Volume 32, Number 4, Summer 1993
Editors Note: In September 1982, two University of Missouri professorsanimal scientist Melvin Bradley and photojournalist Duane Daileyinterviewed Roy Pendergrass, Bakersfield, Ozark County. The interview was part of a statewide project now titled The Mule Industry of Missouri Remembered. Eventually 130 interviews were transcribed, published, and made available to the public by the Missouri Mule Skinners Society and the University of Missouri Press, 1991. The project collected reminiscences about the breeding, rearing, training, showing, selling and recreation with mules. A copy of this collection is housed at the Missouri State Archives, Jefferson City.
Melvin Bradley: When did you start in this mule business, Mr. Pendergrass?
Roy Pendergrass: Well, we was raised on the farm all of our life, you know, and our daddy, he worked horses and mules and he raised mules and horses too. And we just growed up with em. I just had a likin for em and I just always kept me some horses and mules around, you know. We use em a little bit; mostly just a hobby. We dont make money by havin em, but we just enjoy havin em around. We like horses and mules.
MB: Did your Dad work the farm with horses and mules?
RP: Uh-huh, yeah.
Mrs. Pendergrass: He never had a tractor.
RP: My dad, he could remember... Now I believe my Daddy worked a team of oxens when he was a kid. He died when he was 93, but I never did see any oxen work. Yeah, Im 68 and weve ... He just worked the horses and males, then. We didnt have no tractors and then later on, the tractors.., we got tractors, but I still like to keep my horses and mules, you know, and I ride and work em. I enjoy that.
MB: Did he raise his mules or...?
RP: Well yeah. You know Missouri used to be rated, when I was a kid, number one for mules and maybe
hogs. And I know those old timers.. . my Dad and his neighbors . . . they had to sell those mules, raise em and sell em. Theyd take em to the cotton country and work em down there you know. Theyd take em down there to a big auction and sell em. Yeah, for that day and time, they was pretty good money in raising a good mule colt.
MB: Did they depend on that income for their taxes or other part of their living?
RP: Well yeah. It helped. Yeah, you know times was pretty hard and they depended on those mule colts. I think back then a good mule coltd bring em about $50 when they weaned him; and later on, maybe when he got grown, he go up maybe $150. But they wanted em in the cotton country down there, and thats what made a good market for the men around there cause theyd sell em down there.
MB: Howd they sell em, through a dealer there or?
RP: Yeah. There would be some jockey and hed come through buyin mules and he. . . I never did see him, but Ive heard em say that theyd tie one ofems head to the other ones tail. I believe two men would take a big string of those males down south and run em through the auction. Theyd buy em down there in that cotton, corn country for farmin.
MB: Did he break some of these mules and then sell em?
RP: Yeah, yeah. Theyd break some and sell em, specially if he needed em in the farm work. Hed break his own. But a good mule, times was hard and a good mule, he got worth too much fer em to keep after he got bout so big and so good, and broke out good.
MB: Did you use these pretty much in your farming, when you started?
RP: Yeah, when we first started out. I dont know how many years we farmed til we got a tractor but we farmed several years just with the horses and mules. And we had 2 or 3 old brood mares here, the oldI guess youd call em Belgianssee, they was just grade
mares, but they were large. Wed breed em to a good jack, you know, and we raise good mules. Wed break em sometimes ourself and sometimes maybe wed get em sold fore we broke em; but we worked em I dont know how many years. We just almost raised a family with em, all the kids, nearly, fore we shed of. . . fore we got us a tractor, you know.
MB: Youve got quite a few kids, have you?
RP: Weve got seven; weve got five girls and two boys. Yeah, we got a large family.
MB: Do they like to drive these mules?
RP: Yeah, yeah. The boys did, and one of the girls, this youngest girl here, thats here now, shes just like a boy. She really loves to ride and drive a team.
MB: You mentioned your wife did a little field work.
