Grand Teton
Historic Resource Study
NPS Logo

The Dude Wranglers (continued)

In early 1927, the Jackson's Hole Courier reported that Jack Turner was building a new dude ranch on Spread Creek in the upper end of the valley. John S. and Maytie Turner were Utahans, who vacationed periodically in Jackson Hole and became attached to the country. Their favorite campsite was situated in the forest above the Bill Jump and Jack Fee homesteads. In 1926, Jump was in the hospital, unable to care for his homestead. Seeing an opportunity, John Turner sold his land in Utah and bought the 160-acre property from Jump for $1,000. The Turners hoped to farm the land, raising potatoes, but gave up because of the short, unreliable growing season. Instead, they decided to raise cattle and build a few guest cabins for hunters. With this modest beginning, the Turners created the Triangle X Dude Ranch. Two years later, they bought the adjacent Jack Fee homestead from R. E. Miller for $3,655. The ranch totaled 320 acres at this time. About 1928, the ranch consisted of a large rustic headquarters and six dude cabins capable of housing 20 dudes. The rates were $5 per day. [102]

During this period, the family built up the ranch, despite indications of economic trouble. When the Snake River Land Company began purchasing land in 1928, the Triangle X was included in the purchase schedule. In 1929, John Turner and Harold Fabian, a company vice president, began negotiations. Fabian suggested to Tony Grace of the Danny Ranch that he sell his property "and concentrate the joint efforts of himself and Turner on building up the Turner place." Fabian expressed the willingness of the company to lease the Triangle X and any additional land the two dude ranchers thought necessary for a "successful operation." Grace lost interest in the partnership when one of the Turner daughters, Marian, married, his real motive for joining the Triangle X. John Turner wrote to Fabian that Grace "got sore" over the marriage. A month later, Tony Grace informed Fabian that he decided not to enter into a partnership with Turner. In July 1929, John and Maytie Turner sold to the Snake River Land Company for $20,000. The company leased the property to Turner in 1930 "to occupy and use as a cattle ranch, farm and dude ranch." The rental charge was one-third of all crops grown. A year later, the company and Turner agreed to alter the lease; the company charged ten percent of gross receipts as a rental fee. [103]

The elder Turner and his sons operated the property as a dude ranch through 1935. They charged $50 per week for room, board, and exclusive use of a saddle horse. In 1936, John S. "Dad" Turner and his wife left the ranch and moved to Turpin Meadows on the Buffalo Fork, buying the old Neal place. They started the Turpin Meadow Lodge, running it as a dude camp and hunting camp until 1952, when they sold the property. Meanwhile, the eldest son, John C. Turner, secured a lease to the Triangle X in 1936 from the Snake River Land Company and later from its successor, the Jackson Hole Preserve. After the Triangle X was incorporated into the new Grand Teton National Park in 1950, John C. Turner and Louise Turner (later Berschy) secured a concession permit to operate the ranch in 1953. Today John C. Turner's sons continue to run the ranch, the only concessioner-operated dude ranch in the National Park System. With the closing of the White Grass in 1985, the Triangle X enjoys the distinction of being the longest-operating dude ranch in Jackson Hole. [104]

The Circle H Ranch was a small dude ranch situated west of the Snake River, not far from the White Grass. In the 1920s, H. H. and Ethyl Harrison started a small dude ranch on land homesteaded by Louis Joy and Billy Giant. About 1927, the Circle H had seven guest cabins and a "pleasant central lodge, containing dining and recreation rooms . . . tastefully furnished and ornamented with trophies of the hunt." The Circle H was a working hay ranch with its "own horses, dairy cows, and garden, insuring abundant fresh milk and vegetables on the table." It housed 14 dudes. Rates were $12 per day for room, board, and a saddle horse. [105]

It was a short-lived operation, for the Harrisons sold the ranch to John C. Dilworth in 1928 for $20,000. Dilworth did not operate the Circle H as a dude ranch. In 1945, Harry Barker Sr., bought the Circle H, revived the dude ranch and turned it into a successful enterprise. In 1966, Harry Jr. and Margaret Barker sold the Circle H to the National Park Service in exchange for a 30-year or lifetime estate. [106]

