Mules in Mines? Julie Lence Shares Her Research

Hello Petticoats & Pistols! I am honored to help Linda Broday by joining you today. (Have fun at RWA, Linda!) For those you don’t know me, or may have forgotten, I’m western romance author, Julie Lence, blogging about a subject I knew nothing about and had fun researching: Mules Working in the Coal Mines.

In the summer of 2016, the Pastor of our church retired and our other priest was transferred to a different parish. We welcomed a new Pastor and another priest and looked forward to getting to know them. During their sermons, each priest will sometimes mention something from their childhood or personal experience to tie into the day’s Gospel. One such Sunday, one of them began talking about mules living in coal mines. My first thought was comical, and my second thought was this would make for a great blog. I’ve never heard of a mule living in a coal mine and wrote a quick note to research.

Throughout civilization horses and mules have been used to help man with lifting or hauling something heavy. This practice was carried over in Montana when it came to working in a coal mine. Pulling carts laden with ore was hard labor for man, so mules were brought down into the mines to help. Horses couldn’t be used, as the cages used to get to the bottom of the mine were small. A typical cage proved difficult trying to cram in six men, but could hold one mule. To get the mule onto the cage and to the bottom required a few days planning. The initial step involved not feeding the mule or giving him water for three days because there was a risk the mule would succumb to a ruptured bladder or suffocation while being lowered. Before being led into the cage, the mule was blindfolded so he wouldn’t spook and his legs were bound in a leather truss to keep him still. The mule was placed inside the cage on his rear and lowered to the bottom. Sometimes, he tried to kick, but usually he settled down to the quiet of the mine and rode the cage just fine.

Once down at the bottom, mules were put to work pulling the ore carts. They worked their eight-hour shift and then were taken to a lit stable inside the mine for food and rest. Muleskinners cared for the animals, and along with their food, made sure the mule had a tub of ice water to drink each night. The muleskinner also scrubbed the mule’s hooves with soap and water to rid him of the deadly copper water he plodded through during the day. The copper was capable of eating away at the hoof and if this happened, the mule would end up useless.

Mules adjusted well to the mines, with many knowing the mine better than the minors. Tales abound of many a mule saving miners from fires and other dangers. One such tale involved a miner who made a hole through a wall the size of his head to see what was on the other side. He discovered a lake but thought nothing of it until the next day. His mule began acting strange, and cutting him free from his job, the mule took off for higher ground. Knowing a mule’s instinct was good, the minor and his coworkers were able to escape quickly when, at the same moment the mule dashed off, the hole the miner had made crashed open, with water gushing toward them from the lake.

Though a mule labored beneath the ground, he wasn’t left there his entire life. If a mule was injured or sick, he was brought above ground immediately. The same applied to the duration of the mine shutting down for vacation or the miners going on strike. And mules weren’t treated cruelly. Miners and mule skinners learned early on to care for the mule. If treated poorly, the mule usually got even with either kicking a man in the ribs or head, or squeezing him against the wall. Trained mules were valuable, worth as much as $200, and always received medical treatment and rubdowns when needed.

The use of mules in mines pulling ore carts came to an end in December of 1965. An Act of Legislature outlawed the underground stable, making it illegal to house animals in mines.

Thank you for taking time out of your day to stop by and read about the mules. They truly were exceptional in that time period. To connect with me and learn more about my writing, you can catch me here:





As an added bonus, I’m giving away 3 ebook copies of my 1st book, Luck of the Draw. To be eligible to win, leave a comment here regarding your favorite thing about the old west. Until next time, have a great day.

+ posts

11 thoughts on “Mules in Mines? Julie Lence Shares Her Research”

  1. Fascinating. I knew they helped in the mines but not that they lived in the mines. Amazing how adaptable animals are.

  2. This is the first I’ve heard of miles living & working in the mines. Thanks for sharing your research. I imagine the air quality was not good for man or mule though. I think my favorite part about the West is the stamina of the men and women built lives there and endured.

  3. Julie, that is something I never knew. WOW. What a very interesting post. I know “back in the day” I would not have fared well–I’d have been an activist for animals rights! LOL Great post–I enjoyed learning about this.

  4. Good Morning ladies! I apologize for being late to the party. I had to get to the grocery store. We’re having fish for dinner and I like to get it fresh, and before everyone decides to go to the store, lol.

    Like many of you, I never knew mules worked and lived in the mines, either. I never would have guessed such a thing. I remember the day our priest mentioned it. I was scrambling for something to write on so I wouldn’t forget when I got home.

    Cheryl, I don’t think I would’ve fared well back then either. But like today, I wouldn’t have ventured to the mines–unless I owned one that made me rich!

  5. Julie, interesting post. I knew mules were used in the mines, but never considered the logistics involved.
    I like the opportunity for a fresh start that the West offered so many people. For those who took advantage of the gift that offered, an enjoyable life was possible. For some however, that promise was squandered for a life of crime.

  6. Wow, that’s fascinating.

    I love how we’ve glamorized the hard life they’ve lived with all of the Hollywood westerns. You know, the pretty dresses the saloon girls wore–they would never be practical on a homestead. Plus, a homestead wife wasn’t a saloon girl. Homespun or domestic cloth would be de rigueur for the dresses worn. And those women had to be strong to endure the harsh life on the prairies and new towns of the West.

Comments are closed.