From Boatsheds to Battlefields 27 Breaking in a Mule circa 1906

At the end of Entry 26 Mick was learning how to pluck an ostrich: Once plucked, quilled or branded the thong was loosened behind, the bird pulled back out of the pen and the pillowcase hauled off. A dazed look around the ostrich hurried back to his companions and another took his place.

Today Mick Osmond learns more about mules than he expected.

The Van Der Walts did a large amount of mule breeding in addition to their other activities. Now a mule is the product of a donkey stallion mated with a horse mare. The offspring resulting from the mating of ass and horse are not capable of reproducing. The mule is therefore born with a grudge against whoever was responsible for bringing it into this world of sorrow. It knows Nature had no hand in it and from the day it is able to work, it seems that Man was the cause.

Soon realising that it can never enjoy the pleasures of parentage, that only WORK spelled with capital letters is its destiny the mule feels aggrieved. Realisation soon comes that a whiplash stings, but all through life the mule feels a grudge and if given but half the opportunity uses its teeth or heels in trying to wipe out a portion of the compound interest on its debt to man.

So breaking in mules, especially the wonderful type bred in the Western Province of the Cape of Good Hope, is not a suitable pastime for any but rough hairy men possessed of iron muscles and powerful frames. Mick’s ambition was to take his full share – he had reveled again and again in Henty’s “Redskin and Cowboy, “In the Heart of the Rockies” and a score of such like books and with his sea and mountain training didn’t see why he shouldn’t fall naturally into the work.

Unfortunately for the youth, Mathew Van Der Walt considered Mr. Osmond a very important person and Mick, as the eldest son of his father, to be of some value to the world. So after Mick had been kicked senseless, trodden on, savaged and been a dozen times only saved from an untimely death by the almost miraculous interposing of Providence Mathew ruled that Mick was too young and too light to be allowed to join in catching, holding, harnessing of mules and young horses.

However, there were many compensations. The method used by the Van Der Walts in breaking in mules and horses were extremely simple. A score of animals was driven into a stone walled yard, where with much cursing and yelling, the mob of plunging kicking brutes were closely packed into a corner. Here with wonderful skill and at imminent risk halters were got on a dozen heads and the rearing frightened animals secured to older more experienced brethren.

Somehow or other the linked animals were hauled out of the crush and harness got on them. With half a dozen laughing, jeering Cape Coloureds hanging on to the rawhide halter thong the mules were dragged to a wagon and in-spanned. Each wagon was drawn by a team of sixteen, usually two horses as leaders and fourteen mules behind them.

With a team of perhaps two old wheelers, two fast well-trained leaders, probably eight half or partially broken in mules, and four wild broncos, a drive was as thrilling as any made by Buffalo Bill’s famous Deadwood coach.

Usually, Peter handled the long-handled bamboo whip whose lash could reach all the length of the team, Mick soon trusted would hold the four reins – the two from the wheelers and the long one from the near leader gathered in his left hand, the one from the off leader in his right.

The last struggling fighting mule in-spanned Peter would send the lash swishing through the air a dozen men hanging like madmen to the heads of half a dozen rearing mules would let go and the heavy wagon would go flying down the road with all the noise and dust of a battery of Royal Horse Artillery going into action.

The pace at first would be tremendous but the grades were steep, the wagon solid and heavy, the mules fat from soft living in the lucerne fields –  soon the novices weary of the frantic gallop especially as their more experienced mates strove to hinder them – the pace would slacken – but an unkind lash stung rapidly and hardly. Away the youngsters tore dragging their load and companions but soft muscles soon tired the whip spared not until four saddened humbled mules began to realise that discretion was less painful than valour.

A load of three tons besides the weight of wagon and harness, a stinging whip-lash and six hours of hauling would bring much chastened, already half trained young mules home too tired to object to being led to a stable and fastened up. A few days and the youngsters were taking their part in helping to train the others.

Related image

The horses were Mick’s greatest joy – Luba and Wanda two purebred three-year-old Hackneys were his chief affection and Mick joined poor old Hans MacKenzie, the black groom in a fit of weeping when Mathew sold the pair for £100 cash. Golddust another mare – half Irish thoroughbred, half Hackney purebred was another favourite and great was Mick’s indignation when the dainty alluring mare was in-spanned into a team before a heavy plough – Golddust had won a dozen races some against well-known track horses and Mathew was damned forever in Mick’s estimation when the indignity was forced on his idol.

