potential blessing. But for the mules it was a curse. Grant, writing about an earlier era, explains why. The soldiers who became mule drivers, he notes, “were principally foreigners who had enlisted in our large cities, and, with the exception of a chance drayman among them, it is not probable that any of the men who reported themselves as competent teamsters had ever driven a mule-team in their lives, or indeed that many had had any previous experience in driving any animal whatever to harness.” The result was frustration, abuse, inveterate hostility and a cancerous prejudice against mules.
Here, too, we are in deep philosophical waters. The prejudice against mules assumed that they were innately evil—stubborn, cunning and lazy, with a bone-rattling bray and a lightning kick. In reality, what most humans have seen in mules is what humans have planted there. Hence, Harvey Riley’s instructions to the new mule hand, gleaned from his experience with government mules in the Civil War: “Don’t spring at him, as if he were a tiger you were in dread of. Don’t yell at him don’t jerk him don’t strike him with a club, as is too often done don’t get excited at his jumping and kicking.” Riley’s sovereign remedy was kindness.
Many people hated how the mule acted, but many also hated what the mule was—a mongrel. In what you might call the anti-mule literature, you come upon writers who talk about the mule as if it were the result of miscegenation—a violation, in fact, of a kind of racial purity. The American humorist Josh Billings makes a joke of it. “They only reason why tha are pashunt,” he writes, “is bekause tha are ashamed ov themselfs.” But it was no joke. Again and again, writers point out a supposed affinity between mules and American Indians, mules and Mexicans and, especially, mules and slaves. A person of mixed black and white ancestry even came to be known as a mulatto. This is racism written into the animal world.
But to people who understand the mule, it lives up to the words of Harvey Riley: “He is a true friend of humanity who does what he can for his benefit.” Some go even further. “If a man has a really good saddle mule,” writes one Texan, “he is like the kings and great men of old he would not trade for all the horses in the country.”
I can grasp what that Texan means. Several years ago, riding after mountain lions, I spent four days— aching days—on mule-back. When you saddle up in the dark, you can’t tell a mule from a horse. But at dawn, there I was, high in the Peloncillo Mountains on the Mexican border, riding a not-horse. That was how my mount seemed to me, who had ridden only horses. It was true mule country—dry, steep and pathless. On the off side, I could reach out with my hand and touch the rising slope. If I had stepped off on the near side, I would have stepped down 40 or 50 feet all at once into cactus and devil’s claw.
When we set out before dawn, the man I was riding with—Warner Glenn, a rancher, conservationist and consummate mule man—told me everything I needed to know. It boiled down to this: The mule knows everything you need to know. I learned quickly to let the mule make his way, to leave the reins loose, to support him only by keeping my weight balanced over his midsection. I trusted the mule, knowing it knew its work far better than I ever could. My job was to be nothing more than a pack the mule carried—a bag of salt for stock in the high country or a load of flour. I learned how the world looks when you see it between a mule’s long ears. It looks good.
Verlyn Klinkenborg is on the editorial board of the New York Times and is the author of The Rural Life.
Originally published in the October 2012 issue of American History. To subscribe, click here.
The Return of Hephaistos to Olympus was a popular scene in Attic vase-painting from the beginning of the sixth century through the end of the fifth century bce , and it is found occasionally on other forms of pottery as well. According to myth, Hephaistos was lame, and this disability is sometimes depicted on painted pottery, almost always in scenes of his Return. The most well-known example is the François Vase, which is often the only vase cited when discussing instances of Hephaistos's lameness on Athenian pottery. Although three other Attic vases are occasionally cited as showing the disability, one of which does not show his Return, but instead the Birth of Athena, there are actually quite a number more Attic vases that depict his lameness than have previously been recognised. In this paper I present seven new Attic examples that clearly display his lameness, and consider both the different ways in which his disability is rendered and how they relate to the various epithets associated with him For example, he is often associated with the epithet ‘clubfoot’, and while there was an established iconography of clubfoot Corinthian komasts, the god's disability is never rendered in this manner on Attic vases. Instead, he is depicted in ways more similar to other epithets associated with him. Most notably, four vases represent the disability in a fashion that seems to be connected with Hephaistos's most common Homeric epithet, ἀμφιγυήεις, or ‘with both feet crooked’.
