by Bryan Painter
One ride plus one full day equaled two lessons learned for Esther Miller.
Although Miller grew up on a farm, she learned some valid points of ranch life from husband Dave Miller, rather quickly.
“Early in our marriage I learned that when you are told to get a good drink of water, do so,” she said. “Dave and I were going horseback to look for cattle. I had on a new pair of boots which I wasn’t accustomed to wearing. Dave told me to get a good drink of water. I took a sip or two, but did notice Dave drank a lot.”
It was an August morning in humid eastern Oklahoma.
“When we finally got back to the house I had learned to never leave the house with a cowboy without getting a good drink of water, and never wear new boots to go on a long ride,” Miller said. “On the farm, water was never that far away, but it was on the ranch.”
That’s not all. Miller, who lives near Okmulgee, has a tip from another experience that might help a new ranch bride out somewhere down the road.
“I have also learned that when you cut down a fence with a swather,” she said, “just burst into tears and you will have a very sympathetic husband instead of a livid husband.”
Esther was born in the 1930s to Aldon and Rose Sullivan Magness, who raised wheat, cotton and cattle near Geary. In later years, the family took on a custom wheat harvesting business and operated combines from Grandfield in southern Oklahoma all the way to Montana.
“We had a trailer house and went along with him some years,” she said. “My mother cooked for the crew and my sisters and I helped in the kitchen. The summers we did not go with him, my mother and a neighbor took care of the farm.”
Through those years, Miller saw her parents work hard and steady for what they had and she realized nothing is for free.
“Agriculture is a way of life to me,” she said. “People in Agriculture have good values, are well-grounded and friendly and are always there with a helping hand. We feel lucky to have raised a family in an agricultural environment.”
The next chapter
Esther and Dave met in 1952 while students at then-Oklahoma A&M College. They married in 1953 and Dave was drafted soon after that.
“The Korean War was just winding down and he went to Japan and I followed,” she said. “When we returned, he continued in the cow/calf and wheat partnership he and his brother had started earlier. They also raised horses and alfalfa, and baled native grass hay for the cows in the winter.”
Dave came from a pioneer ranching family, a cow/calf operation in northeastern Okmulgee County. In 1878, Dave’s grandfather Bluford Miller and his new bride, Lizzie Anderson, made their home in a log cabin along Rock Creek. Two years later they moved into an L-shaped two story house. Today, Esther and Dave live in that house that was remodeled nearly a hundred years ago, in 1919.
Dave and Esther lived on the family ranch at Mannford in Creek County and then moved to the ranch in Okmulgee County after his father Bluford W. “Bunch” Miller died in 1963.
“We have lived here for 55 years,” she said. “We have added some land, but mostly have cleared land already owned. Early on there were some registered Hereford cows, but the cow herd was mostly commercial. In about 1982 the brothers dissolved their partnership and soon after that Dave sold his cows, went into the stocker business and started clearing land. We now have our hay baled.”
The business is still very much a family endeavor. Esther and Dave have three sons: David Jr., John and Mark. Between the three sons, Esther and Dave have six grandchildren and one great granddaughter.
“David Jr. and Mark are in partnership with the stockers and John runs a family owned oil and gas business,” she said. “A grandson, Tanner, a recent OSU graduate, is helping us out temporarily. We hope we have taught our family to be good citizens, to be reliable, honest and trustworthy and that it takes effort and perseverance to accomplish what you want. A ranch is a good place to learn that. Our boys grew up working cattle and baling hay.”
Other lessons learned
When the interest rates were so high in the 1970s and 1980s, Esther Miller said they were just starting in the stocker business and it was pretty tough getting the lenders to loan money for stockers. However, they kept their heads up and continued trying different things and finally got through it.
That lesson taught her that, “If you want to do something bad enough you can do it.”
“When things came together for us financially, I realized even though there had been a lot of trials, we had really had a wonderful life through it all and feel that we have been truly blessed,” she said.
Maybe that’s why one of her favorite quotes is from the Serenity Prayer: “God Grant Me the Serenity to Accept the Things I Cannot Change, The Courage to Change the Things I Can, and the Wisdom to Know the Difference.”
Miller feels that is a lesson learned that equals a lifetime worth of blessings.
“It seems to me if we all took that to heart it would be a better and happier world,” she said.