Bio: Housekeeper and Manager 1953-65. Descriptor: Coming from England, opening the ranch in the spring, the Sears and Roebuck Catalogue, ranch operations, fall hunting camp and closing the ranch in the fall.
Written November 1, 2010 as a post for Share Your Story on the National Trust for Historical Preservation’s web site; released at the White Grass Reunion in 2014.
Rachel’s Story: One year out of England, with friend Elizabeth (we had arrived in the U.S.A. together). We drove from Vermont to Wyoming in our Willy’s Jeep. Elizabeth was to work at The Broken Arrow Ranch, South of Jackson and I was going to White Grass Ranch in Moose.
On June 4th 1953 in overcast wet weather Elizabeth deposited me at White Grass and she went onto her ranch. The road from Moose (not in the same place as it is today) to the ranch started at Windy Point, opposite the Chapel of The Transfiguration- up the unpaved bench, past the beaver ponds, past Ted Hardgrave’s place, take the only right turn and head to the ranch, still all unpaved. The Galey house was to the left where I met Mr. Freytag (Inge Galey’s father) Frank and Inge – where had I landed myself. I was shown to cabin #15, told we would be eating dinner in the Galey cabin celebrating a friend’s birthday, who turned out to be Bob Lewis. He would not remove his hat all evening, later it was revealed he had been in town a few evenings previously and ended up with a Mohawk haircut – courtesy of friends! This was the start of many summers working on the ranch and certainly a new way of life for me.
Opening the ranch each year was quite an undertaking and took close to a month. During June it was important to get the cabins ready for dudes arriving towards the end of the month. All cabins had to be hosed down on the inside (Frank had to open the plumbing/water pipes under each cabin) when the logs dried linseed oil was applied to all, this was done on warm days, if not, there would be a sticky mess of congealed oil. Mouse droppings were endless and even window frames had to be taken down for their gifts to be removed. If new items were needed for the cabins, such has bedding, curtains, rugs, bathroom accessories, out would come the Sears Roebuck catalogue, Inge and I would review what we could use and an order was placed. Finding and purchasing the items mentioned from Jackson was not a option, they were not available. Very important was to have a pop belly stove get a Spring coat of stove blacking and on the porch a good supply of wood and the magic fire starter called ‘pep’ sawdust and kerosene. In mid June the cook would arrive, cabin girls and waitresses. Cabin girls and waitresses were usually from colleges in the East, they would take time to adjust to the altitude and working conditions, all quite an eye opener called working on a dude ranch. Horses had been trucked or driven over land from Eastern Wyoming where they had wintered and were in place by late June for the dude season The barn was ready with ‘cowboys’ from the East, they did have a head wrangler, usually a Westerner with knowledge of horses and dudes. Not only did a wrangler have to wrangle horses from overnight pastures but to learn to shoe, brand, medicate, and keep equipment in good order. The barn clean, know the surrounding trails and of course cater to the dudes and their needs. By July 4th everything was in full swing for the summer.
Until late 1953 the ranch ran by generator, hot water came from the boiler house, this located at the pasture end of the bath house. The other end was the linen room and on either side the girls and boys bathrooms. The boiler had to be fed wood and was the job of the chore boy to be sure this was kept in good hot water running order at all times. The bats loved to live on the warm chimney stack above the boiler. There were two cooling houses close to the kitchen working on propane. Ice I would bring from town in a 300# blocks on market days (Tuesday and Fridays). The block of ice was in the far cooler to be used by the dudes for their drinks at cocktail hour – all they needed was an ice pick and a tin to get what they needed.
Phone was not installed on the ranch, at the Galey house until probably the late 50’s, this entailed the cowboy/ wranglers digging post holes from the ranch to Moose – cross country. Do not know the details on this project. Before there was phone service at the ranch, Moose Post Office was where messages were picked up along with the mail. Carmichaels tack shop was also in the building with the Post Office. The P.O was run by Fran Carmichael and the tack shop by Bob, her husband. This was also a place to hire a fishing guide. Moose has moved its location I think three times since I arrived in 1953
Most dudes, usually families with their children, stayed for two to four weeks. Many came from the East, others the mid West and California. Trunks of luggage would often arrive days before a family, who would be picked up by car at Rock Springs (a two hours car drive each way from the ranch) having come by train from the East via Chicago. Others could arrive in Victor by train and be met by car from the ranch. Those who did arrive by plane, only DC 3’s came in, the runway was not that long and the cross winds were not too pleasant, bumpy landing were in the afternoons. The airport building was a small hut/cabin, there was no equipment to aid pilots on landing. If the ceilings were low before a departure the pilot would go out with a large grey balloon, release to the skies and check when it was out of site – this helped him to know the visual or otherwise for take off.
Reservations for dudes were made during the Winter and Spring by correspondence with a deposit. In the early days of dude ranching the ranch brochure would say ‘references exchanged’. This habit stopped in the early fifties.
On arrival at the ranch dudes were shown to their cabins, given the ‘lay of the land’ and told that due to the altitude they might get a little out of breathe for a day or so – AND – to be careful with their cocktail consumption, not too much due to altitude, it goes to the head rather quickly.
