Three Mules and a Dog
My brother Tom, twelve, and I restrained my dog Pat and watched patiently from the top of the hill as our younger brother Glen sneaked around below the house and emerged from it a few minutes later with his .410 gauge shotgun. Glen was ten years old and proud of the way he could shoot his gun. We let him do the shooting if it was an easy shot. We watched him ease into position in the ditch weeds at the culvert about five feet from the edge of the road on the far side of the front yard.
We had been returning from the local store with provisions when our attention was drawn to the three stray mules in the yard. They were illegally, but traditionally allowed to run free in our rural neighborhood for weeks before everyone even finished harvesting their corn crops. They used the road for passage between fields to rummage for supposed leftovers and had developed a fondness for the flowers that Mother grew in our yard. They had proved to be a nuisance each time they passed by.
It went further than that, though. They had been engaging in this type of harassment as far back as early in the spring, when, according to later word from their owner, they had broken through their pasture fence and raided Mother’s flowers during a rainy night.
It so happened that Glen owned a six-month old collie puppy named Leo. We’d heard Pat and our other dogs barking for a few minutes that night, then all went quiet and we thought nothing more about it, figuring Pat had chased some stray stock away, as he usually did when it came by.
When we came out the next morning, we found that mules had stripped a couple of mother’s flowers and left tracks in the muddy ground. We also found poor Leo with his head bashed in, obviously kicked to death by one of the mules. I’ll never forget the rain droplets clinging to his fur in such a way that made it obvious he had not died right away. It made me sick to my stomach to think I’d not come out to see about him when I’d heard the commotion during the night. It took Glen a long time to get over it as well.
Anyway, Tom and I watched as Glen positioned himself very near the road, his bare brown upper torso shining in the warm late September sun. We had given him instructions on how to do the job: “Wait until we chase them past you and when they are at least forty yards on down the road, you pop them in the butt with bird shot. It’ll sting them so they won’t like to come around here for flowers so much.”
When Glen was ready, Tom and I moved toward the yard and allowed Pat to haze the mules into the road. As they started moving past Glen, I saw him stand, not more than ten feet from the side of one mule. Oh, no! Poor little wet Leo popped into my mind. And I knew that was exactly what was uppermost in Glen’s mind, as the shotgun blasted and the mule heaved to the side with a squealing bray. How could I have not realized that was going to happen? The mule staggered to the side and wobbled up the road, gushing a stream of blood from its side.
I guess I’ll forever have that image of Glen with his shotgun in his right hand, his left hand on his hip staring up the road at the disappearing mules, the one staggering along behind. I doubt if he even got the particular mule that kicked Leo, but I guess in his mind he had exacted retribution. He had reduced the bunch.
Tom and I walked to where Glen still stood looking up the serpentine pattern of blood-spattered road, the .410 now hanging by his side.
I didn’t raise my voice. “You were supposed to wait.”
“Sumbitch killed my dog.”
“Well, why didn’t you say you were going to just flat out kill the bastard?” I hissed.
“Sumbitch killed my dog.”
We followed the blood trail up the road a bit to where it went off into the weeds. The mule was lying on its side, very dead. We stood a few minutes, Tom and I shaking our heads, Glen nodding. Retribution was going to be exacted from my hide when Dad found out about this. I wasn’t supposed to let things like this happen. I was fourteen, the oldest son.
I worried about it until Dad eventually came home from work. I was surprised at how calm he was about it. The first thing he did was to visit the mule’s owner and determine a price for it. It turns out that the going price for one dead stray mule was $65.00. In 1950 that was a good price.
The other mules, and stock in general, never were turned loose again to maraud and vandalize the neighborhood, finally ending the long-standing practice of free range in our community. For some reason no retribution was ever extracted from me for my lapse of judgment in the incident. Needless to say, I never looked at Glen in quite the same "little brother" way again.
© 2006 R. Leland Waldrip