David Dresser: ‘Proud Heathen, Outlaw, and Renegade’

This section includes both obituaries and memories. Honoring our loved ones who have died does not end immediately after their passing. We recognize that… so we’re extending our obituary section to include individuals who may have left a long time ago. If you want to remember someone who is gone, either recently or longer ago, please send a photo and a few sentences to mskymkemp@gmail.com. Tell us why you would like to honor the person–is it their birthday, the date of their passing or some other date of significance to you? Pet remembrances are also welcome.

A eulogy written by Christopher Dresser re Dave, Cowboy Dave ie David J Dresser.

David Dresser 1957-2017

“His place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

Word has come from Humboldt County, California that our dear brother, David Joseph Dresser, was found dead by a Search Team. He was born on Oct 12, 1957, and Died on or about May 27th, 2017. He was 59 years old. He had been reported missing by friends after having been last seen the previous Saturday and was apparently killed when he lost control of a 4-wheel ATV he was riding on the logging trails around the mountainous property where he was living and working as a caretaker. The Coroner reports that it was an apparent accidental rollover of the vehicle, and he likely died instantaneously.

From his first moments, it was obvious that Dave was going to live by his own rules. His was a breech birth, as if he was asserting from the outset that he intended to live life on his own terms, and that he would never be forced to do anything against his will.

David was a Class of 1976 graduate of Mt.Vernon High School, Alexandria, VA.Before and after graduation, he worked in the grounds maintenance department at Mt. Vernon Plantation, where he developed a lifetime love of history and working with plants. He was very proud of the work he did there alongside of his brother Charles, who worked there in the painting department contemporaneously with him, and he would often bring cuttings home to add to the plantings in our bay window.

After high school, David was briefly married to nee Cynthia Purnell, with whom he had a son named David Marshall. It was the greatest disappointment of David’s life that he was precluded by circumstances from ever establishing the close and loving relationship with his son that he so strongly desired. He often spoke of his great love for David Marshall, who it should never be doubted was always in his father’s heart and thoughts.

He lived his life as a proud heathen, outlaw and renegade, who never truckled under to authority, and reviled those in positions of power who abused the citizenry, especially himself. In the words of a little known song he loved, “He loved the women and he hated the law, and he just wouldn’t take nobody’s jaw!” That line fit Dave to a tee.

In typical Davidesque fashion, he actually ran for the office of Sheriff of Humboldt County as a reform candidate some years back. Though his unlikely candidacy was not successful in the conventional sense, he took great pride in getting in the ‘arena, for though he failed, he failed while daring greatly, so that his place will never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat,’ to paraphrase Theodore Roosevelt. In David’s mind, he was a Viking warrior, and if there be such a place, he has no doubt earned his chair in Valhalla.

Adamant that “a man should always wear the proper headgear,” he was rarely spotted without one of his many trademark dog-eared and weathered cowboy hats. The more ragged and beat up they were, the more he seemed to like them. Perhaps he felt an affinity for them because, just like his old sombreros, he had been beaten up and scarred by life, but he still served a useful purpose. Besides, he liked them good and worn in! This is why his friends, foes and fellow denizens of Garberville and Redway all knew him as “Cowboy Dave”.

A deep connection to the Earth was one of David’s greatest joys, and he was a proud cannabis cultivator of great renown amongst the cognoscenti of Humboldt County and beyond. He took great pride in conscientiously growing a superior organic product. He was also an early and fervent organizer and participant in the “Redwood Run” Motorcycle meet that he attended and worked on for many years.

Our brother loved to shoot pool, defiantly smoke his weed or cigarettes and sing karaoke. One of his favorite songs illustrates David’s outlook on life perfectly: “The Impossible Dream.” It was reported by no less of an authority than Dave himself, that he was a frequent winner of pool tournaments at his local bar, the “Brass Rail,” and that he was the opponent most dreaded by the local sharks, with whom he often did manly battle.

He had been in frequent contact with family recently, and he was excited about the future and his prospects for a new life, love, and adventure. Our brother was a man who lived life on his own terms, who made no apologies for who he was or how he lived. He was always entertaining and could spin a yarn as good as any sailor, with one of his most famous refrains being, “I never let the truth get in the way of a good story.” To our knowledge, he pretty much followed his own advice… religiously! And like any great raconteur, he had a knack for always leaving you wanting a little more. If David told you a story ten times, it would invariably evolve with each retelling, and unfold like Kurosawa’s great film “Rashomon,” with multiple contradictory versions of the same event. His enemies would multiply in number, size, and wickedness, but, in the end, Dave would always triumph over the forces of evil that bedeviled him. As a child he loved Western movies, and he identified strongly with the heroic and rugged mountain men doing battle with the land and their ever-present enemies.

His many flirtations with the Grim Reaper are the stuff of legend, and from his earliest youth, he exhibited a disregard for danger and perils that left us with innumerable confirmed accounts of his myriad brushes with death. His unique perspective will be deeply missed by those of us who loved him despite his unconventional, offbeat and sometimes ornery ways.It gave us great comfort to learn that he died free, in a place he considered his home and where he was happiest, doing something he enjoyed, in the great outdoors that he loved and treasured his entire life. By all accounts, he went out as happy as he has ever been, with a circle of local friends who loved and cherished him as much as we did!

