20-Mule-Team History

 20 Mule Team1

bruce morgan's '49ers
Bruce Morgan looking on his '49ers 20-Mule-Team - in Death Valley
Vasie Cline, just in front of the wagon, is driving the team
(Photo courtesy of Dave & Gale Woodruff - Tales Along El Camino Sierra)

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20 mule team
20 Mule Team in Panamint Valley
(Frasers Foto Card)
The 20 mule team (pictured left) driven by Russ Spainhower left Lone Pine with Bruce Morgan's [see Mt. Whitney Pack Trains history] Group of '49ers, November 23, 1949 in a treck across Panamint Valley to Death Valley for the December 2nd Centennial.

These big wagons with wheels that weigh over eight hundred pounds each, pulled by ten pair of mules driven with only a single "jerk line", traveled at a speed averaging two miles an hour and required ten days to make the trip from Lone Pine to Furnace Creek Ranch in Death Valley.

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For more information about Bruce Morgan see Mt. Whitney Pack Trains history

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bruce morgan
Bruce Morgan
20 mule team
20 Mule Team hitched up and ready to go.

20 mule team

20 Mule Team Days
20 mule team
20 Mule Team in Death Valley

20 mule team in death  valley

20 Mule Team in Death Valley
20 mule team at daggat
20 Mule Team at the railroad loading ramp in Daggett around 1894.

bruce morgan

20 Mule Team - Bruce Morgan's '49ers

20 mule team

20 Mule Team at the old borax mining works in Death Valley
furnace creek
Bruce Morgan's '49ers and the 20 Mule Team near the Furnace Creek Inn.

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Bruce Morgan and Tommy Jefferson hitching up the mules

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View from on top the lead wagon on the 20 Mule Team

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20 Mule Team on the move in Death Valley

20 mule team wagon

20 Mule Team Wagon - 1841
( Ebay posting)

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Calisphere - University of California Burton Frasher Photo - 1936
20 mule team

20 mule team

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20 mule team
20 Mule Team Painting by Ed Thistlewait - Mt. Whitney Pack Trains Packer
(Ebay posting)

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20 Mule Team rigging photos courtesy of Paul Lamos from the archives of his stepfather, and former MWPT packer, - Bill Smart.
bruce morgan
Bruce Morgan laying out the 20 mule team rigging on U.S. 395 in Lone Pine.

bruce morgan
L to R: Vasie Cline, Billy Bishop, Leppy Diaz, Leakey Olivas
(see enlarged photo for view of all)

20 mule team
Hitched up and ready to leave Lone Pine for Furnace Creek.

vasie cline
Vasie Cline riding 'Ike' the mule. Vasie was always the driver of the 20 mule team.

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20 Mule Team in Lone Pine

20 mule team wagon
20 Mule Team Wagon

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Checking out the 20 mule team rigging before leaving Lone Pine

checking rigging
Checking out the rigging on the lead mules.
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20 Mule Team Wagons

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20-mule team all hitched up and ready to go.

20 mule team

Billy Bishop (who packed for Mt. Whitney Pack Trains for many years during the 1950s) waiting to place the mules in their position in the 20 mule team.

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20 Mule Team in Lone Pine

20 mule team
Bill Smart riding 'Sam-ule'

20 mule team
20 Mule Team in Lone Pine

tommy jefferson
Tommy Jefferson taking the lead out.

20 mule team
20 Mule Teami in action in Death Valley
(Ebay posting)

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20 mule team
20 Mule Team artwork on cloth
(Ebay posting)


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49'er 20 Mule Team Dinner Held at the Sahara Hotel
in
Las Vegas, Nevada on 15 May 1953
(photo courtesy of Ben Baker)

20 mule team Las Vegas dinner


L to R around the table.

1. Ann Higgins
2. Dr. Joseph P. Higgins
3. Roberta Morgan Peters
4. David B. Hill
5. Grace Morgan
6. Kathrine Spainhower
7. Dr. William C. Smart
8. Glayds Thompson
9. Bruce Morgan
10. Norma Higgins
11. Ernie Thompson
12. Mike Baker
13. Jean Crilly Coburn
14. Richard Morgan
15. Enid Morgan Hansen
16. Joe Pat Higgins

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The Mule
by Theodore H. Savory

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 The 20-Mule-Team & Borax Bill
by The Pacific Coast Borax Co.


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20 Mule Team Days
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20 Mule Team in the Mojave Desert
(Desert Magazine photo)
20 mule team
This is the true meaning of the term "team track." A [20 mule] team was literally drawn up beside a train for loading or unloading. Here a load of 24 tons of nearly pure borax is being loaded onto the AT&S.

