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Copyright 2012 Rocky Mountain Rider. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Reproduction of any editorial material, artwork and photos is strictly forbidden without express written permission of the publisher. For information about reprint rights, please contact the editor; editor@rockymountainrider.com.

 

A Pfc in the 35th Quarter Master Mule Pack

Company —1951-52

By Floyd Frank Roadifer, Sr., Pinedale , Wyoming

 

October 2012 issue  

 

     Between Christmas and New Year 1950, Ted Stagmeyer and I left Sundance , Wyoming , for Denver , Colorado , where we were sworn into the Army. From there we went to Ford Ord, California for six weeks infantry training. We were then sent to Camp Carson (now known as Fort Carson ), Colorado , for mule pack training. 

 

A PFC in the 35th Quarter Master Mule Pack Company

This photo is of the boys hauling 6” x 6” x 16’ lumber for the new corrals they are building. Jay Fredrickson, Michigan; Ted Stagmeyer, Sundance, WY; Glen Isaacson, Arizona; Spl. Theisen. Photo courtesy of Floyd Roadifer.

 

     Shortly after getting there, we were taken down to the stable and introduced to the mules. They gave each of us a little book telling all about how we were supposed to put our saddles, blankets, and bridles behind our mules that we had tied to a hitch rail.

     I was volunteered by our instructor to be the one to demonstrate how to saddle my mule. I kept thinking to myself, “Boy, they’re stupid,” but wanting to be a good, obedient soldier, I got the saddle blanket and took it in my hands like I was a bull fighter. I started up behind that ol’ mule with the blanket to go over his rump, as the book said to do.

     Anybody that’s been around many mules probably knows what happened next. That mule kicked with both feet and knocked that blanket out of my hands, but never touched me.

     I looked at Cpl. Bueano and said, “If you want to saddle that ornery cuss that way, go ahead, but I’m not going to.”

     He laughed and said, “You saddle him any way you want to.”

     So that’s what I did. I don’t remember ever seeing anybody saddle a mule or a horse the way that book said to during my time in the mule pack. You are just asking to get kicked by doing it the way that book said to.

 

     We had two salty corporals training us — Cpl. Bueano who had been born and raised on the King Ranch of Texas , and Cpl. Webb who had been raised on one of the other big, old ranches in Texas .

     We had a lot of new young mules so there was always some excitement going on. We got one little brown mule we packed out the first time and it bucked the pack saddle and all off three or four times in about that many hours.

     So Cpl. Bueano said, “Roadifer, put your saddle on the brown mule and the pack on the mule you are riding.”

     I didn’t have a bit of trouble saddling him, but when I went to get on him, he cow-kicked the stirrup out of my hand. So I stepped up along the side of his neck, grabbed the saddle horn, and swung on him.

     He started cow-kicking the backs of my legs, so I started jabbing him with the spurs every time he kicked me. By evening, he was going real good, but the backs of my legs were so sore, I could hardly walk.

     I rode him a few times and then someone else started riding him.

 

     We got in another one that was real good looking — almost black, bald-faced with four stocking feet. They went to catch him and he ran them out of the corral backing up and kicking at them.

     Bueano got a lash rope, got along the outside of the corral, and had some of us run the mule by him. He roped him over the fence with that lash rope. Although most left with the rest of the mules, some stayed behind to work with the stocking-legged mule. I think Ted Stagmeyer was the one who had the privilege of riding him first.

 

     One time, we were out on maneuvers with the mules and came upon a troop of infantry soldiers. As they were marching by, they started teasing us, singing “Mule Train” and having a good time.

     I was riding with Larry Freden, a very good hand from Nespelum , Washington , and he looked over at me and, grinning, said, “Watch this!” He rattled his canteen and spooked his mule into bucking. He was able to steer the mule right down through the middle of the soldiers and boy, they scattered like a bunch of quail.

 

Mules going up trail. Back of soldier in lead. The water, grocery and supply detail on Devil’s Head Mountain , Colorado . 1951. Jim Muller leads the pack string. Photo courtesy of Floyd Roadifer.

     He came back grining from ear to ear and said, “Did you see them guys scramble?”

     We had some Airborne soldiers come in for some packing training and most of them were great guys. But we had one big burly guy that got to smarting off and asking if we had any mules that could buck as he wanted to ride one.

     After listening to him long enough, Cpl. Beauno told Alvin Stamp from Casper , Wyoming , to go and saddle Slim. Slim had been my first mule, the one that had kicked the saddle blanket out of my hands.

     Alvin went and got Slim. I brought him over to where we were working and then held Slim while the old boy got on him.

     When they turned Slim loose, he started bucking and that guy grabbed the saddle horn with both hands and screamed! The screaming scared Slim so bad, he took off running and went to jump a fence, but didn’t make it over the top and really piled up. It put the soldier in the hospital and we didn’t see him again.

