history relates that during the construction of the "second courthouse" in Dimmitt
the materials were being hauled from Hereford
in five wooden-wheeled wagons being pulled in tandem by a large steam-powered
A dispute arose between the freighter and his employees while
camped overnight by a creek. The trip was postponed abruptly the next morning
when the freighter discovered all the axle nuts had been removed from the heavily-loaded
wagons and the wheels would fall off if the wagons were moved. The dispute was
quickly settled and the axle nuts found where they had been submerged in a gunny
sack in nearby Terra Blanca Creek.
Many men have claimed they were the
first to create and drive the famous 20-Mule Teams hauling Borax from Death Valley.
It was 1882 before the truth was known and proved. Here is the story of that origin.
seems in 1886 a freighter named Ed Stiles was hauling Borax from the Eagle Borax
Works to Dagget, Calif. He was using a matched, twelve-mule hitch pulling a wagon
when a man stopped him asking if the teams were for sale. Ed gave him the owner's
name and continued on his way. On his return trip this same man showed him a bill
of sale and took over the mules.
The teams and wagon were purchased, eight
more mules added giving birth to the 20-Mule Team Hitch in history. Later, a second
wagon was hitched in tandem doubling the tonnage hauled. In certain stretches
of the journey a water wagon was hitched behind to carry water for the stock.
a wagon tongue long enough to hitch up ten teams was not possible a log chain
was used instead. On straight stretches of trail there was no problem. However,
on turns and curves some of the mules had to jump the chain as it moved back and
forth across the turns.
This chain jumping was taught to rookie mules
by tying them behind the wagons in route and dragging a short log chain on the
ground where they had to walk. They quickly learned not to step on the chain and
to jump across when necessary. For some reason, mules were easier to train about
the chain than horses.
One driver rode the front wagon activating the
brake handle and a long rope going to the brake handle of the wagon being towed
behind. He also held the two reins controlling the lead mules by jerking the lines
gently in the direction he wanted to go.
The second driver rode a large
wheeler horse or mule next to the front wagon. He used a saddle, a long whip,
a saddle bag of rocks and profanity to keep the stock pulling their share of the
load. If necessary he dismounted, led or untangled the teams and made repairs.
the way, the new owner credited with inventing the 20-Mule-Team Hitch was "Borax"
Smith who later became a famous millionaire in Death Valley history.
All Trew" April
6, 2010 Column
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