Sunday, January 28, 2018

1887- 1920+: My Maternal Grandfather Hauls Freight With Mules

I overheard a conversation where one person was incredulous when the other stated that mules could not beget mules (that they were the result of pairing a horse with a donkey). Hearing this, once again I realized how far removed we have become from our agrarian roots. Then, I recalled hearing my maternal grandfather talk about his life in which mules played a major role.

Lawrence Miller (Miller being the Americanization of Mueller / was of Pennsylvania Dutch aka German heritage) was born in 1887 on a barge being pulled by mules on the Erie Canal. His father had first served as a drummer boy in the Union army in the Civil War; but, was soon put to work hauling freight using mules / then applied this vocation to the use of mules to pull barges along the Erie Canal. Lawrence gained experience growing up like this (the family lived on the same barge being drawn until there were too many kids, and then the family was moved into a house).

Lawrence joined the US Cavalry when he was fifteen (he lied about his age). Stationed in the Dakotas, he gained more experience with mules (and horses). Later, he went to work for an oil exploration company in Venezuela hauling freight with mules. By the time he came back to the States, the use of mules was decreasing as automotive power was coming on strong. Tired of hauling freight anyway, he started working on ranches in Wyoming and Colorado [he even worked for a while on William Cody’s (Buffalo Bill) place / said that Cody was a very likable fellow].

Lawrence said that mules were better than horses for hauling freight. They were tougher, stronger and easier to procure fodder for. He told one story where one particular team of mules was so stubborn that he had to literally ‘light a fire’ under them to get them going. [He set the brake on the wagon, got down and gathered a bunch of dry grass and put it under the belly of the dominant mule. He struck a match and tossed it on the grass and ran as fast as he could to be seated and released the brake just in the ‘nick of time’.] He never had to use this on that team again. Just the sight of him holding dry grass was enough / he simply kept a bag of such under his seat to wave at them from the driver’s high seat. Eventually, he never even had to do that. They may be stubborn; but, they’re not stupid.