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What is a mule skinner?

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The Shambles 10 Aug 01 - 07:29 PM
katlaughing 10 Aug 01 - 07:38 PM
Sorcha 10 Aug 01 - 07:39 PM
katlaughing 10 Aug 01 - 07:40 PM
Dicho (Frank Staplin) 10 Aug 01 - 08:14 PM
Susanne (skw) 10 Aug 01 - 08:31 PM
Dicho (Frank Staplin) 10 Aug 01 - 09:06 PM
kendall 10 Aug 01 - 09:16 PM
katlaughing 10 Aug 01 - 09:42 PM
GUEST,bobbi--my cookie is off again 10 Aug 01 - 10:03 PM
toadfrog 10 Aug 01 - 10:13 PM
GUEST,bobbi 10 Aug 01 - 10:29 PM
Dicho (Frank Staplin) 10 Aug 01 - 10:32 PM
Sorcha 10 Aug 01 - 11:03 PM
Amos 10 Aug 01 - 11:16 PM
Amos 10 Aug 01 - 11:22 PM
Sorcha 10 Aug 01 - 11:31 PM
Coyote Breath 10 Aug 01 - 11:46 PM
Metchosin 11 Aug 01 - 12:04 AM
katlaughing 11 Aug 01 - 12:11 AM
The Shambles 11 Aug 01 - 05:04 AM
kendall 11 Aug 01 - 06:15 AM
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Metchosin 11 Aug 01 - 02:05 PM
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katlaughing 11 Aug 01 - 02:33 PM
Dicho (Frank Staplin) 11 Aug 01 - 03:25 PM
CRANKY YANKEE 11 Aug 01 - 04:04 PM
Metchosin 11 Aug 01 - 04:35 PM
Metchosin 11 Aug 01 - 05:03 PM
Dicho (Frank Staplin) 11 Aug 01 - 06:12 PM
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The Shambles 12 Aug 01 - 10:48 AM
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Subject: What is a mule skinner?
From: The Shambles
Date: 10 Aug 01 - 07:29 PM

What is a mule skinner and why the name?


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Subject: RE: What is a mule skinner?
From: katlaughing
Date: 10 Aug 01 - 07:38 PM

When my great-uncle was one it meant he drove a team of mules hauling ore in the Colorado Rockies. That's the only definition I've ever heard.


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Subject: RE: What is a mule skinner?
From: Sorcha
Date: 10 Aug 01 - 07:39 PM

I don't know why "skinner", but it is a mule team driver, or drover. In the Great Basin (US) long teams of mules were used to haul borax from the mines to the railroads. Up to 10 pairs of mules on one wagon. Eytomology of skinner would be interesting, as they don't of course, actually "skin" the mules.


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Subject: RE: What is a mule skinner?
From: katlaughing
Date: 10 Aug 01 - 07:40 PM

Just found this on one site:

The term muleskinner means someone who can "skin" or outsmart/train a mule


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Subject: RE: What is a mule skinner?
From: Dicho (Frank Staplin)
Date: 10 Aug 01 - 08:14 PM

Probably right, KatL. The word appears in print as far back as 1870 acc. to Merriam Webster. The other possibility is using the whip to "skin" the mules, but I doubt that since mule teams were mostly well-cared for because they raised the income of a muleskinner to above the average.


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Subject: RE: What is a mule skinner?
From: Susanne (skw)
Date: 10 Aug 01 - 08:31 PM

Why does the muleskinner in the Muleskinner Blues address the person he's speaking to as 'Good morning Captain'?


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Subject: RE: What is a mule skinner?
From: Dicho (Frank Staplin)
Date: 10 Aug 01 - 09:06 PM

Captain was a term of respect for the boss on a job. More often used by negros to whites than whites to whites. Muleskinner Blues- not in DT under that name.


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Subject: RE: What is a mule skinner?
From: kendall
Date: 10 Aug 01 - 09:16 PM

I thought it meant that a good "Mule skinner" could take the hide off a mule with his whip.


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Subject: RE: What is a mule skinner?
From: katlaughing
Date: 10 Aug 01 - 09:42 PM

Could be, Kendall, but they wouldn't last very long from that. Also, knowing what I do of my great uncle, greatgrandad who also hauled ore by muletrain in Leadville, CO, my granddad and my dad, anyone around them who did would be liable to get skinned themselves. They did not abide any kind of cruelty to get an animal to do something, not even a mule.:-)

kat


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Subject: RE: What is a mule skinner?
From: GUEST,bobbi--my cookie is off again
Date: 10 Aug 01 - 10:03 PM

A mule skinner was an individual that traveled the 'Old West' and slaughtered buffalo... taking hides only, for cash and barter at trading posts. The owner of these trading posts were respectfully addressed at Capt'n (if you wanted a respectable price for your hides)... "Good mornin' Capt'n, good mornin' to you!..." They drove mule teams as the mules could bear the weighty load of all the hides they collected and the heavy wagons they pulled... Unfortunately, they left the meat to rot on the plains, and while the buffalo herds were diminished, the native Americans starved. A mule skinner didn't have a very honorable standing in the community and addressed most people as Capt'n or Boss or, but there was a hell of an over-seas market for buffalo hides so .... $$$$$.. we allowed them..


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Subject: RE: What is a mule skinner?
From: toadfrog
Date: 10 Aug 01 - 10:13 PM

Actually, the term derives by analogy from the older expression "cat skinner," meaning one who drives a Caterpillar tractor.


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Subject: RE: What is a mule skinner?
From: GUEST,bobbi
Date: 10 Aug 01 - 10:29 PM

Forgot to address the water boy... Mule skinners traveled the hot barren plains in groups of wagon teams.. It would hardly be worth it to take one wagon out in hostile Indian territory and only hope for one load of hides... An important member of that wagon team was the water boy... After the buffalo slaughter, skinners were busy all day, getting the hides off their kill, and the water boy would run a bucket of water between the skinners so they wouldn't dehydrate and also to rinse their hands from the sticky, slicky blood and hides. Mule skinners didn't smell pleasant.. It was a nasty, gross job, that eventually wiped out a nation, but is was lucrative.


