Thanks to the True Ranch Collection and PopUp Ranch, we couldn’t be more excited that guests are experiencing the O.T.O. for the first time since 1939. We first wrote about Montana’s original guest ranch in February 2021, and as the O.T.O. OPEN HOUSE approaches on August 21, we’re reposting our blog for the benefit of anyone who is lucky enough to attend. Here are the details:
O.T.O. OPEN HOUSE
AUGUST 21, 2022
10 AM – 4 PM
Custer Gallatin National Forest and Ranch Preservation invite you to the historic O.T.O. Dude Ranch for an Open House to tour the ranch, learn about its part in the history of dude ranching and current role as wildlife habitat.
Food and beverages will be available for sale, as well as a raffle for a True Ranch Collection dude ranch vacation with ticket sales donated to the Yellowstone Community Fund. This is a cash only event.
Raffle tickets will be for sale at the Gardiner Chamber of Commerce prior to the Open House!
ORIGINAL BLOG POST
The legend of dude ranching runs deep in the American West, and in Montana, it all started with James “Dick” Randall, founder of the O.T.O. Ranch. Originally from Iowa, Dick arrived in Eastern Montana in 1884 and took up “cowboying”. After the “Hard Winter of 1886-87”, he moved on to Yellowstone National Park where he worked as a night herder and stagecoach driver. In 1898, he purchased land on Cedar Creek, just a trail-ride away from the north entrance of Yellowstone Park. With his wife Dora, and a string of 80 pack horses, they built an outfitting and guide business from the ground up. These were the early beginnings of the O.T.O. In 1905, as the operation expanded, the Randall’s, who heretofore welcomed guests into their own cabin, built a bunkhouse and seasonal spike camp to provide additional lodgings for hunters.
The early 20th century saw an incredible rise of travelers to Yellowstone National Park. As word of Dick and Dora’s reputation for western hospitality spread, they were hosting “so many darn guests” that in 1910 they commenced on the construction of Montana’s first dude ranch, and the O.T.O. officially opened for business in 1912. By 1920, the ranch could boast of an expansive main lodge, 5 guest cabins (pictured above), a bunkhouse dorm, a 5 bedroom family cabin, office/store, tack shed, shower house, power house, ice house, gas station, and a post office.
A man of many talents, Dick was also a passionate promoter of western ranch tourism, as well as a driving force behind the organization of what would become a major industry. In 1926, Dick and a group of his guest ranching contemporaries came together, including representatives of the railroads and the governors of Wyoming and Montana, and formally launched the Dude Rancher’s Association. Famously in that first meeting, it was Dick who convinced the group to embrace the term “Dude”, which was how wealthy city people visiting Yellowstone Park had been referred to since the 1870s. Thereafter Dick was remembered as “The Father of Montana Dude Ranching”.
Dick and Dora Randall retired in 1934, and a former guest, Chan Libby, took over the operation. The O.T.O. permanently closed to guests in 1939, and while the vibrant life and activity once centered at the O.T.O. have passed, it lives on through the traditions of guest ranching across the country. What’s more, through the conservation efforts of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, and the National Forest Service, the lands surrounding the O.T.O. have been preserved as essential wintering habitat for elk and grizzly bear, and the site, complete with well-maintained lodges and cabins, is listed on the National Registry of Historic Places.
***Article content sourced from the Montana Preservation Alliance, the Custer Gallatin National Forest, and the National Registry of Historic Places.