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Origins of Dude Ranch Association

Farms and Ranches

By the end of the 1800's, most of the American West had been explored and the stories of its natural wonders had spread throughout the eastern portion of the country and Europe. Lured by the promise of awesome beauty, a spirit of romance and adventure, and the honest simplicity of the western way of life, many easterners sought in the West a respite from the crowded, noisy squalor of fast-paced cities. With the ease of travel provided by the transcontinental rail systems, the stream of visitors soon became a torrent. The West was ill-prepared to received this onslaught. Those limited accommodations that did exist in the frontier towns hardly measured up to the standards of the new visitors.

The dude ranch industry soon evolved, in part to meet the need for safe, comfortable accommodations from which the easterner could experience the wonders of the West. The original dude ranches of the late 1800's and early 1900's were established by rugged individualists who frequently had started as cattle and horse ranchers. These early ranchers were besieged with requests for summer accommodations from relatives, friends, and friends of friends, for nowhere else could they find adequate food, shelter, and hosts that would help them enjoy the West's natural wonders. As was typical of the times, the ranchers offered the hospitality of their homes and ranches to all who asked.

Most of these early visitors came to stay for extended periods, weeks or months, and all were seen as guests in the rancher's home. Each ranch developed its own special flavor, reflecting the personality of its owner. It quickly became apparent that it was not only the natural beauty of the area that was attracting the returning visitors, but also the sharing of the picturesque, charming, and peculiar western ranch experience and the ranchers' love of their way of life. The shared experiences quickly formed lasting bonds between ranchers and guests and between the guests themselves. This was an experience far different from the impersonal, often isolated lot of guests in hotels.

In order not to feel they were a burden, the visitors began offering to pay for their room and board. Who first accepted payment for their hospitality is unclear. What is known is that, independently, many ranches in the Montana-Wyoming area began accepting paying visitors as a part of their normal operation. Soon, other enterprising individuals, often early guests on other ranches, began developing lodges and ranches in breathtaking locations for the specific purpose of receiving guests.

Dude ranching did not begin at a defined time. It evolved slowly from several divergent sources in different locales. The first organizational gathering of these independent-minded pioneers occurred in Bozeman, Montana in September of 1926 at the urging of the Northern Pacific Railroad. The railroad, looking for an additional source of revenue and a means to combat the new method of travel, the automobile, saw the dude ranches of the area as natural partners in the burgeoning tourism industry of the west. This meeting of ranchers from the Yellowstone area led to the formation of The Dude Ranchers' Association.

The Association's original membership of 35 ranches from the Yellowstone area has now grown to 110 member ranches in 12 western states and two Canadian provinces. In spite of this growth, the Association today remains dedicated to preserving the beauty, natural resources, and the original western ranch experiences that attracted the first visitors. Within this context, the Association has produced industry standards, a common means for promoting dude ranch vacations, and a single source for the exchange of ideas and information.

True to its roots, The Dude Ranchers' Association is still a diverse group, composed of cattle ranches who accept paying guests and mountain-top lodges that offer a ranch atmosphere. All preserve the open warmth and hospitality of the first ranches and allow for the original western ranch experience by requiring an extended stay. The formation of lasting bonds and memories still brings families back to ranches generation after generation. This is truly a living testimony to the timelessness of the values and standards of the original dude ranchers. Today, as it did over a century ago, the western dude ranch experience offers relief for both the body and spirit of those seeking refuge from the pressures and routine of modern life.

For more information on Dude Ranches, contact:
P.O. Box 2307
Cody, WY 82414
(307) 587-2339

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