(George Schreyer photo)
20 mule team wagons
20 Mule Team Wagons

giant wagons
20 Mule Team
(1954 National Geographic Photo)

20 mule team

20 Mule Team rounding a desert curve
(C.C. Pierce photo)


20 mule team
(1955 Calico Press Art)

The twenty mule team, a mule skinners nightmare come true or a skilled teamsters dream come true. However one pictured it, it was a ride that none of the drivers ever forgot. Bruce Morgan was one of the last drivers of the famed 20 Mule Team during the Inyo County centennial in 1949. As co-owner of Mt. Whitney Pack Trains with Ike Livermore, Bruce enjoyed an exciting life of mule packing and team driving which many of us latter year packers have come to envy.

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 Wagons to Haul Through Hell
by Harold O. Weight
get acrobat

20 Mule Team1
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 borax

 boraxo

 borax soap
borax products

Commanding the 20 Mule Team

Fourteen, 16, 18 mules, plus 2 horses, supplied the draypower. The front span of mules were the "leaders"; the 2 horses next to the wagon, and hitched to the tongue, were the "wheelers." Twenty was the usual total, and 20 were needed on the steep incline of Windy Gap, heaving some thirty tons of dead weight, including the borax, the water cart, the unwieldy wagons themselves, and a vast assortment of tools, food supplies and cooking equipment attached to the sides. Altogether the outfit, in action, looked like a cross between a circus wagon and a Connecticut peddler's cart. Not since the construction of the Pyramids of Egypt had such an impressive rig crossed a desert.

Stretched out on the road, the leaders were a long 120 feet from the skinner, who rode the nigh wheeler or sat enthroned high on the front of the fore wagon. For such an entourage reins were useless. Instead, the skinner held a stout, cotton jerk line in one hand and a whip with a 6-foot stock and 22-foot lash in the other.

The single line was strung through rings in the harnesses of the twenty nigh mules to the bit of the nigh leader. To make a left turn, the skinner pulled steadily on the line. To make a right turn, the line was given a series of short jerks; the jerks made the leader instinctively throw up his head, which in turn pulled a strap attached to the right side of the bit-a system as simple as it was ingenious. The leader took its cues from the line; the rest followed.

Commanding a twenty-mule borax wagon was something like sailing a full-rigged schooner singlehanded, using an oar for a rudder. In managing the team the line was a help; the whip that could flick a fly from the ear of the fourth off mule without disturbing a hair was a help; the brakes were useful; the swamper riding the trail wagon and working its brake was occasionally credited with giving some assistance; and the box full of rocks kept on the seat to pelt perverse mules beyond the reach of the whip was indispensable. But all these aids were of minimum value in controlling the team, compared to the effectiveness of the skinner's tongue.

An inspired tongue and flexible vocal organs were what kept the animals on course and pulling together. The teamster's words had all the sting of his whip. That badge of trade was held in reserve as a threat and rarely applied, but from the moment a skinner mounted his seat with a "Git ep, ye God-damned - git ep," the flow of profane eloquence was unreserved. The vocabulary, to be sure, was limited. Mule skinners kept it that way on purpose, so they maintained, in order not to strain the intelligence of the animals or the lean-witted assistant, the swamper.

The profusion of four-, five-, and six-letter words had aim, thrust and cut of unmistakable meaning and nuance. Mules were sensitive beasts, each with a name, and when that name was linked with the bite of the driver's rebuke, ears perked up, a tail wilted, a quiver of terror or embarrassment seemed to pass over the hide, as though a lash had struck.

The yarn about the skinner who was converted overnight by a transient evangelist originated at Mojave. In fact, the gospel bearer was so proud of his proselyte that he accompanied him to the wagon next morning to see him off. With the preacher looking on from below, the skinner swung up to his high seat, sober, constrained, humbled.

There he sat for a long moment, trying to summon the magic words that normally set his team in motion. For the first time in his life he was tongue tied, totally bereft of his powers of persuasion. The evangelist had deprived him of the Biblical vocabulary and all the mortifying vulgarisms his mules understood. When he finally bellowed the command to "Get ep," without a single allusion to the Almighty or the organs of sex, the mules stood transfixed in their tracks, and reportedly all twenty turned their heads in unison to stare in wonderment at the master. The evangelist lost a good convert long before the wagons approached Windy Gap.

No question about it, the borax teamster felt compelled to lean rather heavily on diabolic conjuring. He had to be an unyielding tyrant, a wizard and an artist, in one. Yet despite the Satanic invocation, accidents did occur on the road to Mojave. Miscalculation of a hairbreadth in rounding one of the turns in Windy Gap, the failure of a leader to respond to a yank of the jerk line at a moment of urgency, or the tripping of a pointer in leaping the haul chain, could bring disaster. Everything depended on everything else, and a minor slip-up could send the whole outfit into a cliff or over the edge of one.


