“P.S. Bring packs.” Th is was the famous last message from General George Custer at the Little Bighorn—an urgent plea for the extra ammunition carried by the mule train.
Today, the U.S. Army is again calling on mule packing experts to help win the war in Afghanistan, hopefully to better effect. John Doran of the Walking D Ranch outside of Twisp, Wash., hosts five-day training programs for the Special Forces—and for the public. Instruction includes catching, saddling, and packing the mules, horseback training, caring for the animals, and how to make an emergency dismount in case of attack.
Doran’s crew also shows the troops how to build a functioning packsaddle from scratch, using nothing more than a couple pieces of wood, some webbing, and parachute cord.
“We also put ’em through a very steep obstacle course on horseback,” says Doran, who has been working as a packer since the 1960s.
Army brass has been so impressed with Doran’s training that they’re considering
whether to send him to train troops in Afghanistan.
“The knowledge we’re giving these boys is going to help them accomplish their mission,” Doran says. “And it’s a good feeling to be able to have them shake your
hand and say, ‘Thank you.’ “
John Doran’s Walking D Ranch (509-997-1015, cowboypoet.com) is four hours east
of Seattle in north central Washington’s Methow Valley. When he’s not teaching
packing skills or taking guests on trail rides, Doran leads pack trips in the Pasayten Wilderness.
The Walking D also offers barbecues, overnight camping, and—if you’re lucky—a
performance of Doran’s unique brand of cowboy poetry.
Doran also owns the U.S. Cavalry School (uscavalryschool.com), which offers training
in the horsemanship and tactics of the U.S. Cavalry. The school participates in the
annual reenactment of the Battle of the Little Bighorn on the Crow Indian Reservation,
about 60 miles east of Billings, Mont.