Posted by Missouri Rev on Jul 5th, 2006

What do sweeps, shovels, scooters, twisters, half shovels, muley twisters, half sweeps, bull tongues, buzzard wings, scrapers, and subsoilers have in common? They are all terms once used by American farmers to describe the various shapes of the plows they used in working the soils of our nation. I discovered this little known gem of an Americanism when I ran across the term ‘muley twister’ while doing research on draft mule logging. As is the case whenever one digs into a trade abandoned by a culture long ago, one discovers many terms that need defining, like ‘muleskinner.’

In working through this fun process I have had the help of a wonderful book my wife picked up at a public school auction, A Dictionary of Americanisms on Historical Principles (Mitford M. Mathews 1951). She picked up a large box of old “archaic” dictionaries for $1, a veritable treasure trove for one who loves history and enjoys writing. Amazingly, every one of these books has the word “DISCARDED” stamped in bold on the opening page. Yup, the minds of the American children have long been discarded, as there is no need for them to learn their American heritage, as they might get the wrong impression about the great multicultural, polytheistic democracy they worship 5 days a week during the school year. Besides, there is nothing worse than having your own cannon fodder turn on you by coming to the knowledge of the truth!

Below is a small list of interesting “muleisms,” a new word for your agrarian vocabulary that I wished I would have coined. The mule at one time was a major contributor to the American economy and way of life, which is why it has spawned dozens of words and sayings over the years. Each entry has a basic definition and sentence where it is used from the past in a song, book, magazine, or newspaper (which are dated). Many of these sentences are quite funny like “If only I had studied carpentry or mule skinning instead of ballet.” For a great homeschooling project I suggest you have your children do the research and compile their own list of Americanisms; it’s not only loads of fun, it’s quite educating.

I am also working on a list of old mule sayings. Though it might take hours of research, hard work, and great sacrifice, “I’ll do it if it harelips a mule!– The Missouri Rev

Missouri Mule – was once considered the best mule bred; the term was first coined at the 1904 World’s Fair in St Louis. (1923) Nation. “Then there is the Missouri mule. He it was who won the war [WWI].” (1947) Time – Of Mules & Men. “The celebrated Missouri mule, isolationist by temperament, has been having some rude shocks, is due for more.” [According to the article, it appears that some Missouri mules which had been exported to Mexico were giving the Mexicans some troubles for which they were destined for some “rude shocks” because they believed they were too pampered. Said Mexico City’s Ultimas Noticias: “It is said that the mules must be bathed every eight days . . . . Loosely paraphrasing from the classic Bogart movie Treasures of the Sierra Madre, “Care? We don’t need to give them mules no stinking care!” – TCM]

Mulada – a drove of mules, (1846) Abert Exam. N. Mexico. “Flocks of golden-headed troopials . . . mingled most sociably with the common cow-bird, and all in great glee were catching grass-hoppers in the vicinity of our mulada.”

Muleskinner – the name for the whip used to drive mule teams, (1912) Wason Friar Tuck. “He would stand up an’ yell, crack his mule-skinner, and send the ponies along on a dead run.”

Muleskinner – the name of those who drive mule teams, akin to bull whacker, who would “skin” the mule with a whip to move them on. (1888) Century Mag. “These prairie schooners usually go together, the brawny teamsters known either as “bull-whackers’ or as “mule-skinners,’ stalking beside their slow moving teams.

Muleskinning the profession of driving a team of mules. (1945) MacDonald Egg & I. “If only I had studied carpentry or mule skinning instead of ballet.”

Mulepuncher – a derogatory term for one who drives mules. (1870) Terr. Enterprise (Virginia City, Nevada). “Even a boss driver is liable to suffer the indignity of being called a ‘mule-puncher.’”

Mulewhacker – a derivative made from muleskinner and bullwhacker. (1873) Beadle Undevel. West. The streets were thronged with motley crowds of railroad men . . . and mulewhackers.”

Mule Litter – a chair or litter attached to the back or pack of a mule to carry travelers or the wounded from a battlefield. (1888) Billings Hardtack. “Another invention for the transportation of the wounded from the field is the Cacolet or Mule Litter.”

Mule Rush – a mule or horse race. (1883) Mark Twain Life on Miss. “The most enjoyable of all races is a steamboat race; but next to that, I prefer the gay and joyous mule-rush.” [since the word “gay” has been redefined in our culture, this quote might get one in trouble – TCM]

Muley Saw – the primary saw at a mill. (1846) Davenport Gazette. “The saw mill has but one saw; a ‘muley,’ constructed upon an improved principle . . .” (1883) Harper’s Mag. “If the log is of large size, it is sent at once against a ‘muley,’ or straight rip-saw, working perpendicularly, which splits it in two.”

Muley Twister – a moldboard plow where the cutting share and moldboard are one piece, though without the upper part of the moldboard. (1944) Clark Pills. “By colloquial designations the various strange shapes were known, to the trade as sweeps, shovels, scooters, twisters, half shovels, muley twisters, half sweeps, bull tongues, buzzard wings, scrapers, and subsoilers.”

Mule Road – a zigzagging road. (1880) Mark Twain Tramp Abroad. “We followed the mule-road, a zigzag course, now to the right and now to the left, but always up. [This is sure proof that Mark Twain was from Missouri, as all one needs to do is drive five minutes to discover a Missouri Mule Road – TCM]