It seems that I have always been fascinated with mules. My fascination goes all the way back to my boyhood days and Brim Hollow.
My grandfather, Will Herod Brim, owned two working mules, Kate and Liz. That’s not Liz as in Liz Taylor, but Liz as in Liza Minelli, with a long I ... Kate and Liz.
I have been around countless feed barns in my time, but, to me, there is nothing like the smell of a feed barn that houses mules. I have always found the smell of a mule barn to be intoxicating.
Along about 1972, I found myself enrolled in an organic chemistry course at the University of Tennessee. On my first day in chemistry lab, I was introduced to my lab partner. He was a good-looking young man with a friendly smile and neatly cut auburn hair.
“Hi, I’m Dickie Reese,” he said.
I asked, “Are you the son of Dick Reese, the famous mule man?”
He responded with a grin, saying, “I am.”
For a few fleeting seconds, I wanted to slip off my shoes. I felt like I was standing on holy ground.
Having been around livestock and livestock markets most of my life, I had heard of Dick Reese. He was the most famous mule trader east of the Mississippi River (and beyond) in my opinion, a living legend. Tragically, Dick Reese was killed in a trucking accident in 1979.
And here I was, face to face, with his son. We would stay in touch in the coming years.
I would eventually learn that the Reese Brothers supplied most of the mules for the world-famous Grand Canyon Mule Rides. Over the years, Dickie and I talked from time to time about my taking that ride, and, eventually, I was introduced to Rufus through our mutual friends, the Carr Brothers — Charlie and Kenneth.
For years, I had not met Rufus, but I sure knew a lot about him (through Charlie Carr).
In the fall of 2000, with the cooperation and encouragement of a great friend, I signed on to take the Grand Canyon Mule Ride to Phantom Ranch. It was the trip of a lifetime. On my first ride, I drew a 16-hands-tall, white mule named Willford. It was unforgettable. You might say that I overcame my fear of heights on my first ride.
Since that first ride, I have been back many times. I have almost averaged a ride a year since the year 2000.
I have ridden mules named Mister, Junkie, Wyatt, Hoodoo, Gizmo, Little Jed and Skipmark, just to name a few. What’s in a name, you ask? It is very important, especially when it comes to mules. Almost everyone who grew up on a farm in days gone by remembers a mule by name.
Grand Canyon mules have developed a reputation over many years for being what I have come to call no-fault mules. As the old-timers used to say, “You can’t hook ‘em up wrong.” They are so rider-friendly, even grandma can ride one into the depths of the Grand Canyon (and live to tell about it).
So, a few years back, I started thinking about possibly purchasing a retired Grand Canyon mule for my own riding pleasure. I decided an old mule would probably last as long as I will. Since I had been on the ride so many times, and since I was well acquainted with the Reese Brothers, I figured I had the necessary connections to make it happen.
The idea was given considerable thought over a considerable period of time. I mentioned it to my family and received mixed reviews. There were questions like, “Why,” and, “You want to do what,” and, “Are you crazy,” came up from time to time.
Our two older granddaughters, Oakley and Jane, liked the idea, so two springs ago I took them to a Reese Brothers Mule Sale in Westmoreland. While there, Rufus arranged for the girls to ride a mule. In the words of William Shakespeare, “The dye was cast.”
I don’t think I have ever seen two little girls more excited. As soon as we got in the truck and headed home, they started, in unison, “Daddy Jack will you buy us a mule? Please?”
I’ll get to the end this mule tale next week.