About Us

The purpose of the Dude Ranch Foundation is to protect and preserve the history of Dude Ranching by maintaining a museum and archives for educating the public on the historical nature of the dude ranching industry.

The Foundation began in 1988 by Mark Grubbs.  Mark and his wife, Amy, were co-executive directors and former dude ranch owners. Mark’s dream was to establish a fund to give scholarships to young people who wanted to be in the Dude Ranch industry.  Funding was to be obtained from an annual auction held during the DRA Convention. His vision was to retain a fund large enough that the interest would be used for scholarships.  The scholarship fund has been administered by our Executive Director (s) and the Foundation Board of Directors from it’s inception to the present.

Sarah Stevenson and Russell True, Board members, had both considered the idea of having the DRA purchase a house or building. Ironically, a building was available for purchase across the street from the historic Irma Hotel.  The Board of Directors visited the building and could foresee the potential.  Fortunately, the owner was motivated and wanted a sale immediately.  Sarah and Russell recognized the opportunity for the DRA, but they also understood that funds were not available to even consider making an offer.

Russell and Sarah made a decision to loan the down payment to the association in order to facilitate moving forward with the plan to purchase a “home” for the DRA—our very own “Heritage Center and Museum.”  Their foresight and generosity is an inspiration to all in the dude ranch industry. Following this transaction, the loans were converted to donations for the Heritage Center.

The DRA Board immediately realized that for Doug Van Berkum’s fund raising program to be successful, donations had to be tax deductible.  Professional legal and accounting advice were called in and the answer was to expand the purpose of the Dude Ranch Foundation to include ownership of the new building. Each step in this process has been overseen by the Board of Directors and has been approved by our CPA firm and attorney.

The location of our Heritage Center is hard to beat as it is across from the famous Irma Hotel and is located in one of the most authentically western towns with about half a million tourists annually.  The Heritage Center plans to add interesting historical items to combine with the already in place items, web site access and brochures that provide an unequaled educational opportunity that introduces dude ranches to western travelers.


The scholarship that students receive  pays homage to several people who have had a significant impact on the establishment and continuation of the Dude Ranch Foundation academic program. These special people have exhibited insight, demonstrated hard work, and achieved their goals. It is our hope that you will emulate their success and follow in their footsteps to make a difference. CLICK HERE FOR INFORMATION AND TO APPLY NOW.


The Dude Ranch Foundation is a not for profit organization and is described as a 501 (c) (3). All donations are tax deductible. The purpose of the Dude Ranch Foundation is to protect and preserve the history of Dude Ranching by maintaining a museum and archives for educating the public on the historical nature of the Dude Ranching industry.


A letter published in a New York newspaper, caught the attention of Teddy Roosevelt. He quickly made his way out to the Badlands and spent his time hunting, fishing and riding…. That is just part of the beginning of Dude Ranches. Read the complete story here..

History of Dude Ranches



Check out this cool video of the history of dude ranching

In the post-Civil War cattle boom of the 1880’s, Howard Eaton started the Custer Trail Ranch in the Dakota Badlands. He was soon joined by his brothers Alden and Willis and a friend from Pennsylvania, A.C. Huidekoper. Thrilled with their new lifestyle and potential success, the Eatons’ wrote enthusiastic letters to friends back East.

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’. Stories of ranch life and exceptional hunting spread like wildfire, and soon the Eatons’ found themselves hosting Eastern visitors.

It wasn’t long before their generosity and hospitality lead to overwhelming costs. Many visitors recognized the financial burden they were creating and offered to pay for room and board. While the concept flew directly in the face of western hospitality, the Eatons’ had to consider the opportunity. The first recorded paying guest was Bert Rumsey, of Buffalo, NY and with the purchase of a guest book; the ranch officially began accepting “dudes.”

A devastating wildfire and the unusually harsh winter of 1886 revealed a spring stock count equal to that of their first year on the Custer Trail Ranch. A quick look at the books revealed 2,200 free meals provided in the previous year. The Eaton brothers estimated they would have to charge $10 a week for each guest. Capitalizing on the grandeur and serenity that surrounded them, they tailored a unique experience designed to improve the mental and physical condition of their guests, through ranch chores and riding. Before long, the Eaton’s focus on the well-being and enjoyment of their guests became a trademark. Ultimately, their unique style of hospitality became the benchmark for all dude ranches.

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, Eaton’s 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. As the railroad expanded in the 1920’s, 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. This became the first official meeting of the Dude Ranchers’ Association on September 27 and 28, 1926. Ranchers, railroad officials and national park officials attended the two-day event to discuss the five objectives set forth:

  1. Establish cooperation among ranchers and railroad officials
  2. Discuss the transportation and proper care of guests
  3. Create advertising and publicity for the association
  4. Standardize practices
  5. Create an efficient sales organization

Having agreed to all five objectives, the ranchers added a sixth – the organized protection of fish and game.

Larry Larom of Valley Ranch, instrumental in starting the organization, became the first president. A.H. Croonquist of Camp Senia at Red Lodge was named vice president and Ernest Miller of Elkhorn Ranch was named secretary-treasurer. Seven directors were appointed: Paul Van Cleve Jr. of Lazy K Bar Ranch; Dick Randall of OTO Ranch; W.A. Binko of Missoula; Mrs. Walter Shaw of Shaw’s Camp; Ed Wyman of Trappers Lodge; William Eaton of Eatons’ Ranch; and Dr. Horace Carncross of Bar B C Ranch.Twenty-six ranches signed up as charter members the first year and the number grew to forty seven the second year. In 1928 Larry Larom and Max Goodsill persuaded T. Joe Cahill to become the executive secretary. Northern Pacific gave Cahill passes for all his travel and helped with expenses while the DRA paid his salary and the remainder of his expenses. Cahill was a dynamic man who tracked and published important ranch and travel statistics while generating newspaper and magazine publicity. He was credited with getting the young organization off to healthy start.

Ultimately, the railroad would benefit by increasing passengers while promoting dude ranches as new destinations. The ranches would receive much needed marketing and increased guests. Visitors from the East Coast and Midwest could escape the crowds of their urban and suburban lives to experience the unique rejuvenation of spirit that ranches had become known for. Ranches quickly became a “home away from home” as returning guests became lifelong friends with the staff and guests. The remote location often lead to creative socializing; costume parties, games, romances, contests and practical jokes. This social interaction became just as important as the riding. It’s a quality that exists today, as ranch vacations continue to provide that special brand of western hospitality that nourishes body and soul.

What people are saying about the Heritage Center

“Beyond Words” –  Jennie Cook, NC

“Surprising and Great”

– Stacy Cope, KS



“Love it, great place, nicest people ever”

– Bonnie and Greg Smith, PA

Phone: 307-587-2339 • Fax: 307-587-2776

1122 12th Street
P.O. Box 2307
Cody, WY 82414

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Some of the great companies that we had a pleasure of working with
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