East Texas Mule Skidder

vintage photo of logger with two mule team

This week, I am returning to archive photos from the Diboll History Center. This is just one comprehensive source that I use, and it does a great job organizing its images into historical sets, so it is easy find images from the same era, activity or theme and put them together to document and build larger stories.

This image is “Two Mule Skidders and a Man,” from the Southern Pine Lumber Company, in 1903. The last time I worked from a vintage photo of East Texas loggers, it was a team from the 1930s, if that tells you how long this area has been working with timber.

These photographs at the History Center were part of a larger project by American Lumberman, a weekly trade journal established in 1899.

“The American Lumberman photographs of the Southern Pine Lumber Company consist of 255 gelatin silver prints made by American Lumberman photographers during visits to Diboll in 1903 and 1907. They document the lumber company’s management, logging operations, Texas South-Eastern Railroad, timber, lumber camps, sawmills, commissary, and social life. The photographs provide insight into the early twentieth-century community life of a Texas sawmill company town and connected logging camps.” – American Lumberman Photographs of Southern Pine Lumber Company in The Portal to Texas History. University of North Texas Libraries.

I didn’t know what a “mule skidder” was until today, and when I Googled it, images came up for heavy machinery, not animals. But back when the animal was the machinery, a driver would position the cart over felled logs, where dangling tongs would then raise the end of the log off the ground. The mule, oxen or horse team pulled the tong forward, allowing the log to “skid” along between the rolling wheels.

The photo caption notes that the actual skidder is not shown here, so it looks like the guys in this photo were suiting up for a hard day’s work. Or maybe resting between tasks. Either way, all three were in the middle of a very important job.