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Subject: RE: What is a mule skinner?
From: Dicho (Frank Staplin)
Date: 10 Aug 01 - 10:32 PM

Guest Bobbi has a skewed interpretation. The term was used all over the west and in the south for the man who handled a mule team. Captain was a term commonly used for the boss, or other person of importance. The buffalo slaughterers used muleskinners, but much more importantly, merchants who organized supply trains and trading parties, the mining camp merchants and miners and anyone involved in haulage of all kinds. Mule teams were faster than oxen and are very smart in picking their way through rough bits where mis-steps could mean a broken leg. A good mule team and skinner could get work when others used the pick or begged. As an employee or self-employed, the muleskinners were important in the development of the west and anywhere else where railroads,rivers and canals were lacking.


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Subject: RE: What is a mule skinner?
From: Sorcha
Date: 10 Aug 01 - 11:03 PM

Mules are smarter than horses and can haul heavier loads but you have to treat them right. Mules "know" how much they can haul and will refuse to haul more than that. All the whipping in the world will not get a mule to haul a load too heavy. Hence, stubborn as a mule.

Mules also do not need as much water or feed as horses so they were preferred as draft animals. We still have not found just why the word "skinner" was used. No one refers to "horse skinners" or "ox skinners". I don't believe that it was the whip thing---whip a mule and you have Trouble with a capital T.


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Subject: RE: What is a mule skinner?
From: Amos
Date: 10 Aug 01 - 11:16 PM

The same candidate states he can "pop his initials down on a mule's behind". I believe long trains of mules in team were used, and a long-lashed whip was used to supplement the emphasis of traces and reins. Not as punishment which as anyone who has ridden a mule knows is directly counterproductive. More as incentive. You pop the tip of the long lash just offside their head and they pull off in the opposite direction.

The term skinner, I have always believed, meant someone who could manage mules, but derives from the concept that one _could_ pop the whip artfully enough to flay them, not that one would.

This is speculation on my part.


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Subject: RE: What is a mule skinner?
From: Amos
Date: 10 Aug 01 - 11:22 PM

Here's an excerpt from a website on Western American history:

Mule Skinners and Freight Wagons

The Mule skinner was a professional individual sometimes called a teamster whose sole purpose was to keep his wagon pulled by mules, under control and moving. The mule skinner actually rode one of the mules and guided the entire team with a single rein which was called a jerk line. An experienced mule skinner knew the personality of every one of his mules and could make them into a magical running machine whereas an inexperienced teamster found them to be obstinate and stubborn

Speed was of essential importance out in the west and the mules could pull wagons at 2 miles per hour. A team of oxen usually pulled at about 2 1/2 miles per hour. General stores would specify mule teams to carry their freight of food and other perishable items. The draw back to mules were that their grain had to be hauled with them, the Indians would steal mules to ride them and mule meat tasted terrible according to the teamsters

During the 1800's the mule was in constant demand for civilian and military freighting. Not only were the mules better foragers, they kept better footing in treacherous terrain then the horses. A pair of mules could cost anywhere from two to four hundred dollars during this time period. Of all the mules, the ones from Missouri were the most prized and the reputation continues even today

Mules were also used to pull the stagecoaches on the western end of the stage run, but the men were still referred to as stagecoach drivers

The most famous mule teams were the Death Valley twenty mule teams that hauled borax across the desert to the railroad. Each team actually had 18 mules and 2 horses as the wheelers


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Subject: RE: What is a mule skinner?
From: Sorcha
Date: 10 Aug 01 - 11:31 PM

Cool! Thank you Amos. But why "skinner" instead of drover etc is still not answered.........(I love mules)


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Subject: RE: What is a mule skinner?
From: Coyote Breath
Date: 10 Aug 01 - 11:46 PM

drover was more of an Eastern and European designation, I think.

I could ask one of the locals. Living in Missouri is living in the heart of "mule country". I pass a handsome "buckskin" in a pasture with five other mules each morning on my exercise ride. Spose I could ask him?!

When we move up to Wyoming we hope to acquire two horses and at least four mules. They are slower but more reliable, especially in the high country.


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Subject: RE: What is a mule skinner?
From: Metchosin
Date: 11 Aug 01 - 12:04 AM

Well, I'm headed off to the Palliser Pass area of the Rockies next week and we will be travelling into camp with a string of mules, so if you can wait a couple of weeks, I'll ask one of the muleskinners that will be with us what "skinner" means, although I suspect that they might not come to a consensus on the answer either.


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Subject: RE: What is a mule skinner?
From: katlaughing
Date: 11 Aug 01 - 12:11 AM

Thnaks, Amos. My greatuncle, Ivan Crawford, who as I said was a muleskinner in Leadville, CO, in the 1880's, had an article published on just what muleskinning was in that country and it had everything to do with hauling ore, etc. and nothing to do with the decimation of the buffalo.

I came across the article when in junior high. My teacher had a stack of issues of an old Colorado magazine. We had to pick an article to read and report on. I grabbed that one because of the name, found out is was our Ivan Crawford and it was a fascinating story. He went on to graduate from Ann Arbor and teach. I am now on the trail of finding a copy through the CO Historical Soc.

Coyote Breath, there are a couple of us in Wyoming. If you need any info, etc. give me a holler by PM, okay?

Thanks,

kat


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Subject: RE: What is a mule skinner?
From: The Shambles
Date: 11 Aug 01 - 05:04 AM

Thank you all for that. Having recently had a first and a close experience with mules (certain parts of me may never recover), I must agree that they are fine and intelligent beings. Even if their tendency to wish to walk right to the edge on bends, to look down to he sheer drop below, and taking their rider with them to look also, is a little unsettling.