Η Eπιστροφή του Ηφαίστου στον Όλυμπο αποτελεί δημοφιλή σκηνή της αττικής αγγειογραφίας μεταξύ των αρχών του 6ου και του τέλους του 5ου αιώνα π.Χ. Η ίδια σκηνή ενίοτε απαντά και σε άλλα είδη αγγειοπλαστικής. Σύμφωνα με τον μύθο, ο Ήφαιστος ήταν χωλός, και σε ορισμένες περιπτώσεις η εν λόγω αναπηρία απεικονίζεται σε επιζωγραφισμένα αγγεία, σχεδόν πάντα σε σκηνές της Eπιστροφής του. Το πιο διάσημο παράδειγμα είναι ο μελανόμορφος ελικωτός κρατήρας Francois, το μοναδικό αγγείο στο οποίο παραπέμπει συχνά η εκάστοτε πραγμάτευση της χωλότητας του Ηφαίστου, όπως αυτή απεικονίζεται στην αττική αγγειογραφία. Αν και οι ερευνητές παραπέμπουν ενίοτε σε τρία επιπλέον αττικά αγγεία που απεικονίζουν την εν λόγω αναπηρία, ένα εκ των οποίων δεν αναπαριστά την επιστροφή του, αλλά τη γέννηση της Αθηνάς, στην πραγματικότητα υπάρχουν αρκετά περισσότερα αττικά αγγεία που εικονίζουν τη χωλότητα του θεού σε σύγκριση με όσα είχαν ταυτιστεί στο παρελθόν. Στο ανα χείρας άρθρο παρουσιάζω επτά νέα αττικά παραδείγματα που αναπαριστούν εμφανώς τη χωλότητά του, και πραγματεύομαι τους ποικίλους τρόπους με τους οποίους εξεικονίζεται η χωλότητά του αφενός, και τον συσχετισμό τους με τα ποικίλα λατρευτικά επίθετα του θεού αφετέρου. Παραδείγματος χάριν, ο Ήφαιστος σχετίζεται με το επίθετο “ῥαιβός”, και ενώ υπήρχε διαμορφωμένη εικονογραφία ραιβών Κορίνθιων κομαστών, η αναπηρία του θεού δεν αποδίδεται με τον τρόπο αυτόν στα αττικά αγγεία. Πιο αξιοσημείωτο είναι το παράδειγμα τεσσάρων αγγείων που απεικονίζουν την αναπηρία με τρόπο που υποδηλοί τον συσχετισμό της με το στερεότυπο ομηρικό επίθετο του Ηφαίστου “ἀμφιγυήεις” ή “στραβοκάνης”.
Mules have been deliberately bred for centuries. Evidence of their utility dates back to ancient times, and they were, in many cases, considered more valuable than their horse and donkey counterparts.
George Washington is considered the “father of the American mule,” and is credited with popularizing mules in the United States. Convinced of the mule’s superiority as a draft animal, and impressed by the quality of European donkeys and mules, Washington wrote to King Charles III of Spain, hoping to purchase some of the famous Andalusian donkeys. At the time, Spain was so fiercely proud and protective of these donkeys that it was prohibited to sell any outside the country without the king’s permission.
King Charles instead sent a jack (donkey) to Washington as a gift. The jack, appropriately named “Royal Gift,” was the basis for the mules that would revolutionize draft power in the United States. With the addition of a Maltese jack gifted to Washington by the Marquis de Lafayette, the offspring of these two breeds became very valuable and highly sought-after breeding stock. Washington’s donkey stock eventually became the basis for the creation of the American Mammoth Jackstock, a breed of donkey well-known in the day for producing fine draft mules.
Mules quickly became the draft animal of choice in the South, where their heat tolerance, small appetite, capacity for work, and small feet gave them an edge in planting and harvesting crops.
Mules led the way west in the early 19th century. Trains of pack mules crossed rocky, dangerous trails on a regular basis, bringing goods from one side of a mountain range to the other. The mules that pulled settlers’ wagons also helped build their houses and plow their fields. Choosing a mule companion was a serious and important decision. A good mule could mean the difference between success and failure, and in some cases, between life and death.
One of the best-known mule teams in U.S. history was the 20-mule hitch that hauled borax out of the mines in Death Valley in the 1880s. Two teams, totaling 18 mules and two horses, were hitched to a wagon, forming a massive 100-foot-long train. There was no water along the path, so mule teams had to carry their own water on the trip. The combined weight of the heavy wagon, water, and borax was 36 tons. The 165-mile trip took 10 days one way, and traversed some pretty grueling terrain in temperatures reaching upward of 130 degrees Fahrenheit at times.
Turning and maneuvering such a long train required serious coordination. As the train of mules turned, the mules in the middle of the line would have to jump over the tow chain to avoid getting tangled or bumped as the wagon moved. Each pair of mules had a specific role in the complex turning process, and a specific moment at which to make its move if the timing was off, it could cause serious injury.
In the six years the 20-mule teams were used — before they were replaced by a railroad — it’s estimated that they pulled some 20 million pounds of borax out of the desert. Not a single mule was lost during that time, a true testament to their hardiness. The 20 Mule Team trademark was first used in 1891, and remains on every box of 20 Mule Team borax today.