Once we have had a chance to process our grief, we will post information regarding funeral and memorial services.Thanks to all of you who loved and befriended David on his sojourn through life, and to all of you who have sent your kind wishes, prayers, and condolences.

siblings Michael, Jeannee, Charles and Christopher, Mary K. and mother Mary T., also Jackson Garcia, Owen Dresser, Katherine Dressers and our Koretke family cousins

A few of the confirmed and reported close calls in the life of David Joseph Dresser… Anyone wishing to add their own recollections of David’s confirmed or reported deathdefying doings is welcome to share them below:1) Drank a large quantity of brown paint he thought was chocolate milk, necessitating the first of many subsequent emergency room visits.2) Almost lost along with his brother Chris paddling a flimsy plastic toy boat out into the middle of Sister Bay in Wisconsin.3) Nearly shot by Fairfax County Police officers with brother Chris and family dog Shatzi.4) Shot by park cop in Ft. Washington, MD.5) Assaulted with a hammer to the head by VA lowlife.6) Rollover truck accident in Lorton or Clifton or thereabouts in VA.7) Rollover truck accident returning from visit to Blacksburg, VA.8) Near fatal episode of Rocky Mountain Spotted fever.9) Near fatal cliff dive in Negril, Jamaica.10) Accosted in Garberville by 2 machete wielding assailants intent on crop robbing him. 11) Brown Recluse spider episode.12) The incident

Earlier Chapter: 

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15 comments

  • ALDERPOINT BOYZ

    Rest in peace Cowboy ,You are missed!!!

  • Jorge Cervantes

    Rest In Peace cowboy Dave you will be sorely missed!

  • Veterans friend

    What a lovely & loving tribute. He was obviously loved.

  • Wow what a guy! Wish I had the chance to meet him,
    Rest In Peace CowboyDave!!

  • who ever wrote this obituary should write for a living .what a guy cowboy was RIP.I didn’t know the man , but the way his obituary was written I wish I would have known him again RIP.

  • That was awesome and straight on ! I dated Dave a few years back… And loved his stories. He made me laugh. And yes. He Loved his son with all his heart. And missed him greatly. Their will always be a special place in my heart for him. He was a Viking at heart. He loved life and all the mysteries of what’s around the next corner. I’ll for sure miss Seeing him around town. And his wit. And his stories R.I.P. Cowboy Dave ♡♡♡♡♡♡

  • This story reminds me of how many insane interesting oddball unique square pegs in round holes characters I have run across (sometimes ran from) in this area.

  • We knew Cowboy Dave well, anyone who loves my horses is #1 in my book. Dave always asked how my TB Buddy was.
    We’ll miss you and all your stories. RIP Cowboy you’re riding free now

  • RebelsWithShovels

    That is one hell of a terrific tribute! He left while in the saddle like any Cowboy would hope for. A kindred spirit whose stories and seeds will live on with the people and backwoods. Ride on Brother!

  • It’s hard to write a good obituary when you grieve. This was beautiful.

  • Mary K Dresser and Christopher Dresser (Dave's bro and Sis)

    Thank you all. We are still in shock, even though Dave had more than his share of the nine lives it was still unexpected and sudden. I thank you all for your nice words about Dave and the good wishes to my family. All in all he loved Garberville and had friends who held him as family. I had planned to come up there sometime soon so Dave could introducing me around, so I am sadly disappointed that that will never happen. Those who know Harley Jim and Melodie can ask when and where the memorial will be. My brothers Chris and Charlie will be there and if I can I will be too. Mary

  • Double speak outside of cheek

    Bitchin obituary. What a man. Wish I had the good fortune to meet him. Rest In Peace.

  • So sorry to hear this. I hope the family makes the memorial date public. Dave was a good neighbor of mine for years. That was a wonderful obituary and all of it is true. He raised hell, but I knew Dave as always courteous, fair (except when he pretended he didn’t know how to play pool) and a very likeable man with a great sense of humor.

    One summer a big skunk started walking in the middle of him and his circle of friends while they were hanging out in his yard. The skunk walked slowly through them several days in a row. It glared at them and seemed to enjoy watching them all freeze. Dave felt that skunk was just punking them and was infuriated. One day he waited for it and shot the skunk with a water hose right exactly UP it’s butt and laughed and laughed. He sprayed that skunk over to the end of his yard while laughing at it and it never came back.

    That gave him an idea of how to stop people jumping his wooden fence in the middle of the night and roaming around his yard. They were trying to steal his pot garden. He quietly waited for them with the garden hose and when one of them was more than halfway over it he sprayed him and taunted him and laughed at him. “Oh… can I HELP you? Are you looking for something?” or something to that effect. The guy was sort of caught on the fence and Dave drenched him and gave him crap for quite a while till the guy finally managed to stop panicking enough to move and climb back over and run. Dave laughed about it for days and shamed the heck out of them by telling the story to the whole town. They never came back either.

    Another time he wanted to get rid of several big plastic pots. He made a sign that said “Pot for Sale” and stood on the main street with them and sold them within 5 minutes. I could hear him and the guy buying them laughing. This was before the green rush and when people were paranoid. He was a character. I still have a photo of that somewhere.

  • Damn!! I sit on the couch u gave me and here comes the memories. We had good times together. All with u telling your stories and making everyone laugh. I’m gonna miss ur visits mostly ur smile l. I lvd u Cowboy.

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