The explanation of 'skinner' coming from the buffalo slaughtering days, may not be a popular idea, but I tend to think that that is probably where the term originates?

Was the term used before this activity?

I have not yet seen any convincing alternative for the term........


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Subject: RE: What is a mule skinner?
From: kendall
Date: 11 Aug 01 - 06:15 AM

Kat, I believe the term "skinner" was nothing more than an idle boast. Seems to me I remember Jimmy Rodgers singing about "skinning" a mule, but, of course he didn't mean that literally.


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Subject: RE: What is a mule skinner?
From: Barry Finn
Date: 11 Aug 01 - 08:02 AM

Another area where the mule skinner played a large part in was the building of the southern (USA) levee systems where they hauled dirt & I've read that more material was used here than for the Great Wall of China.
Barry


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Subject: RE: What is a mule skinner?
From: Pontiac Joe
Date: 11 Aug 01 - 09:08 AM

Good history lesson, not sure about the "skinner" part but I do know thats where the Teamsters union got the name and the wheel and horse logo. I like mules also but where I live in Muhlenberg township in Pennsylvania our high school mascot is the "Muhls" Bartholamuhl to be exact.


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Subject: RE: What is a mule skinner?
From: GUEST,Nick
Date: 11 Aug 01 - 10:22 AM

They say there is more than one way to skin a cat. How many are there and what are they?


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Subject: RE: What is a mule skinner?
From: katlaughing
Date: 11 Aug 01 - 01:35 PM

In on of the online dictionaries, it refers one to "Muleteer" when looking up "mule skinner." It lists 1870 for first usage of mule skinner. The definition for muleteer is as follows:

Main Entry: mu.le.teer
Pronunciation: "myü-l&-'tir
Function: noun
Etymology: French muletier, from mulet, from Old French, diminutive of mul mule Date: 1538
one who drives mules


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Subject: RE: What is a mule skinner?
From: katlaughing
Date: 11 Aug 01 - 01:42 PM

I hate the skin a cat expression just for the negative connotations regarding my pet cats, BUT here is an interesting bit baout its history:

MORE THAN ONE WAY TO SKIN A CAT

From Mike Reilly: "Anything interesting in the origin of There's more than one way to skin a cat?"

To a lexicographer, all phrases are interesting, it's just that some of them are more interesting than others ... There are several versions of this saying. Charles Kingsley used the older British form in Westward Ho! in 1855: "there are more ways of killing a cat than choking it with cream", meaning that there are good ways of doing something, and then there are foolish ways, one of the latter being to give a cat cream in the hope of killing it. Mark Twain used your version in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court in 1889: "she was wise, subtle, and knew more than one way to skin a cat", that is, more than one way to get what she wanted. The latter version seems to have nothing to do with the American English term to skin a cat, which is to perform a type of gymnastic exercise.


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Subject: RE: What is a mule skinner?
From: katlaughing
Date: 11 Aug 01 - 01:59 PM

I am having fun with this, today. Here is a neat thing about a lowly mule skinner who was pretty smart, but didn't get much credit:

Greatest Discovery No.2

Mount Wilson Observatory was built above the badlands of Pasadena and for many years all supplies went up by mule-train. A smart - but poor - Pasadena mule-skinner, name of Milton Humason, took a job as janitor at the Observatory, to feed himself between trips.

Milton was a quick learner and began assisting the high-class Astronomers.

The 'top brass' was Harlow Shapley - later Director at Harvard.

One day (c.1920) Milton brought to Shapley a photo-plate of the Andromeda Nebula (M31), which Shapley at that time thought of as a 'cloud of gas' inside the Milky Way.

Humason had put arrows on the back of the plate - pointing to some small specks which he suggested were variable stars - Cepheids. [Ie. that the 'nebula' was beyond the limits of the Milky Way]

Shapley haughtily brushed off Milton's arrows, telling him the idea was "rubbish".

A year or so later, working for Hubble (guy they named the Space Telescope for), Humason brought up the matter again.

Hubble checked (using Henrietta Leavitt's published key to the Cepheid variables) and found they were stars, were Cepheids and were at least 900,000 light years away. About 10 × the size of the then-known Universe !

Hubble published news of the breakthrough in 1924.

Importance

For the first time it was known that something existed outside the Milky Way.

The Andromeda 'nebula' was reclassified as the Andromeda Galaxy. The first we knew of outside our own !


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Subject: RE: What is a mule skinner?
From: Metchosin
Date: 11 Aug 01 - 02:05 PM

From what I have gleaned, kat, is correct, despite what some would prefer to believe, given the brutality which occured in the "settling" of North America.

The North American term "skin" hence "skinner" or teamster, means to outsmart or solve a problem, and probably derives from the meaning of the expression, "there is more than one way to skin a cat (dog, or by some sources, an abbreviation of catfish), which in itself means "to solve a problem". Mark Twain fist used the expression "skin a cat" in his book the Connecticut Yankee.

Anything deriving from more brutal handling misses the mark completely.

A mule team would never be flayed. "Skinning any mule alive" means out-thinking the animal, it DOES NOT mean whipping in the literal sense, especially when your life and livelihood in "the new world" depended on keeping your livestock alive and well. "Popping your initials" (branding) a mules behind, would also require consumate skill and smarts to stay alive, they are one animal I wouldn't care to rile when I was near their hind end.

I use a lunging whip to train and exercise horses and I assure you the object is NEVER to make contact, but only to get their attention and have them move away from the noise of the crack.


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Subject: RE: What is a mule skinner?
From: Metchosin
Date: 11 Aug 01 - 02:15 PM

ah kat! that's what I get for pulling up this thread this morning and then getting distracted for an hour or so before sending the message. I never saw your last two or three posts.


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Subject: RE: What is a mule skinner?
From: katlaughing
Date: 11 Aug 01 - 02:33 PM

LOL, 'sokay, Mets, I was on a roll and you've just added some good info to it. Thanks!


