The Compass Blog

Find Your Home on the Range

Kelcy Fowler

It was immediate. The first time, actually before the first time I ever climbed up on the back of a horse, I knew it was one of my homes. I’m sure you have your list in life – the places, the people, the passions that make you feel so assuredly you. Without you even having to think too much about it, something clicks in and you feel in step.

Little did I know back then at 11 or 12 that there was an entire community centered around this shared passion, and other passions too, good food, good friends, family and old fashioned hospitality. It wasn’t until I came to CoolWorks that I really started to learn about the Guest Ranch community

A few years in and after a couple of chances to join them at their Dude Rancher’s Association Convention, I’ve learned quite a few more things about this close-knit and value-focused community. I’ve learned that they expect hard work, not just on principle but as an element that’s essential to their livelihood’s survival. And that they give just as much of it themselves as they expect from their staff.

I’ve learned that it’s highly likely that every story I’ve ever heard about a Ranch Job, and how much it truly is like being part of a ranch family, is genuine. We’ve all probably noticed that “family” is a term that gets thrown around a lot in company culture talk, but in the case of ranches, they are often family-run operations, sometimes spanning several generations, and the guests and staff that join them on the ranch become a part of that family.

I’ve learned that if you ever get the chance to be at breakfast, lunch or dinner with these folks, you can hear some once in a lifetime tales – a few that I’m still running through several weeks later.

And I’ve learned that the ranches offer one of the few travel experiences today whose enduring focus remains a wholesome approach to people, animals, land, community, and experience. The ranch experience is about slowing down, unplugging, enjoying the simpler things, and connecting with your family and the people around you. It takes these people incredible amounts of hard work and love to deliver this to their guests every summer, and in doing so, they create that feeling of home. 

I was curious about how and when the business of Dude Ranching was born, and discovered this fascinating post below from the Buffalo Bill Center of the West.

Railroads Spur Western Tourism

Before the western railroads were built, travel to the western United States was grueling, and unattractive to the faint of heart. However, after gold was discovered in California in 1849, the nation turned its attention to the Far West. Travelers needed a simpler means of conveyance—more comfortable, safer, faster than a Conestoga or a covered wagon, horse, watercraft, or stagecoach. Despite the ongoing Civil War, Abraham Lincoln signed the Pacific Railroad Act in 1862, giving federal permission for companies to begin construction on the first transcontinental railroad. On May 10, 1869, the Central Pacific and Union Pacific railroads joined at Promontory Point, Utah, connecting the East and West coasts.

The West opened up. It not only embraced gold seekers, homesteaders, immigrants, and adventurers, but tourists. The Burlington Northern Railroad actively promoted dude ranching. Now, people could travel by train in relative comfort, penetrating the interior of once-inaccessible western reaches. In time, more “dudes” came west, and early dude ranching, as a business enterprise, took form. At first, those traveling through cattle country would stay with ranch families, free of charge, as a courtesy to the few-and-far-between weary, dusty travelers. However, as more people arrived, the burden and expense of “putting up” and feeding these visitors increased. This, combined with a few disastrous winters and fluctuations in livestock markets, elevated the dude as an even more important source of ranch income.

The story goes that in 1882, a friend and guest of the Eaton family, from Buffalo, New York, was vacationing at their Custer Trail Ranch near Medora, North Dakota. He insisted on paying for the privilege of staying at the ranch and sparked the idea of a guest ranch with a paying clientele. When, in 1879, Howard Eaton and his brothers Alden and Willis bought the property, they had no intention of establishing anything but a working cattle ranch. However, this incident inspired them to encourage other paying guests. (One eastern guest—Theodore Roosevelt—established his own ranch nearby.) The Eatons later moved to Wolf, Wyoming, near Sheridan. Located on the pine-covered eastern slopes of the Big Horn Mountains in northeastern Wyoming, eighteen miles west of Sheridan, the ranch consists of 7,000 acres of open country with rolling hills, grassy meadows, and hidden valleys. Twisting processions of cottonwood and pine trees mark the course of tumbling streams, which roll out of the mountains. Eatons’ Ranch, generally considered to be the first true dude ranch, still operates today as a dude and cattle ranch.

– An excerpt from: “Revisiting the Mythic Old West: Dude Ranching in America” blog post at

“As my friends back home pursue graduate education and successful careers, I wholeheartedly support and applaud them. But that is not my path. My path has twists and turns, is overcrowded with the branches of huckleberry bushes, and coincides with the tracks of a mountain lion. My path is obstructed by the unknown and often questioned and criticized by convention, but I know that I wouldn’t trade my unconventional life for the world.”

Read Mandi’s tale of seasonal life on a Ranch.

Featured Employers

Giddyup and check out these opportunities available for summer! 

Intrigued but not sure if the Ranch Life is for you? Check out this Job Seeker Resouce from our friend Tammy at the Bar Lazy J Ranch in the Central Rockies of Colorado: So You Want to Work on a Dude Ranch

Keep in mind, you don’t have to be a cowgirl or boy to find a home on a Ranch. If the legendary appeal of any aspect of western culture or history calls to you, check it out! There are just as many Ranch Jobs that focus around working with kids, working with guests, working with food, working in a farm to table garden or even a spa or yoga studio, as there are working with a horse.