History of the DRA
Dude Ranch History Begins in North Dakota
One such letter, published in a New York newspaper, caught the attention of Teddy Roosevelt. Roosevelt quickly made his way out to the Badlands and spent his time hunting, fishing, and riding. He bought the Maltese Cross Ranch near the Custer Trail Ranch and struck up a friendship with the Eatons’ brothers. Stories of ranch life and exceptional hunting spread like wildfire, and soon the Eatons’ found themselves hosting Eastern visitors.
Dude Ranch History in Montana & Wyoming
The harsh winter of 1886 and the Panic of 1893 affected ranchers across the country. With the railroad pushing west and cattle prices dropping, Montana ranchers tried their hand at the “guest business.” Many new travelers were anxious to get into Yellowstone and the Big Horn Mountains by horseback. By 1903, as rangeland was fast disappearing in the Badlands, the Eatons’ sold Custer Trail Ranch and moved their operation to Wolf Creek, WY. By 1917, Eatons’ Ranch covered 7,000 acres, ran 500 horses and several hundred head of cattle. Their guest capacity reached 125 – the largest dude ranch in the country.
How Railroads Contributed to Dude Ranch History
As the railroad expanded in the 1920s, dude ranches spread across the west and as far south as Arizona. The cattle industry was struggling and many ranchers were faced with financial hardship. Ernest Miller of Elkhorn Ranch in Montana convinced Max Goodsill of the Northern Pacific Railway that there was an opportunity for a mutually beneficial relationship. Goodsill passed the idea along to A.B. Smith, passenger traffic manager for Northern Pacific who arranged a meeting at the Bozeman Hotel.
Ranch History Is Made
This became the first official meeting of the Dude Ranchers’ Association on September 27th and 28th, 1926. Thus, the leading and governing body of the West’s dude ranch industry was formed. Ranchers, railroad officials, and national park officials attended the two-day event to discuss the five objectives set forth:
- Establish cooperation among ranchers and railroad officials
- Discuss the transportation and proper care of guests
- Create advertising and publicity for the association
- Standardize practices
- Create an efficient sales organization
Having agreed to all five objectives, the ranchers added a sixth – the organized protection of fish and game.