Hephaestus crafted much of the other magnificent equipment of the gods, and almost any finely-wrought metalwork imbued with powers that appears in Greek myth is said to have been forged by Hephaestus: Hermes' winged helmet and sandals, the Aegis breastplate, Aphrodite's famed girdle, Agamemnon's staff of office, Η] Achilles' armor, Heracles' bronze clappers, Helios' chariot as well as his own due to his lameness, the shoulder of Pelops, Eros' bow and arrows. Hephaestus worked with the help of the chthonic Cyclopes, his assistants in the forge. He also built automatons of metal to work for him. This included tripods that walked to and from Mount Olympus. He gave to blinded Orion his apprentice Cedalion as a guide. In one version of the myth, Prometheus stole the fire that he gave to man from Hephaestus's forge. Hephaestus also created the gift that the gods gave to man, the woman Pandora and her jar. Being a skilled blacksmith, Hephaestus created all the thrones in the Palace of Olympus. ⎖]
Hephaistos Riding a Mule - History
When I posted this on Facebook about mules in the Bible…
Origins: The mule is mentioned in mankind’s earliest records. Consider this passage from the Bible: “And Absolom met the servants of David. And Absolom rode upon a mule, and the mule went under the thick boughs of a great oak, and his head caught hold of the oak, and he was taken up between the Heavens and the earth, and the mule that was under him went away.” (II Samuel 18:9). If you choose to ride a mule, you will need a good sense of humor.
…we were asked about mules really being in the Bible. We sent an email to a Rabbi inquiring about the translation of the ancient Hebrew word for “mule” or “pered.” Here is the reply:
“Solomon rode on a mule (1Ki 1:38) because his father David told Zadok, Nathan, and Benaiah to “cause Solomon my son to ride upon mine own mule” (v 33). This is the word for a “she-mule” (BDB, TWOT). Its three Old Testament uses are all in this passage (see v 44), referring to one mule, David’s. Solomon’s riding on David’s mule in company with David’s advisors gave a clear message: he was the successor David had chosen. Years later in secular history, female mules became preferable for riding and males for bearing burdens. That may have been a factor in David’s having this special mule. Second, an observation. David’s sons all rode on (male) mules (2Sa 13:29) and Absalom rode a mule at the end of his life (2Sa 18:9). Since a mule is crossbred between a mare and a male donkey, and since crossbreeding was prohibited in Israel (Lev 19:19), mules were likely imported (TWOT), and were thus more valued. They (along with horses, silver, and gold, etc.) symbolized the wealth that other kings brought to Solomon annually (1Ki 10:25). Third, a suggestion. The greatest reason for David’s choice of a mule rather than a horse may have been God’s prohibition for kings (Deu 17:16): they were not to multiply horses to themselves. David was careful in this. Solomon, to his own destruction, was not (1Ki 10:26, 28).”
Thank you for educating me on the use of mules by King David and his sons. I recently got a donkey and had remembered incorrectly that David rode a donkey. Now I know the truth and have a better understanding of what is written in the Word. God Bless You. Deborah Graham (My Lord’s Arabians)
The son of David, our savior rode on a donky.
My question is , what actually is a mule and why are they having different interpretation when used. Example male for burden and female for other things. Can you please help me out.
THANK YOU very much.
God richly bless u for educating me.
The History of Mules at the Grand Canyon
They’ve been characterized as the tractors of the 19th century. So it’s really no wonder that mules played a central role in the human history of the Grand Canyon.
Early prospectors used the beasts of burden in seeking their fortunes. And by the late 1880s, when tourists began arriving, the sturdy, sure-footed animals provided an easy way to experience the marvels within the grand chasm.
Bigger and stronger than horses, these hybrid beasts (the offspring of a female horse and a male burro) offer a relatively smooth ride as they pick their way across the narrow switchback trails leading to the canyon floor.
Pioneer hotelier John Hance is believed to be the first to put tourists on mule back for the trip into the canyon. He opened a hotel about 15 miles east of where the present Grand Canyon Village sits, and advertised lodging and mule rides as early as 1887.
Mules were also instrumental in widening old Indian trails that to this day remain major routes into the canyon. In 1890, businessman and future U.S. senator Ralph Cameron widened the Bright Angel Trail to Indian Garden, about half way down the canyon. Thanks to mining claims in the area, from 1913 to 1930 Cameron was able to charge $1 a head for mule riders on the popular trail.
But almost a decade earlier, two enterprising brothers, Emery and Ellsworth Kolb, set up a photo studio at the head of the Bright Angel Trail. From this spectacular perch, they snapped photos of riders descending into the canyon. They also collected the toll for Ralph Cameron in exchange for being able to create a building which would eventually become their home. They established a dark room 4.5 miles into the canyon at Indian Garden, where there was a steady source of water to develop the shots. Returning riders were greeted with a souvenir photo. (The Kolb studio on the rim has been lovingly preserved and is open to the public.)
It might seem remarkable in this fast-paced digital world, but the mule rides remain a staple of the Grand Canyon experience. Thousands of visitors annually gather at the South Rim’s Mule Barn eager to take a turn in the slow lane.