Excerpt from The Great California Deserts by W. Storrs Lee

20 mule team
Recently the Pacific Coast Borax Company hitched up a new team, here they are seen against the Black Mountains
for the television show Death Valley Days.
(June, 1954 National Geographic Magazine photo)

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Revolution in the Laundry
by W. Storrs Lee
20 mule team
Edward Sanborn Illustration of the 20 Mule Team

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 old ranger
20 Mule Team Model and the "Old Ranger"
(photo courtesy "The Old Ranger")

last hurrah
20 Mule Team Centennial
old ranger
Jack MacBryde
old ranger
Stanley Andrews"
old ranger
Death Valley Days - "Old Ranger"
Two of my favorite "Death Valley Days" TV hosts who played "The Old Ranger."
 
 
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20 mule team

20 Mule Team
(Photo courtesy of Bob Pilatos)


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Floyd R. Evans 1949 photographs of the Death Valley '49ers Centennial
(Photographs courtesy of Rich McCutchan)

20 mule team
Bruce Morgan - 20 Mule Team Centennial


20 mule team

 Bruce Morgan - 20 Mule Team Centennial

20 mule tea

Bruce Morgan - 20 Mule Team Centennial


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Photos courtesy of the Inyo County Sesquicentennial

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Furnace Creek Inn manager Carlie Scholl admiring Bruce Morgan's 20 Mule Team that came to Death Valley to help celebrate the first '49er Encampment in 1949.

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The 20 Mule Team in Lone Pine to help celebrate the Wedding of the Waters in 1937.
20 Mule Team Fotocard Courtesy of Bob Pilatos
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20 Mule Team at Furnace Creek Inn - 1949

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Calisphere - University of California Burton Frasher Photo - 1949
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Bruce Morgan's '49er 20 Mule Team crossing Panamint Valley

20 mule team
Bruce Morgan's '49er 20 Mule Team crossing Panamint Valley

on the desert
20 Mule Team crossing the Mojave Desert in 1898

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20 Mule Team and Western Links
Santa Clarita Valley History
Death Valley Days
Death Valley Days Radio Log (1)

  Death Valley Days Radio Log (2)
  Death Valley Days Radio Episodes - Listen online (3)

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20 Mule Team Reading
Owens Valley, the High Sierra & 20 Mule Team reading.
spur The Land of Little Rainby Mary Austin (1903)
Close Ups of the High Sierraby Norman Clyde (1928)
The Story of Inyo by Walter A. Chalfant (1933)
Waters of the Golden Troutby Charles McDermand (1946)
History of the Sierra Nevadaby Francis P. Farquhar (1965)
Twenty-Mule Team Days in Death Valley by Harold O. Weight (1955)
The 20 Mule Team & its Famous Driver, Borax Billby Pacific Coast Borax Co. - 1981

The Great California Desertsby W. Storrs Lee (1963)

abebooks Making "out of print" and "hard to find" books easier to find. abebooks

spur

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wingate pass
20 Mule Team Wagon Train entering Death Valley from Wingate Pass.
(Ebay posting)


death valley
20 Mule Team Borax Wagons in Death Valley
(Ebay posting)



(Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress)

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Photos courtesy of the Library of Congress
20 mule team
20 Mule Team Borax Wagons in the Mojave Desert - between 1880-1890
20 mule team
20 Mule Team Borax Wagons in the Death Valley

20 mule team

20 Mule Team Borax Wagons in the Death Valley

20 mule team

20 Mule Team Borax Wagons in the Death Valley


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20-mule team
Twenty-mule team hauls two freight wagons and a tank wagon in train through the forbidding terrain of Death Valley in California. The freight wagons are 16 feet long; their rear wheels are seven feet in diameter. Each wagons weighs nearly four tons and can carry 10 ten tons of cargo. The water tank holds 1,200 gallons of water. The 20-mule teams were used in the 1880's to carry borax from Death Valley to the railroad at Mojave, 165 miles away. The United States Borax & Chemical Corporation uses the team as its trademark.
(Pacific Coast Borax Company photo).

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Mt. Whitney Pack Trains - Chyrsler and Cook Days  

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Vintage Panorama Photos of the Sierra Nevada  

Ghosts of the Past 2 - Owens Valley Aqueduct & Cottonwood Sawmill  
 

More 20 Mule Team History

 

 Manzanar Japanese Internment Camp History

 

Manzanar High School Portraits & History


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This page was last updated on 01 October 2019