Monday, December 30, 2013

Mules in the Mines

As electricity came to the mines in Butte in 1915, mules were phased out. Miners were sorry to see them go as they added so much personality to the dangerous work. Some mules loved the miners’ rough caresses and others would bite or kick and wanted no human attention. Hundreds of mules worked in miles of tunnels beneath Butte. Mules went below loaded vertically on the hoist, head down. Once there, they never again saw the light of day until they retired—if they were lucky. Now Kate–she was a kicker. No stall could be built around her that she wouldn’t destroy. She could kick any electric light hung within ten feet of her and when she needed new shoes, the blacksmith would not approach her until she was hog tied and strapped down. Then she would try to kick the shoes off, and sometimes did. Miners called her hind feet “sudden death” and “six months in the hospital,” respectively.

Mule Train on 1100 foot level, Rarus Mine, Butte. N. A. Forsyth, photographer.
Montana Historical Society Photograph Archives, ST 001.163
Everyone loved Babe, one of the smartest mules to ever work in Butte. Babe loved tobacco. If she saw a miner smoking a pipe during lunch, she would stand close so she could inhale the smoke. Babe was never bridled and took verbal directions. But she complained with looks and groans if asked to pull more than four ore cars in a string.  Sharkey was a thief who knew how to find the men’s lunch buckets. He would often sneak away and work the top off of some poor miner’s dinner pail. Every mule had its own personality and most had at least one miner who missed it when it went to mule heaven at the end of its long road.

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