Devil’s Thumb Ranch founder J. Don Yager dies
April 15, 2011
J. Don Yager
1911 – 2011
J. Don Yager, longtime Grand County resident and dude rancher, passed away in Steamboat Springs on March 26, 2011, at the ripe old age of 99.
Don was born on November 19, 1911, to Louis and Elda Yager in St. Anthony, Idaho. Has father was a pharmacist and worked his way up through United Drug Co. (Rexall Drug) to become the western sales manager. His mother was one of the first telephone operators in Idaho.
As a child his family moved around the country a lot. They lived in Wichita Kan., Newton, Mass., St. Louis, Mo., and Dayton, Ohio, before finally moving to Denver. Don also had two brothers, Louis, his older brother, and George, his younger. For a brief period during the 1930s Don could be found driving a cab on the streets of Wichita as well as dabbling with a bit of modeling. He also had a small cameo appearance in an RKO Movie “On Dangerous Ground,” starring Ida Lupino and Ward Bond.
Once in Colorado, Don and his brothers did some scouting around and found several parcels of property along Ranch Creek outside of Fraser. These would become the future site of Devil’s Thumb Ranch. They began by skidding a few buildings from a nearby draw as a start to the ranch. Both Don’s brothers were called to serve in the military, so Don stayed behind to help his parents with the ranch. They built a sawmill and began milling their own lumber in order to build the main lodge, known today as the Ranch House Restaurant, and several cabins. They then began a cattle operation and raised beef until the market collapsed in the 1940s, at which point they pastured cattle for others from the Front Range and began the Devils Thumb Dude Ranch operation. In addition to leading steak rides, and being the face of Devils Thumb Ranch, Don was also a featured chef at El Monte Motor Lodge’s annual game dinner, as well as at Little King Ranch.
He married Harriet June Parmenter of Denver in September 1944 and they opened The Granby Hotel (now Agate 440). They could usually be found spending their summers out at the ranch, and winters in Granby. In addition Don operated the El Grande Theater (now Sky-Hi News) for his brother Louis.
When Devil’s Thumb Ranch sold, Don and June retired to Sedona, Ariz., with his brothers and their wives to pursue their hobbies of golf, traveling, and cooking, Don was a wonderful cook. They spent their summers returning to Grand County to avoid the heat and enjoy the mountain golf courses, friends, and family.
When June passed away in 1986, Don spent a few more winters in Sedona before deciding to move to Grand Junction to be closer to his daughters. He moved back to Grand County in the spring of 2009 and spent his final years at Cliffview Assisted Living in Kremmling. If you couldn’t find Don with all the wonderful folks at Cliffview, you could find him out with Tim or Marilou driving the back roads of Grand County looking at wildlife or nature.
He is preceded in death by his wife June Yager, parents Lou and Elda Yager, his brothers Louis (Evelyn, and) George (Ginny), and a daughter and a son, who both died very young. He is survived by his daughters Susan Yager of Durango, and Marilou (Tim) Randall; and two grandsons, Patrick and Decker Randall of Grand Lake.
Services will be private, with an old fashioned Devil’s Thumb cookout planned for the summer in celebration of his life. He had a good run of it!
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to: Cliffview Assisted Living, P.O. Box 1119, Kremmling, CO 80459, or Heart of the Mountains Hospice, P.O. 140, Hot Sulphur Springs, CO 80451, or Grand County Historical Association, P.O. Box 165, Hot Sulphur Springs, CO 80451.