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bells on mule tails
Posted by K.C. Fox at 2010-02-13 21:17:46
what is the purpose of cutting bells on mule tails out of the tail hare? Ive seen some pictures of them on pack & riding mules.
Response by Vince Mautino at 2010-02-14 09:07:49
The three bells signified how much training the mules had , harness,ride, pack. The upper tail is clipped to make it easier putting a harness crouper on.
Response by Wes Lupher at 2010-02-14 10:09:24
I always did it just for looks. I read an old book that said the Army used to bell the tails so you'd know what the mule was broke for. One bell was a pack mule, two bells was pack and ride, three meant he'd pack, ride, and drive.
I saw some old pictures of Ft. Bridger and there were an awful lot of mules and this would help you keep track of them easier.
Response by Hal Novak at 2010-02-14 13:02:05
My wife's Dad was chief animal officer at Ft. Reno, before during and after WWII. He was responsible for the grading,care,and training of upwards of 20,000 mules and horses. He said that the original bell system was to tell whitch platoon the mule belonged to. One bell 1st platoon, two bells 2nd platoon, three bells, third platoon, no bells 4th platoon. All the mules ran together, but were assigned to specific platoons. Some pictures can be seen on my photo-site: http://community.webshots.com/user/halco67 click on Ft. Reno mules
Response by Vince Mautino at 2010-02-14 13:19:39
Not to be confused with "shave tails" as when a new calvary recriut was given a horse with shaved tail to show others the new calvary man was a raw recruit and was given more sp ace until he "earned" his spurs.
Response by Mooney Ranch at 2010-02-15 00:07:42
Now ain't that something? Been trading all my life and never heard about these being reasons. I always cut the top of the tail for crupper and I really liked the way it looks. Had a guy tell me when I cut three bells on a little team of mules one time that it meant they kicked.
Response by Wes Lupher at 2010-02-15 09:25:31
Could be that all of us are right. Maybe it was done for different reasons at different times and places. Kind of interesting.
Response by Vince Mautino at 2010-02-15 12:47:08
You might be right Wes. Hal knows his stuff for sure and I'd never question his knowledge. My info has come from reading about mule use in history and I knew an old fellow back in 62 or so that was a cook in the Army ,but also had to pack mules in Burma. He told me about the training aspect vs tail bells also.

I don't know lot about platoons,etc, but if the number of bells indicated which platoon,what a happened if there were more than 3-4 platoons. How many bells could you put on a mule's tail. I never read of any having more than 3 bells.

I have never heard of the bells indicating mules kicked though,but it might have truth to it.
Response by Wes Lupher at 2010-02-15 16:14:43
I also heard something about it from my great Uncle who was a farrier in WWII. He's gone now but I'd like to know where he went and with what outfit. I believe they might have been in Asia somewhere, but am not sure.
Response by Harvey Seidel at 2010-02-15 19:12:10
Wyoming knowledge: One Bell...ride; two bells, ride and pack and three bells drive. We have a lot of mule men here and that is the skinny on it from this end of the country.
Response by Mule Man at 2010-02-16 08:01:21
Harvey that is what I have always heard from the older mule men that was in the army . Hal may be right also , I am going on hearsay .
Response by Vince Mautino at 2010-02-16 11:37:04
Being pretty much snow bound and developing cabin fever,I spent a few hours researching( Googling) this topic.

There does not seem to be a solid consensus of the use.The book,Natural Superority of Mules details the bell as platoon marking as Hal relates. Several others detail as a training indication.Some just mention it breifly with no explaination. So unless someone can come up with a pre WWII field manual,we may never know.
One thing,interesting though was that before the term "Shave Tail" was likened to a calvary member who has not earned his spurs,yet, one article stated that new mules just brought into service had their tails shaved to denote they were untrained.Possibly this is where the idea came from that a mule with bells or shaved tailed was a kicker as we all know the untrained ones have tendancy to kick during intial handling.
Sadly though, every article I found and book I found had no foot notes or indication of where the information was obtained.Purely the conjector of the author.
There is a new field manual out for Specail Forces about using mules in the middle east,but I don't have a copy. Years ago ,Lonnie sent me a web site that had the old Army training manual on mules,but right now I don't have that.
Response by Vince Mautino at 2010-02-16 13:10:47
Here is a book that might have some info in it.
Available a through quite a few book stores by ordering. Google it.

