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Dude Ranches


For those that weren't satisfied with seeing the Southwest pass by through glass windows, there was an option. Not only could you get away from it all, but you could live out a fantasy, sample some down home hospitality, and, for a little while at least, become a real live cowpoke. Rassling a calf to brand, riding off into the sunset, and eating huge "ranch-style" meals were just some of the pleasures awaiting the visitor of a dude ranch.

The cowboy was already becoming a folk hero by the turn of the century and America yearned for the days of the Old West. In the 1880s, travelers wandered the West to see the land of the pioneers and found it difficult to find a place to eat and sleep. Ranchers would occasionally open their doors to these travelers and let them stay for a small fee or in exchange for some help. Soon, the dude ranch was born and, with the expansion of the railroad, even normal folk could get to the great outdoors quickly and easily. The word dude simply meant a person from another area who came to the West and paid for food, lodging, riding, and/or guiding services. Later, many dude ranches changed their name to guest ranch because some Easterners disliked the word dude.

Horseback riding, roundups and rodeos were the main attractions of Southwestern dude ranches. Year-round sunshine and warm temperatures also helped to make the Arizona dude ranch especially popular with Easterners. A ranch in Arizona would sometimes advertise its close proximity to "modern public schools," attracting families who would stay the entire winter. The more successful ranches were located near towns and would emphasize relaxation over vigorous activities, a stark contrast to what remote ranches farther north were offering.

One rancher estimated that it took visitors a full month to totally adjust to ranch life. Dudes would have to learn how to relax again after hectic city life and only then could begin to enjoy their surroundings. Ranches were ideally suited to family vacations and offered new experiences for child and adult alike. Family members could take a more energetic role in the physical activities involved in a working ranch or rest, relax and enjoy the scenery and fresh air.

Although most dude ranches began as working cattle ranches, many of them found that it was more profitable to concentrate on the dude rather than the doggie. Instead of corrals, you might find tennis courts and in place of watering holes, there were swimming pools. Horseback riding still remained the main focus, although visitors would find themselves on "breakfast rides," with a chuckwagon full of flapjacks, rather than on cattle roundups.

All ranches had to publish good quality brochures to spread the word of their existence. The text and photographs in the pamphlets were sometimes the only way prospective guests could judge a ranch, a place where they may be staying for weeks or sometimes months. Because of this, many ranches had their brochures professionally published and the results were often very good-looking. The competition between ranches must have been fierce and each brochure had to show the reader that they did things a little differently than the others to attract their guests time and time again. Most ranch brochures also made mention that they did not accept guests with communicable diseases. The were not to be confused with the numerous sanitariums in the area.

The Southern Pacific and Santa Fe railroads also actively promoted Southwestern dude ranches. Maps in their pamphlets illustrated how easy it was to get to Wickenburg, Tucson or Silver City and then listed the individual ranches with a brief description and rates. These pamphlets stand out for their beautiful photography, art and entertaining text.

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Pamphlet Descriptions

Detail of 
front cover [Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railway Company]
Winter and Summer Dude Ranches: New Mexico -- Arizona
[Chicago: Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railway Company]
1928, 56 pages
C9791.R185 Pam. 74
[3.3 MB]

This brochure from Santa Fe Railway was typical of the promotional literature created to introduce the idea of dude ranches to the general public. "Come to a house-party on an old frontier ranch," it invited readers, where a visitor can do "just the things he or she wants to -- and nothing else."

Exploring canyons and caverns, swimming in rivers and hot springs, fishing, hunting, searching for Indian relics, and even panning for gold were ranch activities touted by the railway. Short detailed descriptions of the ranches and their rates followed with plenty of pictures to whet the reader's appetite. Maps on the last few pages showed potential travelers how easily accessible the ranches were through the Santa Fe lines.

Detail of 
front cover Southern Pacific Company
Guest Ranches of Southern Arizona
Southern Pacific Lines
1928,15 pages
C9791 Pam. 240
[3.7 MB]

"Contrary to popular belief, Southern Arizona is not an illimitable expanse of desert waste but, rather, a land of majestic mountain ranges, rolling hills, deep canyons and magic mesas, with a winter climate . . . often likened to that of lower Egypt." The climate and the fresh air of southern Arizona were known to change visitors -- they would return home "tanned, husky, bubbling with renewed vigor, and brimming with vitality."

This brochure features photos of cowboys and girls in romantic poses, overlooking great expanses or leaning against rocks or a picket fence. Nearly every photo includes horses and a bucking bronc entertains a crowd on the cover. The big draw was horseback riding and southern Arizona had plenty of room for it.

Detail of 
front cover [Bar FX Ranch]
Bar FX Ranch
[Wickenburg, Arizona]
Circa 1937, One sheet folded,
C9791.R185 Pam. 54
[3.5 MB]

This bold, bright brochure promoted the Bar FX Ranch in Wickenburg, a town heavily populated by dude ranches. Owned by "a true western pioneer family," the Bar FX was still operating as a cattle ranch when this brochure was published. The pamphlet opens up into a large map that pinpoints the area's attractions, such as the "Devil's Bathtub," "Six Shooter Tank," "Mysterious Tunnel," and "Outlaw Horse Territory." The Bar FX was in the center of it all.

