Baca County History

by the Plainsman Herald

A Bevy of Wandering Muleteers


Some might say Orville Ewing was  born 100 years too late.  However, I have discovered while learning about his adventures he wasn’t alone.  In various written accounts I have encountered references to muleteers traveling the countryside during Orville’s 30 plus years of traveling the highways and byways.  What is a muleteer you ask?  Merriam Webster says a muleteer is defined as one who drives mules.

The first muleteer reference some may  recognize is that of another Baca County  adventurer, Jack Ratliff.   Both Orville and Jack must have seen some amazing sites over the years.  In my postcard blog  I was amazed at quantity of Orville Ewing postcards.  However, there are also a large number of Jack Ratliff postcards available.   I have also seen this postcard in the treasure trove of resources that is my mom’s basement.  There are also many, many, many online such as the one shown below:

Jack Ratliffs wagon

Shawna Casper in a mule pulling  a Jack Ratliff wagon
Shawna Casper Loftis on Grandpa Jack Ratliff’ s wagon when she was 3 or 4. Connie Ratliff’ s sister Grace was on the right of me, her Mom Mamie was behind her!! (Used courtesy of Shawna Casper)

A multitude of newspaper accounts paints an intriguing picture of  these and other colorful characters.   Orville and Jack even crossed paths outside of the friendly confines of Baca County as shown in the following:

The December 10th 1948 edition of the Abilene Reporter-News reports:

Ewing of Pritchett Colorado was trying to catch up with his buddy,” Jack Ratliff, who was through Abilene about 10 days ago. Ratliff also gets around in a covered wagon drawn by donkeys. Because of the -wear on the hooves of his ox, Ewing has had to make special “boots” of pieces of automobile tires. Ewing said he has traveled from the Atlantic to the Pacific and from Canada to Mexico in his rubber-tired hack. He also claimed to have been at the World’s Fair in San Francisco in 1939, and in New York in 1940. He averages ten miles a day with his 11-year-old ox doing most of the pulling of the hack. He had two dogs, and a milk goat in the wagon with him. He left Abilene late Thursday

In addition to Orville and Jack there were others:

A 2007 Evansville Indiana Courier Press  article provides accounts of two  travelers coming through Henderson Indiana in October of 1957.   They describe Ewing as follows:

Interestingly enough, he was the second such wagon-borne wanderer to pass through Henderson that month. On Oct. 12 a less widely known traveler called “the mule man” came through on his way to Florida for the winter.

However, the most interesting character I have come across other than Orville is not really a Muleteer…rather than driving mules he was a driver of Burros’s

The Friday, Sept. 13, 1946 edition of the Oakland Tribune reported that Alemeda county hermit, Peter Voiss, had died.  They also comment on another event which Voiss had been involved in 10 years earlier.

On April 23, 1936, Jaspar Gattucio saw Voiss’s burro cart off the Monterey Highway.   Gattucio was a dentist and an amatuer photographer.  When he drove off after snapping a photograph of Voiss, Voiss drew his gun and pulled the trigger.   The bullet went through the rear window of the car and hit Gattucio in the back of the head.

Interestingly, a jury acquitted Voiss after a sensational trial and he went back on the road still adamantly refusing to allow his picture to be taken without payment, holding that to be his only livelihood.

According to the Tribune article he was hailed into court several times for assaulting persons who tried to take his picture for free and once his cart was smashed by a truck and he was injured.

Orville Ewing in San Francisco 1938

A 2007 newsletter shows Ewing’s postcard above with a picture of Voiss side by side. They also give us the information which indicates Ewing and Voiss were both in the area at the same time…although Orville’s trip was a little longer.   They state,

Three years following the trial (1936) Voiss was photographed and his image was super imposed over an image of the Golden Gate Bridge.

Voiss, Ewing, Ratliff and the Mysterious Mule Man were certainly characters.  They had a unique opportunity at a unique time to be “Muleteers” or some variation thereof and to wander freely about the United States.  Who could ever imagine doing such a thing today.  So, was Orville and the others born 100 years too late?  Nope,  If they had been they would not have been unusual and interesting and we wouldn’t be interested in their story today.

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