Dude’s Head West–with Kirsten Lynn


A big thKirstenLynnank you to the Fillies for inviting me to share their campfire today. It’s a pleasure to be here with such talented Western Romance authors!

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.

Used with permission of Eaton’s Ranch
Used with permission of Eaton’s Ranch

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.

Used with permission of Eaton’s Ranch
Used with permission of Eaton’s Ranch

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 Raduderanchpamphletnchers’ 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.

Courtesy of Kirsten Lynn
Courtesy of Kirsten Lynn

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.Courtesy of Kirsten Lynn

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.


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?


Hearts in Winter KirstenL Web-2HEARTS IN WINTER

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.


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32 thoughts on “Dude’s Head West–with Kirsten Lynn”

    • I must admit, Janine, I’ve never stayed at one either. But I have gone out to Eaton’s for a few events and such. There seems to be a ranch for every taste, whether you want to actually get dirty and work or just sit back and watch the sunset. 🙂

      Thanks so much for stopping by today!

  1. Good morning, Kirsten! Thank you for coming to visit. It’s great to have you prop your boots on our porch and gab a while. What an interesting subject. I had no idea dude ranches went back so far. Amazing. I guess there has always been no shortage of people who want to experience cowboy life for a short time then go back to their regular homes. Shoot, I would dearly love to! But all the dude ranches in Texas are farther south. If I had the opportunity, I would sure do it.

    Congratulations on the new release! Hearts in Winter sounds great. Unrequited love! Can’t beat it.

    Wishing you tons of success!

    • Thanks so much, Linda to you and the other Fillies for letting me rest up here at the Junction and share a few tales.

      The number of people who come through the Wyoming Dude ranches every year is staggering. It’s definitely a thriving business.

  2. Visiting a dude ranch would be interesting… every time I read a story where the characters are visiting one… it makes me curious about actually going and experiencing one… but I probably will stick with the experiences the characters share! 😉 congrats on your latest release!

    • Thanks so much for stopping by, Colleen! What I find interesting about dude ranches are some, like Eaton’s, were created for that purpose. Others came about because ranchers needed another income source.

      If you get the chance you might want to jump into an adventure of your own. In the meantime, that is the wonderful thing about books they can take you anywhere. 🙂

  3. I enjoyed eating around the campfire from the Chuck wagon & going on a trail ride. I’ve been on a trail ride at a Dude ranch but we didn’t stay over. Just spent the day 🙂

    • There’s nothing like eating around a campfire, Deanna. I’m glad you had the experience for a day. A trail ride into the mountains can change a person’s perspective.

      Thanks so much for stopping by!

  4. I have never visited a dude rance but I bet it would be a lot of fun. Your book sounds really good and I would love to read it.

    • Hi, Quilt Lady, thanks so much for stopping by! I think dude ranches have expanded so much they have about anything for anyone. One around here will let you go on a cattle drive, but it is A LOT of hard work and your expected to work from sunup to sundown. For me, that sounds like the best experience. But most offer a relaxing experience and a real chance to get away from it all.

      Thank you for your kind words about HEARTS. I hope readers will fall in love with Garrett and Jenny.

  5. Never having visited a dud ranch, I am not sure what I would pick. Quiet evenings around a campfire in clean mountain air appeals. Not sure the air would be clean with a campfire but that is what comes to mind.

    You are a new author to me so I will be looking for your books. My New Year’s resolution was to read at least one new author a month. So far I am way ahead but the quest has been rewarding.

    • The air is still wonderful around a campfire, Connie, even better IMHO. 🙂

      Thanks so much for stopping by, and if you try one of my books I hope you enjoy!

  6. I’m late, I’m late… Hi, Kirsten! Welcome to the Junction!

    I so enjoyed reading your post. After reading it, I am SO coming to visit you! 🙂 Visiting a dude ranch has always been on my bucket list. The thought of riding horses, etc., sounds like something I’d like–though I’m not particularly dainty in the saddle. Thanks for sharing!

    • Hi, Tracy! I’m so thrilled to be here. I’ve enjoyed P&P since I found the Junction the year I started writing.

      You’re welcome in Wyoming any day. The dude ranches around here are on some of the prettiest land and make for gorgeous horseback riding. Luckily, dainty in the saddle isn’t a requirement or I’d be plum outta luck. 🙂

      Thanks so much for stopping by!!

  7. Kirsten, I’ve always wanted to visit a dude ranch, but I’m sure my hubby would never go along with it. :(( I’d probably like to spend time learning to ride a horse, eat some chuckwagon cooking and maybe shoot a gun. HEAVEN!

    • Aw, Cheryl just drag him along, he’ll have fun before he knows it. 🙂 There’s still plenty of chuck wagon cooking, but what I’ve found disheartening are the number of dude ranches who know serve gourmet meals, especially those around Jackson Hole. Who wants to go to a dude ranch and eat gourmet?

      Thanks so much for stopping by and saying howdy!

  8. I still cannot believe people pay to drive cattle! Are they nuts? 😀 I’ll bet the ranchers get a kick out of that, and God love ’em for hanging onto their land any way they can.

