When my husband and I won a dude ranch vacation from the Brenda Novak Diabetes Auction we had no idea we would be staying at the oldest dude ranch in the US. And I never expected our trip would be the inspiration for my novel WYOMING ESCAPE.
|The Eaton Brothers|
Eaton Ranch in Wolf, Wyoming, is considered the original Western dude ranch. In 1879, the Eaton Brothers, Howard, Alden and Willis, moved from Pittsburgh to a cattle ranch near Medora, North Dakota. Soon many of their friends discovered the peace and beauty of their new home, came to visit, and ended up staying for long periods. One visitor finally suggested the brothers charge room and board so the guests could linger without guilt. The Eatons hoped that would discourage visitors, but just the opposite happened. They inadvertently created a new, profitable side business.
In 1904, looking for more scenic riding for their guests, the brothers moved their enterprise to northeastern Wyoming at the foot of the Big Horn Mountains. A few miles outside Sheridan, the 7000 acre ranch boasted wonderful rolling hills to ride and hike, wooded streams to fish in, and challenging trails into the mountains. While their main focus remained cattle, the success of their dude operation attracted the attention of other ranchers. Soon dude ranches began springing up all over the West.
“Roughing It With Comfort” was the theme from the earliest days as is demonstrated by this 1915 booklet advertising the ranch.
“ROUGHING IT WITH COMFORT” has been well applied to the conditions to be found at Eatons' Ranch in Wyoming; …let no one mistake the meaning of this message or read into it any thought of ultrafashionable hotel life set amidst the western hills and plains.
Eatons' Ranch is a real western ranch, open to visitors for a short period each year…
|The Wyoming Ranch|
In addition to riding, hiking and fishing, the ranch offered a variety of other activities, including tennis and baseball, as well as typical ranch work. It also was especially cognizant of the ladies and provided for their comfort. Their primary focus was (and still is) family activities. The kids had a great time and many stayed by themselves, supervised by the Eatons.
Howard Eaton also led multi-week horseback camping trips through Yellowstone and Glacier Parks and to the Custer Battlefield and Crow Indian Reservation. These expeditions for “lovers of vigorous outdoor life” featured camping in teepee shaped tents and covered twelve to twenty miles per day.
The charges in 1915 are fun to see. Visitors could stay a week with full riding privileges for only $30. If they wanted a tent, it was $25. The trips to Yellowstone and Glacier Point cost $125-$150.
|Kate, a friend, and Kate's husband at Eaton Ranch|
One hundred thirty-four years later, the Eaton family still welcomes guests to its ranch and, as in the early days, most people return year after year for a truly unique experience. Our week-long stay there was so delightful that I wanted keep its memory alive, so I used it as the inspiration for WYOMING ESCAPE. None of the characters or events is based on reality, but some of the scenery and attitudes are. If you’d like more information about the modern day Eaton Ranch go to: http://eatonsranch.com/
If you’d like to see my take on a dude ranch, here’s an excerpt from WYOMING ESCAPE.
One dead body is frightening enough, but a second one, plus a dirty cop, sends Mikela Richards fleeing for her life. She finds a safe hiding place on a Wyoming Dude ranch, where she tries to discover if the murders are connected to the mysterious computer memory stick she found in her car. But her fragile feeling of safety is disturbed by a compelling Marine, home on leave.
Back from Afghanistan to heal both physically and emotionally, Shawn Saunders recognizes the type of fear in Mikela's eyes---it's one of the things he's come home to forget. In spite of their reservations, neither can resist the pull of their attraction.
Mikela's eyes widened as they continued down the two-lane road heading toward a range of tall, tree-covered mountains. Where the heck were they going? She'd assumed the ranch was close to town. She hadn't counted on being stranded in the middle of nowhere.
She had a hard time concentrating on what the older woman was telling her, particularly after Harry turned onto a wide dirt road that paralleled the mountains. No structures of any kind intruded here, only fences with acres of green, open land on either side. Occasional rock formations and groups of trees were the tallest things in the area. It had been one thing to enjoy the scenery from the safety of the bus. It was quite another to contemplate living in all that nothingness.
She tried to swallow, but her mouth was too dry. No wonder the previous cook had gotten drunk. How could anyone live in such an isolated place? And how safe would she be?
Harry finally slowed and pulled through a large gateway made of logs. A wrought iron sign on top proclaimed Triple H Ranch.
“Almost home now. Only two miles to the guest complex. What do you think?”
The dirt driveway paralleled a wooded stream on the right, while open, hilly pastures stretched on the other side. Again rocky areas were sprinkled throughout the grassy fields. Mikela managed to get her tongue working.
“It's beautiful, but so far away from everything.”
“True we’re a ways out, but we’ve got family living on the ranch. My son, Jeff, and his crew live in the big house, fairly close to the dude quarters. I’ve a cabin near him and my sister-in-law has a place down the side road. So we’re not that isolated.”
Not isolated? Mikela almost snorted. She'd been around most of the world—Europe, Asia, Africa. The only place she'd ever seen as lonely as this part of Wyoming was Australia. Not that she'd traveled in the Outback—her mother had no interest in anything outside a city and her dad had been occupied with business meetings. But she had seen it as they flew over.
Apparently unaware of her new cook’s reaction, Harry waved towards the fields. “We're mainly a working cattle ranch, which Jeff runs. The dude stuff is secondary. We keep things simple—few organized activities, no schedules beyond meal times and when the horses are available. You can hike, fish and swim here or golf nearby. Mostly, our guests ride in the hills and kick back.”
|Kate Wyland, Author|
Kate Wyland is a life-long horse nut who started riding at three years old. While she rode Western as a child, she later became enthralled with Dressage and Quadrille, a drill team type of dressage competition. She also loves trail riding and has taken week-long rides in Ireland, Monument Valley and Wyoming, as well as horse camped in the mountains of California. Kate has three semi-retired horses and can’t imagine life without them. A few years ago, she exchanged her tech writing hat for a fiction writing Stetson. Suspense, romance, horses and sometimes the paranormal are the themes she likes to explore in her books. And she delights in sharing her love of animals and country living.
Eaton Ranch photos: Library of Congress, Eatons’ ranch, Wolf, Wyoming .(1915)