#1: Guest Cabins
In 1911, Maxwell Struthers Burt and Dr. Horace Carncross formed a partnership while working together at the JY Ranch. They had decided to branch out and start their own dude ranch and over the course of the fall of 1911 they began going out on excursions in their free time to pick out the best place for their new ranch. They settled on an area west of the Snake River, directly on its shores so that the river winds might drive away mosquitos. After they had settled on their location they began preparations to open the ranch for paying guests the following summer.
Over the course of the winter they had hired the help, ordered supplies for building log cabins and found 15 dudes that would be interested in coming out for the ranch’s debut. When they returned to Jackson Hole in the spring of 1912 they immediately filed on the land and began construction of the guest cabins. They then filed for two adjacent 160-acre parcels. The original intention was not only to begin a dude ranch but also to expand it into a working cattle ranch. By 1916 they had succeeded; the partners had built a total of 18 guest cabins, a laundry facility, 7 smaller cabins, a 20-foot well and a combined total of 46 cultivated acres on both parcels of land. By 1917 they had expanded to 600 acres and 26 ranch buildings capable of housing 25 dudes.
#2: Green Door & Window Trim
The Bar BC, named for Struthers Burt and his partner Horace Carncross is credited as being the second dude ranch to open in Jackson Hole. It very quickly became the biggest, and the most well-known. This was in large part due to Burt’s extensive ties to the wealthy families of Philadelphia. Having graduated from Princeton, Burt was well acquainted with exactly the type of clientele he was hoping to host during the summer. Like Burt, whose personal goal had been to become a writer, they were also well-educated, many of them intellectuals like himself. By the late 1920s, the Bar BC could host 50 dudes in 32 rooms.
Prices were steep, but included everything a dude might need during the few weeks or months they were at the ranch. Most dude ranches required references and reservations made well in advance. Dude ranchers were an exclusive group and worked hard to ensure their guests would get along well – they needed to, as living together in close quarters for weeks in a relatively isolated setting imposed certain expectations of conduct and decorum. By 1929 Burt’s writing career was expanding and he was having less time to devote to the dude ranch. He purchased a homestead on Pacific Creek and built the Three Rivers Ranch as his private retreat writing retreat. Burt sold the Bar BC to the Snake River Land Company in 1930 and left by 1935 to pursue his writing career full time.
#3: Guest Cabin
As time passed, the immense popularity of the Bar BC began to work against Burt who had long been a supporter of preserving private lands in the valley for their natural and scenic value. The close proximity to commercial concessions at Jenny Lake meant that Burt soon had front row seats to exactly the type of development he was concerned about. The El-Bo Ranch had set up rodeo grounds and a grandstand on the road leading directly down to the Bar BC. Each time Burt left the ranch he was now greeted with a billboard proclaiming the “Home of the Hollywood Cowboy.” There was more to come: a baseball diamond, cottages for brief overnight tourists, and a host of other buildings and eyesores along Jenny Lake threaten the tranquility and privacy of his more elite retreat.
The purchase of his Three Rivers Ranch far north of this area was no mistake. Burt was very outspoken in his opinions of the Jenny Lake developments and others in the area. Many former dudes from the Bar BC also purchased land in the valley to begin their own dude ranches. No less than twelve dude ranches can trace their origins to a stay at the Bar BC, as could a host of individuals who decided to remain in the valley and homestead. One such pair was Harold Hammond and George Tucker Bispham who met working at the Bar BC and in 1913 opened the White Grass Ranch, the third dude ranch in Jackson Hole.
As an active member in the small group of locals who wanted to prevent commercial interests from buying up private lands, Burt was initially against the idea of the National Park Service taking over management of the valley’s most scenic lands, but later, through a friendship with Yellowstone Superintendent Horace Albright, he began to see the National Park Service in a much more favorable light.
In 1935 Struthers Burt sold his shares to the Bar BC to Irving Corse, the ranch’s last partner after the early death of Carncross. Irving Corse and his wife, Margaretta Sharpless drastically changed the management of the dude ranch. Corse believed that dude ranches should look “rustic” and as a result, ceased most maintenance activities. After having back luck with several fires, Corse had to dismantle the LePage house on the Upper Bar BC Ranch and bring it down to the Lower Bar BC Dude Ranch.
During World War II operations ceased on the ranch due to labor and material shortages. The Corses issued a sublease to Margaretta “Peggy” Frew Conderman (a daughter of the 4 Lazy F Frew family). Peggy Conderman continued to run the Bar BC until her lease ended in 1959 and Margaretta Corse resumed management. In 1986, Margaretta was elderly and ill, ranch operations ceased and Grand Teton National Park assumed management of the dude ranch on her death in 1988.
#5: Guest Cabin
The Bar BC is credited with creating the “image” of the dude ranch in Jackson Hole as being ‘rustic but comfortable’. The dude ranch created its own architectural style known as Dude Ranch Vernacular which consisted of a cluster of small guest cabins around a larger main lodge. All buildings were constructed from logs and made to look as if they were true pioneer homestead structures. Earth tones were the predominant colors as the buildings were meant to blend in with and compliment the landscape. The cabins were constructed in specific locations to give each a feeling of privacy while at the same time appearing to be randomly scattered around the property so that one might just turn a corner and chance upon them. The main lodge, barn and corrals were the center of activity.
Dudes would have access to a variety of activities throughout the many weeks they spent at the ranch. Rates were $300-310 per month, or $77 per week. Included in this were meals, the guest or ‘sleeping cabin’ and a saddle horse. The Bar BC was unusual in that they could provide their guests with fresh vegetables as well as dairy items. Hot water was provided in tubs, and guests were expected to “rough it in comfort.” Prices for dude ranches varied throughout the valley, as did the activities they offered. Pack trips were popular and often departed for a week or longer depending on the guest’s preference, and trips up to Yellowstone were sometimes offered for an additional fee.
#6: Entrance Gate
Often the biggest obstacle in spending the summer at a dude ranch was distance and travel. Making the journey from the big cities in the East to the isolated valley of Jackson Hole was often a challenge. During the early years, train service was the only option, and none came directly in to the Jackson Hole valley. The nearest rail lines came to Rock Springs, WY in 1898 (200 miles from Jackson), Lander, WY in 1906 (150 miles from Jackson), Ashton, ID in 1910, Driggs and Victor, ID in 1912. From there, guests would hire stage drivers to take them over the pass into Jackson Hole. The investment in travel time meant that most guests would want to stay for at least week weeks, to make the most of their trip. Dude ranches often required a minimum stay of 2 weeks. Most families opted to stay for a month at a time and became known as the “June, July, August” families according to their preferences. Guests almost always returned, becaming annual visitors – some have lent their names to the cabins they preferred.
The dude ranches and railroads formed a partnership of sorts after the rail lines opened in Victor, Idaho in 1912. The Union Pacific Railroad published a yearly brochure called “Dude Ranches Out West”, listing the dude ranches by geographic location. Jackson Hole filled most of the booklet. Each ranch was listed with the special amenities and activities offered. Railroads provided dude ranches with advertising, and the dude ranches provided the railroads with clientele for long-distance travel. This continued until the late 1940s and early 1950s when the automobile travel became affordable and roads more reliable. Tourism changed in turn; Americans now wanted to see as much as possible in two weeks, rather than travel a long distance to one place. The Jackson Hole dude ranches remained a popular destination, however, particularly for families who had already established a tradition of attending one ranch or another and wanted to associate with those from a similar social background. As a result, road conditions in Jackson Hole improved.
From Our Archives:
Bar BC Ranch
Bar BC Ranch looking into corral from entry gate. Horses and cabins in background.