 

     The summer of 1951, they sent quite a few of us mule packers up to Devil’s Head Mountain , not far from Sedalia , Colorado . We were to pack supplies from the trailhead up to the top where they were rebuilding the fire lookout tower, including a cabin, the tower house, and steps up to the tower.

     The mule packers packed it all in on mules except for the glass. Jim Mullier from Littleton , Colorado , and another boy and I were kept busy packing groceries, water, and personal supplies up to the top for the Army Engineers that were doing the construction. They were camped on top.

 

     I had started a real nice, brown molly mule and she was a dandy. She had a good walk and a great disposition. Jim had started riding her. One weekend, I had to drive to Camp Carson in the truck to get mail and a load of supplies.

     When I got back, Jim wasn’t there. “Where is he?” I asked.

     “He’s in the hospital in Denver ,” was the reply. “Jim and the other boy were packing stuff to the top and while crossing a small clearing, his mule went loco and headed for a cliff. Jim bailed off, but the mule went on over the cliff. They took Jim to the hospital, and they had to destroy the mule.”

     I believe this mule must have eaten some loco weed in her hay.

     In March, we packed the mules and went out to the “Mary Ellen Ranch” with plans to stay for a week. Six of us set up our shelter together using the half pup-tents we were each provided. We put down a bale’s worth of straw under us, and slept with three facing one way, and three the other way. We really set it up good and tight.

     The next morning, we got up and found eight inches of snow and the wind howling. We had all slept like rocks, but some of the others had tried just putting up a tarp and sleeping behind it. The wind had blown the tarp down and they had spent most of the night around the fire, and were cold and wet. We were sure glad we had set up the way he had.

 

     There was a young fellow from the 4th Field Artillery Mule Pack, and I got acquainted with him. He was a trick rider and could ride Roman-style on two horses. He was trying to get a few guys together to do some jumping exhibitions, and asked me to join them.

     I had never ridden on an English saddle before, but had done some jumping bareback when I was a kid. It was a lot of fun, but for some reason or other it never really got to going and they quit. I would have liked to have done more of it, but we never did get into any competition.

     I sure had a lot of fun and met some great guys while in the service. I never regretted having joined the Mule Pack. 

 

Mule on hillside. Rider facing camera. A load of 18’ lumber we hauled to the top of Devil’s Head Mountain , Colorado , 1951. Cpl. Bueano, raised in Texas on the King Ranch rides the mule. Photo courtesy of Floyd Roadifer.

    

Floyd Frank Roadifer, Sr., now 82, served three years in the Army, first with the Mule Pack Company, then in Alaska driving a truck, and then in the Veterinary Corps as a veterinary tech. Although on alert for deployment to Korea , he did not get sent over.

     Frank was raised around horses, cattle and sheep, and spent his life working for ranches and outfitters, and doing construction. Still very active, he helped his son pack into the mountains in the fall of 2012.

Calling All Mule Skinners:

Army Has Spot Awaiting

Spokane Daily Chronicle, Sat., Nov. 18, 1950, page 2

CHICAGO , NOV. 18 (UP) –

The army is looking for mule skinners. To qualify, an applicant must:

1.  Be in top physical condition;

2.  Not lose his temper easily;

3.  Love animals

The Fifth army, which issued the call for skinners, said the Korean war demonstrated the need for pack animals to transport supplies and equipment over terrain which would stop the best mechanical equipment.

“This job calls for a certain amount of persistence,” a spokesman said. “You know, you gotta be firm with these critters.”

He admitted that maybe this branch of military service wasn’t quite as glamorous as the air force, but he added that potential recruits shouldn’t balk at that.

Men accepted – and they don’t need previous experience – will be sent immediately to Camp Carson, Colo., for duty with the fourth field artillery battalion (pack) or the 35th quartermaster pack company.

There they will be trained by the army’s top mule skinners.

“Why some of our officers have been doing this for 20 years,” the spokesman said.

The army mule, so symbolic of the service that the military academy at West Point adopted it as its mascot, gradually disappeared with the introduction of mechanized forms of transportation.

But during World war II, the 35th quartermaster pack troops saw extensive duty in the China-Burma theater. It even set a new record for the longest pack animal march in military history – 300 mules marched 900 miles over the Burma road .

Definition Given

The army defines a mule skinner loosely as “anybody who works with a mule.”

However, old-time army mule skinners always have been known for their extensive vocabularies.

The spokesman said the recruiters were particularly interested in getting men similar to one who enlisted the other day – an unemployed lion tamer who couldn’t stand to be away from animals.

 

 

  

Copyright 2012 Rocky Mountain Rider. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Reproduction of any editorial material, artwork and photos is strictly forbidden without express written permission of the publisher. For information about reprint rights, please contact the editor; editor@rockymountainrider.com.

 

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