Duke was the type of person who tried to keep alive the idea of the traditional cowboys, Indians, and mountain men of yesteryears. He talked about it to friends and conveyed it through his artwork.
Nielsen was born Dec. 19, 1934 – more than 100 years too late, according to Duke. He was born to Shreve R. and Alma Nielsen in El Centro, Calif., he was the oldest of four children. He ran away from home at 14 to ride the rodeo circuit, competing in bareback, bronco buck, and bulls, but he had said he ate a lot of dirt and wore a lot of bruises. He returned home and went back to school.
He enlisted in the U.S. Navy at 17 years old during the Korean War; two years later he married Rita Joan Swift. Duke and Joan had seven children – Davonna, Deanna, Denise, Douglas, Dwayne, Daphne, and Darren. They first resided in Lancaster, Calif., before moving to Coeur 'd Alene, Idaho in 1974. Six years later he moved to Thompson Falls where he worked as a contractor until moving to Dallas, Texas in 1985. In 1995, shortly after his wife, Joan, passed away, he moved back to Montana. He lived in Wallace, Idaho for a short period before moving back to Plains two years ago.
Duke was well known in Sanders County for his contractor work, but also his detailed pencil drawings of Native Americans, cowboys, mountain men, and rustic ranch settings. He did his first art pencil work at age five when he was having trouble describing to his mother a broken bicycle part. Although his love for putting the pencil to paper never dwindled most of his life, he returned to drawing in the early ‘90s when he was commissioned go do a portrait.
During his time in Montana, he managed an 8,515-acre ranch in Ronan and later the Emerald River Ranch in Dixon. He was a contractor at Quinn's Hot Springs Resort, building the Glacier Lodge and several cabins. Between building projects he often took to the easel.
Duke's wife Joan and their youngest son Darren (Shane) Nielsen preceded him in death. Duke is survived by his children, Davonna Fritze, Deanna Lapierre, Denise Moreth, Douglas (Randy) Nielsen, Dwayne Nielsen, and Daphne Boles; his sisters, Donna Baker and Alma Zech; brother Mike Nielsen; 15 grandchildren, 17 great-grandchildren, and numerous nieces and nephews.