Two options await. The overnight ride to Phantom Ranch, nestled a mile beneath the rim on the canyon floor, is a bucket-list endeavor. The 10.5-mile ride down the Bright Angel Trail takes about six hours, including rest stops. The ride out the next morning is via the shorter, but steeper, 7.8-mile South Kaibab Trail. Guests sleep in comfy cabins and indulge in a hearty dinner and breakfast as part of the fare.
For those with less time, the Canyon Vistas ride is a three-hour experience (including four miles and two hours in the saddle) that winds along a rim-top trail amid juniper and pinon pine, each turn revealing another heart-stopping canyon vista.
The Use of the Ass, Mule and Horse in Medieval Travel
Whether travelling singly, or in a group, the medieval traveller often used pack animals either to carry luggage, or to ride upon.
The Ass as a Form of Transport in Medieval Times
The ass, a native of North Africa and Arabia was used as a form of transport from Biblical times and by the medieval times, was well-established as a means of transport and of travel. Since an ass can carry both a person and luggage, it was an ideal way to transport the medieval traveller, particularly across mountainous regions, where other animals would falter.
The ass was particularly used by members of religious orders, as riding an ass was seen as a form of humility, whilst horses were regarded as an animal for the upper classes. Because Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, many clerics were keen to follow his example.
The Horse as a Form of Transport in Medieval Times
Because the horse is a stronger and generally faster animal than the ass, it tended to be the transport of choice for moneyed people and those who needed to travel quickly, perhaps with urgent news. From the eleventh century onwards, successful breeding had made sturdy and reliable horses, some of which were strong battle chargers, others which were more suitable for long journeys. One of the reasons that horses were favoured by wealthier people was that a horse was less economical to keep than an ass. A horse could be fed on oats, which during medieval times, formed a significant portion of the human diet and so could be costly to feed to an animal.
The Mule as a Form of Transport in Medieval Times
A mule, which is an offspring of a he-ass and a mare, was another sturdy animal which could prove its worth on medieval journeys. The mule was particularly noted for its endurance, and so was an ideal mount for a long or arduous journey, particularly since it was less expensive to feed than a horse. However, for all pack animals, the costs of stabling, hay, and food all had to be taken into consideration.
Other animals used in the Middle Ages for travel included the camel, the elephant, and oxen, which were also used as plough animals on the medieval farm. Goats and sheeps were often taken on crusade, as not only could they be used to carry goods, but could be killed and eaten during the journey.
Battle of Packsaddle Mountain: Texans and a Mule vs. Apaches
Baalam, a robust roan mule, heat of the corral on cattleman Jack Martin’s ranch in southern Llano County, Texas. Musing mulelike on his habitual concerns of water, forage and shade from the stood dozing in the searing summer sun, the patient animal would have cared little even had he known that he was about to become a celebrated character in the folklore of the Texas frontier. It was August 5, 1873, and Baalam the mule was to play a major role that very day in defeating the last Indian raid ever launched into Llano County.
The stoic Baalam barely twitched an ear when a pair of riders thundered into the yard of the ranch house and reined to a halt, their horses’ mouths foaming thickly at the bit. The men were part of a posse formed by rancher James R. Moss, who had left his holdings between Sandy and Legion creeks at first light that morning in company with his two younger brothers, Stephen and William. Along with them rode drovers Elijah Deaver Harrington, Robert Brown, Eli Lloyd and George Lewis in pursuit of a band of 21 Mescalero Apache raiders (some accounts say Comanches) who had appeared two days earlier in the Llano area, bent on claiming livestock and plunder from the isolated local homesteads.
On the day before, the Mescaleros had left an arrow jutting from the flank of a milch cow and then briefly pursued Harrington and William Moss as they drove a herd of horses to safety in the ranch’s corral. The bullets had flown fast and thick past the Texans’ ears on that desperate ride, for it seemed that every one of the raiders carried a Henry or Winchester repeating rifle, making them an unusually well-armed band of hostiles.
James Moss had lived in the Llano Valley for 16 years, not counting three years spent with the 17th Texas Infantry as it chastised the Yankee invaders in Arkansas and Louisiana. Four years after the war’s end, he had led a trail drive that took 1,400 steers to California through the heart of Apacheria. Never easily intimidated, he was now bent on catching and punishing the raiders before they could work further mischief against his friends and neighbors in the isolated Texas Hill Country north of San Antonio and west of Austin.
E.D. Harrington picked up the hostiles’ trail on the morning of the 5th, and the Texans ranged eastward toward the hulking glacis of Cedar Mountain before following the tracks on a southeast bearing to reach the rocky maw of Cut-Off Gap on the Llano-Gillespie county line. There, the trail led them into a narrow channel hewn by nature through the converging flanks of Cedar, Solomon and Bee Rock mountains. All the men were armed with Spencer repeating carbines, and they entered the defile with cartridges chambered and their hammers at full cock, for if the Apaches sensed any pursuit, this would be an ideal location for them to have laid an ambush. Clearing the gap without incident, the Texans quirted their mounts onward to reach the summit of Bee Rock Mountain. A spring gushed from that peak, and next to it they found where the raiders had encamped the previous night, feasting from the butchered carcasses of stolen cattle.
