“Coalie and Wilma-A Love Story”


  It’s coming up on St. Valentine’s Day, so I thought I should share the love story of Coalie and Wilma, and every word is true.

   Coalie was one of Sequoia-Kings Pack Trains’ mules. Coal black of course, and if he should get a good shot, you could be kicked. Pack mule, not riding mule. Wilma was a little brown mule belonging to Rock Creek Pack Station out of Bishop, some 40 miles north of us.

   Well, my boss, Gene Burkhart, and Rock Creek’s boss, Herb London, pastured their pack stock together each winter just outside Independence. Come June, we’d go catch our stock out of this 110,000-acre mostly desert ranch, and string them together and lead them straight up about 10 miles to a little meadow called Onion Valley, where our headquarters were. It took days to get them all up there.

  Herb’s packers would truck his stock more than 40 miles north, through three towns and lots of rough country, to their pack station.

   It was about three days after I’d led a string of mules overnight to the pack station, including Coalie, and got ready for our season. I went out in the morning and found a little brown mare mule giving muzzle snuggles to Coalie. From the brand on her, we knew she was one of Herb’s, so Gene called him and Herb drove all the way to get her.

  Four days later, she was back in the mule corral making mulie smooches with her boyfriend. She had tracked Coalie from the winter pasture down 40 miles of highway 395, across five miles of desert and up nine miles of mountains. Twice.

Mules have gender, but are sterile hybrids and don’t “mate” physically. They are a combination of a horse mother and a donkey dad.

  Gene and Herb decided love was stronger than anything else we had around there, so Gene gave Herb a mule, and Wilma became ours. Well, Coalie’s.

   After that, for as long as they lived, if you took one, you had to take the other.

   A few of the old packers said they’d heard about mules occasionally getting “married” but this was the first time seeing it, and it was the first for me, too.

   So Happy Valentine’s Day, Coalie and Wilma, wherever you roam these days. Thanks for setting a good example for the rest of us. The world loves lovers.

Brought to you by Hug-a-Horse Thrift Store in Edgewood, NM. Good folks work there. https://www.thriftstores.net/store/7383/hug-a-horse-thrift-store/


Newspaper columnist Slim Randles, who writes the weekly Home Country column, took home two New Mexico Book Awards in 2011. His advice book for young people, “A Cowboy’s Guide to Growing Up Right,” took first place in the self-help category, and “Sweetgrass Mornings” won in the biography/memoirs category. Randles lives and works in Albuquerque. Home Country reaches 3 million hometown newspaper readers each week

Slim Randles learned mule packing from Gene Burkhart and Slim Nivens. He learned mustanging and wild burro catching from Hap Pierce. He learned horse shoeing from Rocky Earick. He learned horse training from Dick Johnson and Joe Cabral. He learned humility from the mules of the eastern High Sierra. Randles lives in Albuquerque.

Randles has written newspaper stories, magazine articles and book, both fiction and nonfiction. His column appeared in New Mexico Magazine for many years and was a popular columnist for the Anchorage Daily News and the Albuquerque Journal, and now writes a nationally syndicated column, “Home Country,” which appears in several hundred newspapers across the country.


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