RP: Yeah, she used to go bout every time I went, you know.
Mrs. P: Id drive mules.
RP: Wed take them ole... wed take a good team apiece and a walkin turnin plow, you know, and shed go way around our lands; but sometimes shed make me let her use the least plow you know. Shed make me use the least plow.
MB: What were they, Olivers?
RP: I believe that... No, we didnt like the Olivers so well. I believe that we had a 810 Imperial, which is a ... its about like a 19 Oliver. And then we had a two-and-a-half South Bend and it would be about like a 13 Oliver. The 2 112 is the one she was always wantin you know.
MB: Did you ever break new ground with these mules?
RP: Oh I have. Now she just. . . she got out of that.
Mrs. P: Member pullin that plow back under them roots.
RP: I have had that old plow kick me out of the irons you know, and youd feel almost like youre gonna break a rib, run around under a root.
MB: Did you do that barefoot or...?
RP: A whole lot. . . yeah, yeah.
Mrs. P: That was the way to plow.
RP: That was. . . yeah, we had some... Even after I got, oh, up in years awhile, I know down here we had a neighbor and thatd tickle his boys. Id be down there plowin corn, you know, and Id kick my shoes off and plow corn barefooted. And that would tickle those boys, see me plow barefooted.
MB: Somethin about that new-plowed sod makes your feet feel good.
RP: It does, doesnt it? You feel that dirt crumblin through your toes, you know, and it does feel good, moist dirt. Yeah, thats right. You know, I like to plow barefooted, if it wasnt rocky, you know, and like that. Now I wouldnt plow barefooted if it was real rocky, after I got up, you know, a man. But when we was kids,
we plowed barefooted all the time. Wed laugh and talk about our feet got so tough we could knock sparks off the rocks.
DD: Thats pretty tough!
RP: Yeah, thats pretty good, isnt it? Wed laugh and joke about that, you know. Our old feet got so tough we could hit them rocks, you know, hard enough we could knock sparks out. Did you ever get that away when you was a kid?
MB: Oh, Ive plowed barefooted. They did get tougher later in the summer.
RP: Yeah, they sure would. Well, you know, back when I was a kid, we usually just got about, I believe it was two pair of shoes a year, and through the summer we went barefooted, you know, and when the weather started gettin cool in the fall, why then wed get a pair of shoes, you know, to wear through the winter. Yeah, times sure changed quite a little bit.
MB: How did you break mules? Some people have different methods. Did you hook two young ones together or with an old horse or mule?
RP: Well, most times, to be safe, wed hook an old horse with it. Wed just tie it to an old horse, you know, and let the old horse kind a hold it for us, to keep it from runnin cause, Ill tell ye, I dont believe theres a man alivin stout enough to just hold a wild tamin mule thats never been worked. If they take a notion to run away with ye, I think theyll run if they get skeered, so we usually had an old brood mare and wed just tie em to her and shed hold em while we harnessed em. Shed hold em while we hooked em and then shed push em around the corners when you was learnin em to turn. Yeah, that was the easiest and the safest way.
MB: Did you hook em to a wagon or...?
RP: Usually a turnin plow, first thing. Yeah, we tried to work em to somethin didnt have any. . . wouldnt make any noise, you know.
MB: Would this be at 2 or 3 years of age?
RP: Well, usually, wed start on em at a two year old. Seemed like they were easier handlin, you know, and they learned quicker. They wouldnt be so stubborn if youd start em out about a two year old. I think it takes em about 5 years, isnt it, before they get their complete growth, specially a mare mule. Now a horse mule, he might even go to 6 years if hes not pampered and fed real good when hes young.
MB: Do you think they have more sense than a horse or less or. ..?
