Sunday Stories: John F. and Myrtle (Coates) Coker Family

John Franklin Coker, one of the five sons of John and Adelaide Coker, was born at Monfort, Grant County, Wisconsin, on September 8, 1868. He was 17 when his parents moved to Nebraska. Soon thereafter, he took a homestead and tree claim north of the North Platte River and ranched most of his life.

On June 27, 1894, he was married to Myrtle Coates in North Platte, Nebraska. They became the parents of five children; Hallie, Helen, Leslie, John and Neva. John and Myrtle celebrated their 62nd wedding anniversary in 1956.

Frank, as he was always known to his many friends, ranched most of his life. He recalled at one time that Bob Vance, an acquaintance from Wisconsin, had told them in North Platte that “if you wanted to get in the cattle business, go north of the Platte River; if you’d rather farm, go south of the river.” This of course was a general observation of the early ranch period for today many cattle graze on both sides. The rolling Sandhills to the north afforded adequate shelter, water, and natural feed to carry the herd along.

Frank did considerable riding and cowboying. He worked for John Bratt for a number of years, much of it on roundup. He also worked for Marion Feagins, Bratt’s foreman on the Birdwood, for 10 years,and made four trips with Marion on roundups. Each trip took them to the head of the Birdwood, the Dismal, to Swan Lake and down to Lewellen. Frank stated at one time that the Chisholm longhorns that came into Nebraska carried so many brands that Sam Dikeman called them the “Clothesline and Clothespin cattle”.

Following his years on roundup, Frank and his brother, William, operated the Feed and Transit Ranch, another John Bratt enterprise near Sutherland. Cattle came in from all the states west of the Missouri River. “In the 1890s, we loaded as many as 5000 horses out of Sutherland.” A lot of these were shipped in from west coast states and some from the mountain regions. From Sutherland the horses went to farmers and eastern markets. Many horses were rounded up in the Sandhills and the Cokers were among those to take part. “Once I rode from daylight to sundown to round up one herd. You trailed the horses, you didn’t run them to death.”

Up in the lake country, he stated, Jim Hunnel of Gothenburg and “Cap” Haskell would start horses from trails found by trappers. The two men placed poles on high hills beforehand and then when the drive was under way would use the poles as location points.

Frank worked for the Eads Cattle Company, south of Denver for two years; for Joe McClenahan two years; then went to Cortez in Southern Colorado for awhile. In later years, he ranched where the M.E. Trego place is located north of Sutherland.

Once Frank wanted to get a brand inspection job in Omaha when Wyoming was in charge of inspection for Nebraska. “You had to be recommended for the job by two cattlemen, so I got Henry Hansen and Ed Meyers to vouch for me. In three days I was approved for the job.”

In his later years, after retiring from ranching he was employed at the Village Light Plant and served as State Brand Inspector for Nebraska.

He passed away on April 4, 1956, after an illness of about one year. He had been a resident of the community for 72 years. He was a member of the Presbyterian Church and was a charter member of Sutherland Lodge 299, A.F.&A.M. He was 88 years, six months and 27 days old at the time of his death.

Myrtle passed away in 1965. They are both buried in the Sutherland Cemetery.


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