Horse packing : a manual of pack transportation / by Charles Johnson Post
Response by Hal Novak at 2010-02-17 01:04:12
Vince, there were only 4 platoons in a rifle company, also 4 platoons in an artillery company. I think those that say there are different meanings placed on "bells" in different locales, are probably closer to bein' right.
Response by Vince Mautino at 2010-02-17 10:00:11
I agree Hal. Now it's just one of those things that keep nagging at you until you get it figured out.I sicked Lonnie on it and he is looking into it too.
One book I read says that there were about 50 mules assigned to 4 platoons ,about the same number as men. would that be 50 too?
I'd sure like to come up with an old army field manual about it.

Probably KC Fox,the originator of this thread ,already has got more informtion than he wanted.Good discussion though.
Response by Hal Novak at 2010-02-17 23:19:17
No,there are about 250 men to a rifle company including the heavy weapons platoon, about 48 per platoon with the weapons platoon having about 27 including the platoon Sgt,and the platoon leader[2nd Louie] So if we do the math, 10 per platoon. the total # of men in a rifle company includes the 1st Sgt, company commander, radio operators, medics, and drivers. These numbers are based on my experience serving in the 101st airborne, 55 thru 59. The mules were long gone at that time except for the special forces who use them to this day.
Response by Don McAvoy at 2010-02-18 08:16:45
In Italy in ww2, they had 24 man platoons, 8 men to a squad. 1944 through the end of the war they were short on men. Dad said that they only came so far with the mules in the mountains; then the rest was back packed up to them.
The only guy that I knew that worked for the remount stations has been dead for 20? years. Sure would have been interested in his answer to that question.
Response by Vince Mautino at 2010-02-18 10:49:01
Good info.I am not savvy in military.I volunteered my body during Vielnam but all branches of military would not take me.
Response by Beth Miller at 2012-02-29 23:52:17
Do you know anything about bells worn by mules in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in California? The two lead mules each wore a set of 5 bells. Is this an agricultural usage unique to California and perhaps Mexico?
Response by Lee Honeycutt at 2013-05-17 07:44:09
I have always heard about the 3 bells in relation to training, ride, pack and drive.
My question is, I work in a place where we use mule teams of 2, exclusively to drive. A couple are saddle broke, none have ever been used for pack animals. How many, if any would one cut for these mules? We cut 1 and 2 bells, depending on what they do..
Response by Laurie at 2013-10-01 09:46:21
I just bought a mule who has four bells. I don't think it means anything except she's quite stylish. It's starting to grow out and I will let it for our cold winter. Come Spring, I will cut it that way again. If the bells mean how experienced your mule is, I may have to cut a few more bells in there. :D
Response by Mike Graham at 2015-01-18 09:40:02
My granddad procured horses and mules for the army during World War I.
He explained to me when I was a kid and had just bought a couple of pack mules that the bell trimming on military mules was an indication of what they were trained for.
As mentioned earlier, 1 bell indicated a riding mule, 2 bells a ride and pack animal and three an all around mule that could be ridden, packed and driven.
He had many interesting stories about riding around purchasing and herding horses and mules to the Army throughout the states surrounding his home in southern Missouri.
Response by KC Fox at 2015-01-19 02:18:51
since I started this post I think that I found out no one is sure what the tail bells stand for but got more of A idea than I had before thank you all. All the ones that I knew that were in the Remount are long gone horse breakers, handlers, shoers, even the ones on KP that shoveled the manure over board on the ships while going overseas, going to Guam,New Caledonia, Burma, India and other places. Just more average people doing what there country thought was right at the time. Just remember all gave some, some gave it all and thanks to all who gave to the cause. They would not take me in the service, so stayed home and worked.
Response by Lynn T at 2015-01-19 09:57:35
One more piece of data: my Mom and I went to the Grand Canyon a few years back, and I rode the mules there. Their tails were also cut into bells, and I was told that the number of bells corresponded to the skills of the mule.


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