RP: Well, Id rather work em. Im not a good driver and a horse, you can excite him and maybe hed balk with me where a mulell just keep apullin and another thing I liked about em... If a mule run away with you, he wouldnt hurt hisself, you know. A horse gets so excited that they just run into anything. Theyre liable to hurt theirself bad, and really, Id rather have a mule. And Ill tell you another thing I like about these mules, they could outwalk horses. Seemed like theyre longer gaited, and they could take that heat. Them old hot days, why you didnt have to pull em out in the shade and breathe em like you did your horses, you know. And they.. . it took less to feed em too. I say theres advantages in the mules.
MB: Do you find em stubborn? You read all these things bad about em. Do you believe that?
RP: No. Actually, I dont think.., theyve pretty bad exaggerated things. I really, I dont think that. . . I never found em very stubborn. I believe, though, if you let one get, oh, up in the years, you know, why he could be stubborn all right about the breakin out then.
MB: Do you think that theyre gentler now from these big Belgian mares or not?
RP: I believe so. I believe they are. I believe theyre easier; its kind a bred in em, I guess, to be more gentle and easier, to be inclined to work good, you know, without gettin so excited. Yeah, I do. I think theyve improved on the. . . Now in our part of the country anymore, we dont have those good jacks like the _____ men used to have here. Its hard to find a real big old mammoth jack anymore. Those old timers, boy, they kept some good jacks. I think you get up around Springfield, now, and theys some guys up there thats got some good jacks, you know. But down here in our part, we dont have any big jacks. We got some good jacks, but they get these little mules, you know.
MB: Do you remember jacks brayin when you woke up of a morning? Could you hear em?
RP: Yeah. Thats kind a their nature, wasnt it? Yeah, early of a morning, why you could hear the old jack bray. Well, you take those old mules, long about
feedin time, sometime, why theyd stick their head over the fence or out the window of the barn and bray.
DD: Tell about your experiences working mules in the woods. What have you done along that line?
RP: Well, anymore, a lot of the boys, they have those skidders and saw ]em. But I never did use anything but horses or mules and I could just.. . I got over there one day and was gonna drag some with a tractor, and I couldnt get the tractor around through the trees. So I went back to my mules. I could wind them around anywhere. Yeah, I could get along a lot faster with a good team of mules. You got in little logs where you just single em out, you know, and work em one at a time. Then you got in big logs, just doublin em up, you know. Yeah, Id a lot rather have a mule in the woods as a tractor.
DD: Whatd you do? Did you do that quite a bit? Did you sell logs?
RP: No, just on the place here mostly. I used to, in the fall of the year, we got our crops all laid by and maybe our work all done for the winter; and Id just hire out and work through part of the winter, drag logs for some of the boys is a haulin. I really wasnt considered a logger, actually, because... Now we cut some here on our own place and wed always drag them, of course, and wed hire somebody to cut em and haul em and Id dragem just cause I love to dragem. But we didnt do that the year round. We just do that when were caught up with our work.
MB: Do you remember, did you furnish your own team when you drug for the other people?
RP: Yeah. I always drove my own team. I just once or twice.. . and just for a few days, I had a logger come one day. His boy, I dont know, couldnt help him for 2 or 3 days and he wanted me to drive his mules. Outside of that, I dont member ever drivin anybody elses mules.
MB: Do you remember what they paid you a day? For you and your team.
RP: Uh, Ill tell you, we drug by the thousand; and we got, I believe, $2.50 a thousand. Theyd drag maybe 3 or 4 thousand. I guess youd say it run around $8-$10 a day, me and my team. I believe now its about $12 or $12.50 a thousand they pay now, you know, to drag em. Its quite a change in what it used to be.
DD: Now when would that of been you were gettin $2.50? How long ago?
RP: Well, anywhere from the fifties, early fifties, or to, I guess, about 60 cause I had a little spell through there that I was coach out here at the high school for about 3 or 4 years. That was from about 45 to 48 or 9 somewhere along in there. And I didnt have time to do anything like that then. After that, off and on, why Id drag a few logs then.
MB: Are there quite a few people usin horses and mules to drag logs in this country?