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Subject: RE: What is a mule skinner?
From: Dicho (Frank Staplin)
Date: 11 Aug 01 - 03:25 PM

I would also like to thank Amos for the quote. A key word is "professional." It took skill to train and control a team of mules. It was an important job in the settling of the west, as I have tried to point out also. Anyone who has never ridden a mule can get the experience on Molokai, riding down the pali to the leprosarium and the site of Father Damien's mission. It is an all-day trip with a break for lunch. The trail always has patches of loose rock and some small washouts and it is quite an education to watch the mules pick their way down and up the cliff and how they "train" the inexperienced rider who tries to impose his will.


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Subject: RE: What is a mule skinner?
From: CRANKY YANKEE
Date: 11 Aug 01 - 04:04 PM

Before May of 1957, The only way anyone sang "Muleskinner Blues" Was the way Jimmy Rogers or Bill Monroe sang it. Then in May 1957 The Control Tower Chief Controller at Suffolk County Air Force Base near Westhampton Beach New York (Long Island) T/Sgt Jody Gibson (me) recorded "Good Morning Captain" an entirely different way of singing this song, and with an entirely different melody. It was an instant "Hit". Only distributed in New England, New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, it sold 400,000 + 45rpm records and 75,000 78 rpm's. One of the reasons for it's success is that Alan Freed was my manager's father in law so it got a lot of play on the AM "Pop" and "Rock and Roll" radio programs. It was instantly covered by Sheb Wooley, who sang it "word for word and note for note" exactly the same as I'd done it. Dolly Parton also recorded my version years later. Now, this is the way all the "Traditionalist" and "Folk Music Purists" (folk music fascists?) sing it. That is, until they read this post, then they'll be frantically searching for old Jimmy Rogers records.

Of course, my version is, now, "worthless", as I'm still alive. (72 years old this month) My TETRA record of "Good Morning Captain" is the first track on my new CD "Spanning the Decades" ($15.00, includes shipping) from ROSE ISLAND Recording and Music Co. 36 Charles St. Newport, Rhode Island 02840.

As Far as I know, Kat/Katlaughing has the straight poop as to what a Muleskinner is. "Captain" , of course, is the boss of the job and the one who does the hiring. The rest of the song is, I guess, the muleskinner's resume.

some of you have previous versions of "Spanning the Decades" that do not inclued "Good Morning Captain". If so, send me a PM with your mailing adress on it and I'll send you a tape of Good Morning Captain, 21 Years (the "B" side) and Worried Man Blues, a composite of TETRA and ROSE ISLAND (recent) recordings with the traditional "Worried Man Blues" lyrics. We used the 5-string banjo instrumental break for background to sing the traditional verses to. twice, and, sang harmony with myself on the choruses to cover up the "too much echo" on the original TETRA recording. This composite is track No. 3 on the CD. SINSULL and Dick Greenhouse have the new issue of Spanning the Decades, and I'm sending Rick Fielding one too.


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Subject: RE: What is a mule skinner?
From: Metchosin
Date: 11 Aug 01 - 04:35 PM

Did any one else besides me, ever build the wonderful little model of the mules and wagon that you could get through 20 Mule Team Borax Laundry Soap in the fifties?

I always thought the powder blue colour of the cart was a mistake on the part of the manufacturer of the model, until I had the opportunity of veiwing the real thing in Death Valley a couple of years back.


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Subject: RE: What is a mule skinner?
From: Metchosin
Date: 11 Aug 01 - 05:03 PM

Dicho, hopefully the mules on the Palliser this year will be as sure footed as those on Molaki, they are going to be carrying in a couple of bottles of my single malt, amongst other stuff, when we ride in and that is a pretty damned precious cargo too. I would never trust a good bottle of of the Singleton or Highland Park to a horse.*BG*


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Subject: RE: What is a mule skinner?
From: Dicho (Frank Staplin)
Date: 11 Aug 01 - 06:12 PM

Highland Park? Sheer Heaven!


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Subject: RE: What is a mule skinner?
From: Barry Finn
Date: 11 Aug 01 - 06:43 PM

Wasn't President Reagan a bit(bad) actor on Death Valley Days?
Barry


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Subject: RE: What is a mule skinner?
From: The Shambles
Date: 12 Aug 01 - 10:48 AM

The Buffalo Hunters.

This article does mention both mules and skinners. Not conclusive but suggestive. Make up your own mind but it does not make very pleasant reading however.


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Subject: RE: What is a mule skinner?
From: Metchosin
Date: 12 Aug 01 - 12:09 PM

Huh? not suggestive Shambles, finding the words "mule" and "buffalo skinners" in the same article, does not give credence to Guest bobbi's fanciful interpretation.

As noted before, muleskinner's sole profession was to drive and care for his team. Who do you think fed and tended the mules, repaired harnesses and maintained and repaired the wagon. I can assure you, that caring for two working horses consumes quite a bit of time; maintaining and caring for a whole team of mules and ancillary equipment would leave little time for the bit of recreational knife work as recounted in that article.


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Subject: RE: What is a mule skinner?
From: Dicho (Frank Staplin)
Date: 12 Aug 01 - 12:29 PM

The shallow article posted by Shambles has nothing to do with muleskinners and their teams. The article focuses on the buffalo hunters without elucidating the reasons for the increased decimation of the herds after 1850. With the buffalo gone, the natives would be forced into submission and the country could be opened up to the cattle ranchers, and later, the farmers and informal homesteaders. It was unofficial government policy.


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Subject: RE: What is a mule skinner?
From: Bill D
Date: 12 Aug 01 - 12:46 PM

Highland Park is indeed heaven!...Mules are to be trusted with nectar of the Gods, not horses!

Great thread & research, folks.


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Subject: RE: What is a mule skinner?
From: Bill D
Date: 12 Aug 01 - 12:49 PM

and a website called Muleskinner.com ought to have SOME insight on the question!

They say 'skin' means outsmart.


