DUDES HEAD WEST! DUDE RANCHES IN SHERIDAN, WYOMING
Every summer a herd of visitors from around the world stampedes into Wyoming seeking recreation, fresh air, a look at the Old West, and a gander at a cowboy or three. In the late 1800s, some local ranchers realized they could open their homes and lives to these guests and possibly earn enough change to keep the family ranch in the family.
Sheridan County, Wyoming, holds the distinction of opening two of the first dude ranches in the West. In 1890, Daniel T. Hilman operated the first dude ranch in Sheridan County when he accepted two summer guests. These guests would be the first in a long series of guests willing to pay for the privilege of riding horses and even helping with chores at the Hilman ranch near Big Horn, Wyoming.
What Hilman started, the Eaton brothers perfected. The Eatons; Howard, Willis Larimer, and Alden, launched the nation’s first dude ranch on their family ranch in North Dakota. Looking for a location more suited to providing the Old West experience, more varied riding terrain, and drawing more visitors, the brothers moved their operation to Wolf, Wyoming in 1904. Eaton’s became the second dude ranch in Sheridan County and still remains popular today. It also holds the distinction of still being run by the Eaton family, now the fourth and fifth generations.
Dude ranches reached the height of their popularity after the stock market crash in 1929. Those who used to travel to Europe now turned West and a more affordable escape.
Spear-O-Wigwam Ranch (1923-1945) and TePee Lodge (1929-1947) offered Eastern dudes and dudines (female dudes) a rustic experience in the mountains surrounding Sheridan.
These ranches not only offered income to the ranchers, but they provided work for local cowboys, waitresses, housekeepers, cattle and thousands of horses. They also attracted wranglers from around the country to spend their summers taking greenhorns into the mountains, or entertaining them around the campfire.
The Dude Ranchers’ Association was formed in 1926 to set standards for the industry and attract visitors to the various ranches. The Burlington Railroad assisted by printing special maps highlighting dude ranches in Wyoming and Montana. Postcards flourished showing dudes at play in the West.
For some dudes, dudines and wranglers the experience turned into something that would last a lifetime. While conducting oral history interviews for a local project, it became a game to see how many when asked where they met their spouse said, Eaton’s Ranch. One cowboy, interviewed, came from New Mexico in the 1950s to work as a wrangler. He met a local rancher’s daughter and returned for two more summers before they married and settled in the area. Another was a “dudine” whose family came annually to Eaton’s during the 1930s. She married one of wranglers and they built their life here. Stories of finding romance at a local dude ranch abound in the area, which is great for the local romance writer.
For those dudes with the desire to slap on a cowboy hat and try on some cowboy boots, there are still places in Wyoming where you can get your Western fix.
Eaton’s continues to offer some of the best hospitality and gorgeous guided rides into the Bighorn Mountains. Their wranglers drive their horses through town on the way from their winter pasture back to the ranch. Along with Eaton’s, there is the HF Bar Ranch near Big Horn. These two ranches not only entertain their guests on the ranches, but entertain spectators at a yearly Cowboy Polo face-off. There are even ranches now offering cattle drive experiences, where greenhorns help drive herds into the mountains for summer grazing, or down the trail back to the ranch come fall. These experiences are not for the faint of heart and dudes are trained at length before they hit the trail.
The dude ranch allows guests to share in what many of us Wyomingites take for granted, and for some ranchers it allows them to hold onto their family legacy. Romance with a wrangler is not guaranteed, falling in love with the land is.
My recent release HEARTS IN WINTER doesn’t take place on a dude ranch, but it does take place in Sheridan, Wyoming. I’m giving away an e-copy of HEARTS to one lucky commenter.
If you visited a dude ranch, what would you like to experience?
Christmas Eve, 1894…
The night Garrett McPherson finds his wife violated and murdered is the night he turns his back on his Wyoming ranch to become the most feared bounty hunter on either side of the Mississippi. But what keeps Garrett on the hunt for Elsie’s murderers and unable to come home is his sister-in-law, Jenny Westin. He’s never stopped loving her, and if it weren’t for his young son, Ethan, he might never return to the ranch again to keep from facing her and his feelings.
Jenny has never understood why Garrett threw her over for her sister, beautiful Elsie. When Jenny returns to Wyoming, a tense reunion at the train station for the two former lovers becomes a nightmare when they discover Elsie’s battered body upon their return to the ranch. Garrett vows to find Elsie’s murderers and avenge her death, and Jenny has no choice but to stay and care for Garrett’s son. For three years, she manages to live at the ranch raising Ethan, keeping her secrets and heartbreak hidden.
Another Christmas will bring Garrett back from his search for Elsie’s murderers to the Double M Ranch. Will this be the season for Jenny and Garrett to sort through the hurt and betrayal and face the truth of their love? The secrets of the past are the only key to unlock their HEARTS IN WINTER…
Kirsten Lynn writes stories based on the people and history of the West, more specifically those who live and love in Wyoming and Montana. Using her MA in Naval History, Kirsten, weaves her love of the West and the military together in many of her stories, merging these two halves of her heart. When she’s not roping, riding and rabble-rousing with the cowboys and cowgirls who reside in her endless imagination, Kirsten works as a professional historian.
Visit Kirsten at www.PrairieRosePublications.com.