Mills Craig — The Colorado Cowboy
He stood at 6-foot-3-inches and every ounce of his 250 pounds was hard-earned muscle. Sporting a dusty black Stetson hat, custom-made, a thick mustache and usually a cigar, Mills Craig helped define the cowboy image before his death in 1984.
“Made of muscle,” said Larry Cook, 85, who was acquainted with Craig. “Macho man — he’s what you call a tough son of a bitch.”
Craig was born in Canon City on Dec. 16, 1894. News stories written during his lifetime describe him as a cowboy with hands twice the size of an average man who fought alongside other cattlemen in the Sheep Wars and had tales about Butch Cassidy.
According to a Northwest Colorado Daily Press article from 1983, Craig said he first moved to Northwest Colorado in 1912 when he “hit Steamboat Springs,” but it wasn’t until 1938, the same year he married his wife, Alma, that he bought his 500-acre ranch along the “Bear River” near Craig.
“Johnny-come-latelies call it Yampa,” Craig is quoted in the article.
Craig described himself as a “common cowpuncher” and claimed he could write with a branding iron the same as a pencil. At one point, his brand, which had been passed down from his father, was the oldest continuously used brand in Colorado.
If you asked Craig, legendary outlaw Butch Cassidy never died down in Mexico, but wound up back in Baggs, Wyoming, years later.
“Now Cassidy was a hard nut,” Craig told a reporter from Friends magazine in 1974. “That hombre would just as soon have shot you as look at you.”
An article from the January 1981 issue of Cattle Guard magazine states, “Talking with Mills Craig one slowly becomes impressed with his broad range of knowledge and understanding. This is not just a man who has lived long, but also one who has paid attention along the way.”
Dan Davidson, Museum of Northwest Colorado director, said he remembers Craig from his childhood, mainly because of the man’s unforgettable size and dirty black hat.
“He’s just one of those Craig fixtures that made growing up in Craig unique,” he said.
As Davidson put it, Mills Craig is tied to time — a product of a certain moment in history that can’t be replicated in today’s world.
“He couldn’t hardly exist now,” Davidson said.
A quote from Craig’s wife, Alma, alludes to this fact.
When asked if her husband would retire and move to town, Alma’s immediate reply was: “Why then, where would Mills keep his horse?”
Mills Craig, a man whose tall stature was only eclipsed by his tall tales, died at the age of 89 in 1984.
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