The Age of the Donks

Packing construction supplies up the Valley Way (1929). Photo: AMC Archives
In the 125 years of the AMC Hut System various methods have been employed to carry food and supplies up to the huts. These days helicopters fly in dry goods and supplies at the beginning of the season, while hut crew pack up meat, dairy and produce twice a week. Back in 1929 the huts began experimenting with a more creative approach to getting materials into the huts - donkeys. Originally brought from Roswell, New Mexico, the donkeys proved invaluable during their decades of use. The “muleskinners” would spend a week hauling supplies up to each hut, then would load the donks into the truck and move the corral to the next site.

Muleskinner tending to the donks (1920s). Photo: AMC Archives
Donks were used to haul everything from canned goods to construction supplies to 5 gallon jerrycans full of gasoline. Galehead and Zealand were largely built with materials hauled in on the backs of donkeys. However, according to Harry Bishop, a muleskinner during the 1940s, there were some limitations; “you couldn’t haul tomatoes or lettuce or things like this; it was rough on them. The donks would bang ‘em all to pieces in the saddle bags. The salad would be made before you got there.”

Unpacking supplies from donkeys at Madison (1941). Photo: AMC  Archives
The strongest donk during the 1940s was Trigger, who would carry 180 lbs up to Madison, while some of the females would only pack about 80 lbs. At a certain point the donks just wouldn’t take any more weight. Bishop said, “there was no way in God’s world that you could make them take it either. They might start up the mountain and if they just couldn’t make it…they’d huff and puff and blow and this that and the other thing and you’d open the saddle bags and take a few cans out of each side. If they were able to go along then you had an idea of how much less to put in.”

Carrying construction supplies up to a hut (1930s). Photo: AMC Archives

Every donk had its own personality and quirks. Little Horse was the most well-known, and the leader of the group. “We’d load the donks up in the morning and start ‘em up the mountain and Little Horse would go right to the beginning of the trail and he’d stand there. So help me I swear he was counting the donks to see if they were all there,” described Bishop. 

Unpacking food at Zealand Falls Hut (1932). Photo: AMC Archives
In 1964 helicopters were first used by the AMC in the construction of the Mizpah Springs Hut, signaling the end of the era of donks. While they haven’t been in the Whites for nearly fifty years now, Little Horse, Trigger and all the others left their impact on the Huts system.

Keystone helicopter ferrying supplies to Lakes of the Clouds Hut (1969). Photo: AMC Archives