Muleskinner was critical to early logging
"It ain't like it used to be," says one of the best skinners to handle a team in the woods

By Mary K. Hamner
Journal Correspondent

The good muleskinner was as vital to the timber industry as the heavy equipment operator is today. To be a good muleskinner required skill plus an ornery authority and mastery of cussing equal to the orneriness and cussedness of the team. The late Roy Guy Mathews (1914-1994) admitted that he had a lot of vinegar in his day but his pack of photographs showed that his six up, a team of mules and horses received a lot of loving care in his mule skinning days.

"Them are the finest horses they ever were," he said. Mathews worked his horses in the evening because horses could stand more than the mules. The mules were worked in the morning. "They don't make horses like that anymore. Whatever you wanted to do, they could do it." He pointed to one of the pictures and said, "That one had big feet but you could put him in the garden, plow him down beside a row of cabbage, and he wouldn't break a single leaf."

"That's not regular traces on those mules," he said. "You don't see any hair rubbed off because them are sweet iron traces. I would grease those traces ever so often so they wouldn't rub and I changed their collars every six months."

"We used the team with a four wheel wagon at first, then I bought an eight wheel wagon off of Layfield Boddie. I gave him a hundred dollars for it and it was the only one in this country. We could get the log up side of a skid pole and use the horses to roll it up onto the wagon. It took strength," he said.

Matthews developed his strength at an early age. "I commenced in the log woods when I was thirteen years old, cutting logs with my Daddy. Both of us together would make six dollars a week and that was what we had to live on. We were proud to have a job. During the Depression, people were walking the road. Whole families were begging for some place to chop cotton or pick cotton, they were starving. They were walking the roads, looking for something to do."

"I was one of a family of twelve," he continued, "four boys and eight girls, one set of twins. I worked in the woods off and on until I was sixty. I worked on tongs for Tremont Lumber Company for three months. It didn't get too hot or cold for me to work. I worked every day and didn't lay off. If I didn't work, I didn't get paid. I was there, regardless."

In his older years, Matthews had painful shoulders. "Dr. Huckaby down at Coushatta said, 'You have pulled on 'em, ain't you boy." I said, "Many's the time."

It was a hard living. Me and my wife will be riding along and she'll say to me. "Would you ever have thought when you and me married that we would be riding along here like this with not much to worry about."

"I'll say, No, it ain't like it used to be."

(Roy Guy Mathews and his wife Berky are at rest in Little Hope Cemetery near Lucky, La. Photos compliments of his son Roy Glen Mathews.

Roy Guy Mathews, with horses in "Sweet iron traces," above, Eight wheel rubber tired wagon, pulled by 2200-2300 pound miles, at right