Charles Peter Miller was born May 24, 1921, to Eva H. Zoellner Miller and Jacob Alonzo Miller in Gunnison, Colorado. Chuck passed away peacefully with his family by his side on Aug. 15, at Good Samaritan in Fort Collins. He was 90 years old.
Chuck’s occupation was rancher and cowboy. He was a student leader on campus and the president of the rodeo club at Colorado A&M, where he graduated with a degree in animal husbandry in 1948. He had a successful dairy farm and cow-calf operation and an outstanding ribbon-winning herd of registered American Quarter Horses. He was an active member of the American Quarter Horse Association. He won many championships with his Angus and longhorn cattle, including grand champion at the National Western Stock Show. He was a decent saddle bronc rider and a fine calf roper who liked to try to rope just about everything off his horse, including cattle, pronghorn, coyotes and once, successfully, a bobcat. He also survived a lightning strike on his ranch in 1999.
Chuck was the first rancher in the Buckeye area to place a series of conservation easements on his land, beginning in 2001, preserving it from development into perpetuity. The Chuck Miller Ranch alongside the bordering Roberts Ranch and several smaller neighboring ranches and public lands together now constitute a foothills corridor of more than 50,000 acres of conserved open space on the last remaining ranchland and open land in northern Colorado.
Chuck always provided for his family. He left his life’s dream and ranch and his top-quality Angus cattle herd to his three children. His children hosted a celebration of his life on Sept. 24 at the Chuck Miller Ranch.
The following narrative about his life is taken from a transcript of a campfire talk Chuck gave on September 1, 2001 at Phantom Canyon Preserve. The Nature Conservancy sponsored the talks to capture area history in the voice and from the viewpoint of local ranchers:
My name is Chuck Miller and I live over in Buckeye. I suppose most of you people at least know where Buckeye is. It’s an area just across the ridge. I’ve been there going on thirty-nine years. I was born and raised over in the Gunnison country. My family had ranches and a slaughterhouse and a meat market over in that country—really a growing operation. Then came the Depression and they lost it all. So, of course, I had to start all over. [Chuck’s grandfather, Jacob David Miller, pioneer rancher and owner of the Elk Horn Meat Market, was mayor of Gunnison from 1893-1894]
I worked for the Taylor Park Cattle Company and saved $75.00, which was tuition at that time at Aggies (Colorado A&M). I came up here to school in 1939. I went a semester and then I went out to the Painter Ranch in Roggen, CO and worked out there, and I came back the following fall, the fall of 1941. Of course, you all know what happened in ’41. So I went to work for my uncle for four years. [laughter] When I got back, of course, I had the GI Bill and things were easy then. Before that, I had to work to eat and for a place to sleep, but with the GI Bill they bought my books and paid my tuition and gave me $75.00 a month.
I finished school in 1948 and went back to work out at the Painter Ranch. At that time, they called it the Flowin’ M Cattle Company. It was a commercial outfit then, and we had about 6,000 head of cattle there. This was in ’48 that I went back out there. Along about January 1 of 1949, we had a little storm. A lot of people called it a blizzard, and they called it right because we lost cattle in that thing—they froze to death standing up. It was 20 below zero and a 60-mile-an-hour wind a’ blowing. In about 15 minutes, the farm crew was all stuck with their tractors and pickups and stuff. Just the riders could move. We didn’t try to feed anything; we just tried to keep them moving. Those that we kept moving, we got along pretty good on. But those that cornered up or got down in a draw, the snow covered them up —goodbye. You guys would know something about that.
I stayed out there until the following summer, and then I went to work for a friend of mine, Jay Monroe, down here [in Fort Collins] breaking horses. At that time, I met a girl [Alice Colburn] and we later on got married and had a couple of boys [Jeff and Dan Miller]. One of them is here, right there, and the other one is at the Colorado State Fair, showing cattle. Well, I worked here and there for a couple of years. [Chuck worked on several ranches during this time, including the Mesa de Maya Ranch near Trinidad, where Dan was born in 1953 at the nearest hospital, in Raton NM.]
