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Ch. 10: Horse Packs

Almost any one can put together a comparatively well made back pack, and very slight practice will enable a beginner to load a canoe. But the packing of a horse or mule is another matter. The burden must be properly weighted, properly balanced, properly adjusted, and properly tied on. That means practice and considerable knowledge.

To the average wilderness traveler the possession of a pack saddle and canvas kyacks simplifies the problem considerably. If you were to engage in packing as a business, wherein probably you would be called on to handle packages of all shapes and sizes, however, you would be compelled to discard your kyacks in favor of a sling made of rope. And again it might very well happen that some time or another you might be called on to transport your plunder without appliances on an animal caught up from the pasture. For this reason you must further know how to hitch a pack securely to a naked horse.

In this brief résumé of possibilities you can see it is necessary that you know at least three methods of throwing a lash rope—a hitch to hold your top pack and kyacks, a sling to support your boxes on the aparejos, and a hitch for the naked horse. But in addition it will be desirable to understand other hitches adapted to different exigencies of bulky top packs, knobby kyacks and the like. One hitch might hold these all well enough, but the especial hitch is better.

The detailment of processes by diagram must necessarily be rather dull reading. It can be made interesting by an attempt to follow out in actual practice the hitches described. For this purpose you do not need a full-size outfit. A pair of towels folded compactly, tied together, and thrown one each side over a bit of stove wood to represent the horse makes a good pack, while a string with a bent nail for cinch hook will do as lash rope. With these you can follow out each detail.

First of all you must be very careful to get your saddle blankets on smooth and without wrinkles. Hoist the saddle into place, then lift it slightly and loosen the blanket along the length of the backbone, so that the weight of the pack will not bind the blanket tight across the horse's back. In cinching up, be sure you know your animal; some puff themselves out so that in five minutes the cinch will hang loose. Fasten your latigo or cinch straps to the lower ring. Thus you can get at it even when the pack is in place.

Distribute the weight carefully between the kyacks. "Heft" them again and again. The least preponderance on one side will cause a saddle to sag in that direction; that in turn will bring pressure to bear on the opposite side of the withers, and that will surely chafe to a sore. Then you are in trouble.

When you are quite sure the kyacks weigh alike, get your companion to hang one on the pack saddle, at the same time you hook the straps of the other. If you try to do it by yourself you must leave one hanging while you pick up the other, thus running a good risk of twisting the saddle.

The Jam Hitch.

Your top pack you will build as the occasion demands. In general, try to make it as low as possible and to get your blankets on top where the pack rope "bites." The strap connecting the kyacks is then buckled. Over all you will throw the canvas tarpaulin that you use to sleep on. Tuck it in back and front to exclude dust. It is now ready for the pack rope.

1. The Jam Hitch.—All hitches possess one thing in common—the rope passes around the horse and through the cinch hook. The first pull is to tighten that cinch. Afterward other maneuvers are attempted. Now ordinarily the packer pulls tight his cinch, and then in the further throwing of the hitch he depends on holding his slack. It is a very difficult thing to do. With the jam hitch, however, the necessity is obviated. The beauty of it is that the rope renders freely one way—the way you are pulling—but will not give a hair the other—the direction of loosening. So you may heave up the cinch as tightly as you please, then drop the rope and go on about your packing perfectly sure that nothing is going to slip back on you.

The rope passes once around the shank of the hook, and then through the jaw (see diagram). Be sure to get it around the shank and not the curve. Simplicity itself; and yet I have seen very few packers who know of it.

2. The Diamond Hitch.—I suppose the diamond in one form or another is more used than any other. Its merit is its adaptability to different shapes and sizes of package—in fact it is the only hitch good for aparejo packing—its great flattening power, and the fact that it rivets the pack to the horse's sides. If you are to learn but one hitch, this will be the best for you, although certain others, as I shall explain under their proper captions, are better adapted to certain circumstances.

The diamond hitch is also much discussed. I have heard more arguments over it than over the Japanese war or original sin.