    I’m sure the dudes and dudines have a passel of fun, but I’m with you: Gourmet chow on a working cattle ranch is just WRONG.

    (Please tell me no one saw me agree with you. **cringe**)

    Congrats again on the new release, Rustler! Once you got your sorry Wyomin’ butt in the saddle, you’ve been unstoppable. 🙂

    • The ranch up here where you drive cattle to summer grazing, or back down is all work and no gourmet food. I interviewed the man whose son runs that, and we did get a kick out of people paying for the privilege of being saddle sore.

      But yeah, those that serve the gourmet meals just floor me. The cook on a ranch should be Cookie not Jean de Noseintheair. 🙂 (And we’ll keep it quiet that you agree with me, Tex, we don’t want rumors to start)

      Thanks so much! It all seems like a dream still, even when I’m holding one of my books.

      I appreciate you stopping by and tossing in your two cents.

  9. Kirsten, what a wonderful post. I had a fabulous time not long ago at a “guest” ranch in Bandera, Texas, which I think is what they call them now. Gosh, it was fabulous. And we also took a city slicker wagon train around the Tetons through another wonderful guest ranch outside Jackson. I wanna go back!

    Best wishes with your book, sounds like a heart- wrencher. And a professional historian…how lucky are you!

    • Jackson has some fine dude ranches, for sure, and you can’t beat the scenery. Glad you had a fun time and got to experience that. I grew up just south of Jackson, so the Tetons were (and still are) an annual adventure.

      I appreciate the best wishes. I love Garrett and Jenny’s story and hope others will, too.

      Yes, I don’t complain about the day jobs because they’re at local museums so it’s always a great day and good for research.

      Thanks for stopping by, Tanya!

  10. I have never visited a dude ranch but I think it would be a blast to do so. I would love to experience it to the fullest. Since I am the mother to 12 children I am not afraid of getting dirty or of a few creatures. It goes with the job description ! Congratulations on your book release I would love for a chance to read it.

    • Deanne, wow, you’re already an experienced wrangler. 🙂

      While my post is about dude ranches in Northeast Wyoming there are ranches throughout the West that open their doors and corrals to guests. Hope you get a chance to experience one.

      Thanks so much for stopping by! If you don’t win a copy of HEARTS here, I hope you’ll pick up a copy.

  11. I’ve never done the dude ramch thing. If I did, I’d be happy jist to drink in the scenery! I love the Teton area – in the summer. I’m a major wuss when it comes to cold weather!! I am jealous that you live in such gorgeous and amazing country. Of course I am quite fond of my corner of Texas!

    • That’s the nice thing about dude ranches, they’re located is some of the prettiest country so there’s plenty of scenery to soak up. The Tetons are amazing and will always be my first love in mountain ranges, but I’m quite fond of my Bighorns now, too.

      I’ve never been to Texas, but hopefully someday. 🙂

  12. Hello Kirsten. Enjoyed your post. Anything western always interest me. I lived in Jackson Hole, WY. for 6 years. Also visited Sheridan. And I worked on a Dude Ranch in Montana in the kitchen . My sister-in-law owned. Rode the horses up long trails in the nearby mountains. Too many places to just slip off the trail into a canyon for me. I would love to win your book. Thanks.
    Maxie > mac262(at)me(dot)com <

    • That must have been quite the job in a dude ranch kitchen, Maxie. Some of the trails can be treacherous for sure, but that’s when a good wrangler comes in handy. Sounds like you’ve lived in many beautiful areas.

      Thanks for stopping by! Hope you’ll give HEARTS a chance whether you win it today, or not.

  13. Never been to a dude ranch. Love to ride horses though. I’ve been around cattle so that hold no thrill for me. I’m with Mary though, gotta have a/c and wi-fi. Gourmet food? Ridiculous! If you go to a ranch it’s gotta be steak and beans or potatoes not chateau briand and potato gratin or grilled prawns and drawn butter.

    • Yeah, Connie, if you’ve been around cattle driving them to summer grazing is NOT a vacation. 🙂 That is a rare case though, most offer a relaxing time with horseback riding and taking it easy.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  14. I would love to go to a dude ranch,but ive never heard of any near us,,the closes we came to one was almost 20yrs ago my husband and I took our 11 yr old daughter to Hawaii,,and we were there on her birthday and ask her what she wanted to do,,she wanted to go horseback riding in Hawaii! geez,,we found a place and went for a day of horse back riding,with about 100 Japanese tourist.we were the 3 only non Japanese speaking ppl there,we had to sit at the back of the of the big bus with a interpreter,it was so embarrassing,,go from Tennessee to Hawaii and be a minority at a ranch to ride horses,,made for a funny story later,thats one birthday she wont ever forget,,she is 30 now and has kids of her own

    • Vickie, that is quite the story! I bet it was a gorgeous ride though in Hawaii. I can’t say for sure, but I think dude ranches are a thing of the West, mainly as a result of ranchers needed extra income during times when beef prices plummeted.

      Hope you make it to a ranch one day!

      Thanks for stopping by!

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