The Mighty Mule

“The Mighty Mules of Underground Mining”

When we think of mining, images of rugged miners with pickaxes and dynamite come to mind, but the truth is, extracting minerals from the earth is a complex and labor-intensive process that requires the help of many different workers – including the mighty mules. These animals were essential in the underground mining operations of the past and played a critical role in the extraction of minerals from the earth.

Mules are a hybrid created from the mating of a horse mare and a donkey jack, and are known for their intelligence, strength, and endurance. They are perceptive and sensitive, with unique personalities that make them adaptable to different situations. In the underground mining industry, mules were valued for these traits and were often seen as more than just working animals – they were beloved pets and members of the mining community.

Mules were first introduced into mining in the 18th century and quickly became an indispensable part of the mining process. Their compact size made them ideal for navigating the narrow tunnels of the mines, and their strength and endurance allowed them to handle the long hours and arduous work of mining. They were used to haul heavy loads of ore and waste rock and were also used to transport supplies and equipment to and from the underground workings.

The miners would control the mules through tail pulls rather than bits in their mouths, and the animals were trained to work in the dark, underground environment. Some mules were even trained to respond to hand signals and to move out of the way of approaching miners, helping to prevent accidents in the crowded tunnels.

Despite their importance, working conditions for mules in the mines were harsh and grueling. They worked long hours in cramped and dark conditions, and often suffered from injuries such as cuts, bruises, and strains and many would temporarily go blind. Nevertheless, they were valued for their strength, endurance, and reliability and were an integral part of the mining community.

Lowering and hoisting a mule in and out of the mine was done by a three-man crew. They were not allowed any  food or water for three days. In order to keep it from reputing its bladder or suffocating.

There was a seven-step process to getting the animal into the mine.

  1. They prepared the mule by wrapping a heavy webbed harness around it with rope attachments.
  2. They placed the ropes under the hine legs forcing it into a sitting position.
  3. The hind legs were pulled into position and tied.
  4. Then the front legs were secured with the ropes.
  5. The mule is then attached to a hook underneath the cage and swung into position.
  6. The holding hook was specially designed to place the mule diagonally in the shaft compart.
  7. Then it makes the rapid descend into the mine.

The mules of underground mining played a vital role in the extraction of minerals from the earth. They were tireless, strong, and versatile workers who helped make mining operations possible. These animals are a testament to the ingenuity and resourcefulness of the miners and the mining communities, and their legacy lives on as a reminder of the sacrifices and hard work that went into extracting the resources that built our modern world.

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