“Conversations in building a real western experience”

An oral history of the Bar BC Ranch Jackson Hole Wyoming

By Renee Howard Smelker

To Purchase a copy please contact Casey Morton  (307) 733-0466 or email
amorton@bresnan.net

Here is the Book's Forward...

Against the stunning backdrop of the Teton Range, the story of dude ranching in Jackson Hole unfolds. Dudes came from outside the West and sought to hire accommodations, horses, and guiding and hunting services from local ranchers. Early visitors were often attracted to this remote country through Hollywood westerns, dime novels, and advertisements by railroads that fostered a sense of romance about this part of America. They visited the West seeking adventure, their notion of the Wild West, and a glimpse of that romantic American hero, the cowboy.

In Jackson Hole, dude ranching began in early years of the twentieth century. One of the most famous and beloved dude ranches was the Bar BC. It was founded in 1912 by Struthers Burt and Dr. Horace Carncross, both easterners and pioneers in the dude business. The location of the Bar BC was ideal. It was near the Snake River which provided water and excellent fishing. It was nestled below a bench beneath the Grand Teton which provided privacy for the ranch but rewarded its dudes with spectacular views of the Teton Range. Untouched lands and wild animals surrounded the ranch.

Burt and Carncross ran a successful and popular dude ranch. The Bar BC offered its guests an informal lifestyle and a family atmosphere. Dress was casual. Dudes favored horseback-riding, pack trips, hunting, and fishing. They enjoyed dances and dude rodeos. By the late 1920s, the heyday of dude ranching, the Bar BC was the best known dude ranch in Jackson Hole.

The later years of the Bar BC were directed by Irving Corse and Bill Howard. In 1937, Burt sold his interest in the Bar BC to then partner Irv Corse in order to devote himself to writing. Corse had come to the ranch as a truck driver in the early 1920s, and eventually became the foreman and then a partner in the ranch. Howard began work as a wrangler at the Bar BC in 1922 and became the foreman seven years later.

Letters between Irving Corse and Bill Howard tell the story of the Bar BC in the years after Burt and Dr. Carncross operated the ranch, spanning the time from 1929, after Carncross’ death, to 1942, when Howard left the ranch. They were compiled by Bill Howard’s daughter, Renee Howard Smelker, who spent most of her youth at the Bar BC Ranch where both of her parents worked for about 20 years. Smelker’s notes, drawn from her memory, supplement the letters and provide local color.

Interestingly the letters provide a glimpse into the operations side of a dude ranch rather than the fun and romance of the dude’s life. Through the years of correspondence chronicled in the book, a picture of the routines and concerns of maintaining a dude ranch, which also ran a cattle operation on the side, becomes clear. A sense of the challenges of work in the isolated and harsh environment of Jackson Hole and in a changing economy emerges, as does a feel for life in the valley and the importance of neighbors and friends. The tale is all the more compelling because it is told by the people who lived it.

The Bar BC Ranch holds a special place in the hearts of many who have lived in or visited Jackson Hole. Because of the work of Struthers Burt, the ranch is one of the most historically significant dude ranches in the valley. Unfortunately it lies in ruins today. Through the correspondence presented in this work, the later history of the ranch is captured in print, providing an engaging story for those wanting a taste of Jackson Hole’s past.

Lokey Lytjen
Executive Director
Jackson Hole Historical Society and Museum