“From Bee Rock Mountain we followed the trail north off the mountain into Cut-Off Gap,” recalled Harrington, “and then a little east through Jack Martin’s ranch.” James Moss sent brother William and Eli Lloyd to the ranch house in search of reinforcements, for their mounts were played out and faltering in the chase. Arch Martin immediately saddled a horse and mounted with his Spencer in hand. Cowboy Pinckney “Pink” Ayers, a recent emigrant from North Carolina by way of Tennessee, joined him astride the roan mule, Baalam. Ayers, who had a brass-framed Winchester tucked in his saddle scabbard, apparently had experienced difficulty staying aboard the ranch’s high-strung horses. The placid-tempered mule had thus become his preferred mount. It proved to be a fateful choice for Baalam, Pink Ayers and the entire little company of frontiersmen.
Martin and Ayers joined the posse on the move, and the trail led eastward onto “Uncle Jim” Wilson’s property, where the Apaches had paused on a whim to crush every one of his crop of pumpkins before proceeding northeastward to the ford on Sandy Creek. They found the water still muddied by the Indians’ passage. The ford was a particular danger point, for the brush lining the northern bank offered good cover for a waiting ambush party, while the deeply drifted sands of the creek bed impeded their horses’ movements, making the Texans ideal targets as they crossed the sparse flow of the creek. Happily, no muzzle flashes bloomed within the post oak and mesquite of the far bank as the group cleared the ford and pressed on to the northeast toward the landmark eminence of Spy Knob.
Moss’ company spurred on through the oppressively gathering heat of the day, eager to close the distance and start raising dust from their quarry’s blankets with the stubby .50- caliber rimfire rounds chambered in their Spencers. From Sandy Creek, the braves’ trail led arrow-straight to the soaring batholith of Packsaddle Mountain, 14 miles southeast of the town of Llano. This massive sandstone rampart stood at an elevation of 1,628 feet, and the tallest of its multiple peaks crested at 650 feet above the surrounding countryside. Resembling some mythical giant’s castle or the saddle once strapped to the back of God’s pack mule, Packsaddle Mountain dominated the countryside for miles in every direction. As the Texans approached the landmark’s base, they followed the raiders’ trail to the foot of its easternmost summit. There, a narrow, winding, rock-strewn trail climbed upward to reach the high meadow at the top.
The Texans reined to a halt in the shadow of the wind-scoured walls of the mountain’s southeastern flank. They had completed a pursuit of 25 miles only to find that their quarry occupied an ideal defensive position. The Apaches boasted superb observation and an ideal field of fire covering the single avenue of approach into their encampment among the eagles. James Moss realized that an advance up the narrow trail to the summit could well lead them into a fatal killing zone framed in the sights of the Apache Winchesters and Henrys, but he was determined to make the raiders pay in blood for their thievery, even at the risk of his own life and those of his men.
“Boys, you see that smoke up on the mountain?” James Moss asked. “They’re camped up there, and we’re going after them. If there’s any of you that don’t think you can stand to be shot at, here’s the place to turn back.” All the men remained silent, even though some, like Harrington, bore the scars of wounds suffered in earlier encounters with the Apaches and Comanches. Finally Pink Ayers answered, responding that he’d never been in an Indian fight before, and didn’t really know if he wanted to be in one now, but that he’d not turn back. Sitting astride Baalam, he made sure the magazine of his Winchester was full of .44-caliber rimfire cartridges and watched his comrades make similar last-minute checks of their carbines and pistols.
Moss held a brief council of war and outlined a simple plan of attack. Upon reaching the summit, barring any ambush, they would immediately charge the Indian encampment to employ the element of surprise and place themselves between the warriors and their grazing horses. Once that was accomplished, they would dismount, find cover and start making fierce music with their Spencers and Winchesters. With any luck they would kill or wound enough of the enemy in the opening moments of the fight to make it a more even contest.
“I’ll go ahead,” were James Moss’ final words of instruction, and then he turned and started up the rubble-strewn trail, followed by E.D. Harrington, Stephen Moss, William Moss, Bob Brown, Eli Lloyd, George Lewis and Arch Martin, with Ayers and Baalam bringing up the rear. “Our horses were pretty much jaded, and we were leading them up the mountain when we saw the Indians,” James Moss later recorded. The closer they came to the trail’s head, the greater their anticipation of an ambush, but, incredibly, they reached the summit undetected, for reasons that became clear only later.
Swinging up into their saddles, the stockmen charged forward. “[The Indians’] horses were grazing in a little flat directly between them and us,” recalled Moss, “so we mounted our horses and put the spurs to them until we got between them and their horses, some of the boys firing as they came up, but as the mountain was very steep and rough our men strung in one at a time.” One brave was standing by the horse herd as the Texans appeared. Someone fired at him, and he fled toward the camp with “an awful yell.” The Apaches had been taken by surprise, for some of them were roasting and eating meat by their fires while others lay asleep. A few of them awakened only long enough to stop a Spencer slug.