Tomorrow:“But of all the horses, Mick hated Nikola.”

If anyone reading this knows where Struan early 1900s is please email me: patleffler7@gmail.com

From Boatsheds to Battlefields 25 New Beginnings

A month of fishing and mountain excursions had passed when once more Mick’s face was turned Struanwards. His friend Zach had moved heaven and earth to find congenial employment for Mick and had succeeded.

So primed with good advice, filled with good intentions Michael Osmond alighted at Struan to be met by Peter Van Der Walt an old school friend and co-partners with his brother Mathew in one of Struan’s finest estates.

Now followed a happy period. The Van Der Walt’s two young brothers and a schoolgirl sister who was fair to look at and pleasant to know owned twelve hundred ostriches which brought in a regular stream of gold. There was a vineyard of eighty thousand vines which yielded large quantities of rough country wine and brandy – pedigree merino sheep, purebred Hackney horses, Friesland cattle, breeding ostriches and great crops of wheat, peas, oats, and barley all contributing to nearly double the income derived from feathers.

Sharing a room with Peter, treated as one of the family, allowed to work more or less where and when he wanted Mick’s sea longings vanished and all his heart and soul went into farming.

Sometimes he drove with Peter or rode with Mathew, other times worked with the field gangs. There were horses and mules to be broken in and saddle and harness, ostriches to be plucked, vineyards and orchards to be pruned and dug, stumping, irrigating and a hundred other works – all interesting.

At daybreak the Reveille bell rang and immediately all hands except irrigation boys fell in at the door of the wine cellar where each man was issued with a cup of claret – then followed milking, cream separating, feeding stock, cutting firewood and all the manifold farmyard jobs.

Meanwhile, those coloured men engaged on irrigation had left long before dawn to open furrows and flood the lands they were working on. Oxen and mules were driven up to ploughs, harrows, leveling machines and wagons, whilst the farmyard tasks were in swing and shortly after sunrise everybody was working smoothly and rapidly.

At Reveille Mick took well made freshly roasted coffee with the two brothers, helped issue the wine ration and then either rode around the lands with Peter or Accompanied Mathew on a tour of Dairy, byres, and stables.

At 8 o’clock the breakfast bell sounded. Work stopped automatically and a second wine ration was issued – those already in the lands drawing theirs from a can which had been sent out to them.

Breakfast at the Van Der Walts was a serious business worthy of the ancient Holland traditions of the family. Maize kernels boiled in milk were followed by omelette of ostrich egg, tender mutton cutlets from a freshly killed sheep or its liver and kidneys, white and brown farm made bread of their own grown and milled wheat, newly laid eggs – delicious butter, honey, jams, and preserves of fruit – everything produced on the farm except the fragrant coffee and sugar.

At 8.30 the farm bell sounded – again an issue of wine was given to the labourers after which work restarted. Where a gang laboured a white foreman set the pace with spade, sickle or scythe – any man who could not keep the pace knew that the end of the day was the end of him as regarded employment with the Van Der Walts.

At eleven a halt was called a fourth wine issue was made and for ten minutes the men lay smoking and drinking. Again came the call to work, once more scythe swung or sickle gleamed until noon, when the old slave bell tolled from the house and work ceased for an hour – once more wine was issued and the men lay under monster pear trees eating and resting.

At the house, lunch consisted of thick bean soup boiled with diced bacon, rissoles or curry, cold mutton and bread and butter. Four o’clock brought wine and a breathing spell after which work continued until sunset when the field labourers drew their last lot of wine and received a supply to help them through the evening. Boys on irrigation received a little Brandy and their ration of wine for the morrow and a little later the farmyard tasks having been completed peace reigned over the estate.

Shortly before sunset when the work in the byre, stable and dairy commenced Peter and Mick would visit the pantry where Mrs Du Toit the housekeeper would supply them with bread, butter and thick milk although an hour earlier they had made a hearty meal of cake, coffee, and the far farmed Cape Konfyt or preserved fruit.

Dinner, a long stately meal of endless courses was followed by evening prayers when Mathew read a chapter of the Bible and a psalm and prayer ended the day.

