American Dude Ranch
A Touch of the Cowboy and the Thrill of the West
Published by: University of Oklahoma Press
Imprint: University of Oklahoma Press
246 Pages | 6 x 9 | 32 b&w illus.
Dude ranching began in the 1880s when cattle ranches ruled the West. Men, and a few women, left the comforts of their eastern lives to experience the world of the cowboy. But by the end of the century, the cattleman’s West was fading, and many ranchers turned to wrangling dudes instead of livestock. What began as a way for ranching to survive became a new industry, and as the twentieth century progressed, the dude ranch wove its way into American life and culture. Wyoming dude ranches hosted silent picture shoots, superstars such as Gene Autry were featured in dude film plots, fashion designers and companies like Levi Strauss & Co. replicated the films’ western styles, and novelists Zane Grey and Mary Roberts Rinehart moved dude ranching into popular literature.
Downey follows dude ranching across the years, tracing its influence on everything from clothing to cooking and showing how ranchers adapted to changing times and vacation trends. Her book also offers a rare look at women’s place in this story, as they found personal and professional satisfaction in running their own dude ranches.
However contested and complicated, western history is one of America’s national origin stories that we turn to in times of cultural upheaval. Dude ranches provide a tangible link from the real to the imagined past, and their persistence and popularity demonstrate how significant this link remains. This book tells their story—in all its familiar, eccentric, and often surprising detail.
“The American West defies simple description. As my grandfather used to say, ‘The West is not a place; it’s a state of mind.’ As Wild West shows brought the West to the world, dude ranches brought the world to the West. Lynn Downey’s book fills a special place in an overlooked area of western history. This book helps us appreciate the region’s rich history and culture.”—Steve Weil, President and Chief Creative Officer, Rockmount Ranch Wear, and author of Western Shirts: A Classic American Fashion
“Lynn Downey has a passion for not only telling stories but revealing amazing historical facts too often buried by new trends. In this book she dives deep into the minute details that have made dude ranching what it is today. A great read showcasing an amazing industry.”—Bryce Albright, Executive Director of the Dude Ranchers’ Association
“An interesting, fun read for anyone that places dude ranching and dude ranchers in their proper place in the history of the West.”—Russell True, past President of the Dude Ranchers Association and author of Dude Ranching in Arizona and Dude Ranching in Wyoming
“In her highly entertaining and fact-filled American Dude Ranch, Lynn Downey, a former historian at Levi Strauss & Co., gives a cultural history of the dude ranch phenomenon [and] profiles a uniquely American institution, one that for 150 years has sold the idea of a few days or weeks of the romance of the Old West.”—The Denver Post
“Without a doubt if you love the popular history of the Wild West you will want to read American Dude Ranch.”—True West Magazine