James Moss and his men stormed ahead, positioning themselves between the camp and the horse herd as planned, but the startled Mescaleros rallied quickly. “When they had gotten their arms and opened fire on us, we were not more than 30 steps from them and had them cut off from their horses,” boasted Moss, “so we dismounted and turned our horses loose, and then fight commenced in earnest on both sides.” Powder smoke began to drift across the summit in a gray caul as bullets impacted on rocks and then whined off into the ether, leaving bright splashes of lead behind them on the stone. The firing built in volume as men levered fresh loads into their repeaters. The Texans enjoyed a major stroke of luck when the Indians left behind several sacks filled with rifle cartridges as they fled for cover. With their reserve ammunition supplies thus captured, the raiders had to rely only on what cartridges rested in their rifles’ magazines and in their belt loops. The Apaches nevertheless seemed to be regaining their balance when Fate stepped in with an improbable long-eared messenger.
Pink Ayers was the last man to reach the scene, and his comrades had already dismounted when he rode up on his mule to the firing line. A bullet soon creased Baalam, and the startled animal went berserk, bolting into the Indian lines in what were described as “short, choppy jumps.” Baalam’s terrified rider held on for dear life. The crazed mule careened about among the braves, lashing out with iron-shod hooves and snapping his teeth while braying in outrage and pain. The Mescaleros either scrambled out of the rabid jack’s way or trained their rifles on him and his rider and blazed away in an effort to destroy the noisy threat that had suddenly materialized in their midst.
Nearly paralyzed with fright, Ayers could only clasp his Winchester’s stock in one hand while gripping the bucking Baalam’s mane with the other in a desperate effort to keep his seat. Bullets gouged his saddle and left the leather covering in tatters, but Ayers still lived. “Fortunately he sustained only flesh wounds albeit in a less glorious portion of his anatomy,” read a later account of the fight. “Baalam was also wounded but not seriously.”
Ayers finally regained enough control of his mount to steer him away from the Indians and back among the Texans. But that was not such a good thing for Stephen Moss, who sustained his only injury of the fight when the beast knocked him down and trampled upon him as he sought to seize its bridle and allow its rider to dismount. James Moss finally got the mad mule under control. A relieved Ayers swung down from the saddle and sought cover Baalam bolted to the rear. Once on solid ground, Ayers began burning powder with his Winchester for the first time.
The confusion wrought by Baalam in the Apache ranks had been a boon to the Texans. Instead of returning fire, many of the Mescaleros had been intent on ducking the mule’s flailing hooves and slashing teeth. The diversion bought the Texans some precious time. Still, they had a genuine fight on their hands. Three times during the next hour, the Mescaleros staged charges across the open ground in an effort to recapture their mounts, or attempted to shift off to the side and outflank the Texans. Each time the frontiersmen’s accurate shooting drove them back to the cover of a rock ledge. At that point, the Indians probably had only one man killed but more than a few wounded.
The Texans also sustained casualties in the fight. Several other men besides Ayers suffered wounds. William Moss had emptied his revolver and was crouching to extract the expended cartridge cases from the cylinder when he was hit. A bullet entered the point of his right shoulder and transited his arm to lodge in his back. The shot had been fired from behind by a warrior who had broken cover from just below the slope of the summit. This brave had originally been posted as a look out by his comrades, but he had apparently fallen asleep at his post and been bypassed unknowingly by the advancing whites. It was probably his fire that also wounded Eli Lloyd through both wrists. Moments later, a Spencer cracked, and the Mescalero paid for his earlier negligence with his life. Arch Martin meanwhile took a bullet in the left groin. An Indian slug blew the pocketknife from Bob Brown’s trouser pocket, leaving him with a grazing wound on his thigh. Rushed by an Apache, Brown grappled with the brave in a hand-to-hand fight and finally brained him with the butt of his revolver before taking his scalp as a trophy.
A lull in the fighting occurred as the braves began keening a doleful chant and disappeared behind the cover of the rock ledge. The stockmen took advantage of the break in the action to tend their wounded and reload their weapons. Suddenly eight warriors sprang over the crest of the ledge and charged forward in one
final desperate bid to reclaim their horses. Texan fire quickly drove them back to cover. Soon afterward, the band’s chieftain harangued his braves in their native language, exhorting them to follow him in another try for their mounts. When none rose to join him, he staged a solitary headlong charge that carried him to within a few yards of the stockmen before he fell, pierced by six bullets. He was wearing a deer hide jacket, and the riflemen could “see the hair fly” as the slugs struck the Mescalero. Later, the dead Indian leader was found to be wearing a belt made of the bones of human fingers.