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Subject: RE: What is a mule skinner?
From: The Shambles
Date: 12 Aug 01 - 04:06 PM

What is a 'mule outsmarter' and why the name?

I struggle with the strength of feeling on this one.

Logic leads me to believe that the term probably arrives from an trade combining both mules and skinning. Given the times and revenues then gathered from animal hides, surely it is far more likely that the term comes from the literal meaning of the word skinner?

About as repectable as the term singer/songwriter. Or is songwriter a term for outsmarting also?

I have no doubt that the term came to refer to a mule teamster, I just question the origin of the term.....


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Subject: RE: What is a mule skinner?
From: Metchosin
Date: 12 Aug 01 - 06:32 PM

Shambles, Bill D's link is right from the horse's, er mule's mouth, "to skin" in North American slang, means to outsmart, ignore the red herring.

A mule seems to have a greater sense of self preservation than a horse, therefore it requires more finesse to bend their will or rather assure it enough, that it should do man's bidding. Or maybe it is just simply that they are, in fact, smarter than horses. Can't see what could be more straight forward than that, but then again, you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink.*BG*

Bill D, re Highland Park, my point exactly.


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Subject: RE: What is a mule skinner?
From: Metchosin
Date: 12 Aug 01 - 07:05 PM

This might offer some elucidation regarding skinning a mule.

Your right kat, sometimes you get on a roll and get carried away.


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Subject: RE: What is a mule skinner?
From: The Shambles
Date: 12 Aug 01 - 07:16 PM

You may indeed lead a horse to water but can you lead a mule?

Too many bloody animals in this thread anyway, mules horses and now red herrings......


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Subject: RE: What is a mule skinner?
From: Sorcha
Date: 12 Aug 01 - 07:23 PM

Well, maybe we should add some "old blind dogs" just to muddy the waters further.......(grin)


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Subject: RE: What is a mule skinner?
From: katlaughing
Date: 12 Aug 01 - 07:46 PM

Mets, excellent article! Thanks!


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Subject: RE: What is a mule skinner?
From: Metchosin
Date: 12 Aug 01 - 10:45 PM

not if he doesn't want to go Shambles, hence the need for finesse.


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Subject: RE: What is a mule skinner?
From: Dicho (Frank Staplin)
Date: 12 Aug 01 - 11:17 PM

Doesn't look like we can lead Shambles to water (or single malt). As a New Mexican born and bred, I know what Sophia Sarember is saying. If a mule takes a dislike to you nothing can be done to make him cooperate. If you treat him well. he will give his utmost.


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Subject: RE: What is a mule skinner?
From: katlaughing
Date: 12 Aug 01 - 11:20 PM

Shambles is correct in spotting the Red Herrings in this thread, though!*bg*


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Subject: RE: What is a mule skinner?
From: Dicho (Frank Staplin)
Date: 12 Aug 01 - 11:46 PM

I always thought Morris referred to an adjustable chair. Is it a red fish as well? Signed Morris the Cat.


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Subject: RE: What is a mule skinner?
From: The Shambles
Date: 13 Aug 01 - 02:48 AM

You certainly can't drive a mule to water, or anywhere else. You have to try and convince them of the wisdom of such a policy.

I am still waiting to be convinced.

Why not a 'mule fooler'.

Not seen a a side called Mule Skinner Morris yet........


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Subject: RE: What is a mule skinner?
From: Metchosin
Date: 13 Aug 01 - 03:18 AM

Mule fooler? Yes, that would be one way to skin the cat Shambles. Perhaps get him to back him up to water, or......take the water to him. LOL


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Subject: RE: What is a mule skinner?
From: The Shambles
Date: 13 Aug 01 - 04:05 AM

You know what they say 'stubborn as a herring!.


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Subject: RE: What is a mule skinner?
From: Metchosin
Date: 13 Aug 01 - 11:40 AM

Right! By the same logic, Sean Connery is as much a "lady killer" as Jack the Ripper. I guess ya just can't trust those damned Scots.


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Subject: RE: What is a mule skinner?
From: The Shambles
Date: 13 Aug 01 - 11:53 AM

Jock the Ripper?


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Subject: RE: What is a mule skinner?
From: JohnInKansas
Date: 13 Aug 01 - 10:32 PM

I've had no luck tracing an origin for the use of "skinner," but a couple of observations on the comments above are in order.

A large percentage of the comments relate to use of the term "mule skinner" in the western states. It should be noted the the question came from a song about the Erie Canal - and from a "back east" location and tradition having nothing to do with most of the West.

Several dictionaries I have consulted uniformly define a "skinner" as one who "operates a team of draft animals." The term appears to have been in established use well before the period(s) cited in the western US, although I have yet to confirm this.

The term "skinner" was used in relation to most kinds of draft animals, although by the early 1900s, calling someone a "hoss-skinner" was, apparently, considered something of an insult - at least by breeders of draft horses like my grandfather! "Ox-skinner" was commonly used in my area (apparently with no negative connotations) as late as 1948, although the use of ox teams was rather rare by then.

I will note that my grandfather, who was a die-hard draft horse breeder and user, had great respect for mules and those who used them. While he was quite outspoken about people who were "too dumb to deserve a good horse," he also had some respectful words for those who chose to take on the "extra effort" that is required to get the best out of a team of mules.

quoting grandpa:
"Any d... f..l can drive a horse. Too many of them do."
"A good mule can outwork any horse, but you've got to learn to talk mule to get them to work."
"Nobody can drive a team of chickens."

I think that last one applies to herding cats.

My grandpa's main objections to breeding mules were:
You have to keep a donkey around.
There were too few "customers" smart enough to use one.

Incidentally, our nearby Amish-Menonite community at Yoder, KS stil has their annual mule races and rodeo. Quite a show.

John


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Subject: RE: What is a mule skinner?
From: The Shambles
Date: 14 Aug 01 - 06:17 PM

It should be noted the the question came from a song about the Erie Canal - and from a "back east" location and tradition having nothing to do with most of the West.