In 1924, a young woman named Eva Sanford rode in a Model T over the graveled Togwotee Pass road into Jackson Hole, escorted by her parents. From Douglas, Wyoming, Sanford came to the valley to teach at Elk, the small country school located between Spread Creek and the Buffalo Fork. She taught at Elk for three years, boarding with the Cunninghams and the Harolds. In 1927, she learned of an available tract of public land located south of Spread Creek. Seizing the opportunity, she filed entry papers in May and established residence in November. In that same year, Sanford married Fred Topping, a middle-aged widower. Together, they built up a hunting lodge and dude ranch at their homestead. [107]

Topping had built a good reputation as a cow hand and hunting guide. Born in Quebec in 1883, he came west at the age of 24. He and his partner, George Greenwood, had settled in Wyoming in 1910. Working at Lander and, later, Pinedale, Topping came to Jackson Hole in 1912, bringing horses over Union Pass for the Frontier Days rodeo. Liking the area, he took up a homestead in the Spread Creek area in 1913. Topping developed a hunting guide business, working through both the White Grass and Sheffield's at Moran. In 1916, he married Doris Coffin, who died of influenza during the 1918 epidemic. He sold his homestead to Rudy Harold that year. [108]

In 1927, newlyweds Fred and Eva Topping moved into an existing residence on her 120 acres, which indicates that the parcel had been relinquished by a previous entrant. They cultivated 19 acres, grazed 20 head of cattle and horses, and started a fox and mink farm. However, because Executive Order 4685 had withdrawn public lands from settlement they experienced some difficulty in securing a patent. The entry was protested and investigated in 1930. The General Land Office examiner found the following improvements: four log cabins of various dimensions, three small chicken coops (possibly the fox farm), a log barn, a cow barn, a log garage, a partially constructed cabin, and more than two miles of buck-and-pole fence. The General Land Office concluded the Toppings had complied with the homestead laws and approved the entry. Eva Topping secured a patent in 1931. [109]

During the depression, Topping worked at various dude ranches as a guide, while Eva Topping kept up the homestead. The dude business started as an afterthought, when hunters camped on the property. Soon Eva Topping began providing meals for a fee. By 1937, they had decided to go into the dude business full time. The Union Pacific listed the ranch in its brochure. Called the Moosehead, it was listed under "Camps—Guides—Lodges—Resorts" rather than dude ranches, because it was not an "operating stock or grain ranch." Accommodations consisted of a: "dining room and kitchen in one building; a ranch lobby; separate sleeping cabins of one and two rooms. Hot and cold tub and shower baths. Mrs. Topping is hostess and her garden and poultry department are show places. Ranch has its own dairy." Activities included horseback riding, fishing, and hunting trips, while the rates were $35 per week for room, board, and a saddle horse. Room and board cost $25 per week. The Toppings continued to expand the ranch until there were accommodations for 40 guests. [110]

In 1932, Eva Topping became the postmistress of the Elk Post Office, which was moved to the Moosehead. The post office was located here until its closure in 1967. At the end of that year, the Toppings sold to John Mettler, who continues to operate the Moosehead as a dude ranch. [111]

The Bear Paw, founded by Coulter Huyler, was another dude ranch dating from the 1930s. Huyler was a dude from Connecticut, who first came to Jackson Hole to hunt in 1925 or 1926. Taken with the valley, he began looking to buy a summer retreat. South of the JY, the homestead of Eliza Seaton caught his eye. Huyler purchased the property in 1927 and, for the next decade, used it as a private retreat for family and friends. [112]

