Oregon's most famous mule

By Mike Shearer July 11, 2012 01:36 pm



COVE — So how do you get to be Oregon’s most famous mule?

Well, for starters, you can fill up the home of Ron and Brenda Overton’s Cove home with trophies, saddles and belt buckles.

Tuff Stuff, usually called Tuffy by the Overtons, recently returned from the 2012 Bishop Mule Days in Bishop, Calif. as the Champion Western Performance Mule. And it wasn’t the first time. He was inducted into the Bishop Mule Days Hall of Fame in 2007 and has continued to win top awards there every year.

The Bishop Death Valley show has taken place for 43 years and occurs every Memorial Day and lasts for six days. Tuffy has frequently won the Tony Lama High Point award there.

Over the years, the Overtons have shown Tuffy at many venues throughout the West, but they say he may be reaching the end of his long career, at least in the performance categories. 

He has, after all, been at it since 1994.



Well known trainer

That was the year the Overtons sent him to Tim Phillips of Caldwell, Idaho, for training. Phillips is well known in mule circles as a trainer, and the Overtons had sent him another mule named Johnny Rebel the year before, but Reb didn’t have what it took.

Tuffy did. And then some. In fact, the Overtons say some people have suggested it would be fairer to give other mules a chance at the top awards that annually have gone to Tuffy.

It will be a long time before any mule breaks Tuffy’s record number of wins, “if anyone ever breaks Tuffy’s record,” Brenda says.

“Since Tuffy,” Brenda says, “the level of competition has come up. It has increased the type of performance we get at the show and the type of mule.”

The Overtons credit trainer and rider Phillips with much of Tuffy’s national success.

Ron notes mules have long been bred for all kinds of task, like hauling borax, and the U.S. Cavalry used them because they were strong. Pictures of early pioneer wagon trains show plenty of mules too, so we know they have been part of the western culture for a long time.

A mule is the offspring of a male donkey and a female horse. But modern breeders don’t use just any donkey or horse. They are as meticulous as any purebred horse breeder, documenting lineage of both the donkey and horse. The Overton mules are registered with the American Mule Association.


The Overtons currently have 32 mules on their 120 acres, and several of the mules other than Tuffy have also won multiple awards.

Many of the awards at the mule shows go to the riders or drivers, and Ron and Brenda as well as trainer Tim Phillips have won many awards for their performances with the mules. For instance, Brenda won the Reserve World Champion Driver award this year at Bishop.

The Overtons married in 1976, and they say they “started out with horses that year.” But shortly thereafter began their fascination with mules.

“In Haines we watched a mule show one year,” Brenda said, “and we said we could do that.”

It wasn’t long before they were well known in mule show circles and appeared on the cover of “Western Mule Magazine” in February 1997 and began collecting their trophies, saddles and belt buckles as testimony to their devotion to mules.

They resist stereotyping mules. “Each has a personality of its own,” Ron said. “A lot of the time a mule is smarter than a horse.”

“They do tend to take advantage of people,” Brenda added. “They remember if they get away with something, and they’ll try it again.”

Although usually sterile, a female or molly mule can have estrus cycles that affect her behavior. “And you have to geld the male or he’ll be really ornery,” Brenda said.

They say baby mules are on their feet faster than baby horses and love to play.

Brenda said she remembers Tuff Stuff as a young colt. “He would strut like he was the king of the world,” she said. That’s how he got his name.

Ron, a Cove native, has run Overton Electric since 1984, and Brenda moved to Cove when she was in the eighth grade.

They love their friends they see annually at the mule shows and have no plans to slow down just because they’re going to be easing up on Tuffy’s agenda.

“He’ll still do some stuff,” said Ron, “but his legs are starting to show age, and we want to keep him as long as we can.”