On Dec. 7, 2019, at the Delta County Livestock Association’s annual banquet, the Black Mesa CattleWomen honored Shirley Cotten as its 2019 CattleWoman of the Year.
Shirley Ann (Ayer) Cotten was born and raised on a 360-acre farm her grandfather homesteaded in 1902 on Fruitland Mesa at the top of the Rodstrom Grade. The farm has changed hands many times now being divided into small parcels. The oldest of 12 siblings, after graduating from Crawford High School, Shirley married Orval Lee Cotten 63 years years ago. While Orval was in the U.S. Army, Shirley went to Mesa State College. Her first teaching job was supposed to be at Ragged Mountain School above the Paonia reservoir. She interviewed, toured the school and accepted the job, but the superintendent at the time, Malcolm Drake, instead hired her to teach fifth grade in Delta. He didn’t want to send a pregnant teacher up on a mountain with a husband out of the country.
The Delta job lasted for two years until Orval came back from the Army. He took a job on a ranch upriver from Gunnison on Ohio Creek giving Shirley a chance to finish her teaching education at Western State College. She attended summer school because the snow was too deep to get to town most of the winter. The family grew to three ornery boys — Mitch, Sheldon and Clinton — and a move was in order. A neighboring rancher had a ranch in Alaska and offered the young couple an opportunity, so they moved to Kodiak.
Shirley taught second grade in Kodiak for four years. The family returned to Delta County moving first to Cedaredge and then Onion Valley. Shirley taught second grade for four years in Cedaredge and then moved to Paonia second grade (she could not seem to get out of the second grade).
Shirley finished her teaching career at Paonia retiring after 35 years, while continuing to volunteer for many years after she retired. In 1969 Shirley and Orval were able to buy a 240-acre farm from Lee Ankerman on Fruitland Mesa. They moved to the farm in 1978 and live there today where, until recently, Shirley raised a small herd of registered Angus cows. Shirley joined the Black Mesa CattleWomen in 1998 where she is always willing to pitch in to help with its beef education projects and fundraising.