In 1935 or 1936, Huyler started a small exclusive dude ranch that housed 16 guests. According to his son, Jack Huyler, the depression forced Coulter Huyler to make this decision. The accommodations consisted of a main cabin, three double cabins with baths, and two large one-room cabins. Influenced by the standardization of lodging in the 1930s, Huyler furnished the cabins with twin Simmons beds. He placed the ranch in charge of Mr. and Mrs. Jack Neal, both westerners. Neal was an experienced wrangler and guide, while his wife was a trained nurse. Activities included horseback riding, fishing, swimming, mountain climbing, camping, motoring, and big game hunting in season. The rates were $77 per week with references and reservations necessary. [113]

The Bear Paw continued to operate during the Second World War. Margaret Murie helped manage the ranch for two seasons, which she described so well in Wapiti Wilderness. In this period, as many as 40 dudes stayed at the ranch. Murie recalled that the Huylers maintained the highest standards of fine, simple, western life for their guests. In 1949, they sold the Bear Paw to the Jackson Hole Preserve. [114]

Not far from the JY was the R Lazy S. In 1912, Owen Wister, the author of The Virginian, bought the homestead of Elsie James, intending to use the property as a private retreat. The Wister family stayed at the JY for four weeks while they constructed a primitive two-story cabin at the homestead. In mid-summer, they moved in, even though the cabin was unfinished. Cots and furniture built of packing crates served Wister, his wife, five children, a German governess, and a houseman named Lloyd Cook. They lived in the house for six to eight weeks. It was the only time Wister resided on the property for, in 1913, Wister's wife died giving birth. Stricken with grief, Wister never returned to Jackson Hole. The house stood empty for the next several years, until Wister sold to the Roeslers and Chauncey Spears in 1920. [115]

Although considered a dude ranch according to local tradition, the R Lazy S was not operated as one in those years. In 1928, Chauncey Spears added 40 acres to the ranch through a timber and stone entry. Roeslers and Spears sold to Robert McConaughy in 1929, who started the dude ranch operation. McConaughy sold the ranch to the Jackson Hole Preserve in 1947, but continued to lease it until 1972, seven years after Rockefeller had donated the property to the United States. The buildings were removed after 1972. The McConaughys shifted their operation to the Aspen Ranch north of Wilson, Wyoming. [116]

Another property known as a dude ranch, but never advertised or promoted as such, was the Trail Ranch. Located one mile north of the White Grass, the ranch consisted of two homesteads totaling 260 acres. Harry C. Clissold homesteaded 160 acres in a meadow in the midst of lodgepole forest in 1916. Clissold testified that he built a log cabin (20 x 20 feet), barn, milk house, and ice house. In 1919, he plowed 20 acres and planted timothy and alsike clover. Harvesting only seven to eight tons of hay Clissold converted the field to pasture. In September 1922, Clifford Ward and his wife filed an entry on 100 acres next to Clissold's parcel. Ward constructed a log house and a shed and cleared two acres for a garden. [117]

Clissold sold his ranch to J. Steven Conover Jr., in 1929 and moved to Jackson. Conover operated it as a dude ranch, hosting ten guests at rates of $55 per week per person. Conover sold to the Snake River Land Company in 1939. A man named Wesley leased the property from the company and the National Park Service until 1971. The park allowed the buildings to deteriorate until 1984, then demolished the remainder. [118]

The Four Lazy F, located one mile north of Moose, is a good example of a family retreat patterned after a western dude ranch. A Philadelphia dude named Bryant Mears filed an entry on the land in 1914 and took up residence in the winter of 1915. Improvements consisted of two log cabins, a small barn, a well, a ditch, fencing, and 18 acres cleared and cultivated. In 1916, he planted eight acres of oats and barley and harvested 14 tons of hay. One year later, he planted 18 acres of winter wheat, but harvested none of it. Mears had little time to develop what was then called the Sun Star Ranch for he was absent for long periods of time, first to marry in 1916-1917, then to serve in the army from 1917-1919. In 1927, Edward Mears sold the ranch to William Frew, a wealthy dude from Pittsburgh.

