Dave Prather: From nothing but a nickel to a successful rancher

Dave Prather, 94, came to Colorado at the age of 17. He went to work for a rancher near Salida, eventually marrying the rancher’s daughter, Virginia Rogers. The family has left a lasting legacy in the White River valley.
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Dave Prather, 94, came to Colorado at the age of 17. He went to work for a rancher near Salida, eventually marrying the rancher’s daughter, Virginia Rogers. The family has left a lasting legacy in the White River valley.
MEEKER I There are many memories to be shared in our community, stories that would make a best-selling novel, no doubt. Dave Prather could narrate quite a chapter, or an entire book, about his early days and his wife of 55 and a half years Virginia (Rogers).
Prather is well-known for his roping skills.
Dave’s story began 94 years ago. When he was old enough to head out on his own he walked from Sulphur Springs, Ark., to Missouri, near Kansas City. He said the first time he came to Colorado he was 17 years old.
He had been in a little town south of Kansas City when he and a friend, Willard Brown, decided to head west, originally planning on going to California. They planned on taking a freight train headed west when they were kicked off of it by a “railroad bull.” They started walking and came upon a house with a good well and asked the women residing there if they could have a drink as it was August and extremely hot. The woman had just been married and had spent time in Fairplay, Colo. She told the young men that there were tall mountains and green trees in Fairplay and that was all the incentive they needed to change their destination. They caught the next freight train that took them all the way to “the end of the railroad where a trail led right to blacktop” and the closest town was Salida, Colo.
He and his friend stayed the night in Salida and it rained all night long. They used grain bundles to keep dry and stayed together for warmth. The next morning Willard decided this was not a life for him and went back home. The two had 15 cents between them. Dave gave Willard the dime and he kept the nickel.
Alone, Dave went to the local store and bought himself a big hunk of chocolate and started walking, taking in the beauty of the area. A truck stopped and picked him up. He went to work for the driver of the truck installing a furnace for $4.25 a day in the clothes he had on. The man gave him some clean clothes after his work but he was a big man, Dave said, “240 pounds and I was only 118 pounds.”
Dave cut the bottoms off the bib overalls and went to the local bar for a drink on Sunday where he found work for a Swede shocking hay, the process of rolling the hay up via pitch fork. He worked hard and the man liked him and told him to ask Silas Rogers, a prominent rancher in the area, for work. “Sy” saw him and didn’t think he’d make much of a hand and passed on him the first year. The next spring when Dave approached him again, he gave Dave a chance to work with a team of horses as he had just fired a kid for tearing up the harnesses the day before.
As luck would have it, Silas bought the K Bar T ranch in Meeker and that is how Dave got to this area. He worked for the boarding house in Fairplay during the winter, mopping floors and later doing dishes. He wanted to work in the mines but was not old enough so he found work doing whatever he could. He was not afraid of trying and the people he worked for found him to be a good employee.
He fell in love with Virginia Rogers, one of Silas’s three children. Later Silas would hand his ranch down to his son Allen and daughter Virginia who accumulated what is still now known as the Russell ranch, originally owned and operated by Allen and Marge Rogers and now son Ben Rogers with his wife Jamie. The other is the Prather ranch, now the White River Ranch owned and operated by Forrest and Connie Nelson, also on the ranch today are daughter and son-in-law Lex Collins. Dave and his wife Virginia lived in a beautiful home above County Road 8, with the arena below.
When talking about his wife, Dave lit up. “She was a fine woman,” he said. The two had Connie (Nelson) and Dave said, “She was an awfully good kid, I never had any trouble raising her.”
Connie went to the University of Denver to study business, as Dave thought business was what ran the world. “Then she took a shine to Forrest,” and transferred to Colorado State University to finish her education. Forest and Connie have two children. Chris and his wife Jessica of California have three boys, Tate, Dane, and Dirk. Their daughter Kathy (Collins) and her husband Lex have one daughter, Macy, who certainly inherited the love for ranching and animals as she is very successful with all of her livestock projects in 4H. She participates in the state fair with her goats, sheep and beef breeding projects.
Dave also enjoyed rodeoing. He was a roper and participated in both calf roping and team roping in the early days, and continued team roping as long as he could get on a horse. He recalls his best horses being Buddy and Skippy but had a great gray horse named T.J. he roped on for a long time.
Dave would go to Arizona in the winters and live here in the summers where he enjoyed his hobby. He said at one time he made $6,000 a year for five years in a row roping. That was a sign of a good roper then and anybody who saw him rope certainly remembers his consistent side-arm loop that very seldom missed the horns. His powerful horses would turn the steer left and handle them perfectly for the heeler coming in to clean up the run.
In his later years, when team roping became an event handicapped with a number system, he was the best draw for his number regardless of age. His heelers knew they could win a check if they just caught the hind feet.
Dave has seen and done a great deal in his 94 years, and potentially roped more cattle then anyone in the area. He says of himself, “I wasn’t much of a worrier,” and perhaps that is the skill that made so many things possible for this man who came to Colorado with nothing more then the clothes on his back and enough money for a chunk of chocolate.
He made a great life for his family, and if the measure of success is what you left your family as compared to what you started with it is obvious, he is a very successful man.

1 Comment

  1. i met dave prather in the late 60’s early 70’s while hunting on his property. forest nelson was working for him at the time.while working in montana in 1975,my wife and i visited them. not knowing if he would remembered me, i could’nt believe how cordial and friendly he was. he let us use his truck so i could show my wife where i hunted. what ever he had i knew he worked hard for it. i must not forget his wife. i remember in the fall, when they round up all the calves. she was up all night in the calving pens, making sure they were healthy and removing the porupine quills were removed.i wish dave and virginia many more healthy and happy years. a friend mike!

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