THE FAMOUS TWENTY MULE BORAX TEAMS" were operated by the PacificCcoast Borax Company, transporting borax from the Harmony and Eagle Borax Works, Death Valley to Mojave, California, a distance of 165 miles borrax is the substance they used to make soap.
Each wagon, weight 7800 lbs. carring ten tons of Boarax and a tank wagon carrying 1200 gallon of water, were the highest development of transportation by wagons drawn by animals. The combined weight of each caravan , two wagons and tank trailer, was approximately 60,000 lbs.
They were operated by two men, a "mule skinner" and a swamper" the mules were controlled by a single jerk line, "120 feet long, which conveyed by jerks, compands from the driver to the "nigh leaders." Source: source, post card Jan. 15, with one cent stamp.
The history of the Twenty Mule Team was short, only five years, yet the fascination endures today. Borax was first discovered in California in 1881. Borax had been important in small quantities for thousands of years in gold smiting and ceramics. Suddenly the use of borax mushroomed and countless new uses were found . The first discoveries were in Death Valley, 165 miles from the railroad in Mojave. William T. Coleman, owner of Harmony Borax Works, experimented and found that a hitch of 20 mules, actually 18 mules and two horses, were able to haul 36 tons of borax across the desert. A route was selected and prepared.
John W. S. Perry of the Harmony Borax Company designed the largest, heaviest, and strongest wagons ever built until that time. John A. Delameter built ten wagons, each capable of transporting ten tons of borax. The 7,88 pound wagons cost $900.00 each and measured 16 feet long, four feet wide, and 6 feet deep. Each wagon train consisted of two borax wagons and one water wagon pulled by 18 mules and two horses with a crew of two men.
Ed Stiles is credited for being the first man to haul borax out of Death Valley using a 12-mule rig to haul borax from the Eagle Borax Works to Daggett.Amargosa Borax Works, owned by William T. Coleman, acquired the company that Ed worked for. Stiles and Perry hitched a twelve-mule team with an eight-mule team and Stiles was probably the first man to drive a now famous twenty-mule team. Picture 3
The trip took ten days, covering about 16 to 18 miles a day
More than 600 freight wagons lumbered over the Mullan Road during the time when it was the hell-for-leather route from Fort Benton at the headwaters of navigation on the Missouri River to the Montana gold camps. When
Beyond Fort Shaw the Mullan Road is now a ranch road. There is a road between two buttes to abandoned St. Peter’s Mission, where a double row of trees leads to the tumbled walls. Near the old wall there are three vintage freight wagons and extra wheels rotting in the sun.
Once there were thousands of freight wagons transporting supplies to frontier mining camps and towns and hauling out the ore. On the roads of the Comstock Lodge, the wagons were often so thick that if a driver pullout of line, he might have to wait a good part of a day to get back in. In Deadwood, South Dakota, at the height of the mining boom. Main Street was so congested, either ore and freight wagons that traffic ground to a stop. Daring pedestrians crossed the street by climbing through and over the wagons.
The wagons that operated on the mining frontier were made by such manufacturers as Murphy, Espenscheidt, and later Kern in Saint Louis, Missouri;
Copper in Dubuque, Iowan: Schuttler in Jackson Michigan: and Studebaker, and wagon plant in South Bend, Indiana, eventually surpassed all the others in production.
There were a few western manufacturers. Such as Bain at Cheyenne, that made wagons for one mining field or another and there were strange vehicles such as new versions of the wind wagon—first introduced on the plains by Wind-wagon, first introduced on the plains by Wind Wagon Thomas for the Santa Fe and the steam wagon. There were four horse ore wagons used in Colorado camps and fourteen horse wagons to haul heavy mine machinery. The wagons that carried supplied and sometimes complete stamping mills to the gold and silver mines of Nevada and Idaho were so huge that they were that they were drawn by eighteen to twenty horses or mules, guided by a jerk line.
The largest vehicles of all were the famous borax wagons that hauled some million pounds of borax yearly between -1883-1888 over the 165 miles separating Death Valley, California and the railhead at Mojave. They accomplished this without a single breakdown. The wagons were called twenty mule team wagons, but in actuality they were pulled by eighteen mules and two horses . The horses were given the wheel positions because they were both stronger and more obedient than the mules.
Hooked in tandem, the borax wagons each carried a ten-ton load for a total of twenty tons per team. Because the country through which the sweating team labored and was among the hottest and driest lands in the world, it was also necessary to attach a 12,00 gallon water wagon to the two wagons carrying the payload. Heavily built with enormous wheels Death Valley Scotty, and several borax wagons, long since retired were brought to Washington, D.C. to roll down Pennsylvania Avenue in the inaugural parade of President Woodrow Wilson. Surviving examples of the wagons may be seen the the museum at Furnace Creek Ranch in Death Valley.
The teams that pulled the ponderous loads of borax were guided by a jerk line. Each mule knew its position, and if number five were put in the place of number three, the displaced mule was like to put on a wild demonstration of hurt feelings. A mule sknner had to be particularly adept with his whip could flick a fly off a mule forty feet ahead without stinging the mule. Next to him sat the swampers. It was the swamper’s duty to keep a box of rocks handy so that the skinner could toss them at the misbehaving mules that were beyond the reach of his whip.
Mules pulled six-car trains in the mines and sometimes became so tame that they shared a miners lunch, chewing tobacco and in one case, his pip. They are celebrated in the Montana miner’s song.
By all account the mule skinners and bull whacker remained a rough lot, even if they had softened the treatment of their of both mules and cattle. They were often lousy, in the literal meaning of the word, and would find it necessary to strip naked and throw their garments onto a convenient hill anthill, where the red ants would devour the lice. They habitually wore red flannel shirts summer and winter,
And in Colorado bought jeans that were much too long. This was so they could roll up the cuffs as proof of the prowess. A man who drove a six-mule team wore six cuff, but an eight mule driver could turn his cuffs eight inches.
There were not many bullwhackers or mule skinners, but those women who did master the trade could hold their own with any males when it came to old –fashioned cussing. Madame Canuton, who drove a –yoke of oxen beween Deadwood and Pierre, South Dakota, took care of her year old baby while her husband tended to their homesteaded and could earn the respect of an ox at the first blast of her tongue. Doubtless the most famous feminine teamster was Clamity Jane. Her prowess with . According to the newspaper account, Cala whip is illustrated in a store that appeared in the “Cheyenne Daily Leaders” on ,July 7,1877. According to the newspaper account, Calamity Jane invaded the office of the at the Cheyenne Daily Leader and cracked her whip at a big fly on the ceiling over the head of the editor, who had offended her by printing a barbed remark about her reputation. The fly fell to the floor as the editor leaped onto his desk in terror, and sprang through the skylight and hid. She ransacked the place and left a note: Picture
“Print in the leader that Clamity Jane, the child of the regiment and the pioneer white woman of the Black Hills, is in Cheynne, or I’l scalp you, skin you alive and hang you to a telegraph . You hear me, and don’t you forget it.” The leader conclused the story with the laconic remark:
“ There is a vacant chair in our sanctum. The city editor has gone to Borneo.”
Resource: click here l FREIGHT Wagon, Freight Wagons & Conestoga Wagons source:Wagons West 1590-1900, Rand McNally and Company, Chicago, 1970)