Back Cover Detail Harry C. Kendall
Bar O Ranch Tombstone, Arizona
[Tombstone, Arizona]
Circa 1920s, 8 pages
C9791.R185 Pam. 3
[1.2 MB]

There the world's the same as the day 'twas new,
And the land as clean as the smokeless sky,
And never a noise as the years have flew
But the sound of the warm wind driftin' by;
And there, alone, with the man's world far,
There's a chance to think what you really are.

From "Sun and Saddle Leather" by Charles Badger Clark, Jr., written at Bar O Ranch.

The Bar O Ranch was located twelve miles from Tombstone, on the Old Spanish Trail. In the 1920s, it was one of the oldest cattle ranches in the country and remained a working ranch while taking in guests. The area was known for its Chiricahua Apaches, most notably Chief Cochise whose stronghold, where he made his last stand, was a day's ride away from the Bar O. This small, simple brochure gave the facts of staying at the ranch with no frilly language, except for one short poem that was written at the Bar O, placed at the end of the last page.

Detail of Front Cover [Phil K. Lewis]
Sahuaro Lake Ranch
[Mesa, Arizona]
Circa 1930s, One sheet folded
C9791.R185 Pam. 65
[1.1 MB]

Situated in "the most beautiful setting to be found in Southern Arizona," this ranch was located within Tonto National Forest, between Stewart Mountain and Bull Dog Mountain. Sahuaro Lake Ranch boasted good fishing and riding. Noontime rides featured a chuck wagon where a guide would cook the meal "in true cowboy style over the open fire."

Detail of Front Cover Soda Springs Ranch
[Rimrock, Arizona]
Circa 1930s, 1 sheet folded
C9791.R185 Pam. 70
[1.3 MB]

The springs at Soda Springs in Yavapai County, Arizona were the big attraction at this ranch. There were bath houses and an outdoor swimming pool filled with warm water from the springs. The waters were also said to have excellent medicinal qualities. The Soda Springs brochure was formatted as a letter "to friends," old ones that had visited before and new ones those that had written the ranch for information.

Detail of Front Cover [Mr. and Mrs. Walter E. Jahn]
El Rancho Robles
[Oracle, Arizona]
Circa 1930s, 12 pages
C9791.R185 Pam. 34
[3.1 MB]

This pamphlet shows off the beauty of the ranch by its photographs. One of the captions reads "A study in sunshine and shadows" and the photos that follow portray the intermingling of Arizona sun and shade, both indoor and outdoor.

Detail of Front Cover [Lynn S. Gillham]
Howdy Stranger! Welcome to the Flying V Ranch
With Something About Those Happy Care-Free Saddle Days Out Where the West Begins
[Tucson, Arizona]
Circa 1930s, 22 pages
C9791.R185 Pam. 20
[15.6 MB]

"There is never a crowd at the Flying V -- never more than thirty-two guests, to whose fun, happiness and comfort every one of the Flying V's acres is devoted -- a real ranch with many head of cattle spreading through the hills and canyons, the corrals full of good horses and sure enough cowboys singin' at their work." Among numerous activities the Flying V offered, visitors could engage in a "Bandit Hunt." A ranch cowboy played bandit while all the guests rode out to capture him. Occasionally, he would show himself on a hilltop in the distance and soon, the cowboy bandit would lead them "on a wild, roaring steeple chase all over the ranch until he is caught." Notice the maps at the end of the brochure. It only took 20 hours by plane from Washington, DC to get to the Flying V in Tucson.

Detail of the Front Cover [Richard L. Pfaffle]
San Gabriel Ranch
[Alcalde, New Mexico]
Circa 1925, 24 Pages
F804.A39.S1 Pam
[5.2 MB]

On a visit to New Mexico, a young woman from Boston married a Texas cowboy. He knew how to run a ranch and she had the social connections. Thus, San Gabriel Ranch in Alcalde, New Mexico was born.

This is another beautiful brochure with great photography of the ranch and the region. The benefits of the San Gabriel were the outings. A map in the center of the brochure highlighted the many possible trips in the area, from Santa Fe to Canyon de Chelly.

Detail of Front Cover [Ed. M. Riggs]
Faraway Ranch: Gateway to the Wonderland of Rocks
[Chiricahua Mountains, Arizona]
Circa 1920s, One sheet folded
C9791.R185 Pam. 18
[1.6 MB]

The Chiricahua Mountains, once discovered by early ranchers, were known as the Wonderland of Rocks because of their incredible rock formations. The Erickson family homesteaded here and soon began accepting guests. At the time this brochure was published, the ranch still managed cattle and there are photos of branding, roping and roundups as "familiar ranch scenes." Yet, in the evening you could return to Faraway and enjoy all the comforts of modern life -- "hot baths, running water, delicious meals, soft beds."

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