More Mule-Packing Marvels

In another story in Recollections of a ’49er ( 2006, edited by Scott Lawson), Ed McIlhany (who was not the modest or retiring type) tells another tale of derring-do on the trail:

The winter was nearly over and I got word from the boys [in Onion Valley] as soon as I possibly could to come in with a train of goods.

Ed put together his train of pack mules loaded with goods and started for the valley. Unbeknownst to him, his partners and the men at a rival store had made a bet about whose goods would get there first. He got to Little Grass Valley to find hundreds of mules lined up on the trail ahead of him.

The mules in advance of me had stopped because the drivers were afraid to undertake the crossing of the river and the valley. I remarked, “You better be careful how you bet, as drinks are high and it may cost you a good deal of money.”

McIlhany scouted out the trail, which was still mostly covered with snow:

There was a large tree that had been cut down and the log crossed the stream. It had been leveled off on top and then chopped across with an ax so the foot would not slip and some limbs left on the tree for banisters to hold on to. I examined the crossing carefully and found that on the opposite side 100 yards from the river I could see a little ground where the old path was.

He went back to his mule train, had his men tighten up the loads, and moved out.

. . . as the mules came up we let them take the log very carefully not to make a rush. They commenced crossing nicely. Most of the mules were over. I had one loaded with sheet iron [!!!]. She lost her footing and plunged into the river. I jumped in immediately, the boss following me, and supported the pack on either side and landed her safely at the ford, where she could get out easily.

The balance of the mules all landed safely across the log. Just then there was a tremendous cheer and the waving of hat at the ranch. (pp. 89-92)

Needless to say, McIlhany was first to reach the goal. He sold all his goods in a day and started back for more. And he won the bet. But that poor mule, loaded down with sheet iron!

About nancyleek

Nancy is a retired librarian who lives in Chico, California. She is the author of John Bidwell: The Adventurous Life of a California Pioneer.
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2 Responses to More Mule-Packing Marvels

  1. Sandy Hill says:

    Was Frank Bidwell of Sacramento any relation to John? >

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