The Preston Nutter name is not well known today, but at one time he was in control of 300,000 acres and owned 25,000 to 30,000 head of cattle.
That amounts to one out of every 10 head of cattle in the state of Utah. That certainly earns the title of Cattle Baron for Preston Nutter.
It is an amazing life story of a boy who was orphaned at 9. For two years he lived with his aunt and uncle, where he could not tolerate the strict lifestyle he was forced to comply with. He decided to set out on his own at age 11, initially working and living with a storekeeper.
After that he worked as a cabin boy on a Mississippi River steamboat. When he was 13, he joined a wagon train heading west. The year was 1863 and Preston later said that was the year that changed his life.
He ended up in Nevada doing some prospecting and staking out some mining claims. He sold one of those mining claims for $5,000. He had seen enough of business and decided he wanted to be a businessman. He took the $5,000 and went to San Francisco to enroll in a business college.
That was a smart move for what had been a wondering young man.
Nutter was prospecting for gold in Idaho when he heard the news about the massive gold strike in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado. He headed off in that direction and in Provo, along with 19 other men, met a fellow by the name of Alferd Packer who claimed to be knowledgeable as a prospector and guide to the Colorado mountains.
Nutter and several other members of the group became uncomfortable with Packer and left the group. Five continued with Packer as the winter weather set-in and it was one of the worst winters in the history of mountains.
Nutter camped with Chief Ouray of the Colorado Ute tribe that winter of 1873/1874. In the spring of 1874 Alferd Packer was seen and appeared well fed, but his five companions could not be found. Nutter was a witness at the two trials to bring Packer to justice for cannibalism. Packer was eventually sentenced to the Colorado State Penitentiary.
In 1905 a 34-year old woman from Colorado by the name of Kathern Fenton won a lottery for a homestead in what is now the town of Ioka. On her way to visit her homestead site her stagecoach got lost and stopped for the night at the Preston Nutter Ranch.
Kathern and 58-year old Preston struck up a relationship that eventually led to marriage three years later. They had two daughters, Catherine and Virginia.
The Nutter Ranch Corporation covered 300,000 acres and was operated by his daughters until 1986. The Nutter Ranch property is now owned by the Hunt Oil Company. It is now leased for ranching and hunting purposes.
This is an amazing story of a boy who had what today we would call a dysfunctional childhood. (Helmick is a Serve Daily contributor.)