Ed McIlhany packed plenty of flour, bacon, beans, and whisky in his day, but he also occasionally carried some very unusual items, as in the following story:
A man came to me in Marysville and wanted a large billiard table packed into Rich Bar on the North Fork of the Feather River. There was no wagon road, but I knew the route well. I made a bargain with him to pack the table there for him.
I loaded up forty-nine mules with flour and a large bay mare mule, one of my strongest and gentlest mules, to pack the billiard table. It was a large old-fashioned table. I unscrewed the legs from the table and I put two fifty-pound sacks of flour on either side of the top of the packsaddle, putting the table on top of the flour to balance it and lashed it tightly.
I finally reached the top of the mountain; the way then descended six miles down to the bar, with a winding trail. My men watched the mule carefully to see that she did not bruise the table, which was wrapped. I finally reached the store with the table. The mule was wet with perspiration and was trembling like a leaf . . .
He paid me $450.00 in gold dust for landing the table there safely. The table was put up immediately in his store, where he had both goods and a bar besides this table, and the boys commenced playing on the table at a dollar a game.
I packed with me my own bed and I slept on the ground at my camp, which was close to the store, feeding my mules on barley that night. I was up early in the morning and the men were still playing billiards and the proprietor told me that they had been playing all night. He said, “I will soon have that costly billiard table paid for.”
(Recollections of a 49er, 96-97.)
I am amazed at the strength and agility of mules. They can pack anything! And I’ll bet the man who ordered the table made his money back in no time.