Mari Sandoz High Plains Heritage Center

Biography of C. F. Coffee

In 1871, C.F. Coffee hired on with his brother-in-law J.W. Snyder’s cattle drive as a $30 a month drover to trail a herd of 1500 cattle from Brownsville, Texas to Kearney, Nebraska. Two years later, he and partner, A.H. Webb borrowed approximately $13,000 at 24 percent interest to purchase their own herd. The cattle were driven to Wyoming where Coffee secured a contract with the US government to supply them with 60 beeves a month for a cost of $40 a head. Within two years the men had paid off the loan and Coffee had established a ranch on Box Elder Creek just south of the present site of Torrington, Wyoming.  Early in 1872, Coffee and five other cattlemen met in a Cheyenne, Wyoming stable to draft the by-lines of the Wyoming Stock growers Association. C.F. Coffee had established himself as a cattleman.

In a letter written to the Wyoming Stock Growers Association in 1915, Coffee said he decided to move his herds into Nebraska in 1879, because the Wyoming region had become “too tame.” He drove his herds across the Nebraska/Wyoming border and settled them on Hat Creek approximately 12 miles north of the present site of Harrison, Nebraska. Coffee added the Durham bloodline from cattle obtained in Oregon in 1878, to improve his longhorn herd. He built irrigation ditches, planted trees, and established a headquarters. When the surveyors arrived in 1882, they listed the Hat Creek Ranch as “Coffee’s Garden. “ 

Coffee had traveled to Camden, Arkansas in April of 1879 and married his “Daisy,” second cousin, Virginia Ashland Toney, but his young bride set up housekeeping in Cheyenne, Wyoming and for many years, Coffee commuted the 150 miles between his ranch and his home.  Eight years later, after drought and snow decimated cattle herds on the Great Plains, his wife and three young children moved to the ranch. Daisy quickly settled her family into the community. The couple welcomed neighbors, helped finance the building of the local church, and joined other community members in Fourth of July celebrations and Christmas parties.

Known, throughout his life time, as a progressive cattleman and community leader, Coffee continued to diversify his cattle breeding program, he helped establish the Nebraska Stock growers Association, built a railroad siding that made shipping cattle to eastern markets easier and cheaper, and helped establish the Omaha Stock Yards. In 1889 Coffee purchased the Commercial Bank in Harrison. Less than ten years later,  he traded friend and fellow-rancher ,Bartlett Richards, 2000 cows with calves at side for controlling interest in the First National Bank in Chadron, NE. On September 7, 1900, the Dawes County Journal reported that Charles Coffee would be named as vice president of the First National Bank. In time, he’d have an interest in all but one of the banks from Lusk, Wyoming to Gordon, Nebraska.  

Coffee served one term in the Nebraska House of Representatives. He was instrumental in securing Chadron State College for the Panhandle, and throughout his lifetime he continued to support and improve both the banking and the ranching industries.  When Coffee died in 1935, E.P. Wilson, Professor of History at the Nebraska State Teacher’s College at Chadron noted that, “It will not be possible fifty or one hundred years from now to write the pioneer history of Eastern Wyoming or Western Nebraska without recognizing Colonel Coffee’s far reaching influence…” The National Cowboy Hall of Fame confirmed Coffee’s influence by inducting him into the Cowboy Hall of Fame in 1966.

Over 60 years later Wilson’s prediction continues to hold true. Coffee’s original Hat Creek Ranch is still owned by his family. The First National Bank, although no longer owned by the Coffee family, is a strong viable institution that continues to follow C.F. Coffee’s financial ideals, and C.F. Coffee continues to be recognized in American history as one of the men who established the industry that supplies the world with beef.

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