history relates that during the construction of the "second courthouse"
in Dimmitt the materials
were being hauled from Hereford
in five wooden-wheeled wagons being pulled in tandem by a large steam-powered
A dispute arose between the freighter and his employees while camped
overnight by a creek. The trip was postponed abruptly the next morning
when the freighter discovered all the axle nuts had been removed from
the heavily-loaded wagons and the wheels would fall off if the wagons
were moved. The dispute was quickly settled and the axle nuts found
where they had been submerged in a gunny sack in nearby Terra Blanca
Many men have claimed they were the first to create and drive the
famous 20-Mule Teams hauling Borax from Death Valley. It was 1882
before the truth was known and proved. Here is the story of that origin.
seems in 1886 a freighter named Ed Stiles was hauling Borax from the
Eagle Borax Works to Dagget, Calif. He was using a matched, twelve-mule
hitch pulling a wagon when a man stopped him asking if the teams were
for sale. Ed gave him the owner's name and continued on his way. On
his return trip this same man showed him a bill of sale and took over
The teams and wagon were purchased, eight more mules added giving
birth to the 20-Mule Team Hitch in history. Later, a second wagon
was hitched in tandem doubling the tonnage hauled. In certain stretches
of the journey a water wagon was hitched behind to carry water for
Since a wagon tongue long enough to hitch up ten teams was not possible
a log chain was used instead. On straight stretches of trail there
was no problem. However, on turns and curves some of the mules had
to jump the chain as it moved back and forth across the turns.
This chain jumping was taught to rookie mules by tying them behind
the wagons in route and dragging a short log chain on the ground where
they had to walk. They quickly learned not to step on the chain and
to jump across when necessary. For some reason, mules were easier
to train about the chain than horses.
One driver rode the front wagon activating the brake handle and a
long rope going to the brake handle of the wagon being towed behind.
He also held the two reins controlling the lead mules by jerking the
lines gently in the direction he wanted to go.
The second driver rode a large wheeler horse or mule next to the front
wagon. He used a saddle, a long whip, a saddle bag of rocks and profanity
to keep the stock pulling their share of the load. If necessary he
dismounted, led or untangled the teams and made repairs.
By the way, the new owner credited with inventing the 20-Mule-Team
Hitch was "Borax" Smith who later became a famous millionaire in Death
© Delbert Trew
"It's All Trew" April
6, 2010 Column
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