Breakfast, lunch and dinner were served in the dining room of the main cabin. If you wanted a picnic lunch there was a sign up board on the wall on entering the dining room for breakfast. The waitresses would prepare the lunches, put in brown paper bags with a dudes name on same, these could be picked up on the couch by the mail boxes in the ‘ping pong’ room. Getting the dudes to dinner on time could be difficult, especially with August dudes –the cocktail hour was not always easy to break up, hence the cook could get rather mad with late arrivals.
Pack trips were quite often in July and August from 3 to 5 days. Dudes would do these after being on the ranch for about two weeks, they were then ready for the adventure. I would prepare all pack trips to include all sleeping gear, cooking utensils, food, (would make out the three to five day menus and get same checked with Frank and Inge before purchasing and packing into panyards). Dry ice was also a good item, it could cool a favorite dessert to be served on the fifth day out. Permits were necessary to be obtained from the Park or Forest Service, depending on where the trip was going. On the morning of a trip departing the horses would be trucked early to the starting place also all equipment including dude stuff.
Dude season usually lasted to Labor Day, then it was into hunting camp, starting about September 10th. Frank had a base camp on Pacific Creek (beyond Moran on the way to Yellowstone) and the actual camp was a good two hours ride beyond (we crossed the streams 13 times before getting to camp). All horses had been driven from the ranch to camp before hunting season started, this was about a seven hour ride. Getting the camp ready was also done ahead of opening day of hunting. Hunters came from various places in the U.S., to hunt for a week. A guide (a resident of Wyoming with a guides license) could have two hunters at a time to guide, they hunted mostly Elk (I think). The camp consisted of a cook tent set with a propane tank of gas, stove, table for hunters to sit for their meals. Other tents were set up for the hunters, maybe two to a tent. The toilet was a deep hole with a seatless chair on it with a tarp strung between two trees for privacy and a large can of lime. Hunters would stay at the ranch for a night before heading for camp, this was a time for them to site in their guns and get a little acclimated!!
In 1953 there must have been a shortage of cooks in camp BECAUSE – Elise Morris Clover and I took turns being the cook (this was rather a terrifying experience for me and I was a GREEN HORN). Elise took the first week and off she went with the Joy of Cooking under her arm. I was week two. Paul Lawrence , one of the guides, met me at car camp, we saddled up and off we went – crossing the streams 13 times and arrived at camp to find the pressure cooker had exploded and there was elk stew clinging to the inside of the tent.
Am not sure what happened for dinner that night. Do remember first night at dinner where a bottle of Jack Daniels was passed from one person to the other and you took a swig – was hoping not to get too tiddly. During the same week I was sent to town for food and whisky. Two hours riding to car camp, left horses in the coral, drove to town (30 plus miles) for the needed items, back to car camp, packed the horses, took off for camp at dusk – QUITE SCARED. Thought someone would come and find me on the trail – to see if all was well –NO. Got to camp and all they said was,‘where is the whisky? ’ My sleeping tent was a tepee with a canvas floor and the top was strung to a bow of a tree. It was cozy and warm in a sleeping bag on top of horse pads – better than a cot which could be drafty. Wake up – was about 4.30 am, prepare breakfast for hunters and guides and pack them lunches. They were all out for the day by sun up – I think. The day was clean up and preparing the dinner. At high altitude water boils at a lower temperature and you have to start cooking a meal EARLY. The third week Elise and I shared duties in camp, enjoyable and peaceful until a hunter got lost. Elise and I were given the duty of firing three shots every 6 minutes and hope we would get an answer from the hunter. He was found down river in one piece the next morning. Lesson is if you get lost, look for a stream and follow same down.
Closing the ranch took until about mid October. All cabins had to be stripped, water turned off in each, blankets washed, all perishable things that could be eaten by the mice were put in special cupboards in the linen room. We scattered old mattress fillings in the cabins for the mice to eat.
In later years Frank and Inge would leave in early October to go to Nevis (an island in the West Indies) for the winter and run Goldenrock, the property they purchased after White Grass was sold to the National Parks as a life estate. After Frank died in 1985 White Grass became the property of The National Park Service.
The years when Frank and Inge left for Nevis I was left on the ranch, with a dog or a friend to finish up putting all to bed. There was the year I had the horses to get wintered, do not remember how many head, a few dozen or more. They would be in the main pasture and each morning I would wrangle a bunch into the corrals, this had to be early as Walt Matherson and his son Babe drove a couple of trucks over the mountain from Lander area. They pulled shoes from the horses that they loaded head to tail – about eight to a truck – then, they had to come to the Galey house for coffee laced with whisky then head home. This happened for quite a few loads of horses. There were other stories – such as loosing horses in the river bottoms around Moose, can’t remember how I got them back —must have had some help.
There were times when leaving the ranch in the snow and brisk winds I never wanted to see Wyoming again. The year Peggy Conderman Cook and I drove East we barely got off the ranch due to snow, made it to Pinedale for the night, the next day arriving in Rock Springs all East West roads were closed and we spent three days in the town.
This completes some thoughts regarding a Brit finding life in The Rockies – White Grass Ranch, and how it has stayed as a very important part of my life in reality and memories.