It did?

In fact I was thinking about the term after reading about the 20 Mule Teams of Death Valley. Good stuff though John. Thanks


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Subject: RE: What is a mule skinner?
From: JohnInKansas
Date: 14 Aug 01 - 06:35 PM

CRS Strikes again:

I guess that's what I get for trying to remember what's in the first post after reading the 60 between that and my Reply box.

I think the old Erie Canal Sal was mentioned somewhere in the thread - or maybe in another one I looked at recently, and it just stuck.
I guess I should have said "the most common reference is to ..."?
I'm working on the theory that many(?) words that start with "sk" come from German or Dutch (Deutsch?), and the prevalent use of the term in my area, where there are many old-timers of that extraction, could have kept the term in common use later into "modern" times. Now if I can just find a really old dictionary....

It is an interesting question, and while we have a number of examples of usage, we don't seem to have come up with much about origins that seems very believable to me.

John


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Subject: RE: What is a mule skinner?
From: The Shambles
Date: 14 Aug 01 - 06:43 PM

I must admit the 'skins' game in golf. I.E. for money, was a fairly new term to me, over here.

I don't think the golfer followed over the golf course by his caddy driving a mule team, stacked high with 'skins'?

Is this use of the term possibly from the same source?


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Subject: RE: What is a mule skinner?
From: JohnInKansas
Date: 14 Aug 01 - 06:54 PM

Can't speak with any authority, but as I've seen "skins" golf played by some friends, I'd say the derivation is from the use of the term "to skin" as meaning "to cheat."
Usually, by old timers in my part of the country, in the past tense, as:

"He done skun ya Jethro."

John


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Subject: RE: What is a mule skinner?
From: Dicho (Frank Staplin)
Date: 14 Aug 01 - 08:13 PM

It is very difficult to date the origin of a word or expression unless the author can be identified. The earliest use in print could be long after the term came into being. Beadle, "Life in Utah", published 1870, "took to the plains ... in the capacity of a mule-skinner." This is the first printed use of the term. Mule trains largely superseded oxen by 1850 in the southwest (Froebel, Seven Years travel...). He said that Missouri mules "were noted for their beauty, size and strength, and although inferior to the small Mexican mules in briskness and endurance, they readily find purchasers in Mexico, where they are sought chiefly for carriage teams." In the east, mules were used to pull barges, and wagon trains were not unknown there either, but the term has yet to appear in 19C writings there. By the 1880s, the term was in general usage for the driver of a mule team. Nye, in 1881, spoke of "mule skinning, vocal music and horsemanship." Having no bearing on the origin, but amusing, is a statement in The Egg and I, 1945, by MacDonald, "If I had only studied carpentry or mule skinning instead of ballet." The Beadle, Nye and MacDonald examples are from the OED. The term was used in Canada as well, Gray, in Red Lights on the Prairie, notes that a Nicholas Sheran gave up mule-skinning for coal mining. Gray states that "An immense trade was done in goods that moved up the Missouri River to Fort Benton and thence by wagon train into Canada..." Sheran was one of the skinners. Many writers, from 1840s on, speak of the mule trains, but mention a driver, or leader (the word muleteer was largely unknown in the west). Perhaps an earlier usage will be found in letters or diaries. John in Kansas- try Scandanavian rather than German- more likely since sk words are uncommon in German. And where in the eastern canal songs, is muleskinner mentioned?


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Subject: RE: What is a mule skinner?
From: Dicho (Frank Staplin)
Date: 15 Aug 01 - 12:29 PM

Transcribing Civil War muster rolls. Found Joseph Wrigglesworth, Brigade teamster, 193 Reg't NY Vol. This seems to be the Army term for muleskinners of that time.


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Subject: RE: What is a mule skinner?
From: GUEST,Reiver 2
Date: 15 Aug 01 - 08:50 PM

VERY interesting discussion. Personally, I have no doubt as to the "skinner" part of the term referring to outsmarting or developing an ability to work with these critters. I just remembered, however, that there is another old western ballad called "Buffalo Skinners" that is about the buffalo hunters on the plains. Perhaps that is where some of the confusion arises.


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Subject: RE: What is a mule skinner?
From: katlaughing
Date: 22 Jan 03 - 12:08 AM

I have finally tracked down a copy of my great-uncle's article on muleskinning in Leadville, Colorado. It is pretty extensive. I plan to use it in a book I am working on, but will try to put a couple of excerpts in here in the next day or two. In the short bio which was published with the article, it says my great-grandad came to Leadville from Nova Scotian, with about twenty relatives, Nova Scotians all, and all muleskinners! Also, he talks about the horses they used, NOT mules!

kat


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Subject: RE: What is a mule skinner?
From: dick greenhaus
Date: 22 Jan 03 - 09:54 AM

Buffalo skinners skinned buffalos.

Mule skinners, as I've always heard, used whips--not to flay the animals, but as noisemakers. "pop my initials on a mule's behind" is a brag about skillful whip handling.


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Subject: RE: What is a mule skinner?
From: Ebbie
Date: 22 Jan 03 - 01:36 PM

JohninKansas, when I want to check on a previous post I do a Ctrl F, put in a key word or phrase, and it takes me right up there. I was thrilled to find that the tactic works in the 'Cat.


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Subject: RE: What is a mule skinner?
From: GUEST,Canal Museum interpreter
Date: 06 Mar 09 - 04:52 PM

The interpretation we use is that a mule skinner did not skin the mule, but was skilled enough with the whip to flick a fly off the mule just barely touching the mule's skin. Enjoyed reading about the interpretation of the word "skin" meaning "to outsmart". I am one of the mule drivers (we say drivers)and historical interpreters on the canal boat ride at Easton, PA. I will be sure to mention the "outsmart" definition in my talk.


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Subject: RE: What is a mule skinner?
From: katlaughing
Date: 06 Mar 09 - 08:06 PM

Boy! Good thing you refreshed this guest. I'd forgotten all about it and my promise to include some of my great-uncles article. I'll see what I can do about that.

