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HomeContentsThemes > Pack animals - mules, donkeys, burros and horses


Photographers using pack animals
847.01   Pack animals - mules, donkeys, burros and horses
The difficulties of pack animals
847.02   Mark Twain attempting to photograph the Matterhorn (1880)
847.03   L.A. Huffman: The Rage of Huffman and the Calmness of Nig (1883)
This theme includes example sections and will be revised and added to as we proceed. Suggestions for additions, improvements and the correction of factual errors are always appreciated. 
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Photographers using pack animals 
847.01   Transportation >  Pack animals - mules, donkeys, burros and horses 
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Early photographers were weighed down with equipment and when wet plate collodion became popular from the 1850s with heavy glass plates and chemicals. To transport this load over long distances or in difficult terrain pack animals or wagons were advisable. Images of photographers with their mules, donkeys and horses have survived and their are nineteenth accounts of difficult animals such as the one between L.A. Huffman[1] and his mule Nig.[2] Author Mark Twain claimed that he could have taken "an elegant picture if his donkey had not interfered."[3] The risks of having large animals of an unpredictable nature near breakable cameras and glass plates was an ever-present issue as Sergeant Harold of the Royal Engineers who was Chief Photographer on the British Army Abyssinian Expedition described in his letter to The Photographic Journal that was published in 1868:
Two of our mules had a regular dance round the camp one day, with a couple of boxes dragging behind them. One of them rolled over on his back three times whilst carrying two of our plate-boxes, and afterwards fell down a place called the Devil's Staircase. I am surprised the equipment has stood so well as it has, and I think Mr. Meagher deserves great credit for the substantial manner in which he fitted it up; for it has been exposed to all weathers, merely covered with some tarpaulins.[4]
Accounts of using mules remain in nineteenth century accounts such as that of C. Ray Woods taking photo-astronomy plates in Switzerland in the 1880s:
As soon as bad weather set in again, I telegraphed to Zermatt for men and mules, and ere long only a pile of spoiled plates and broken glass were left to mark the spot where my work had been done.
I cannot refrain, here, from raising a tribute of admiration to the business-like capacity of one of the muleteers. Four mules had arrived, and this man said that five were required. 1 told him to get another one, then. Instead of doing this, however, he put the things on the four mules, and took them to Zermatt, then calmly came and demanded the money for the other mule which I ought to have had. What is more, he said that though I paid M. Seiler for the four mules, I must pay him for the fifth one, which I had not seen. Unfortunately for him, I had a little business capacity also, and declined to encourage his endeavour to trade on no capital.[5]
When using English military pack saddles on mules in the Andes in the 1890s the result was not a happy one in one account:
The mules were accustomed to loads of this sort, but they quite failed to understand the new English equipment. Being chafed by the cruppers and halters, and frightened by the jogging of the panniers, which, instead of being bound on, were merely slung on hooks, they began to rub against one another, then to kick, and finally they stampeded. Off the whole herd galloped amongst the rocks and boulders, loaded and unloaded animals together. The panniers, heavy with photographic plates, many of them unhooked at one corner, were bucked into the air, or hurled amongst the rocks. It was a sickening sight for anyone who knew every detail of the contents of the panniers, and we were powerless to put an immediate stop to it. However, the most turbulent soon parted with their loads, and the rest were caught. No irreparable damage was done, but it taught us a lesson. Never load a mule too lightly ; he is an animal who shows no gratitude.[6]
William James Stillman, American photographer, painter, journalist, art critic and husband of the pre-Raphaelite painter Marie Stillman (née Spartali), in 1874 published The Amateur's Photographic Guide Book in which he described loading a pack animal:
My dark box will contain all these things and a plate-box with a dozen and a-half 8 x 10 plates, the water-bag serving as a cushion to prevent shaking or breaking. In the most difficult countries it will go in a packing-case on one side of your horse's or donkey's pack saddle, while the camera and extras make a balance on the other, and your assistant rides between and makes no more comical figure than the majority of Eastern travellers at that. The only point in the arrangement important to be understood is that one donkey will carry all that is needful for a photographic trip of several days in the sandiest and most desiccated country in creation, and that you may work with less annoyance from dust or heat than the dwellers or workers in tents can appreciate.[7]
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William Henry Jackson with mules 
William Henry Jackson had a mule named "Hypo" and in one of his books he described the "Diamond Hitch":
"The Diamond Hitch," or the operation of " packing" a mule. The entire transportation of the survey was effected by packing, each mule carrying on an average about 250 pounds, and so arranged upon the pack-saddle or apparajo by a system of " hitches" as to withstand all the vicissitudes of mountain traveling.[8]
A donkey can carry around 200 pounds and a mule around 300 if the load is evenly distributed so working with pack animals was a perilous necessity for a photographer. 
The difficulties of pack animals 
