The Army Mule
Contributed by John E. LaBarre
The following newspaper account pays homage to lowly, but critical,mule of the U.S. Army.
SIX-MULE ARMY TEAMS
ONE OF THE SIGHTS IN THESE DAYS IN TAMPA--MULE RECRUITS
Tampa, June 23- There are about 3,000 mules with the army in Tampa. Most of these are divided among the different regiments, were they are assigned to ambulances, to baggage wagons, and to carry packs. About 500 remain with the Quartermaster, who keeps them in a huge corral, where they are under the supervision of "Bob" and "Rafael," two "cow punchers," brought here to command this division of the army. They know about all there is to know about mules, and the many scars that Rafael carries attest a somewhat too intimate knowledge at times.
In all cases where mules are used men of experience are required to handle them. The six-mule army team is a common sight on Tamps streets. The driver rides the "near" pole mule and guides the entire six by means of a single leather rein, called the "jerk line." This connects with the "near" side of the mules' bridles, so that he pulls steadily on it to guide the team to the left. When he wants to go the right he jerks the line; that makes the near mules push against the "off" ones, and they consequently turn the other way. This sounds simple enough, but in reality the skill required can come only from long practice.
The mules are well aware when there is a novice at the "jerk line," and will do as they please, especially when the long lash used by drivers of the six-mule team does not reach its destination with the deadly aim of the old hand. The whip is, in fact, about important as the "jerk line." There are times in the mules life when his latest obstinacy comes to the surface, and a hundred "jerk lines" would be of no effect. The stinging lash then comes into play. It is long, round, pliable and thick, made for business and used for it. The strap which is connected with the wagon brake is hitched to the driver's saddle, and he is obliged to manipulate that, too.
Even in its perfection mule driving is an art in which something must be left to fate. One of the best army mule drivers on the plains always shut his eyes tight when he came to a dangerous pass and kept them shut till a safer trail was reached. He was considered the safest driver in the service.
The driving of pack mules is nearly always simplicity itself. A gray mare with a bell on her neck is led in front and the mules follow. No explanation is given for this except that mules are fond of horses, and a gray one is more easily seen.
The mule, in a way, is docile and easily taught. It takes only a short time to break in "recruit mules," and when they get to work they show a wonderful endurance. They also eat less than the horse, and can go longer without water. The army mule's daily ration consists of nine pounds of grain and fourteen pounds of hay. The fearful noise mad by the mule, which comes in somewhere between a donkey's bray and a horses neigh, is called by a facetious soldiers "the Quartermaster's band." There are in the corral in Tampa now and scattered among the troops many members of that band of prize mules which was captured from the Spanish Government on board the ship CATHERINE. The are branded with a "V" on the fore quarter, above which has been placed our "U.S." and a "U" on the hind quarter, which is the initial of the Spanish Quartermaster who purchased the mules in Texas for the Spanish Government.
Tarrytown Argus (Tarrytown New York), Saturday, July 2, 1898