The Frews invested a considerable amount of money to build the ranch, patterning it after dude ranches. They named the ranch the Four Lazy F, the brand for the Four Lazy Frews. The family used it as a retreat rather than an active dude ranch. In 1967, Emily Frew Oliver sold the ranch to the United States, retaining a life estate. For a number of years, the Frews and Olivers have accepted paying guests, but at the family's invitation only. [119]

Tourist enterprises existed that were called dude ranches, though such usage requires a loose definition. The Elbo Ranch, Leek's Camp, and Ben Sheffield's outfit at Moran were not dude ranches, even though they shared some similarities with dude ranches. The 1927 Union Pacific brochure listed both the Elbo and Leek's Camp as dude ranches. The Elbo and Leek's were listed under this heading based on the definition of a dude ranch "as home operating stock or grain ranches with accommodations for guests on advance reservations." [120]

The Elbo was the brainchild of Chester Goss, a California resident. Goss initiated his plan by purchasing 115 acres from James Manges in April 1926. The following May and June, he purchased the homesteads of Frank Bessette and Alfred Bessette. In addition, Goss homesteaded 11.6 acres adjacent to the western boundary of the Manges homestead. Possessing more than 423 acres, Goss and his partners, J. M. Goss and James G. "Gibb" Scott, began building tourist accommodations. [121]

In May 1926, the Jackson's Hole Courier reported that a store and cabins were being constructed and plans underway to build a racetrack and ball diamond. In July the Elbo opened for business. Accommodations consisted of four-room cabins with hot water, baths, and toilets and one and two-room cabins with hot water, shower, and tubs for every six rooms. Goss built a store and gas station along the road to cater to tourist traffic, but the completed rodeo grounds located south of Timbered Island was the most conspicuous development. The Elbo rodeo grounds included a large grandstand, a one-half mile racetrack, a parking area, and concession stands under the grandstand. He also built small "tourist cabins" to cater to overnight traffic. Goss patterned the Elbo after western dude ranches, by raising breeding horses, requiring reservations, providing room, board, and use of saddle horses to dudes, and constructing rustic log cabins. However, cottage cabins, rodeo grounds, and a roadside store and gas station were not characteristic of bonafide dude ranches. Goss even installed a large sign at the Elbo, proclaiming it the "home of the Hollywood cowboy." While patterned after dude ranches, the Elbo was not in practice a dude ranch. [122]

In 1929, Goss sold the Elbo to the Snake River Land Company for $64,000. The company allowed the National Park Service to use some of the buildings for employee housing in the 1920s and 1930s. In 1942, Harry Espenscheid leased the property and operated a dude ranch. Katie Starratt leased the ranch from the late 1940s until 1958, when the Park Service moved her to the Ramshorn. The remaining buildings were removed in the early 1970s. [123]

Stephen Leek and his sons, Holly and Lester, developed Leek's Camp at Jackson Lake in 1927. It was an expansion of a hunting camp approved by the Forest Service in 1925. Unlike the majority of dude ranches and resorts, Leek's Camp depended on public lands for its existence. Leek secured a special use permit to 1.44 acres of forest land "for the purpose of maintaining a resort for the accommodation of tourists including hotel accommodations, store and gas station." Working vigorously, the Leek family had the camp ready to operate in the summer of 1927. [124]

As the permit suggests, the Leeks intended the operation to be a resort rather than a dude ranch. However, they set up a boys' camp, patterned after dude ranches. The Midwest Review reported the establishment of the Teton Camp for Boys and Leek's Camp in its July-August 1927 edition. According to the report, Leek was building "a series of lodges and cabins to accommodate parties of boys and dudes." Partners in the venture were the Leeks, Dillon Wallace, Arthur G. Timm, Dr. Thomas S. Dedrick, and Willis Howie. The article listed boating, fishing, hunting, pack and hiking trips as activities. In addition, the Leeks and Dillon Wallace set up a wildlife studies program for the boys. While the camp promised to be one of the "great popular resorts," it was not a dude ranch. By this time, the camp had a new central lodge and dining room, surrounded by cabins and tent cabins. Hunting and fishing were emphasized as the brochure boasted excellent trout fishing with catches weighing 10 to 20 pounds. The rates were $5 per day for meals, cabin, and a boat. Between June 15 and August 17, Dillon Wallace conducted a boys camp for youths aged 14 through 19. Reservations were limited to 25 boys, and the cost, including transportation from Rock Springs, was $610. [125]

