2014 Pulitzer Prize Winner

A mule’s shocking end

Published: April 21, 2014, 11:49 am, by Bill Radford

My column last week on mules stirred memories for reader Marvin Maul, a retired veterinarian. He shared via email this story of his exposure to “the mule mentality” while growing up on a ranch in Kiowa:

“She was Bonnie,’ a molly mule born on our ranch and developed for use in the harness.  Looking back on it now, I believe that her innate intelligence was borne of her basic wish for self-preservation.  While we had to work her with some pretty flighty draft team-mates, she stubbornly resisted ever running away in the harness.  I’ll never forget her manner in crossing over a drop-wire along a fence line.  While her team mate was borderline terrified by the wire, she methodically measured her steps to avoid to wire, and in doing so, kept her mate from getting into wire-related trouble.

“And, could she work! During haying season, we always  worked her as the outside ‘horse’ on our Jayhawk stacker.  Without going into detail, this horse killing machine necessitated a pivoting maneuver whereby that position had to do most of the work.  Bonnie accepted this willingly, but because of the extreme pressure upon her shoulders, we continually had to prevent the formation of collar galls. As with all mules, I suppose, she had her peculiarities.  She absolutely detested having anyone touch her ears, and as a result we kept a bridle on her head, minus the bit of course, when she wasn’t working. Periodically, she would refuse to go into the horse barn to be harnessed.  Over the years, Dad devised a reliable but somewhat callous solution to the problem, by standing off a safe distance and firing a bird shot load at her rear end.  Expectably, it stung but never seriously injured her, and resulted in her high-tailing it for the barn.  Usually, all that Dad would have to do was to brandish the weapon in order to get results.

“We used that precious beast for twenty or thirty years I suppose, and in her declining years as a reward for her service, we turned her out to a well-grassed pasture where she lived several additional years.  Then somewhat mercifully I suppose, she was struck and killed by lightning, ending for my family a most memorable tenure.”