Saturday, December 17, 2011

Cowboy Wisdom -- Never trust a ground-tied pack mule

It had been a glorious morning in the rocky mountains.  A bunch of us had ridden into the high country, coursing through aspen forests, skirting around tall timber, crossing wild flower adorned meadows, and fording a couple of frosty creeks.  

We had just finished a wonderful trail-side lunch of hamburgers and chili, and were preparing for the homeward journey, when…

We'll call him "Josh,"  just in case he or some of his kin are still among the living…

Anyhow we noticed ol' Josh careening off lodgepole pines while hanging on to one end of a lash rope that was securely fastened to the pack saddle of a balky mule.  With the intensity of a kamikaze pilot bent on a suicide mission, the mule was headed for the edge of a cliff less than 100 yards distant. 

Josh had miscalculated the mood of the mule and had dropped the lead rope, expecting the mule to stand ground tied.  He was working on the first squaw hitch with the lash rope when the action started.  The pack mule had started a game of "crack the whip," with Josh hanging onto the lash rope for dear life.  As the mule got to bucking, some of the pots and pans started rattlin'.  The game was getting real exciting until the mule's path turned directly toward a rocky cliff with a 500-foot drop.  Then it got serious.

Roger Miller was sittin' on his little mustang Star, watching.   Without any hesitation, Roger spurred Star to a lope to head off the mule before it was too late.

I was riding a pack string horse that wasn't used to riders with spurs on, so when I encouraged my steed to join the race, instead I got my own private rodeo.  It was only about five jumps till that lazy string horse quit, but I was of no assistance to Roger.

The whole matter was over in less than a New York minute.  Roger had a good hold of the mule's lead rope, even though the mule was trying to climb in the saddle with him, Josh was busy collecting the contents of his pack saddles' panniers, and I was busy making a mental note about ground-tied pack mules and about wearing spurs when riding somebody else's horse.

The rest of the ride was calm and pleasant, but that mule gave us plenty to palaver about in the cantina that evening.

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