Thanks for posting the further info. Sounds great. Hope you check in, again.

All the best,

kat


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Subject: RE: What is a mule skinner?
From: robomatic
Date: 06 Mar 09 - 08:44 PM

heard many years ago on one of the more enlightened humor variety shows:

Jethro to Bill: "Hey par', y'heard the latest mule-skinner joke, well.."

Bill to Jethro: "I'm tah-erd of them jokes makin' fun of us mule skinners. I've been a hard workin' mule skinner all mah lahf an' I can't get no break of 'em. Hey, kin' ya tell-it on some other varmint. Make it mebbe a yarn on some other perfeshun?"

Jethro: "Well shore, pard' I kin make it a joke on taffy pullers"

Bill: "Taffy Pullers?"

Jethro: "Taffy Pullers!"

Bill: "Well hah!, I'd plumb luvvit if you'd make yore trick on some o' them dumb taffy pullers!"

Jethro: "Stand By!"

Bill: "I'm a standin' by"

Jethro: "Here it comes"

Bill: "I'm a hearin' ya!"

Jethro: "Well, there's two o' them dumb taffy pullers, see?"

Bill: "I see!"

Jethro: "And they're skinnin' this mule, see . . . . . ." !!!!


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Subject: RE: What is a mule skinner?
From: Jack Campin
Date: 06 Mar 09 - 09:11 PM

Here's one way to skin a cat:
Viking cat skinning trough


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Subject: RE: What is a mule skinner?
From: katlaughing
Date: 07 Mar 09 - 01:27 AM

Jack, with the jokes and other info that's been flying around in here, it's not clear if your link is literal or not. A word of warning about it would have been appreciated for those of us who might be more sensitive.

kat


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Subject: RE: What is a mule skinner?
From: Bob the Postman
Date: 07 Mar 09 - 11:43 AM

I suggest that the term "skinner" was applied jocularly to persons handling any type of draught animal--horse-skinner, bull-skinner, etc. Some posters have pointed out that draught animals, mules especially, were too valuable to be flogged raw, but this was the case up to a certain point only. A team in prime condition was too precious to mutilate--not so your broken down old screw. Pre-automotive-age writings abound with descriptions of the nasty techniques used to get one more season of work out of Dobbin before he plods through the gates of the pie factory. So any teamster was liable to being teased about cruelty, whether he actually was cruel or not.

Surprisingly, everyone on this thread assumes that Muleskinner Blues is about the freighting business. No, it is about industrial development projects like logging and road-building where the mule teams provided traction for machines like skidders and graders. "What you want me to bring you back?"--the workers are living in camp, not transporting goods between population centres.

Finally: a drover is in charge of a drove; a driver is in charge of a vehicle.


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Subject: RE: What is a mule skinner?
From: VirginiaTam
Date: 08 Mar 09 - 11:40 AM

Surprisingly, everyone on this thread assumes that Muleskinner Blues is about the freighting business. No, it is about industrial development projects like logging and road-building where the mule teams provided traction for machines like skidders and graders.

And here I thought it was only about getting a job on the mule team because it paid better than the railroad. Thanks for the extra info.


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Subject: RE: What is a mule skinner?
From: GUEST,Mr Red
Date: 09 Mar 09 - 07:04 AM

An interesting aside - the term yonks is a contraction of "donkey's years", which derived from "donkey's ears" - ie long.

doesn't quite work with mules, does it. yonks is a common term in the UK - is it in the US?


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Subject: RE: What is a mule skinner?
From: GUEST,shadow
Date: 18 Oct 09 - 02:03 PM

The original version of "more than one way to skin a cat" appeared in John Ray's collection of proverbs, 1678. It read, "There's more than one way to skin a cat without tearing the hide."


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Subject: RE: What is a mule skinner?
From: Muleskinner
Date: 07 May 11 - 02:38 AM

I am an ex Logger retired from the Pacific Northwest area of the states.We used the term muleskinner at the turn of the century to describe the many mule drivers which were used for the mule teams which skidded the logs from the woods to the landings. Since horse and Oxen logging is the oldest form of logging up to and into the industrial age, it became standard to call a mule driver a mule skinner. In logging terms an oxen herder was a bull whacker as they were the most docile and the most stubborn animal to work with. The loggers would sometimes have to get up on their backs and walk on them with their Caulked boots (cork Boots in logging terms) just to get them to move.

Over the many years I worked as a logger I was told I don't know how many times that the term Mule skinner came from the Pacific Northwest loggers and refered to the stringy bark which was drug off the Redwood and Cedar trees up here and became deposited in the skid roads. Because it looked so much like the hide of a mule, the mule herders, became known as Muleskinners.

The term Captain refers to the shift leader of a logging crew in the woods or in a mill. In logging there are variuos names for people which have been lost to history, among them River Pigs which was a name for the log raft and log herders on the large rivers here In the Pacific Northwest. They were ultamitly lead by a Hog Boss who suervised them.

Some where I read where someone said the term Mule skinner came from the term Cat Skinner which is a term we use to describe a Caterpillar Operator. The term Cat skinner came from Muleskinner when the Cats began to replace the horse drawn teams as skidders. I was a Cat Skinner in the woods and I go by the nick name muleskinner as I am a model builder of the equipment of the turn of the century logging industry.

Now heres the kicker, the term mule skinner came from the civil war when they used teams of horses and wagons to haul good which were nessasay to the war effort. The officer in charge was usually a CAPTAIN and that is where the term Captain came from. It is related to the Blacks because a number of these teams from the Northern Army usually had run away slaves or northern black inlistees driving these wagons. The officer was of course white and was addressed as Captain by the drovers , in accordance with military regulations, which they the drovers fell under, being in the military or not.


