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Vol. 4 - No.11 November, 2022 Nooseletter Home SUBMIT AN ARTICLE
The Legend of the White Mule
By 1880, the Bodie mines were producing tons of ore daily, rich in gold and silver. The average depth of a shaft reached between 400’ to 600’ deep. Two shafts, the Standard and the Lent, reached the 1200’ level. The Bodie Mining District was a busy place with 32 mines, 60 miles of tunnel work and over 2000 men busting up the hard rock. There is no doubt that the mule’s role in the mines was extremely important. Without their impressive strength, it would have been next to impossible to move the heavy ore out of the belly of the mountain.

Many of the mules lived in underground stalls, where a designated handler would be assigned to their needs. Great effort went toward purchasing, delivering and feeding quality hay to the animals. It was common practice for the mining companies to purchase young mules to be lowered down into the dark shafts where they would be trained to pull ore cars from one place to another.

The mules would quickly learn the routine, work diligently, usually without complaint. Sadly, some of them would never see the light of day again. As the young beasts of burden grew into full size, they would be too large to fit into the hoisting cages. The miners honored the loyalty, respected the intelligence and cared for the mules, commonly naming them after a friend, relative or politician. Due to their ultimate sacrifice, the spirit of the mule was often held at superstitious levels.

The Standard Mine proved to be the richest in the district. When the mine reached the 500’ level, it was agreed that a mule was needed to transport the ore cars from the blasting end of the mine to the hoist shaft. Two company men were sent to a stock ranch near Mono Lake. They looked over the fine animals and made their choice. Once the proper mule was chosen, the men paid the full asking price of $8.00. He was a nice mule, his color was snow white, his eyes sky blue and his teeth were straight, his breath…well, he was a mule after all. On the road back to Bodie, they named him Jerry.

Jerry learned his job quickly and his coworkers were pleased with his performance. There were times when he was rewarded with a carrot, a treat that he really, really enjoyed. The men grew accustomed to Jerry’s snoring while he was waiting for the load and to his hiccups when he drank water too fast. As time went on, his size tripled as with his strength. The miners were saddened to accept the reality that Jerry would never leave the dark depths of the mine. They built him a comfortable stall where he seemed to enjoy his habitat. When it was decided that Jerry was needed at the 600’ level, an incline connection was dug so that Jerry could be used at both levels. They named the incline, Mule Canyon.

It was toward the end of the day shift, when a carbide lamp was knocked over, igniting a dry wood beam on the 600’ level. The fire pushed up heavy smoke, squeezing out fresh air through the narrow tunnels. The screams could be heard from below and the men at the 400’ level gave the signal that there was fire in the mine. Jerry was released from the ore car to fend for himself. Like ants, the men toppled over one another to reach the hoist that would bring them to the surface. On that dreadful day, no man perished.

When the danger was over, the company sent a volunteer crew below to assess the damage. Many of the volunteers were miners that worked with Jerry. The mood was solemn as they probed thru the burnt timbers. Although the damage was not as bad as they anticipated, they held little hope that Jerry could have survived. They found him lying in his stall. The heavy smoke had been too much, and Jerry did not survive. Special permission was granted for Jerry to be buried in a marked grave at the bottom of Mule Canyon.

A few months later, an unknown miner who was working at the 575’ level, experienced a partial collapse in a new drift. While trying to run away from the falling debris, he claimed to have seen the ghost of a white mule. The ghost was blocking his way into the new and dark tunnel. The man escaped without injury but was emotionally shook up. The men who knew Jerry began to wonder if there was any truth to the miner’s story. They didn’t have much time to question him because the next day he was killed when he fell to his death down an unmarked hole inside of the new tunnel. News spread quickly that the ghost of the white mule tried to warn the miner the day before of the danger that lay in the dark.

From that day on, the legend of the white mule lingered in and out of the mines of Bodie. It was believed that Jerry was watching out for the men who worked underground. Miners were a superstitious bunch, and if anyone reported seeing a white mule, they listened closely to the details. Most men quit right then and there not wanting to risk their lives any further.

The fact remains; this legend has been passed down through generations of Bodie families. Ella Cain wrote about the legend in her book. Bobby Bell who worked inside the mines for most of his life believed in Jerry’s Ghost. He was born in Bodie, and was the third generation of Bodie miners in his family. He spoke, many a time how he, on several occasions, would be down deep in the Standard tunnels and clearly hear the hoof beats coming toward him louder and louder and feel the passing spirit move through the empty space. It gave him the shivers every time. Now that Bodie is a State Park, many would not think that Jerry would have much to do, but every once in a while, someone will ask about the white mule seen standing high on Bodie Bluff.
Written by Donald Swanson of the Legends of the Old West Facebook Group/
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