Answers Long Misunderstood



Whoever had steered me to Bridgeport for the fourth of July had done me a favor. Since the fourth fell on a Tuesday, it was a four day weekend. The first three days we barely made our lot rent, because they had us stashed away in the back of things, reasoning that we had animals who could be spooked by noise and the crowds.

We were loosing our shirt in that back corner so on Tuesday, which was the last day, I took the bit in my teeth and moved us up into the main avenue of the fair (without permission) and there we had a line of people waiting their turn! The last day made up for all. I’ve heard business people say, “Location, Location, Location,” meaning the location of a business is what sells the product; and in Bridgeport I learned that they are right!

A marine waiting in line on that last day wore a T-shirt that read:  “U.S. MARINE CORPS JUMPING JACKASSES.” When his turn came I commented on his shirt, told him I’d like to know more about the program, and introduced him to some real live jackasses!

All six burros were walking in a straight line when we left Bridgeport, and as we were cheerfully trundling out of town Corporal Tim Yoast of the U.S. Marine Corp. found us and delivered an invitation. The invitation was to come and learn more about the Jumping Jackasses. It was from Colonel Polak of the Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center, located at Pickle Meadows, twenty-one miles northwest of Bridgeport on Sonora Pass.

I pointed the heads of my leaders in that direction and six days later we climbed out of our warm blankets into a cool Sierra Nevada morning.

I led the donkeys out of the portable electric fence and tied them to the covered wagon before giving them their grain rations in six green buckets.

The burros didn’t squabble over their grain or dump their buckets. They were good. They stood quietly for currying and harnessing. They were good.

After our breakfast was over, the dishes washed and everything was loaded and ready, I led them into position and hitched them to the wagon. They were good. Carol and I climbed onto the wagon, and the burros stood patiently waiting for the command to start. They were good.

I checked them with the lines and called out, “Diz, Dean, Rags, Chaps, Beef, Bean, step up!”

They started out, right from our campsite, at a prancing trot. Now, to get all six burros into a trot at any time is surprising…but they were good!

We were marveling at the change in our donkeys and were driving with large grins on our faces and waving enthusiastically to passing cars when a Marine Corps truck pulled alongside.

Corporal Tim Yoast leaned out of the window and told us that we would be flanked, front and rear, with five military vehicles to “protect us” for the last leg of the journey to the base.

I told the Corporal that we only traveled at two miles an hour, he just grinned and said, “I’ll try to keep up, sir!”

The donkeys made a liar out of me that day. Five times, in the hour and a half it took us to get from camp to the United States Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center, they broke into a happy trot. I sure was surprised!

We came in the back door of the Marine Base, with our “honor guard” (and the first escort of our journey) still intact and came to a halt in front of the military-green and gray cinder-block stable buildings.

Our escort evaporated while Corporal Yoast again pulled up alongside and told me, “My truck couldn’t idle fast enough to keep up with you, I had to give it a little gas. I clocked you at between five and ten miles an hour!”

We were directed to the hitching posts and began to unhitch the burros from our covered wagon, with the help of Sergeant Shannon Whitehead, muscular, blonde, and dressed in Army desert fatigues,

And Corporal Tim Yoast, a slim American Indian dressed in blue jeans, T-shirt, and green ball cap. I thought I was working with a couple of cowboy, mule-packers; and I was but they were more. They were marines and they were the instructors for the mule packing part of mountain warfare.

Though we had arrived accidentally on their day off, both of the young Marines were friendly and gracious to us. Treating us like V.I.P.’s, they helped us corral our animals and then spent most of their day answering our questions and giving us a tour of the base.

It was evening when we again stood by the hitching post made of gray steel pipe and wrapped with rope. We were facing the six mules used in the packing program, two Appaloosas, one red, and three blacks.

Shannon nodded toward the mules. “Working with donkeys like you do, I’m sure you know they all have different personalities. We’ve got three problem children, John, Yetta, and Margaret. Two very gentle  obedient ones, Julip and Mary Ann, and one somewhere in between, Aubrey. I’d sure like to have another string in reds and appys.”

I grinned, “They sure do have personalities, though I wouldn’t go so far as to put them on a Level with human personalities. Living with them so closely is a pleasure but they are just Annie-mules.”

Corporal Yoast agreed with me, and solemnly quoted:

“A horse is a horse,

An ass is an ass,

A mule is a half-ass!”

I nodded at him and jokingly said, “I guess you could say you marines are doing things half-assed!”

“John Charles Fremont did things half-assed too,” commented Shannon Whitehead. “He was packing a howitzer cannon on mule-back through this same area of California as ‘a show of force’, preceding the Mexican War. But you know, he lost it up in these mountains. It fell off the mule that was carrying it and the soldiers that Fremont left behind to re-pack it, didn’t. They stashed it and left it behind, because it was so hard to handle and they didn’t want to bother with the thing! I figure that it’s still out there somewhere.”

“Do you know the general whereabouts of it?” I questioned idly, not really caring about the answer.

“I can show you on a map,” Yost put in. “And if you want to go that way, it will be a short cut for you. You can look for the howitzer on the way!”

Chance comments can change a life! We weren’t doing things ‘half-assed’ like those marines…we’d use our asses to take the more rugged and scenic route back to Nevada, and look for Fremont’s lost cannon!


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