Western Memories: Don Dorrell living a Rifle rancher’s life
Citizen Telegram Contributor
“Western Memories” is a monthly feature profiling a longtime resident of Western Garfield County and their memories of the area “back in the day.” If you know someone who might have an interesting story or two to tell, email email@example.com or call 384-9114.
Don Dorrell was born on a ranch. He’s lived almost all his life ranching. And at 87, he’s not quitting the ranch yet.
Even though Dorrell and his wife, Joanne, sold their 350 head of cattle several years back, they’re still living in the same cabin near Beaver Creek where they have lived since they married when Joanne was fresh out of Rifle High School.
Dorrell’s parents homesteaded on a ranch in Missouri. That’s where he was born.
“I don’t know why they moved out here,” he said.
But Dorrell spent his boyhood in a cabin much like the one he lives in now, just across the creek.
He went to the country school seven miles away with his older and younger brothers – something he remembers doing even when it was 20 degrees below zero.
“It was tough going to school,” Dorrell said. “In wintertime, it was so cold we’d ride bare back so the horses could help keep us warm.”
The trek to school took about an hour on the way there because it was downhill and about an hour and a half on the way home.
“The teacher had a big potbelly stove and it would take hours to get warm,” he said. “But we got an education anyway.”
Dorrell and his brothers braved the winter weather and almost never missed a day of school, no matter how snowy or cold. Dorrell played football and basketball for Rifle High School. The afternoon practices meant he’d often head home in the dark.
After graduating in 1944, he joined the Navy.
“I wanted to be a pilot, but they told me I was too young,” Dorrell said.
He was just 17. They made him a gunner on a carrier ship instead. He served for three years, mostly working to liberate the people of the Philippines.
“A kamikaze got us near Okinawa,” Dorrell said. “It just about sank the ship.”
The carrier limped back to Pearl Harbor at seven knots, just making it to safety in time.
After three years in the Navy, Dorrell returned to Rifle. He met his sweetheart, who was just about to finish up school. He and Joanne managed the ranch together – just the two of them – through the years.
Today, those seven miles to school that used to require more than an hour in each direction on horseback take just a few minutes by car.
“Things have changed a lot,” Dorrell said. “It used to be, where we live, if you had car trouble you had to figure on a long walk. Now, you almost need a reservation just to get out on the road.”
The Rifle area has grown up dramatically over the years and the Dorrells have been here to see it. Dorrell served on the fair board for 20 years between the 1950s and 1970s.
“Oh, that has changed a lot, too,” he said.
There used to be more emphasis on the horses. The fair was all about the horse races and rodeos. Rodeos are still part of it today, but it’s not like it used to be.
Horses just aren’t as big a part of life as they were years ago. Dorrell remembers using horses to tend to the ranch when he was a boy. It was hard work, but the family ran the ranch and worked closely with a few trusted horses.
Nowadays, there’s a machine for everything.
“I haven’t been on a horse in two years,” Dorrell said.
He and his wife still have two horses on the ranch and he still enjoys taking care of them.
“But they’re getting old,” Dorrell said. “They’re sort of retired, like I am.”
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