847.02   Transportation >  Mark Twain attempting to photograph the Matterhorn (1880) 
Mark Twain in his book A Tramp Abroad related the difficulties of taking mountain scenery:
But lonely, conspicuous, and superb rose that wonderful upright wedge, the Matterhorn. Its precipitous sides were powdered over with snow, and the upper half hidden in thick clouds which now and then dissolved to cobweb films and gave brief glimpses of the imposing tower as through a veil. A little later the Matterhorn 1 took to himself the semblance of a volcano; he was stripped naked to his apex around this circled vast wreaths of white cloud which strung slowly out and streamed away slantwise toward the sun, a twenty-mile stretch of rolling and tumbling vapour, and looking just as if it were pouring out of a crater.
1 Note. I had the very unusual luck to catch one little momentary glimpse of the Matterhorn wholly unencumbered by clouds. I levelled my photographic apparatus at it without the loss of an instant, and should have got an elegant picture if my donkey had not interfered. It was my purpose to draw this photograph all by myself for my book, but was obliged to put the mountain part of it into the hands of the professional artist because I found I could not do landscape well.[9]
847.03   Transportation >  L.A. Huffman: The Rage of Huffman and the Calmness of Nig (1883) 
About this photographer | Photographs by this photographer 
In G.O. Shields' 1883 book Rustlings in the Rockies: Hunting and Fishing by Mountain and Stream there is an amusing account of his obstreperous mule Nig driving western photographer L.A. Huffman[10] to distraction:
And this recalls to my mind an incident of the trip that must not be overlooked. Soon after leaving the forks of the stream, we reached a point where it became necessary to cross it in order to avoid a long detour around a bend. We therefore selected the most favorable point we could find a place where the banks were low and the water not more than two feet deep and started in with Huffman in the lead. I followed him with Blinkie, my white pony, and the pack mules followed me, Jack remaining for the time in the rear to drive them across. Chicken, one of the pack mules, crossed and climbed the bank all right, when Nig, a large black mule, who was always disposed to be willful and contrary, and who was never willing to follow his file leader when he saw an opportunity of making an annoying "break," walked down the first bank into the water, then turned and waded slowly and deliberately down the stream toward a deep hole that lay a few yards below the crossing. His load consisted principally of Huffman's photographic outfit, camera, dry plates, dark tent, etc.; and when Huffman saw that they were placed in jeopardy that the dry plates were in imminent danger of being transformed into wet plates by a process that would render them utterly worthless to him that the camera was liable to be soaked with water and ruined he became frantic.
He dismounted and rushed madly down the bank of the stream, yelling, throwing clubs, trying in every possible way to head Nig off; but the ugly brute would not head worth a cent. He looked mildly at the woe-begone artist out of his left eye, stopped and drank a few swallows of water, took a step or two, and looked again, first at Huffman and then at Jack, who was on the opposite side of the river, shouting, and throwing clubs, rocks and other debris at the long-eared vandal.
"Jack!" shouted the artist, "drive that cantankerous brute out of that deep water, quick, or he'll drown my photograph gallery! Jump in and catch him quick! Blank blank that blanked long-eared son-of-a-gun to blankety blank!"
"Jump in yourself," said Jack, "I don't want to get my feet wet."
And still the mule moved slowly down the stream, every step taking him into deeper water, bringing his precious load, valued at three hundred dollars, nearer and nearer to the destroying element, while an artist to the mountains bound cries, " Conley, do not tarry and I'll give thee a silver dollar to drive that doggoned mule o'er the ferry."
"Now, who be ye would cross Big Horn, this deep and muddy water?"
"Oh, I'm the artist from Miles City, and this my precious plunder. And fast upon these saddle mules three days we've rode together, and should he wet them in the creek they wouldn't be worth a feather."
Outspoke the hardy Emerald Wight, "I'll go, my chief, I'm ready. It is not for your dollar bright, but for some pretty pictures; and by my word, that cussed mule in the water shall not tarry, so though the waves are raging white, I'll drive him over the ferry or break his blanked neck! G'lang, Nig, git out of there, you son-of-a-gun!" But still, as wilder blew the wind, and as the artist grew madder, adown the stream walked that pesky mule where the water still was deeper.
"Oh, haste thee, haste!" the artist cries. "Though tempests round us gather, I'll meet the raging of the water, but if I lose that outfit I'll walk home to-night."
The mule has left a sultry land, a cool bath is before him, when' oh! too strong for human hands, he don't care how many clubs come o'er him. And still they howled amidst the roar of waters fast prevailing, the artist reached that fatal shore, his wrath was changed to wailing. For sore dismayed through storm and shade his mule he did discover, one lovely hand he stretched for the bridle but, oh, he couldn't reach it.
'' Come back, come back,'' he cried in grief across this muddy river, "and I'll forgive the wayward cuss, my donkey, oh, my donkey." 'Twas vain; the loud waves lashed his sides, return or aid suggesting, the waters wild kind o' frightened him, and he turned and came out on the bank o. k.
We took his load off, opened it, and found that though the lower corners of both boxes were wet, the moisture had not reached their contents. We congratulated Huffman on the fact that his dry goods were still dry that his stock had not been watered, so to speak and went'on our way rejoicing.[11]

