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 Texas : Features : Columns : "It's All Trew"

Americans moved West
on the backs of mules

by Delbert Trew
Delbert Trew
Although there were many treasures in early America such as gold and silver, for a period of years from 1823 to 1850, another treasure generated huge profits for those involved. The treasure? Mules! Hard-headed, stubborn, unpredictable, ornery and ugly, the critters were sorely needed to pull the plows and wagons of the settlers and carry supplies to the miners and armies.

Originally started by Mexican traders from Mexico when they drove herds of Jacks, Jennets and mules to Missouri to trade to the power-hungry settlers needing mule-power for many reasons. The trade grew year by year with ever-increasing demand.

In 1823, historical records show that four-hundred of the hard-headed livestock arrived. In 1824 six-hundred came, in 1827 eight-hundred appeared and in 1832 thirteen-hundred were offered for sale. Missouri originally was kept as a trading center only. Stock purchased in Mexico for $7 to $10 a head sold in Missouri for $60 a head. In 1839, prices broke severely but after the war with Mexico ended the army raised the prices to $75 per head.

Early on, little mule breeding was conducted in Missouri. With the importing of stock from Cuba, Mexico and by Mountain Men bringing herds from the Missions of California, there was little need for the efforts of local breeding.

Sometime in the late 1830s, the Missouri Mule made its presence known. Using excellent Jacks from Cuba and Mexico, big work mares from America, and with huge American studs bred to selected Jennets, the massive Missouri Mule was created. Larger, taller, more agile and able to work long hours pulling, living on the same feed and forage of lesser stock, the improved critter became the preferred work stock of all the plantations of the South.

All was not lost for the smaller mules. The smaller Mexican mule, tougher and more secure along mountain trails was used to ferry mining equipment high among the peaks of the Rockies. His cousin the pack burro, became a favorite of the prospectors prowling the dry deserts of the West.
Mule in San Antonio TX U.S. Army Post
A mule in San Antonio U.S. Army Post
Postcard courtesy www.rootsweb.com/ %7Etxpstcrd/

Foremost among those creating demand for mules were the Army and U.S. Cavalry. Their scattered troops and forts demanded supplies by the tons and there were few roads anywhere. The pack mule, branded with the US brand, following a belled mare, and carrying packs of supplies, came in all sizes and found steady work all across the new nation.

The mule economy expanded again as the emigrant wagon trains headed west. The mule, if he could be afforded, was the power of choice for these trains. A second economy arose along the way west as heavily-loaded wagons, lack of experience of owners provided many a worn-out mule to be traded or abandoned along the trails. Old trappers and scouts seized the opportunity to trade or find these tired creatures, rest and feed them back to health and sell or trade for more tired stock.

In spite of the recognized worth of gold and silver, the greater treasure could have been the lowly mule, especially if you were stranded on the prairie and needed him to continue on to your destination.


Delbert Trew
"It's All Trew" July 7, 2009 Column
E-mail: trewblue@centramedia.net.

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