RP: No. Theres sure not. Most of em went to those tractors and those log skidders. Theyve got a log skidder that I . . . I never did see it operate, but they really get down in bad places and they can just drag. I guess they can drag him almost a load one time out.
DD: With these big rubber-tired, double-jointed kind of things?
RP: I think so. Im really not familiar with them. We never used em here because they claim that they were so bad to ride over young growth, you know, and theyd damage your next crop, so we.. . And then too, I just like to work the mules. If Id have made a lot more money, Id just stay and work my mules. I just kind a like that, you know.
DD: What is it about a mule that makes a guy like em?
RP: I dont know. A lot of people, you know, they dont like em. I think its. . . I dont know; I guess were just a little queer, us guys that do like em. Sometimes you have to go a ways to run into another guy thats like you.
MB: What do you do now with mules? Youve got this good team here. Do you think they pay their way or you just...?
RP: Well, its doubtful. You know we love to work em in the garden and then well go out and drag a load of logs and sometimes, where its not too far to haul, well haul a few bales of hay with em. Of course, if its very far, well take the truck or something like that. But if its a close haul, why we can haul it just as fast with a team of mules and a good wagon, if were close to the barn. And its cooler to work around the wagon than it is around over a hot truck. Id say, outside of the garden and a little log draggin and awww, just for fun, doin a little mowin with em, sometimes. Well, we get out
once in awhile and, just for fun, and haul a load of wood in with him with the wagon. We use em once in awhile. We could do it quicker with the pickup but still we just want a see the mule work, and we just take the mule. But actually, as far as payin their way, I doubt if they do. We take pretty good care ofem, and I doubt if they ... Anyhow, Id say they wouldnt make anything above their feed bill; but we never keep a record, we never keep a record of nothin.
DD: Maybe you dont want a know.
HP: Yeah. We just dont want a know, so we dont. If we dont keep no record, we dont know if were makin money or losin money. We can just tell at the end of the year whether we gained or lost, and we didnt even know what wed lost it on, if we did lose.
DD: Have you always lived just right around here? Were you raised around here?
HP: Yeah. We was . . . Lets see. Weve lived here about . . . Weve lived right here about 40 years I guess. She knows just exactly. But we was raised, I guess about 8 miles south of here on the edge of Arkansas. I was borned in Fulton County. Salems the county seat of Fulton County. Just jokingly, Id tell em Id never been any further north than West Plains and any further south than Viola, Arkansas. Just jokin you know. But we dont have a very wide range on distance or other states. Weve had a few vacations, but we just spent our life right around here in this area right here.
MB: Would you say its been a pretty pleasant experience?
HP: Yeah, I think so. You know, you sometimes get to reminiscin over the past and all that, you know, and I say well, weve had a lotta fun; weve anjoyed. . . We was healthy and the kids was all healthy and we could do a lot of work and they could too and they didnt seem ... any of us... I guess I was the lazy one of the bunch, you know, but we enjoyed our.. . weve enjoyed our life. We sure have. We havent never had any major problems of any kind. We had one baby died and thats all of our immediate family besides our Daddies and Mothers. Lost a couple of brothers, but we havent had anything, you know, just really disappointing to us to speak of, besides that.
MB: These mules play a pretty big part in your pleasure?
HP: Yeah, they do. Yeah, I tell em, I kind a like to get
up of a mornin and come down here and theyll be here and Ill feed em a little bit, you know. Yeah, I kind ~ enjoy havin em around. I tell you, I like a good ridin horse, too. We dont show or anything like that, but w use a ridin horse a lot, just ridin around the farm here seem about the stock. Course any more, we gotta have ... we gotta have it real gentle, same way with the mules, too. At our age we cant fool with anything thats very ornery cause we could get hurt with em.
MB: What breed to you ride?
HP: We ride those fox trotters. That Zane Grey breeding, but we dont have any registered stuff, but we breed to registered stuff.