By 1934, Leek had turned the operation over to his sons. After Lester Leek died in that year, Holly Leek operated the lodge as a hunting and fishing camp. The Park Service issued Leek permits after the creation of Jackson Hole National Monument in 1943. After the war, Holly Leek sold his permit to Dr. N. E. Morad, who formed a corporation called Leek's Lodge, Inc. Morad ran the camp until 1965, when he sold the permit to Keith Wright. The new owner failed to pay off the loan, and the concession reverted to Morad. The permit went through two more owners until the National Park Service bought the permit in 1975 and, two years later, turned the operation over to Signal Mountain Lodge. Leek's Lodge was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1975 because of its architectural significance and association with pioneer and conservationist Stephen Leek. Most of the remaining buildings were removed. [126]

Sheffield's Teton Lodge at Moran and the Jackson Lake Lodge (Amoretti Inn) resembled dude ranches, but were early resorts that tapped increasing tourist traffic to Yellowstone. Moran was an ideal location for accommodations, situated between Jackson and the south entrance of Yellowstone, and near the junction of the road to Dubois and Lander to the east. Flagg Ranch, built by Ed Sheffield, was located just south of Yellowstone on the highway.

In the Moran area, two small resorts were started in the 1920s, both patterned after dude ranches, the Cross and Crescent, and the Flying Diamond. M. R. Grimmesey built the Cross and Crescent dude outfit on land leased at Moran. A small operation, the Cross and Crescent consisted of a lodge and three cabins capable of housing seven dudes. Services included room, meals, saddle horses and guided pack, hunting, boating, and auto trips. A short-lived enterprise, the Cross and Crescent seems to have operated in the late 1920s. The Flying Diamond was the registered brand of John W. Hogan, who operated the small dude ranch in conjunction with the Snake River Fox Ranch, known locally as Hogan's fox farm. Hogan purchased the property from homesteader William T. Carter in 1924. Around 1926, Hogan built the log lodge, which serves today as Park Service housing. In addition, he built three cabins to house up to 12 guests. The rates were $6 per day for room and board, and another $3 per day for a saddle horse. Hogan also outfitted pack trips and provided licensed guides for hunters. [127]

Episcopal Church
The Episcopal Church dedicated the Chapel of the Transfiguration near Moose in 1925. It was well attended by guests of nearby dude ranches. Jackson Hole Historical Society and Museum

Outside of the present boundaries of Grand Teton National Park, a number of prominent dude ranches were established. Located south of Wilson, Wyoming, along Fish Creek was the Crescent H. Founded by Edward Brown in the 1920s, it could house 50 dudes. In 1927, Brown built a large lodge and dining room (40 x 60 feet), along with "commodious" log cabins. Brown also managed the Warbonnet, a boys' ranch associated with the Crescent Lazy H. The Red Rock Ranch, situated up the Gros Ventre valley along Crystal Creek, was originally a cattle ranch. W. P. Redmond, a Jackson Hole pioneer, started a dude operation in the 1920s. The outfit was small, accommodating 20 guests in log cabins and tent houses. The Red Rock remains a working cattle and dude ranch today having weathered a number of owners, lessees, and hard times. At Kelly, Wyoming, the Teton Valley Ranch continues to operate as a boys ranch. Founded by David and Cornelia Abercrombie in 1927, it was originally known as the Gros Ventre Ranch, then the A Lazy D. The Wilson family purchased the ranch and converted it to a boys ranch around 1935. Other dude ranches included the Brooks Lake Lodge east of Togwotee Pass, the Skyline Ranch on the Snake River south of Moose, the Aspen Ranch north of Wilson, the Teton Pass Ranch west of Wilson, Elizabeth Woolsey's Trail Creek Ranch at the foot of Teton Pass, and the V Bar V located on the Hoback near Bondurant. [128]

