Tag Archives: Dude Ranch

How To Become A Rancher

One of the questions I am frequently asked is why did I decide in retirement to buy and move to a Texas cattle ranch. Obviously, I’ve enjoyed the experience enough to devote this blog to writing about it. Below is a story I’ve written describing my early interests in Texas and ranching that may have planted the seeds early on.

A family trip taken when I was ten years old remains one of my fondest childhood memories. It also had a surprising impact on my life. Mom and Dad pitched the idea in 1956 of our family tripping to the Circle R Ranch near Bandera, Texas. Being from Kansas City, I had never heard of Bandera, but being the wannabe cowboy that I was, I had certainly heard of Texas. The chance to ride horses, meet cowboys, visit a dude ranch, attend Bar BQ’s, swim in spring fed rivers, and feel the Texas experience was extremely appealing for me.

To get to Bandera, Texas our family flew on passes via Braniff Airways from Kansas City to San Antonio. In those days flying was by far the most affordable way for us to travel given the perk of nearly free air travel. As I recall, my family was picked up at the S.A. airport and driven by van to the Circle R Ranch. The sprawling ranch lay west of San Antonio in the Texas Hill Country and probably took about one and a half to two hours to reach.

To my great enjoyment, we found a working ranch that also accepted families for a week at a time and showed them how a Texas ranch worked- a real Ranch that also served as a dude ranch. The Circle R had a swimming pool, bunkhouse, and dining area. Working cowboys roamed the premises, took guests on trail rides, provided swimming in the chilly waters of the Frio River, organized fishing opportunities, led hikes and demonstrated cowboy skills such as roping, bronc riding, shoeing horses, and herding cattle. This boy was in cowboy heaven.

One of the first activities after our arrival at the ranch was having a horse assigned to each of us for the week. My Dad received John, as I recall. My mother appropriately had Mother as her horse. My horse’s name was Sluggo. He was about as gentle as my old pet dog. Joan became quite attached to her horse, but I am unable to recall its name. I believe Dave was too young to ride a horse, as he was only five at the time.

The picture below was taken four years later at the Wiley Dude Ranch located not far from Richardson. If you look closely you may be able to see my siblings, David, Joan, and Jim in the front of the wagon.

Other families from distant places enjoyed the dude ranch activities that week as well. Given the informality and casualness, we became friends with the other kids and learned about their lives. In the evenings after hearty dinners, music was played, and once during the week a Texas live band played music. The music was all Country and Western tunes, and we had to learn how to dance to it. Joan was rather awe struck, as I recall, by the slender, good looking, Stetson wearing cowboys. The cowboys put on a rodeo during the week with cowboys from nearby ranches. I saw these cowboys as real men and fearless.

During that week I sensed a feeling of freedom and adventure that differed from the scheduled drudgery of school and the endless tick-tock of our clocks always reminding me of some task that needed to be performed. Texas had a different vibe that excited and intrigued me. It was a feeling of independence. This freedom loving, adventure seeking feeling about Texas has never left me.

We kids in my family knew nothing of the inner workings of Braniff Airways, my Dad’s new employer following its merger with Mid-Continent Airlines. We did not know that for my Dad to advance up the seniority list, he would need to relocate from Kansas City to Dallas, Texas.

This discussion of hidden motive never came up in conversation in later years, but I continue to wonder if our trip to the dude ranch wasn’t a prelude to a physical move of our family and an elaborate introduction for us to the State of Texas. If it was, then my folks had a stroke of genius. It was the following year (1957) that we departed Prairie Village, Kansas and relocated our family to Richardson, Texas.

I was so enthused about moving to Texas that according to my parents I boarded the airplane in Kansas City wearing chaps, cowboy hat, boots, and a brace of cap pistols. Perhaps, I thought we might have to fight Indians on our way out of the Dallas airport. The folks had no difficulty moving this young wannabee cowboy to Texas.

Now retired and living on a cattle ranch in the Texas Hill Country, I reminisce about my adventures at the Circle R Ranch so many years ago. Did our time at the dude ranch plant the seeds for my love of animals and ranching? Was I destined after that single week at the Circle R to retire to a ranch? Did feeling that Texas vibe early on set me up to long for the friendliness and openness that is so prevalent in Texas. And did my parents really have it all planned out and introduced the move in such an exciting and memorable way that it had a lasting impact? I rather believe the folks did and that the Texas spirit prevailed upon me as well.