In October, 1882 a frail young man named Parker Fernando Soule checked into the St. James Hotel in Denver, Colorado. He was thin, just over 130 pounds, and most likely exhausted from his long and arduous journey from Boston. He had come, like thousands of Easterners before him, to find relief from the debilitating symptoms of tuberculosis. Known at the time as consumption because it slowly seemed to consume its victims, the disease had no known cure. Doctors, believing the arid climate of Colorado would alleviate their patients’ suffering and perhaps prolong their life, prescribed them to go west and rest.
At the time of his diagnosis, Parker was just twenty years old. It appears he was first sent to a sanatorium in New Hampshire, but this must have proved unsuccessful. Prior to that time he had spent most of his life in the towns surrounding Boston. He was born in 1861 to Lawrence P. Soule and Mercie B. Eldridge in Foxboro. His father, a native of Duxbury, MA, soon moved the family to Lawrence, MA where he became a successful mason and contractor. After the Great Fire of 1872 in Boston, Lawrence Soule relocated his family to Cambridge, MA where he could more easily become involved in the rebuilding of the capital city. In 1879 the Soules moved into a substantial brick house at 11 Russell Road in North Cambridge that still stands today and is on the National Historic Register. Parker and his siblings, Winthrop, Laura and Florence (Daisy) had all been well educated and, judging by the number of party invitations they received, quite popular. His illness must have been a shattering blow to this close-knit family.
After only a few days in Denver, Parker traveled to Colorado Springs. He found a place to stay with another Boston family who had moved to the area only the year before. Henry Webster Pope, like Parker, was suffering from consumption. He had brought his wife, son and brother, Abbott, to Colorado Springs and started the Pope Brothers Ranch. Parker wrote his own brother that he was keeping quiet, resting and had gained weight. He was looking to buy a horse for the winter although he thought it best not to try to work for a month or two. By Christmas he was healthy enough to work the “milk run” alongside Abbott Pope and was “feeling first-rate.”
Within eight months of his arrival in Colorado, Parker F. Soule was a new man. The dry western climate had seemingly cured him of tuberculosis. His tan, fit 160-pound frame would have been unrecognizable to his family back home. While he despaired that he had not earned much money, he wrote his brother, “I have secured in a great degree what I am out here for – my health. I never felt better I am sure in my life…” It was at this point that Parker also became a true cowboy. He had herded sheep on the Pope Brothers ranch and found it a distasteful occupation. But herding cattle was another matter altogether. The life suited him perfectly. He went out with the cows by 7am, came home to dinner at noon and then headed back out to “round them up” and bring them back to the corral. Often he was required to “cut out” a wild steer or bull, using his newly acquired riding skills. While out with the herd he would lie in the grass or read while his pony grazed nearby. His day was usually done by 4:30pm. He also became adept at breaking in wild colts.
His talent as a cowboy and his overall health can be judged by his leading the South Park Round up for the Grand County Cattle and Land Company in July of 1885. Cattle at this time were left to graze freely over a vast range, miles wide, during the winter months. Left to their own devises, cattle from various herds would become mixed together. Round ups occurred in the spring or early summer months when the cattle would be separated once again and driven home. Brands allowed cowboys to pick out those cows that belonged to their ranch. Any new calves would be branded at this time as well. The list supplied by Selden J. Richards, Parker’s employer, shows just how many brands needed to be recognized in order to separate individual cattle from a herd of thousands. After the round up, Parker may have gone to find lost cows that had wandered as far as the Blue and Grand Rivers, twenty miles away.
It was during this time that Parker’s older brother, Winthrop, made a visit. The brothers had not seen each other in almost three years. Not only had Parker changed physically but his bearing must have been different as well. The youth that had come out west as an emaciated store clerk was now a hale and hearty cowboy, familiar with riding over rough country and sleeping under the stars. Perhaps forgetting that his brother spent his days behind a desk, Parker at first directed Winthrop to get a saddle, “put on a flannel shirt and an old pair of breeches and come along” to the round up. As though realizing the unsuitability of this request, Parker amended his instructions in the same letter, writing, “the more I think of you going to Fairplay, the less I like the plan…I think the best way will be for you to come to the Springs and to Pope’s Ranch and wait for me …”
Winthrop Soule was impressed enough with what he saw that he seriously considered going into the cattle business with his younger brother. In a letter dated Sept. 21, 1885 from Boston he asked Parker to let him know if the plan was feasible. It was apparently not. Instead, Parker returned to Massachusetts by the end of 1885. The reason for his giving up his life in Colorado is a mystery, although love may have had something to do with it. It is just as well that brothers did not invest in their own ranch. The harsh winter of 1886-1887 caused what is known as the “Big Die-Up” of cattle which killed 90% of the herds, millions of cows. The mild winters experienced during Parker’s time in Colorado had led ranchers to erroneously believe that cattle could survive foraging on their own across the plains during the winter months. When the severe winter left feet of snow on the plains and temperatures well below freezing, the cows starved. Encroaching civilization, overgrazing and an economic downturn also contributed to the collapse of many firms. Ranching, as Parker had known it, became a thing of the past.
Parker F. Soule was married on February 25, 1886 to Luceba Dorr Kingsley, the daughter of wealthy politician and philanthropist, in Cambridge, MA. Two days later, on his ranch in Colorado Springs, Parker’s former host, Herbert W. Pope, succumbed to the disease that Parker had so fantastically evaded. Parker would not take his second-chance at life for granted. In 1887 he joined his father in business and together, as L. P. Soule and Son, they were responsible for constructing many of the buildings that dotted the Boston city skyline, including the Shawmut National Bank, the First National Bank, the Commonwealth Trust and the Boston Stock Exchange Building. Some of the beautiful Boston Back Bay and Brookline homes of the era were built by them as well. Parker and his first wife had one daughter, Priscilla Bradford Soule (1897-1986). After Luceba’s death, Parker married Julia Ann Whitten in 1904. Together they had Parker F. Soule, Jr. (1907-1975) Lawrence P. Soule, II (1909-1959) and Julianna W. Soule (1912-1969). The family lived at 49 Hawthorne Street in Cambridge but during the summer months they spent time at their vacation compound on Powder Point Avenue in Duxbury, MA on land that Parker’s progenitor, the Pilgrim George Soule, had once owned. Defying all odds, Parker F. Soule lived to be eighty-nine years old, dying in 1950. He is buried along with his family in Mayflower Cemetery in Duxbury.
Letter cited are found in the Parker F. Soule Collection.