Cover Photo: Wikipedia (Pack Mule)
“Well I’m a lady mule skinner
From down old Tennessee way
Hey hey, I come from Tennessee
I can make any mule listen
Or I won’t accept your pay
Hey hey I won’t take your pay…” (Composed: 1930) “Blue Yodel No. 8” (Mule Skinner Blues) Recorded by: Dolly Parton (1971) Composer: Jimmie Rodgers
Odd title, isn’t it?
There’s two solid favorites in my life, animals and the American old west. An old western movie, or television show, has both. Of course, before the industrial revolution, back in the 1800’s, animals were a vital part of life. Without a horse, donkey, or mule, you had to walk.
Photo: Wikipedia (Spotted Mule)
Often in an old western novel, or up on the screen, you might come across a person who is called a “Muleskinner”. The first few times I heard of it I thought it was just a derogatory term for some back-woods liquored-up buffoon without a lick of horse sense. (You can tell I’m well versed in old-western jargon.) Usually in description, either in print or film, the “Muleskinner” seems to always wear buckskin coats or pants with the fringes hanging loosely from the edges. Right away, with a title like, “Muleskinner”, you wonder if the hide adorning such a character is from a mule he skinned out on the prairie somewhere. To me, that’s a person I wouldn’t want to belly-up to a saloon while jawin’ in a dusty, God-forsaken wet-whistle of a town. (Ah, there I go again.)
The mule is a beautiful creation. Actually, the mule is a hybrid of a horse and donkey. Brilliant minds bred them, for the first time, in what is now known as Turkey prior to 3,000 BC. Ancient Egyptian history chronicles the mule as a working animal. King David and King Solomon owned and bred mules in biblical texts. And it’s no wonder.
Photo: Wikipedia (Mule as beast of burden.)
By definition, the mule is a “beast of burden”. It can be packed with a household of goods that a horse couldn’t come close to carrying. The mule doesn’t eat as much as a horse. A mule is stronger than a horse, yet slower than a horse. The mule has much stronger hooves for rocky trails. And a mule’s skin is not as sensitive as horse hide. Its hide can take weather elements better, as well as, desert sun, and yokes. Many farmers traded in plow horses for mules. It’s been recorded that long-haul stage coaches, which traveled over harsh terrain, often utilized mules because of their outstanding physical endurance. Their life-span is also greater than a horse. They can live up to 50 years. Yoked teams of some 20 mules were used to haul heavy loads, or train-wagons across rugged country. In the early days of the locks of the Erie Canal, mules were used on the banks to tow boats.
Photo: Wikipedia (Mule teams for multiple hitched wagons.)
What an animal. By the way, the driver of the mule-team in the photo above is…a muleskinner. No, he doesn’t take a large hunting knife and skin the hide off a mule.
The truth of the origin of the nickname, “Muleskinner” is not pleasant. Because the skin of a mule is not as sensitive as a horse, many drivers of the mules, with reigns in hand, often whipped the reigns on the mule’s back too harshly. Many times the end result was the leather reigns, or whips, would cut the mule’s skin in the process of lengthy hauls. Thus, the nickname, “Muleskinner” was birthed. It’s sad, and brutal, but true. I will assume here there were also animal-loving drivers who cared well for the mules they drove and left them unmarked after the yokes and harnesses came off.
No doubt we have all had times in life when we felt whipped, bloodied, and beaten during our path forward. For whatever reason, being burdened-down with the heaviness of life and life’s masters.
Maybe I’m not describing you, but maybe you know of someone fitting this description. Maybe it’s someone you’ve not seen for many years, then suddenly your roads cross and you find yourself astonished, or almost speechless. Your old friend, co-worker, or loved one looked weather-beaten, appearing to be 20, or 30 years older than they are. You immediately want to ask them what happened in life’s journey which lorded over them. Maybe you got up this morning, gazed at the stranger in the bathroom mirror while asking yourself, “Why do I look so worn-out lately?” You’re reading someone like that.
There were wealthier people in the times of Jesus who would’ve owned a mule, or a few. As Jesus was speaking at one time, I picture a perfectly equaled team of mules going by, yoked up pulling a large wagon piled with a full load of items, including a millstone for grinding grain. I imagine the well-dressed man of means whipping the backs of his beasts of burden to the point of splitting the hides with each lash of leather. And just then, Jesus would say…
“Come to Me, all those toiling and being burdened, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” – Jesus – Matthew 11:28-30 (Berean Literal Bible)
So many of the world’s religions are wrapped in “Do this”, “Do that”, “Recite this”, Recite that”, Walk on your knees here and there”, “Pay this, or pay that”, “Suffer for heaven’s reservation”, “Earn your glory”, “Kiss this stone”, “Pray this many times or lose favor”, etc, etc. Jesus knew about these legalistic demands to GAIN spiritual status and treasures of eternity from a god with a whip who is so distant. Can’t you just see a religion founder, or leader sitting on the driver’s bench, whipping his yoked-up subjects shouting,
“Here, let’s burden you with this, or with that. Let’s strap on this unnecessary load upon you because past generations dictated it so.”
Now, read again what Jesus said, but slower this time.
He left His divine throne to spend 33 years here, living among us, teaching us God’s true heart toward us mules. His “easy yoke” offer still holds true with the promise of a light load for however many years you have left on this rocky road. He earned it for you.
When yoked-up with The Everlasting, the burden is lighter with fuel for the race.
“Surely He took on our infirmities and carried our sorrows; yet we considered Him stricken by God, struck down and afflicted. But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed.” – Isaiah 53:4-5 (Berean Study Bible)