Dent was born in 1904 in La Plata, Missouri. He was the only child of Bernard Dent, a rancher, and Alice Norfolk, a teacher before her marriage. The Dents had been living in Wyoming for some time, but had returned to La Plata so that Mrs. Dent could be with her family during the birth. The Dents returned to Wyoming in 1906, where they worked a ranch near Pumpkin Buttes, Wyoming.
Dent's early years were spent in the lonely hills of Wyoming. He attended a local one-room school house, often paying for tuition with furs that he had caught. He had few companions or friends; this early loneliness may have helped develop his talents as a story-teller.
Around 1919, the Dent family returned to La Plata for good, where Dent's father took up dairy farming. Dent completed his elementary and secondary education there.
In 1923, Dent enrolled at Chillicothe Business College in Chillicothe, Missouri. His original goal was to become a banker. However, while standing in the application line, he began talking to a fellow applicant about career options. He found out that the starting salary for a telegraph operator was $20 a week more than a bank clerk, so he changed his major to telegraphy. After completing the course, he taught at CBC for a short time.
In 1924, Dent became a telegraph operator for Western Union in Carrollton, Missouri. In 1925, he moved to Ponca City, Oklahoma, to work as a telegrapher for Empire Oil and Gas Company. It was in Ponca City that he met his future wife, Norma Gerling. They were married on August 9, 1925.
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