With their leader gone, the surviving Mescaleros withdrew into a stand of cedars and began descending the treacherous slope afoot. James Moss and his companions were content to let them go, for with half their number wounded they were in no condition to mount a pursuit. The Texans bandaged their wounded and helped them back into their saddles. Elijah Harrington and Pink Ayers remained behind to round up the captured horses and collect what weapons and camp equipage had been left behind by the fleeing tribesmen. Ayers moved stiffly, favoring the two shallow wounds in his “hip.” The two men burned anything they could not use, and Harrington lifted the scalps of two of the three dead they found on the summit. For good measure, Harrington also took the ears of the slain chieftain. Numerous blood trails from wounded Indians were also visible. Some weeks later, the bones of a dead Indian were found near the base of the mountain and a recent grave was also discovered nearby, increasing the toll of Apache dead to at least five.
The victorious stockmen descended the trail and rode several miles northward to the John B. Duncan ranch, where the wounded were sheltered in a commodious two-story stone house. Baalam’s wounds were dressed, and the mule was well watered and fed. Not even Stephen Moss could complain about Ayers’ having brought a mule into battle. Harrington spurred northward to Llano, leaving the Duncan house a little after 5 p.m. and covering the 14 miles to town by 6:30. He summoned Dr. C.C. Smith and was back on the trail with him within an hour. The doctor offered little hope for William Moss, pronouncing his wound fatal, but the burly lad survived the night and in a week’s time rode a wagon home. He was in the saddle again within a month. The Indian .44 slug would remain in his body for the rest of his life. The medic set about extracting the bullet from Arch Martin’s groin wound without benefit of any anesthetic. Martin bore the pain as stoically as he could, but finally cried out to Smith, “Can’t you whet that damned old knife a little bit?”
All the men survived their injuries, although Pink Ayers was so humiliated by his brace of “hip” wounds that he gave up on cowboying and returned to Tennessee. In 1938 the citizens of Llano County erected a monument on the battle site. Among the honored guests, 65 years after the fight, was silver-haired Elijah Deaver Harrington, the last survivor of the celebrated engagement.
The Battle of Packsaddle Mountain marked the last Indian raid in Llano County, and a second marker alongside state Highway 71 also celebrates the heroism and dogged tenacity of James Moss and his compadres. A microwave relay tower now stands on the site of the Mescaleros’ defeat, and young men possessing more audacity than good sense use the peak as a launching site for hang gliders. Ayers’ Model 1866 Winchester rifle, serial number 105696, was presented to a friend in neighboring Burnet County upon his departure for Tennessee, and in 1988 it was acquired by a Texas gun collector to be rightfully cherished and preserved for posterity.
In 1927 an elderly Stephen Moss told an interviewer, “I have heard my brother, Jim, who was our captain, say many times that Pink Ayers won the battle for us, although in a manner that we refrained from making known because of our respect for the man’s sensitive feelings…now that he is dead, I want his people to know what a man he really was.” So were they all really men, except for the mule, of course. Where is the monument to noble Baalam?
Wayne R. Austerman is the command historian at the U.S. Army Medical Department Center and School at Fort Sam Houston, Texas. Suggested for further reading: Rangers and Sovereignty, by Dan W. Roberts and Austerman’s manuscript Instructor’s Guide for the Battle of Packsaddle Mountain Staff Ride (Fort Houston, Texas)
Originally published in the April 2006 issue of Wild West. To subscribe, click here.
Horse-Riding Librarians Were the Great Depression’s Bookmobiles
Their horses splashed through iced-over creeks. Librarians rode up into the Kentucky mountains, their saddlebags stuffed with books, doling out reading material to isolated rural people. The Great Depression had plunged the nation into poverty, and Kentucky—a poor state made even poorer by a paralyzed national economy—was among the hardest hit.
The Pack Horse Library initiative, which sent librarians deep into Appalachia, was one of the New Deal’s most unique plans. The project, as implemented by the Works Progress Administration (WPA), distributed reading material to the people who lived in the craggy, 10,000-square-mile portion of eastern Kentucky. The state already trailed its neighbors in electricity and highways. And during the Depression, food, education and economic opportunity were even scarcer for Appalachians.
They also lacked books: In 1930, up to 31 percent of people in eastern Kentucky couldn’t read. Residents wanted to learn, notes historian Donald C. Boyd. Coal and railroads, poised to industrialize eastern Kentucky, loomed large in the minds of many Appalachians who were ready to take part in the hoped prosperity that would bring. "Workers viewed the sudden economic changes as a threat to their survival and literacy as a means of escape from a vicious economic trap," writes Boyd.
This presented a challenge: In 1935, Kentucky only circulated one book per capita compared to the American Library Association standard of five to ten, writes historian Jeanne Cannella Schmitzer,. It was "a distressing picture of library conditions and needs in Kentucky," wrote Lena Nofcier, who chaired library services for the Kentucky Congress of Parents and Teachers at the time.