"That thing a diamond hitch!" shrieks a son of the foothills to a son of the alkali. "Go to! Looks more like a game of cat's cradle. Now this is the real way to throw a diamond."

Certain pacifically inclined individuals have attempted to quell the trouble by a differentiation of nomenclature. Thus one can throw a number of diamond hitches, provided one is catholically minded—such as the "Colorado diamond," the "Arizona diamond," and others. The attempt at peace has failed.

"Oh, yes," says the son of the alkali as he watches the attempts of the son of the foothills. "That's the Colorado diamond," as one would say that is a paste jewel.

The joke of it is that the results are about the same. Most of the variation consists in the manner of throwing. It is as though the discussion were whether the trigger should be pulled with the fore, middle, or both fingers. After all, the bullet would go anyway.

A downward journey.

I describe here the single diamond, as thrown in the Sierra Nevadas, and the double diamond as used by government freight packers in many parts of the Rockies. The former is a handy one-man hitch. The latter can be used by one man, but is easier with two.

Throw the pack cinch (a) over the top of the pack, retaining the loose end of the rope. If your horse is bad, reach under him with a stick to draw the cinch within reach of your hand until you hold it and the loose end both on the same side of the animal. Hook it through the hook (a, Fig. II) and bring up along the pack. Thrust the bight (a, Fig. III) of the loose rope under the rope (b); the back over and again under to form a loop. The points (c-c) at which the loose rope goes around the pack rope can be made wide apart or close together, according to the size of the diamond required (Fig. V). With a soft top-pack requiring flattening, the diamond should be large; with heavy side pack, smaller.

The Single Diamond.

Now go around to the other side of the animal. Pass the loose end (d, Fig. III) back, under the alforjas, forward and through the loop from below as shown by the arrows of direction in Fig. IV.

You are now ready to begin tightening. First pull your cinch tight by means of what was the loose end (b) in Fig. II. Place one foot against the animal and heave, good and plenty. Take up the slack by running over both ends of the loop (c-c Fig. III). When you have done this, go around the other side. There take up the slack on b-b Fig. IV. With all there is in you pull the loose end (c, Fig. IV) in the direction of the horse's body, toward his head. Brace your foot against the kyacks. It will sag the whole hitch toward the front of the pack, but don't mind that: the defect will be remedied in a moment.

Next, still holding the slack (Fig. V), carry the loose end around the bottom of the alforjas and under the original main pack rope (c). Now pull again along the direction of the horse's body, but this time toward his tail. The strain will bend the pack rope (c), heretofore straight across, back to form the diamond. It will likewise drag back to its original position amidships in the pack the entire hitch, which, you will remember, was drawn too far forward by your previous pull toward the horse's head. Thus the last pull tightens the entire pack, clamps it down, secures it immovably, which is the main recommendation and beautiful feature of the diamond hitch.

The Double Diamond.

The double diamond is a much more complicated affair. Begin by throwing the cinch under, not over the horse. Let it lie there. Lay the end of the rope (a) lengthwise of the horse across one side the top of the pack (Fig. 1). Experience will teach you just how big to leave loop (b). Throw loop (b) over top of pack (Fig. 2). Reverse loop a (Fig. 2) by turning it from left to right (Fig. 3). Pass loop (a) around front and back of kyack, and end of rope d over rope c, and under rope d. Pass around the horse and hook the cinch hook in loop (e).

This forms another loop (a, Fig. 4), which must be extended to the proper size and passed around the kyack on the other side (Fig. 5). Now tighten the cinch, pull up the slack, giving strong heaves where the hitch pulls forward or back along the left of the horse, ending with a last tightener at the end (b, Fig. 5). The end is then carried back under the kyack and fastened.

3. The Square Hitch is easily and quickly thrown, and is a very good fair-weather lash. In conjunction with half hitches, as later explained, it makes a good hitch for a bucking horse. For a very bulky pack it is excellent in that it binds in so many places. It is thrown as follows:

The Square Hitch.