One of Mick’s first places of work was the helping to round up some six hundred ostriches which during the winter months had been turned into bush country away from cultivation.

Image result for ostrich farming south africa1900

 

 

From Boatsheds to Battlefields 20 Facing his Future

 

End of 19th Entry: A tiny crowd of people drawn by curiosity or the desire to buy fresh fish gathered round and proudly Mick sprang ashore noting with glee the envious looks of half a dozen school companions.

A people of Puritan upbringing to whose ancestors and themselves life had been a simple old world existance was suddenly swamped by rivers of gold. What could they do with it? None had any wants they knew of – their homes filled with solid ancient furniture were comfortable enough, land they possessed in plenty – the lure of the cities were absent.

So the contented Boer went on much as he and his people had always done – more children went to schools and remained longer there – his ponies and horses of cape breeding were sold to less favoured districts and the best bloodstock imported from Ireland and England. Thoroughbreds were mated to Hackneys and Oom Piet and his sons rode behind pairs of horses for which fabulous sums were paid – and when the satin coated mares and geldings had nothing better to do, Oom Piet or Johannes his son in-spanned them as leaders to the spans of mules in plough or waggon.

Image result for horses south africa 1900

Oom Willem thought nothing of paying £200 per acre for ground his father had sold at half a crown – Oom Jannie bought a double floss Ostrich cock for a £1000 and thought it cheap, yet smoked tobacco at a shilling a pound and wore evil smelling corduroys at forty shillings a pair. The golden harvest added nothing to their comfort, little to their lives – land went up to miraculous values, ostriches, horses and merino rams fetched what prices their owners wished to ask – every inch of land that could be bought under irrigation was covered with lucerne – the farms were stocked to their utmost limit with ostriches, horses and sheep and the worthy old Boers looked from their wide stoeps (verandahs) and were content.

Related image

From one of the houses two lads stepped out into the main street and strolled along looking at the people and horses.

Related image

“We’d better go and call on Mr Van Zyl first Mickey” remarked the younger boy a heavily built Dutchman, “He will probably want you to go out to the farm this afternoon.”

Mick sighed – “Righto” he answered, “Man Zack! I’m darn sorry I didn’t clear off to sea though. I simply couldn’t break up my Dad and his Mates, but I’m not keen on blooming farming. Still I’ll give it a try and I’m darn grateful to you for getting Van Zyl to take me on. I couldn’t stick school any longer.”

The Dutchman with a serious air turned to his companion “Man Mick you must work and keep your mouth closed at Van Zyl’s – you English are too – what do you call it? Flighty, ja! You yourself are over sixteen and have been trying a lot of schools but you never work at what you don’t like. In English, in History, in Geography you are always first but Maths and other things don’t appeal and so you simply leave them. Nearly three years in the matric form! Man its a disgrace. Now if you would have worked hard for a few months you could easily pass your matriculation and with your father’s influence would in a few years be a rich lawyer – Man Mick you’re a fool. Nobody ever did well mixing with fishermen and mountain people and reading all kinds of books and going to Roman Catholic Churches. The Good Lord won’t like that Mick! He has given us the Bible to read and Protestant Churches to go to and He doesn’t want us to be friends with low coloured fishermen and flower sellers.”

Related image

Mick laughed – “Lord you people are narrow minded – Jesus Christ didn’t mind going amongst the fishermen.”

Zack cried out in horror – “God, Mick! Don’t talk like that or the Good Lord will strike you dead.”

“No! He won’t – I don’t know if there is a God but if there is He isn’t goint to be taken in by a pompous well fed swine who is getting paid to preach two sermans a week and go about looking holy and better than other people. Anyway God doesn’t strike people dead – when my people moved I found an old money box belonging to a mission and I got about three pounds out of it, and spent it on canvas for my canoe and fishing tackle. I didn’t get struck dead or drowned or fall down the mountain. God had lots of chances to kill me but He didn’t.” His son was a pal of fishermen and I bet He reckoned it was more sensible buying lines and getting a boat in order than spending it on spoiling blacks.” Zack pondered on the subject – I don’t believe in missions to Africans” he said “God would forgive you taking that money because Missions only make thieves and cheeky blacks, but here’s Mr Van Zyl’s place.”