muleskinner

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muleskinner

Post by RWalter » Mon Mar 28, 2005 2:38 am

I understand that a muleskinner is a "mule driver", but where the "skinner" part originate? Did muleskinners actually skin mules at some time in the past? Thanks in advance.
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muleskinner

Post by Ken Greenwald » Mon Mar 28, 2005 5:25 am

Robert, Well I’ll be ding danged, as us cowboy types from Brooklyn used to say. All these years and I thought the ‘Muleskinner Blues,’ which made it big when I was a kid (it had been written by Jimmie Rodgers in 1930 as ‘Blue Yodel #8’), referred to a sad guy who skinned mules.

MULE SKINNER (1865-1870) / MULE-SKINNER / MULESKINNER / or MULETEER or MULERO were names for the driver of a mule team. The whip he wielded was also called a ‘muleskinner’ and the driving of mules was known as ‘mule skinning.’ It was the use of the whip that gave rise to the skinner part of their name and, in fact, they were often just called ‘skinner’ for short. The muleskinner was also known jocularly as a ‘mule puncher’ or a ‘mulewhacker.’ When his draft animals were sometimes switched to oxen (which thrived on available grass and didn’t have to be fed corn as the faster mules had to), he was called a ‘bullwhacker.’

The action of the whip as a skin-cutter was immortalized in Jimmie Rodger’s song when he sang:
"Well it's good morning captain / Good morning shine / Do you need another muleskinner / Out on your new mud line I like to work / I'm rolling all the time / I can pop my initials / On a mule's behind"
Or as a newer version even more explicitly said:
"I can carve my initials on an ole mule’s behind."
(Dictionary of the American West by Blevins, Cowboy Lingo by Adams, Random House Unabridged Dictionary)
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Ken G – March 27, 2005
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