Throw the cinch hook over the pack, and cinch tight with the jam hitch before described. Lead the end across the horse, around the back of kyack on the other side, underneath it, and up over at a. The end here passes beneath at b. You will find that you can, when you cinch up at first, throw a loose loop over the pack comprising the bight bed, so as to leave your loose end at d. Then place the loop bed around the kyack. A moment's study of the diagram will show you what I mean, and will also convince you that much is gained by not having to pass rope (a) underneath at b. Now pull hard on loose end at d, taking care to exert your power lengthwise of the horse. Pass the line under the alforjas toward the rear, up over the pack and under the original rope at c. Pull on the loose end, this time exerting the power toward the rear. You cannot put too much strength into the three tightening pulls: (1) in cinching through the cinch hook; (2) the pull forward; (3) the pull back. On them depends the stability of your pack. Double back the loose end and fasten it. This is a very quick hitch.

The Bucking Hitch.

4. The Bucking Hitch is good to tie things down on a bad horse, but it is otherwise useless to take so much trouble.

Pass the pack rope around the kyacks on one side, and over itself. This forms a half hitch, below which hangs the cinch. Lead the pack rope over the top of the pack, around the other kyack, and through to form another half hitch. Cinch up, and throw either the single diamond or the square hitch. The combination will clamp the kyacks as firmly as anything can.

5. The Miner's Hitch.—This hitch is very much on the same principle, but is valuable when you happen to be provided with only a short rope, or a cinch with two rings, instead of a ring and a hook.

The Miner's Hitch.

Take your rope—with the cinch unattached—by the middle and throw it across the pack. Make a half hitch over either kyack. These half hitches, instead of running around the sides of the kyacks, as in the last hitch, should run around the top, bottom, and ends (see diagram). Thrust bight (b) through cinch ring, and end (a) through the bight. Do the same thing on the other side. Make fast end a at c, and end d at e, cinching up strongly on the bights that come through the cinch rings.

The Lone Packer Hitch.

6. The Lone Packer or Basco Hitch.—This is a valuable hitch when the kyacks are heavy or knobby, because the last pull lifts them away from the horse's sides. It requires at least forty feet of rope. I use it a great deal.

Cinch up with the jam hitch as usual. Throw the end of the rope across the horse, under the forward end of the kyack on the far side, beneath it and up over the rear end of the kyack. The rope in all other hitches binds against the bottom of the kyacks; but in this it should pass between the kyack and the horse's side (Fig. 1). Now bring a bight in loose end (a) forward over rope (c), and thrust it through under rope (c) from front to back (Fig. 2). Be sure to get this right. Hold bight (b) with left hand where it is, and with the other slide end (a) down along rope (c) until beneath the kyacks (Fig. 3). Seize rope at d and pull hard directly back; then pull cinchwise on a. The first pull tightens the pack; the second lifts the kyacks. Carry end (a) across the pack and repeat on the other side. Fasten finally anywhere on top. Fig. 4 shows one side completed, with rope thrown across ready for the other side. Fig. 5 is a view from above of the hitch, completed except for the fastening of end (a).

In case you have eggs or glassware to pack, spread your tarp on the horse twice as long as usual. Cinch up with the jam hitch, lay your eggs, etc., atop the rope; fold back the canvas to cover the whole, and then throw the lone packer, placing one rope each side the package (Figs. 6 and 7).

7. The Squaw Hitch.—Often it may happen that you find yourself possessed of a rope and a horse, but nothing else. It is quite possible to pack your equipment with only these simple auxiliaries.

Lay your tarp on the ground fully spread. On half of it pack your effects, striving always to keep them as flat and smooth as possible. Fold the other half of the canvas to cover the pack. Lay this thick mattress-like affair across the horse's bare back, and proceed to throw the squaw hitch as follows:

The Squaw Hitch.

