Mules, a Family Business
100 years and still going strong.
Submitted by Jennifer Roeser
Written by Michaela Reese
The Reese name has been one in the same with hard work, family values, and good business for nearly one hundred years. The Reese Brothers have taken pride in their family business and have created a way of life for generations to follow and flourish. The journey began in the nineteen twenties with Rufus Reese Sr. starting the family’s long and deep traditions within the mule trading business that has carried on for four generations. Dickie and Rufus Reese are the third generation to continue their family business and stretch it from mules being used to pack, as outfitters, traverse the Grand Cannon, and used in the military.
The mules arrive at Greenwood Farms and are taken into the family’s massive gray barn to be clipped, saddled or harnessed, and prepped for their jobs and lives ahead. Some mules are bought for show, others for their brute strength and aid many of the Amish communities in and around Middle Tennessee. From the crop in rural fields Pennsylvania to the French Quarter of New Orleans, Louisiana the Reese mules are used and depended on everyday. Nation wide the Reese Brother’s Mule Company can be seen providing park services in the Midwest, giving carriage rides in California, and quail hunts in South Georgia. Many other business families buy mules from Greenwood Farms and in turn sell them to others in places around the U.S. They sell to individuals or to other businesses. These animals have many functions that Dickie and Rufus capitalized on to ensure the well being of their future family members. The thought of Rufus Sr. in Nashville, Tennessee auctioning and bargaining for his great grandchildren’s future is enough to make anyone proud to know, or be part of, this family.
When the brothers took over the family business it was due to a horrific accident resulting in the loss of their father in 1979. The brothers picked up the business with a skill and finesse that not many could achieve. Dickie took over the accounting side having graduated from The University of Tennessee with an Animal Science degree. Rufus, with his no-nonsense attitude, took over the trading of the mules and auctioning. The brothers were, and are, the power-houses of the mule trading world and work exceptionally well together. Dickie states, “We never really fought. Rufus is absolutely the perfect partner.” They worked hard everyday together, learning from one another and gaining the respect of men and women worldwide. Rufus humbly states, “We don’t consider ourselves mule trainers, we keep our operation simple and sell what we buy. The less we have to handle a mule the more profit there is in him.” The ability of the two brothers to save and keep their family business has resulted in the newest generation joining the business. Richard Reese is Rufus’s son. Rufus has taught, and still teaches, his son the way of life on the Greenwood Farm on which Richard grew up. Throughout the years the farm has never really changed just increased in size and ability to profit. The farm makes its name in cattle, mules, and of course mule auctions. The Reese Brothers are famous for their mule consignments in the three big sales. They occur in January, February, and November in Westmoreland, Tennessee. The preparation and work it takes to orchestrate such a sale is awe inspiring and only possible due to the way Richard, Dickie, and Rufus work together.
Dickie and Rufus retired, for the most part, in 2018 and have granted the farm to Richard to continue, for many years to come. Richard’s natural skill continues to impress, and provide for, the farmers and business men that depend on the Reese Brother’s Mule Company. Richard has two teachers that know the very inner workings of not only the mules they care for but also the ideals they stand for. Rufus’s daughter Rilla Reese Hanks has also taken after her family name and started up a business for herself and her family. She graduated from The University of Tennessee at Knoxville with a Masters in Animal Science, just like her uncle. She then went on to graduate with her Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine in 2013. Just like Richard; she grew up on Greenwood Farms and has amassed a huge knowledge from working with horses and mules her entire life. Rilla and her husband Drew started their own breeding of mules in 2016 and she is consulted frequently on health issues as a Veterinarian. Dickie still works the three big mule auctions and Rufus can be seen in the barns working with and ensuring the mules are taken care of. Even though the Brothers are retired their relentless passion for their farm, animals, and family is awe inspiring.
One hundred years of business is no small accomplishment especially considering the advancement of technology. Throughout all of life’s struggles Dickie and Rufus Reese have been a shining beacon of hard work, family values, and good family business. These men have worked incredibly hard creating a way of life in Middle Tennessee that will live on in the hearts and minds of many Reese generations to come.
Don’t miss the famous Tennessee Sales that take place the second Saturday of January, February, March, October, and November. There is a specialty sale the second Friday of January known at the Colt Sale and a sale during the Great Mule and Donkey Celebration at Shelbyville in July each Year. Check out the website at: www.reesemules.com.