During the Second World War, dude ranchers adapted to survive. They reduced ranch size to lower costs, rationed resources, and adjusted to the labor shortages caused by the war. In some cases, dudes themselves provided labor. Demand for foodstuffs made it attractive to raise cattle again; thus, many dude ranches began raising cattle and other foods to contribute to the war effort. Further, the Dude Ranchers' Association promoted dude ranches as retreats for weary soldiers and civilians involved in the war effort. [129] The owners of the Bear Paw, the Huylers, solved their labor shortage by persuading Mardy Murie to accept the job of housekeeper. Her daughter worked as a waitress, while her youngest son performed odd chores. Volunteer work for the Red Cross and at St. John's Hospital had failed to take Mardy's mind off of her oldest son and others who served in the military so she entered the work force like so many other women during the war. In Wapiti Wilderness, she recalled the effort to keep the ranch going despite wartime shortages. [130]

In general, dude ranching has changed significantly and declined since 1945. The automobile emerged in the 1920s as a force of change, radically altering American society in ways no other technological advance in this century has duplicated. Cars were the first of many challenges dude ranchers confronted. Since the golden age of dude ranching, the western landscape has changed significantly. Developments to accommodate a larger population, notably urban centers, suburbs, increased industry, and highways have altered the landscape so important to the dude ranch setting.

The expectations of dudes have also changed over the years. Rising demand for modern conveniences evolved as dude ranching developed. By the 1930s, many Jackson Hole dude wranglers provided modern bathrooms and electric lights. In his preface to the 1938 edition of The Diary of a Dude Wrangler, Struthers Burt noted that dude ranching had changed as had Americans. In 1914, "we weren't one quarter as bathtub conscious, as twin-bed conscious, and as food conscious as we are today. The wise dude-wrangler has met this increased consciousness." He further noted that dudes enjoyed fresh fruit such as cantaloupe every day; in his day "you speedily for got what a melon looked like." Dude ranches followed the trend to standardize amenities. For example, early automobile cottage camps advertised conveniences such as "Beauty-rest" mattresses; in the late 1930s Cornelia Aberciombie listed Simmons Beautyrest mattresses on each bed at the A Lazy D. The rustic simplicity of the first dude ranches could not survive the evolving expectations of guests. [131]

Further, Americans' tastes and demands in recreation have changed significantly. In general, rather than participate in vigorous outdoor activities, people have become more sedentary. As a result, horseback riding has declined as an activity. Trips tend to be shorter, and only the adventurous are interested in pack trips today. In contrast, cocktail lounges and modern pools have become typical at dude or guest ranches. In the 1970s and 1980s, the White Grass sported a game room in the loft of the barn, replete with a pool table, juke box, and pinball machine. The popularity of motorized recreation has exploded in the last 30 years. Today the Triangle X offers snowmobiing for winter guests. Rafting the Snake River was unheard of in the 1920s; today dude ranches offer float trips. In the early years, dudes were more self-reliant in choosing activities. Over time, dudes, like most tourists, have come to expect to be entertained.

Other factors influenced the decline of dude ranching. In Jackson Hole, the value of land has made it almost impossible for cattle and dude ranchers to resist selling out to developers. The properties have been either subdivided or converted to elaborate resorts. In some cases, the family dude ranch has succumbed because of the reluctance of children to take over the operation. Taxes and government policies and regulations have been, at best, neutral and at times hindered dude ranch operations. [132]

Today dude ranching remains a small yet stable part of the tourist industry in Jackson Hole. Some ranches have retained distinct characteristics and preserve the dude ranch legacy begun by the JY, Bar BC, and White Grass. Historically dude ranching left a strong mark on the valley and, from a broader perspective, Jackson Hole was an important center for western dude ranching.

<<< Previous <<< Contents >>> Next >>>

Last Updated: 24-Jul-2004