Friday, January 6, 2017

Art the spaghetti eating mule

Art the spaghetti eating mule

Man! I love spaghetti, I love it in restaurants, I love it home cooked or out of a can, but mostly, I love it cooked in the wilderness. When I a Senior Instructor for a wilderness school, my field partner Sean "Pog" Kendrigan and me would order spaghetti as our Instructor "Solo" meal when we put the students out on their 72 hour solos.

We would add salt pork or bacon to the mix, hot sauce etc. then chow down, afterward we would smoke a few cigarettes. It was good to be King.

Later in my wilderness career I was employed for several years as a packer and wrangler for a big game hunting outfit in Montana. I worked with a string of 17 mules. One, was a huge draft mule named "Art" he was about 18 hands high, well-muscled, broke to ride or pack, he was a complete scamp and piratical scallywag. And unknown to me, a spaghetti aficionado.

One of my initial introductions to Art was when my boss and me were hauling grain and hay to our hunting camp in the Bob Marshall wilderness in Montana. It was an 8 hour ride from the trail head near Seeley Lake to camp in “The Bob”.

After a long hard ride in the Heat and blistering sun, we were ready to cook a good meal. After caring for the pack and riding stock, we cooked up a huge pot of spaghetti with plenty of extras in it like onions, meat, carrots, garlic, etc…It was looking good and ready to eat. 

My partner and I sat the pot on the ground next to the fire, then went to the creek to wash our bowls. As we cleared the bank heading back I could see Ol’ Art with his nose in out spaghetti pot!

I yelled at him and he ignored me until we got closer. He raised his head ,still chewing with the dregs of our spaghetti dinner waiving in the breeze…I swear he gave me a wink, as if to say “thanks” then hobbled his way out of camp……I peeked into the now empty pot and it was clean as a whistle!

It looked like it had never been used. We ended up eating canned stew and having a good laugh at the lesson we were handed by a savvy old trail mule. I had no idea the Mules or horses could or would eat people food. I came across a reference to equines surviving and thriving on people foods in the book “Scouting on to continents” by Major Frederick R. Burnham. In his book Maj Burnham states;

 “A scout knows that a horse can thrive on most of the food that a man eats, even cooked food. One of the reasons why I was sometimes able to outride the cowboys and frontiersmen of the west was that I gave infinite care to my mount. In Alaska and the Klondike our horses would eat bread, all kinds of dried fruit and vegetables, crackers, sugar , prunes, raisins, candy, syrup - even bacon, dried meat and dried fish in very small quantities. They also ate raw eggs when obtainable, dried milk, and other things not ordinarily thought of as fodder. The twig ends cut from willow and cottonwood give roughage and some strength. In the deserts a man may save his mount by gathering the fig like fruits from the top of the pitahaya or suhauro. The "Spanish bayonet" also has a good fruit. Horses will eat crushed mesquite beans, acorns soaked and ground, and other desert shrubs and seeds in season. There are bunches of gramma and other grasses clinging to the cliffs that can be gathered for the Scouts faithful friend in time of need.”

I find this to be interesting and valuable information. I can personally attest to Ol’ Art’s love for spaghetti and my saddle mule Arlene’s love for Granola bars, breath mints, and red man chewing tobacco. I have also seen them eat the food packed in the stock dogs, and kitchen scraps like potato peels, carrot tops, onions and other things. 

This is some good knowledge to keep in your back pocket in the event you find yourself in a world where horses and Mules are the norm.

See you on the trail!


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