Mine Mules on Vacation
Fresh Air and Sunshine First Daze Them and Then Overjoy Them.
The superintendent of the Sweet Springs mine undertook a thorough renovation of the mine the day after the miners went out on strike, and the first step preparatory to cleaning up was to remove the mules from the underground stables and put them out on pasture.
Some of them had not been out of the mine for months, a number had been below the surface for two or three years, and one had not seen the sunshine for seven years—as long as Jacob served for Leah.
They were led from the mine, twenty-seven patient creatures, and turned loose in Morrison’s pasture field. They stood about close together, knee deep in lush, green grass, and sweet red clover, with drooping heads and eyes half closed, as though dazed by their sudden change of circumstances. At last, as the sun dropped down behind bowman’s hill, one gray old veteran threw up his head and sniffed at the fine fragrant air blowing down the valley, and in a moment a little movement went through the whole group.
The old leader wheeled about sharply, took a long look at the clear sky above, the brawling little brook chattering over the stones, the grass and the trees, then he drew up his head, stiffened his tail, and sent forth a prolonged, penetrating, strident heehaw-awaw, which woke the echoes over on Maple Ridge, and with an awkward lumbering bound he started down the long slope.
In an instant the whole mass had separated and was in motion. Such running, racing, kicking and jumping were never before seen—stiff knees, dim eyes and spavined joints all forgotten in the pure enjoyment of out of doors. They brayed and bellowed, ran and kicked, stopped for breath, then began again. The whole village gathered at the fence to see the fun; the men and boys laughed and shouted, the babies crowed and one or two women cried a little, for there were sores and lameness and weakness in plenty.
When night fell they were still rolling about and racing, forgetful of the hunger and thirst that might be satisfied by the running stream and grass.
Old Mrs. Bascom, who lives at the edge of the pasture field, was awakened in the dark hours toward morning by the rapid rush of hoofs thundering down the hillside, and turning over on her pillow she murmured drowsily: “Dear Lord, who would a’thought that any livin’ critter would be so glad and thankful for nothin’ but air and freedom.”
The Sun [New York, NY] 24 April 1898: p. 2
Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: While it seems inconceivable to our modern sensibilities that anyone would be so cruel as to stable mules underground, it was a routine practice in collieries. In the earlier years, mules were often mistreated: beaten, run over when careless drivers refused to apply the brakes, starved and kept without water, forced to work long hours. Yet even in the early part of the 20th century, some mine owners thought it was cheaper to work a mule to death on short rations than to take care of them. If a mule died, another was brought in and no tears were shed. For more stories of mine mules see this link, about “Bess,” a mine mule rescued from working 24 hours a day, and this one, about mules in British mines.