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A Lady in Boomtown: Miners and Manners on the Nevada Frontier - Page 25

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Chapter 4 A Piano by Mule- Team… The Fine Art of Mule- skinning... Dresden China in Tin- Cup Country… Riding Breeches and “ Calling” Gowns… A New Kind of Pioneer… Celebrated Gunmen and the Glamorous Redlight ONE DAY SEVERAL WEEKS AFTER MY ARRIVAL, Hugh called on the telephone to tell me that our household belongings had come. Did I want to come down and watch the unloading of the wagons? I had looked forward with no little concern to the arrival of our wedding gifts, wondering how they would survive the long trip by mule team, so it didn’t take me long to change my dress and skip down the hill. The freight station was behind the Merchant’s Hotel, almost in the center of town, and I had to elbow my way through a crowd of miners, Indians and general idlers. The pack train consisted of at least four freight wagons hitched together, each piled high with mining machinery, supplies, furniture, barrels, and - my piano! As I reached the freight station the “ muleskinner” had already unhitched his string of seventeen mules and three horses, and was leading the horses away. I gazed at him in amazement. Every inch of that man was coated with a fine layer of dust; every individual hair stood out. His eyes peering from under eyelashes heavy with desert “ mascara,” his powdered face with the inevitable tobacco lines around the mouth looked as if he had been made up for a grotesque harlequinade. I didn’t laugh, though I wanted to. I hadn’t been on the frontier long, but long enough to know I was in the presence of royalty. No men had greater dignity or more right to pride than the men who maneuvered the wagon trains over the mountains and up the dry canyons of Nevada. For a time I just stood watching him in the corral. Carefully he watered his horses; then he fed them. But he ignored the mules. I wondered why and, unable to find an acquaintance in the crowd to ask, I inquired from a stranger why he devoted all his time to the horses. Didn’t the mules deserve some attention? The man looked at me as if I didn’t have good sense. “ Mules are mules,” he mumbled. “ Any roustabout can take care of them. But horses are partners.” I didn’t dare ask any more questions, but I was so intrigued by his reply that later I repeated it to William Blackburn, the superintendent of the Tonopah Mining Company. He understood my puzzlement. It seems everything on a mule train depends upon a nice understanding between the man and his three horses. The lead horse especially has to have real “ horse sense.” Fastened to his bridle is a jerk line, running along the harness to the driver’s hand forty feet or more away, the distance depending on the number of mules between



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