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Subject: RE: What is a mule skinner?
From: GUEST,Tony
Date: 07 May 11 - 03:50 PM

1. "Skin" and "flay" are both commonly used slang synonyms for the verb "whip." Despite the fact that mules don't respond well to whipping, the term "mule-skinner" suggests someone who whips them severely to get them to pull. It may have played on a popular but misguided notion that driving mules requires heavier use of the whip than driving horses. It may even have been used tongue-in-cheek by the mule-skinners themselves, in the same way that carpenters use the term "wood-butcher."

2. "Captain" is also used for John Henry's boss, in a tunnel-blasting crew. It's not specific to mule-driving.


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Subject: RE: What is a mule skinner?
From: katlaughing
Date: 07 May 11 - 06:36 PM

My apologies. I see I promised, a long time ago, to share my great-uncle's article, "The Leadville Muleskinner" which was published in 1958. His father, my great-great granddad, and "twenty" other Nova Scotian relatives all came to Leadville, Colorado in the late 1870s and were muleskinners.

It is an extensive article and will take me some time to get it typed up, but I promise I will, this time, finally!


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Subject: RE: What is a mule skinner?
From: Arkie
Date: 08 May 11 - 03:42 PM

The purpose of the whip was not to beat the mule team or to cause them to pull harder to avoid the pain of the whip. The crack of the whip was the critical part. The driver might lightly touch an animal with the whip, or pop the whip above their ears. He prided himself upon his delicate use of the whip. As has already been stated here the term "skinner" was not applied literally. A team of mules was far too costly to have a driver that raked their backs with a whip causing gashes and open sores that would get infected or draw flies.   Anyone who caused any harm or damage to a mule in the team would likely discover just how much damage a bull whip could do when applied directly to the flesh.


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Subject: RE: What is a mule skinner?
From: Bonzo3legs
Date: 08 May 11 - 04:59 PM

I used to have Muleskinner Blues by The Fendermen - great record!


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Subject: RE: What is a mule skinner?
From: Don Firth
Date: 08 May 11 - 05:32 PM

In addition to "Muleskinner Blues," Walt Robertson used to sing this brief, but tender ditty:
My sweetheart's the mule in the mines;
I drive her without reins or lines.
On the bumper I sit
And I chew and I spit
All over my sweetheart's behind.
Don Firth


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Subject: RE: What is a mule skinner?
From: ripov
Date: 18 May 11 - 10:40 AM

just came across this:-

http://www.southafrica.info/travel/advice/saenglish.htm

"skinner (skinner) - Gossip, from Afrikaans. A person who gossips is known as a skinnerbek"

So (if there's a connection) maybe a muleskinner spent a lot of time talking to his beasts? Or about them?


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Subject: RE: What is a mule skinner?
From: Rumncoke
Date: 18 May 11 - 06:43 PM

Thinking about this as I read, I wondered if the origins of muleskinner are the same as for the instruction 'Keep your eyes skinned' meaning that both mules and eyes are kept working at high efficiancy.

Anne Croucher


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Subject: RE: What is a mule skinner?
From: MorwenEdhelwen1
Date: 18 May 11 - 06:48 PM

Could be it! This thread is interesting- I never spent much time thinking about the origin of this term, and now I have plenty to think about.


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Subject: RE: What is a mule skinner?
From: Amos
Date: 18 May 11 - 07:29 PM

I think the use of the long-tailed whip on the backs of the mule-train is sufficient to explain the term as a vivid shorthand.


A


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Subject: RE: What is a mule skinner?
From: fumblefingers
Date: 19 May 11 - 12:07 AM

In my former occupation, we employed "cat skinners" who operated bulldozers to clear tracks of land and build rudimentary roads. It's my understanding that the term "Mule skinner" means essentially the same thing except that mules were used before the invention of bulldozers. The skinning was done to the surface of the ground.


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Subject: RE: What is a mule skinner?
From: ripov
Date: 10 Jun 11 - 06:15 PM

Just as an aside, although in a similar vein, in the British army the cavalry are known as "donkey wallopers" (and object to the appellation most strongly!)


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Subject: RE: What is a mule skinner?
From: GUEST,chdem25
Date: 07 Sep 11 - 12:57 AM

A Mule Skinner was person who operated a tool called a fresno. The fresno was attached to a mule and they would operate like CAT scrappers. These machines have a "trailer" that can drop into the ground and skin a .10-8 inchs of soil. That my friends is where the term skinner comes from. If you use a cat bulldozer you are consider a cat skinner, a scraper operator is a pull skinner. Mule skinning was a very physical task in that you had to drop the fresno into the soil and use the mule fill it, then walk behind to a fill area and dump. Repeat the process 20-60 times daily. Rough work!!


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Subject: RE: What is a mule skinner?
From: GUEST
Date: 18 Jan 12 - 06:08 PM

You won't find any good mule skinner without a whip. Many times, he'd have a cat o' nine tails hanging by a thong on his wrist. No one has a relative who was a mule skinner in the old days and never used a whip on a mule. Whips work. If carrots worked, they would have songs about mules and carrots. Whips work. That's why they have songs about the prowess of skinners with their whips. How can you doubt it? A good mule skinner could whip a mule to death in less than half an hour. Of course, that would be foolish. But he did raise a bit of blood now and then getting a balky mule to get with the program.

Put yourself in the mule skinner's place. You are given X amount of time per trip. If the mule refuses to move, you lose your job. There is no time to train, cajole, or pamper the mule. It moves, or you and your family go hungry. Dangling from your wrist is something that will irritate the heck out of the mule and get him moving.   It will hurt the mule a little, but it will save your job.

You start off by popping it around his tail. Then his ears. Then you drag it across his back slowly. He is still not moving. He's no fool. He's been around whips all his life. He's felt the sting thousands of times. Everything you have done so far, which is about all you can do short of whipping, is old hat to him. He won't be moving for such foolishness.

Your wife is pregnant, the kids are hungry, the rent is due, and you have a whip in your hands.

Now, what would you do?


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Mudcat time: 18 June 6:38 AM EDT

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