BARBWIRE BOB – Father’s Day brings back Historic Memories

I’m writing this column on Father’s Day, June 16, 2024. It is a great experience in life to be a father, and to honor your father. I loved my father greatly and as I grow older, I respect him more and more. My father was a rugged rancher. Second oldest son of six boys from Irish immigrants; my grandfather Patrick coming from County Cork in 1865 and my grandmother arriving later in 1880s from County Mayo. She worked for a banker in Meeker, Colorado who also had a café to take care of wagon trains coming from the railroad in Rawlins, WY. to a train in Rifle. She worked in the café and lived with the banker’s family. Meeker was a pioneer cow town on the edge of the White River. The town was just starting to be developed, recovering from the Indian uprising in September 1879, described in history as the Meeker Massacre with the murder of Nathan Meeker, the Indian Agent at The White River Indian Agency. U.S. troops came from Ft. Laramie, Wyo., to quell the uprising and a battle occurred at Milk Creek, northeast of Meeker, where there were both Indians and military casualties. The result turned out badly for the Ute Indians who were taken from the White River agency to Utah, never to return to their homeland along the White River that became Rio Blanco, County with the courthouse in Meeker. The booming Rangely oil field was discovered where Texaco, Chevron et al. discovered millions of dollars of oil piped to Houston, Texas with most of the wealth leaving Rangely, Rio Blanco County, and Colorado. A sad tale of mineral wealth leaving Colorado for other destinations. Much of the gold and silver wealth from Idaho Springs, Leadville, Black Hawk, and Central City ended up in Denver and Colorado Springs. 

Back to my ancestors. Patrick was an expert teamster and horseman, stopped at the Meeker café and met Mary. My grandmother’s story goes like this, with Patrick telling her, “Mary, on my next trip here, let’s get married;” She apparently said “yes”, and their wedding story was published in the historic Meeker Herald. They were married in the Methodist Church in 1885, the only church in early day Meeker of course named after the slain Indian agent.

The couple homesteaded in the Axial Basin North of Meeker on the cusp of where a book describes the region as, “Where the Old West Stayed Young,” by John Rolfe Burroughs. The couple soon learned that homesteading was a tough deal with no irrigation water and 160 acres. But, with the grace of God, moved 15 miles to the Yampa River where they were able to purchase a river spread where my father and his brothers were born and raised.

The lived in a log cabin built with logs from a nearby mountain. They raised cattle, and horses, and the boys all became rugged cowhands and hard workers. Another story goes that once a year a Catholic priest would come riding by on his horse and the boys would run and hide, fearful of the messenger of God in his black clothing. But the Lord blessed them, and my father married a Maybell school teacher, and they had their own ranch nearby to the original family ranch. Every time a brother would marry the family would buy another ranch with many failed homesteads dotting the landscape.

I was raised on this ranch, surrounded by cattle, horses, dogs, cats, flies, and mosquitoes. We drank raw water from the nearby river, took a bath in a copper tub, and ate food cooked on a coal stove from a large pot of stew, boiled potatoes, and fresh meat fried in a black cast- iron frying pan. We had fresh milk and cream delivered twice a day from our milk cow, but we had to milk her to get it, sharing half of it with her calf.

Back to my father. He worked seven days a week; his livestock always came first with morning chores at daybreak. Followed by boiled Folger coffee, biscuits, eggs, and slab bacon. We went into Craig, a 29-mile drive, once a month, but we raised all the food we needed. He needed tobacco and a quart of “Old Grand Dad Whiskey.”

During the summer months, weekends, and holidays, even home from college I was always helping dad with the chores and working with the livestock. So many stories about cattle drives, rattlesnakes, and making a living with horses, wagons, shovels, and pitchforks.

I learned so much from my father about horses, agriculture, and honesty. About honesty, “a man’s word is a man’s bond.”
 Because he smoked, he died at age 75 of lung cancer. He could still outwork us all, but the dust, bitter cold winters, and those Lucky Strike cigarettes ended his life way too early.

My parents and grandparents are all buried in the Craig. I was so fortunate to have very loving, talented, hard- working parents. I’m cherishing some memories of my dad today. He saved my life once during a horse incident, I could have been dragged to death, caught up in a lariat rope. 

Tell your father you love him and cherish the man who brought you into this life and to the best country in the world.