  1. Λ Mark H. Brown, W.R. Felton & L.A. Huffman, 1956, Before Barbed Wire: L.A. Huffman, Photographer on Horseback, (Henry Holt and Company); Larry L. Peterson & L.A. Huffman, 2013, L. A. Huffman: Photographer of the American West, (Mountain Press Publishing Company) 
  2. Λ G.O. Shields, 1883, Rustlings in the Rockies: Hunting and Fishing by Mountain and Stream, (Chicago: Belford, Clarke & Co.), Chapter X, "Through the Canyon of the Little Big Horn", pp. 82-86 
  3. Λ Mark Twain, 1880, A Tramp Abroad, Third edition, (London: Chatto & Windus), vol. II, p. 100 
  4. Λ 16 May 1868, "Photography and the Abyssinian Expedition", The Photographic Journal, vil. XIII, no. 193, p. 58 
  5. Λ C. Ray Woods, 5 December 1884, "Photo-astronomy at the Riffel", The Photographic News, pp. 771-772 
  6. Λ E.A. Fitz Gerald, 1899, The Highest Andes: A record of the first ascent of Aconcagua and Tupungato in Argentina, and the exploration of the surrounding valleys, (London: Methuen & Co.), p. 46 
  7. Λ W.[illiam] J.[ames] Stillman, 1874, The Amateur's Photographic Guide Book, being a Complete Resume of the most useful Dry and Wet Collodion Processes especially for the use of Amateurs, (London: M.P. Tench) p. 81 
  8. Λ William Henry Jackson, Descriptive Catalogue of the Photographs of the United States Geological Survey of the Territories: For the Years 1869 to 1873, Inclusive - Issue 5 of Miscellaneous publications (United States. Geological and Geographical Survey of the Territories), U.S. Geological and Geographical Survey of the Territories, no. 511, 512, "The Diamond Hitch", p. 47 
  9. Λ Mark Twain, 1880, A Tramp Abroad, Third edition, (London: Chatto & Windus), vol. II, p. 100 
  10. Λ Mark H. Brown, W.R. Felton & L.A. Huffman, 1956, Before Barbed Wire: L.A. Huffman, Photographer on Horseback, (Henry Holt and Company); Larry L. Peterson & L.A. Huffman, 2013, L. A. Huffman: Photographer of the American West, (Mountain Press Publishing Company) 
  11. Λ G.O. Shields, 1883, Rustlings in the Rockies: Hunting and Fishing by Mountain and Stream, (Chicago: Belford, Clarke & Co.), Chapter X, "Through the Canyon of the Little Big Horn", pp. 82-86


HomeContents > Further research

General reading 
Shields, G.O., 1883, Rustlings in the Rockies: Hunting and Fishing by Mountain and Stream, (Chicago: Belford, Clarke & Co.) [Includes the description of photographer L.A. Huffman and his trials with Nig, a difficult mule.] [Δ
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HomeContentsPhotographers > Photographers worth investigating

L.A. Huffman  (1854-1931) • William Henry Jackson  (1843-1942) • Timothy H. O'Sullivan  (1840-1882)
HomeThemesTransportationLand transportation > Pack animals - mules, donkeys, burros and horses 
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About this photographer | Photographs by this photographer 
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About this photographer | Photographs by this photographer 
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ThumbnailTransportation: Pack animals - mules, donkeys, burros and horses 
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