DD: Tell me about the dog business. Jack was tryin to get a rise out of you.
HP: Yeah, well, thats another one of my hobbies, those coon dogs. Weve got four now, and we . . . Ive done that for Ahh, Lord! I believe I told somebody the other day, 40-some odd years Id coon hunted. Ive got a . . . Yeah, if you had time to look, I gotta lot of trophies up at the house Ive won with the dogs. Ive gotta have those coon hunts and they have a judge and grade the best dogs that wins.., does the best in the hunt, you know. So Ive won a lotta trophies with em my dogs.
DD: You still hunt?
HP: I still hunt, but I cant hunt very much. We was up for a checkup day before yesterday, and he (the doctor) knows I love to hunt. We go to Springfield for a checkup, you know, and he dont much want me to. But he told me, he said, "Now put one of those glycerin pills under your tongue when you start and every thirty minutes, you take another one of those pills. Whether you want to or not, you just take those pills. It might be the best thing in the long run for you to do." I dont go very far and Im gonna get me a... Ive had me two mules that wed ride huntin, little mules, you know. And Im on the deal for another un now cause I cant stand that walkin. What little huntin I do anymore is just around the place here. We used to go down on the lake when we could walk about all night and hunt. But anymore, why I just do a little huntin around the place here.
MB: How do you like this coon-huntin mule to hunt with?
HP: Well its pretty good. If you get you a real good
gentle mule, its pretty nice because you can take and, say, hunt 2-3 hours on it and you come in and youre not tired. You know, your legs arent tired from all that walkin and its pretty good.
MB: Do you find many fences they cant jump or any problems?
RP: Yeah, thats a. . . You know, we never really have had a good jumpin mule. Weve. . . The other boysd make em jump good, but I never have had one that really jumped good. I just jokingly tell the boys that I dont need it to jump because the fences are all down anyhow and we can just ride him over wherever we come to it. He dont need to jump.
MB: Did you ever hear of Roger Conklin at Columbia?
RP: I dont guess. Seems like I should.
MB: Real big miniature mule breeder, jumpin. Hes the show jumpin champion and he sells these coon huntin mules.
NIB: And what hes got now...
RP: Well, theyre pretty popular through here. Theys a lotta the boys got em anymore. Its a pretty popular thing and some of the boys, they got them mules really jump high. And they just park that pickup anywhere they wanta stop it, you know, and they come in, that mule, first thing he wants to do is jump in that pickup so he can go home. Yeah, theyve got em trained real good.
MB: Did you ever get kicked by a mule?
RP: Well, no, not to speak of. Maybe have had just a glancin lick or so, but I never was hurt by a mule kickin. Ive had em kick when I was glad they missed me, you know, but I never was hurt by a mule kickin. I know they.. . there have been people killed by em cause they can sure enough kick you hard, but Ive just been a little fortunate and Ive been a little careful about them hind feet, too, til I had confidence to know that the mule didnt have a kick in him.
MB: Would you have some advice to new people that are gonna work around mules, to keep from gettin kicked?
RP: Well, no, not exactly. If youre just aworkin the
one, lotta times, Ive done my hitchin him behind the other horse. You know, reach out, so if he did kick me, hed just hit my arm or my hand or somethin. He couldnt hurt me. Thats about the only... Now we had a mule here that was real mean. We finally sold her, but wed take a wire with a hook on the end of it and wed reach that wire out there and get that.., but we stayed away from that thing cause she would sure enough let you have it and itd probably been all over with if shed have hit you, too, cause she meant business. But we didnt keep her long. But wed use that wire even to harnessin her. Wed . . . to get the flank straps wed take that hook and get that flank strap and wed stay in front of her all the time. Most times, wed get under an old gentle one... .under the old gentle ones belly, you know, and fasten em that away. Aw, you cant be too safe foolin around some thin thats wild and young. You better play it safe, cause they could hurt you pretty bad.