There had been previous attempts to get books into the remote region. In 1913, a Kentuckian named May Stafford solicited money to take books to rural people on horseback, but her project only lasted one year. Local Berea College sent a horse-drawn book wagon into the mountains in the late teens and early 1920s. But that program had long since ended by 1934, when the first WPA-sponsored packhorse library was formed in Leslie County.
Unlike many New Deal projects, the packhorse plan required help from locals. "Libraries" were housed any in facility that would step up, from churches to post offices. Librarians manned these outposts, giving books to carriers who then climbed aboard their mules or horses, panniers loaded with books, and headed into the hills. They took their job as seriously as mail carriers and crossed streams in wintry conditions, feet frozen in the stirrups.
Carriers rode out at least twice a month, with each route covering 100 to 120 miles a week. Nan Milan, who carried books in an eight-mile radius from the Pine Mountain Settlement School, a boarding school for mountain children, joked that the horses she rode had shorter legs on one side than the other so that they wouldn't slide off of the steep mountain paths. Riders used their own horses or mules-—the Pine Mountain group had a horse named Sunny Jim—or leased them from neighbors. They earned $28 a month—around $495 in modern dollars.
The books and magazines they carried usually came from outside donations. Nofcier requested them through the local parent-teacher association. She traveled around the state, asking people in more affluent and accessible regions to help their fellow Kentuckians in Appalachia. She asked for everything: books, magazines, Sunday school materials, textbooks. Once the precious books were in a library’s collection, librarians did everything they could to preserve them. They repaired books, repurposing old Christmas cards as bookmarks so people would be less likely to dog-ear pages.
Soon, word of the campaign spread, and books came from half of the states in the country. A Kentuckian who had moved to California sent 500 books as a memorial to his mother. One Pittsburgh benefactor collected reading material and told a reporter stories she'd heard from packhorse librarians. "Let the book lady leave us something to read on Sundays and at night when we get through hoeing the corn," one child asked, she said. Others sacrificed to help the project, saving pennies for a drive to replenish book stocks and buy four miniature hand-cranked movie machines.
When materials became too worn to circulate, librarians made them into new books. They pasted stories and pictures from the worn books into binders, turning them into new reading material. Recipes, also pasted into binders and circulated throughout the mountains, proved so popular that Kentuckians started scrapbooks of quilt patterns, too.
In 1936, packhorse librarians served 50,000 families, and, by 1937, 155 public schools. Children loved the program many mountain schools didn't have libraries, and since they were so far from public libraries, most students had never checked out a book. "'Bring me a book to read,' is the cry of every child as he runs to meet the librarian with whom he has become acquainted," wrote one Pack Horse Library supervisor. "Not a certain book, but any kind of book. The child has read none of them."
"The mountain people loved Mark Twain," says Kathi Appelt, who co-wrote a middle-grade book about the librarians with Schmitzer, in a 2002 radio interview. "One of the most popular books…was Robinson Crusoe.” Since so many adults could not read, she noted, illustrated books were among the most beloved. Illiterate adults relied on their literate children to help decipher them.
Ethel Perryman supervised women's and professional projects at London, Kentucky during the WPA years. "Some of the folks who want books live back in the mountains, and they use the creek beds for travel as there are no roads to their places, " she wrote to the president of Kentucky's PTA. “They carry books to isolated rural schools and community centers, picking up and replenishing book stocks as they go so that the entire number of books circulate through the county "
The system had some challenges, Schmitzer writes: Roads could be impassable, and one librarian had to hike her 18-mile route when her mule died. Some mountain families initially resisted the librarians, suspicious of outsiders riding in with unknown materials. In a bid to earn their trust, carriers would read Bible passages aloud. Many had only heard them through oral tradition, and the idea that the packhorse librarians could offer access to the Bible cast a positive light on their other materials. (Boyd’s research is also integral to understanding these challenges)
"Down Hell-for-Sartin Creek they start to deliver readin' books to fifty-seven communities," read one 1935 newspaper caption underneath a picture of riders. "The intelligence of the Kentucky mountaineer is keen," wrote a contemporary reporter. "All that has ever been said about him to the contrary notwithstanding, he is honest, truthful, and God-fearing, but bred to peculiar beliefs which are the basis of one of the most fascinating chapters in American Folklore. He grasped and clung to the Pack Horse Library idea with all the tenacity of one starved for learning."
The Pack Horse Library ended in 1943 after Franklin Roosevelt ordered the end of the WPA. The new war effort was putting people back to work, so WPA projects—including the Pack Horse Library—tapered off. That marked the end of horse-delivered books in Kentucky, but by 1946, motorized bookmobiles were on the move. Once again, books rode into the mountains, and, according to the Institute of Museum and Library Services, Kentucky’s public libraries had 75 bookmobiles in 2014—the largest number in the nation.
About Eliza McGraw
Eliza McGraw is the author of Here Comes Exterminator! which is about the 1918 Kentucky Derby winner. She lives in Washington.