Throw a double bight across the top of the pack (Fig. 1). Pass end a under the horse and through loop c; and end b under the horse and through loop (d). Take both a and b directly back under the horse again, in the opposite direction, of course, and pass both through loop (e). Now cinch up on the two ends and fasten.

8. Sling No. 1.—When you possess no kyacks, but have some sort of pack saddle, it is necessary to improvise a sling.

Sling No. 1.

Sling No. 2.

Fasten the middle of your rope by means of two half hitches to the front of the pack saddle (Fig. 1). Throw the ends (b, b) crossed as shown in Fig. 2. Place the box or sack in bight (a), passing the rope around the outside and the ends, as in Fig. 3. The end of the sack should be just even with the front of the pack saddle. If you bring it too far forward the front of the sling will sag. Pass the end (b) underneath the sack or burden, across its middle, and over the top of the saddle. When the other side is similarly laden, the ends (b, b) may be tied together at the top; or if they are long enough, may be fastened at c (Fig. 4).

9. Sling No. 2.—Another sling is sometimes handy for long bundles, and is made as follows:

Fasten the rope by the middle as explained in the last. Fasten ends (b, b) to the rear horn or to each other (see diagram). Leave the bights of the rope (a, a) of sufficient length so they can be looped around the burden and over the horns. This sling is useful only on a regular pack saddle, while the other really does not need the rear pommel at all, as the ropes can be crossed without it.

10. The Saddle Hitch.—There remains now the possibility, or let us hope probability, that you may some day wish to pack a deer on your riding saddle, or perhaps bring in a sack of grain or some such matter.

The Saddle Hitch.

Throw the rope across the seat of the saddle, leaving long ends on both sides. Lay your deer aboard, crosswise. Thrust a bight (a) of one end through your cinch ring, and pass the loop thus formed around the deer's neck (Fig. 1). Repeat on the other side, bringing the loop there about his haunch. Cinch up the two ends of the rope, and tie them on top.

Illustrating How to Pack Eggs or Glassware.

The great point in throwing any hitch is to keep the rope taut. To do this, pay no attention to your free end, but clamp down firmly the fast end with your left hand until the right has made the next turn. Remember this; it is important. The least slip back of the slack you have gained is going to loosen that pack by ever so little; and then you can rely on the swing and knocks of the day's journey to do the rest. The horse rubs under a limb or against a big rock; the loosened rope scrapes off the top of the pack; something flops or rattles or falls—immediately that cayuse arches his back, lowers his head, and begins to buck. It is marvelous to what height the bowed back will send small articles catapult-wise into the air. First go the tarpaulin and blankets; then the duffle bags; then one by one the contents of the alforjas; finally, after they have been sufficiently lightened, the alforjas themselves in an abandoned parabola of debauched delight. In the meantime that horse, and all the others, has been running frantically all over the rough mountains, through the rocks, ravines, brush and forest trees. You have ridden recklessly trying to round them up, sweating, swearing, praying to the Red Gods that none of those indispensable animals is going to get lame in this insane hippodrome. Finally between you, you have succeeded in collecting and tying to trees all the culprits. Then you have to trail inch by inch along the track of the cyclone, picking up from where they have fallen, rolled, or been trampled, the contents of that pack down to the smallest. It will take you the rest of the day; and then you'll miss some. Oh, it pays to get your hitch on snug!

The result of not getting the hitch on snug.

11. The Tie Hitch.—The hitches described are all I have ever had occasion to use, and will probably carry you through any emergencies that may be likely to arise. But perhaps many times during the day you are likely to want to stop the train for the purpose of some adjustments. Therefore you will attach your lead ropes in a manner easily to be thrown loose. Thrust the bight (a) of the lead rope beneath any part of the pack rope (b, b). Double back the bight (d) of the loose end (c) through the loop (a) thus formed. Tighten the knot by pulling tight on loop d. A sharp pull on c will free the entire lead rope.

The Tie Hitch.

Stewart Edward White

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