And then my wife got sick and I needed a job so I could stay home and take care of her. One of my friends suggested dairy cows. Well, I wasn’t all that thrilled about milking cows, but as I kind of analyzed the situation, and that was the answer: So this was in 1955 and I bought some dairy cows. I thought this was kind of a temporary thing and it was—it only lasted 30 years. [laughter]
Later on, my wife died and I had a little place there in Laporte. You probably know where the American Legion is. That was built on my place there. In 1960,
I went to work at the University as foreman of the Pathology Research Farm.
And I stayed there until ’63 when this place that I’m ‘on now came up for sale and I was able to trade my little place at Laporte for this place in Buckeye. I had 85 head of beef cows and I moved them up there. The first year, I had good 400-pound steers and they brought 24 cents a pound. Gas was about 45 cents a gallon and, well, it was obvious I wasn’t going to make it with 24-cent steers.
I had my dairy cows leased out, so I fixed my barn Grade A and I brought my dairy cows home. I’ve got a soft spot in my heart for a good old dairy cow. They held us together. Later on, I got married again [to Judith Oyster] and we had a daughter [Molly Miller]. She was home here not very long ago. She was born in ’65. My wife wanted to go to school and she went to the University of Nebraska and got a PhD. So I kept with my old dairy cows, trying to raise enough hay to feed them, and they
kind of held us together. In fact, my daughter, who is a science writer for the
National Renewable Energy Lab, was home not long ago and we figured it out—I pulled seven college degrees out of that bunch of cows. So they were good to us.
Once everyone had gotten through college, I sold my dairy cows and bought some beef cows, some Angus cattle. I was born and raised Hereford. In fact, black cattle were a sin! You guys probably remember that. But I started breeding these cattle and raising hay. I guess you can blame me for introducing artificial insemination (A.I.) to Buckeye. I bred all my dairy cows A.I. and then I bred as many of my beef cows as I could A.I. Still am. Funny thing—old Clarence Monroe, who owned the Monroe Ranch, which is now the McMorris Ranch [currently the Ackerman Ranch]….You probably knew Clarence and Ed Monroe and those guys. Well, Clarence would come down there and he just could not figure out how a cow could have a calf without a bull. I explained it to him. I showed him the semen; I showed him how I did it and everything. The next spring, he came down and he said, “They look just like real calves, don’t they?” [laughter]
He was a grand old man. I just loved him. One day he was down here and we were talking about my barn. And I said, “Clarence, my barn’s got to be 50 years old.” He said, “Oh, hell, no. That can’t be 50 years old. It wasn’t built until ’24.” Well, at that time, it was about 60 years old! [laughter] We had a lot of fun with Clarence.
Anyhow, I’ve kept on going with the artificial insemination on these cows and I like to think anyway that I improve every year on my breeding. I select bulls that I think help me. And I’ve tried to keep going with raising enough feed so I don’t have to buy any feed. I buy minerals. And that’s about all I buy. I have North Poudre water, and I have a lake on my place that I irrigate with, and I raise this hay. And with God’s help, and Dan and Mary Beth, I get the haying done. [Marybeth Simon is Chuck’s daughter-in-law, Dan’s wife.]
There’ve been some interesting things happen. On my daughter’s fourth birthday, which would have been about 1969, the neighbors were there and we were sitting in the kitchen eating ice cream and cake and a bolt of lightning hit. And somebody looked out and said, “Your haystack’s on fire.” I had fifty ton of hay piled right beside the corral out there where my cows were. We all ran out there, but we were too late then. Finally, everybody grabbed a bale of hay and ran out in the field, and we saved probably 20 bales or 30, something like that. At that time, I was financed with FHA (Farmers Home Administration). So I went in to the office and told them what had happened—that the lightning had burned down my haystack—and I said, “I need some money to buy hay.” The old boy pulled out my file and he leafed through the file and said, “That’s not in your farm plan. I can’t lend you any money to buy hay.” [laughter]