MB: I guess runnin away is a little different story, isnt it? They run away once in awhile, did they?
RP: Yeah, you know, usually a noise or somethin. My wife, she was aworkin a team of young mules down there and I was workin a big old team of mares. She liked this little plow and these mules were little you know. Well, the two boys, they were playin there in that branch and directly they come arunnin out of that branch, up over the bank, makin some kind of noise. I dont know, may have been tryin to mock a car or somethin, but, boy, it scared those mules and she used good judgement cause she knew she couldnt hold em.
RP: (begins in the middle of a sentence).., loose, and I worked the mules and she come to the house.
MB: Duane, Im out of questions.
DD: Anything on taking care of mules, on remedies or anything like that, that youve learned over time?
RP: Yeah, you learn to pick a few things along, you know, how to . . . Bout the main problems, I guess, anymore, is just the worm thing you know and the flies. Thats about the only problems we have any more. We dont.. . Old timers used to work em a lot and skin their shoulders and hurt em in different ways. Sometimes theyd get hung in the wire and get cut up right bad, like that. Well, thered be a whole lot to learnin really how to care for one. You bout have to be raised with em, I guess; but still, most people, I dont think, have any problems anymore. Theyre just not usin em. We have some guys that go.. . I havent ever
joined em yet. I keep wantin to, but in hot weather I hate to get out. Hot weather and ridin the wagon, you know, for several miles . . . These boysve got these wagon trains they call it, you know, and therell be, oh, 6 or 8 ofem get out with their wagons and their horses and mules and they have a real good time. They camp out, you know, and they take some pretty good trips with them.
MB: You ought a do that. Youd have a ball.
RP: Id like it, you know. I know I would. I told em though, when night come, Im just used to sleepin in one bed. Ill bet I wouldnt go to sleep. I told the boys theyre real fine guys and I know Id really enjoy it cause we..
MB: Theres a lot of one-day trail rides. Springfield has a bunch of these.
RP: Yeah. Oh, I enjoy horses and mules. You know, over here at this little place they call Gainesville, they have what they call "hootin n hollerin". Now I believe itll be the seventeenth and eighteenth of this month, somebody told me. Youd have to check, if you was interested, to be certain; but they have those parades and those boys with those wagons and teams, they join the parade and... Yeah, we went over there the last 2 years just to watch. I knew bout all the boys from this part of the country thats in the parades. Now theres some comes from other places in there. Its a pretty nice parade. Its interesting to you. They had horses ridin horses of different breeds, you know, and they have little mules hitched and little horses and then they have those big uns, some big horses and some big mules. They have some nice ones! I had a invitation to go. They called me here the other day, but I dont have any way of haulin my mules or my wagon and its about, I dont know, probably 30-some odd miles from here, so I didnt figure itd be worthwhile ...
MB: Lot of em put a wagon on the pickup and pull a trailer with the mule.
RP: Uh-huh, uh-huh. Those boys around here, theyre fixed to haul theirs, you know, and I have seen some of em put their mules or horses in their pickup, I believe just a pickup. That was just little ones, though, I guess. They would tie the wagon to the back of the pickup, you know, and of course they wouldnt drive probably over 25-30 mile an hour that away. Yeah, they have those pullin contests. Now its all with little stuff, you know. You dont.. . round here, they just dont have enough of those big animals, you know, but they get together and they really have some good competition with those little horses and mules, you know. If I get a chance, why I like to go and watch em you know.
DD: You got a picture up there of you and your grandson. Whats his name?
RP: Roy Hardin. His other graddads name was Hardin and they named him after both of us, you know.
MB: Yeah. Theres a Charles Hardin married my wifes cousin from down in here.
DD: Now what was your wifes name?
RP: Hasseltine. Yeah, she was raised down here in Vidett, Arkansas, bout 15 miles south of here. She was just like myself, raised on a farm too.
(End of interview).
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