Thursday, September 21, 2017

Exploring Sheridan, Wyoming

The Brinton Museum nestles in the foothills of Montana's Bighorn Mountains. Photo © by Judy Wells.
The city of Sheridan, population just 20,000, offers a wide variety of experiences. If you think the West uncultured, think again. The Brinton Museum houses one of the finest western art museums in the world. In addition to paintings, photography and sculpture, it includes an outstanding collection of exquisitely designed leather craft. 

A rare Blackfeet Grizzly Shirt. Photo © by Judy Wells.
The Chinese used the rammed earth technique to build the Great Wall of China and so did the trustees of the Brinton Museum when they enlarged the facility with the Forrest E. Mars Building (the candy company family are Brinton supporters). Like the wall, the building and its 19th-21st century Western art and Native American collection should be safe for several more millennia. 

Bradford Brinton and his older sister Helen may have been from Illinois but they fell in love with the west, she with Arizona, he with Montana and both with Western and Native American art and artists. Wealthy from  developing the family's farm equipment company, Brinton bought the historic Quarter Circle A Ranch. When he died, he left it to his sister, knowing she would never sell it.

The "Whoopie Cabin." Photo © by Judy Wells.
The house he enlarged and Helen used as a summer home is open to the public 
May through September via tours as is the Little Goose Creek Lodge, known to his friends as the "whoopie cabin." 

Jim Jackson shows a group how he creates his leather work. Photo © by Judy Wells.
One area  is being used as a studio for artists in residence like James F. Jackson, who grew up in his father's saddle shop and now displays and explains his craft to visitors. 

Downtown Sheridan. Photo © by Judy Wells.
Sheridan’s downtown looks as I expected the Old West: wide streets, from the days when horse-drawn wagons needed space to turn around, and many original brick buildings.

A walking tour took me past City Hall, a stone courthouse, a shoe store featuring hundreds of colorful cowboy boots, and a furniture store selling a bed with a hidden compartment for a rifle. 


Looks like a plain bed. Photo © by Judy Wells.
Of course we had to examine the boots and see that bed demonstrated.

But with a one-of-a-kind key... Photo © by Judy Wells.
So when we saw this sign in a print shop window...

... we had to go in and meet Henry. 

And yes, given the chance he will follow you home. 

Like many enlightened down towns, Sheridan's is enlivened with western themed sculpture and murals. 

Do like this growing trend.

The Good Girls, Judy and Debi.
Everyone ends up at the famous Mint Bar, a 1907 saloon redecorated in the 1940’s. The Mint’s vintage neon exterior sign attracts thirsty mouthed patrons from all walks of society. Walk in and sit down; you’ll find game mounts (stuffed animal heads and/or full bodies) and lots of old photos along the walls.

You can’t miss the set of horns measuring seven feet from tip to tip centered behind the bar. 

Photo © by Judy Wells.
 Nor can you miss the skin of a rattlesnake that was just a tad bit longer mounted above those horns. 

The beer is cold, too.

Judy's favorite stop. Photo © by Judy Wells.
One not-to-be-missed stop downtown is the famous King Saddlery, King Ropes. Never heard of it? Just ask a competition calf roper. His or her best ropes probably began life there.
Mike Wooton, rope technician. Photo © by Judy Wells.

 Their saddle may hail from there, too. 

Photos © by Judy Wells.
Its block-deep building contains everything for the Western aficionado, from boots and chaps to hat and hat band, horse tack and medications and every weight, color and texture of rope, left and right handed (!), from an inventory of more than 30,000. Home decor, too.

As if that weren't enough, Don King Museum with its collection of historic saddles, bridles, weaponry, wagons, carriages and artifacts is a must-see. I ask you, where else will you find an old saddle with flowers carved into the stirrup leathers and a naked woman etched into the fenders?

The historic Sheridan Inn. Photo © by Judy Wells.
The Sheridan Inn, part of the Historic Hotels of America, was the place where Buffalo Bill Cody held auditions for his traveling show. Its saloon maintains Buffalo Bill’s wooden bar given to him by Queen Victoria.  

One of two bars Queen Victoria had made for Bill Cody's hotels. Photo © by Judy Wells.
 Cody was a co-owner of the circa 1893 hotel, once considered the finest between Chicago and San Francisco, having talked the railroad into building it. Queen Victoria was so amused by his wild west show she had two front and back bars made for his hotels; the second is in the Irma Hotel in Cody, Wyoming.

The copper and pearl chandelier in the Ladies' Parlor. Photo © by Judy Wells.
The current owner used to play on the front porch while his mother worked at the  hotel and has lovingly restored the historic edifice. The 22 rooms, named for Cody and the 21 people who were most important to him, have been tastefully updated and the public areas have been returned to their glory days. The pearl and copper chandelier in the Ladies' Parlor glistens and the registration desk in the Gentleman's Parlor looks much as it must have 100 years ago.

Stepping through the front doors is like entering a time capsule, albeit one with Wi-Fi.

Trail End. Photo © by Judy Wells.
Trail End is a historic home to visit with a remarkable Horatio Alger-ish tale. It was built by  John B. Kendricks, once a penniless Texas orphan who had made his way into the Wyoming Territory by the age of 21. He signed on as a trail rider on a cattle drive and at the age of 34 in 1891 married the boss's daughter. 

Over the next 18 years he amassed a cattle and land empire with 10 ranches across 210,000 acres in two states. Shortly after building Trail End, the only known example of Dutch revival architecture in Wyoming, Kendricks first was elected governor and then U. S. senator for the state.


The young crowd gathers inside and out at The Black Tooth Brewery. Photo © by Judy Wells.
Sheridan is not just a historic site. In keeping with the times, the Koltiska Distillery and Black Tooth Brewery add to today’s craft scene and a vibrant nightlife. 

It's a real Western town, too. Those aren't drugstore cowboys or all hat no horse cowgirls you see at King's. That's a lifetime of trail dust, horse and cow poop on or just wiped off their boots.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Eaton's Ranch Debi

My vision of Wyoming centered on cowboys, ranches and wide-open spaces. So, I was ready to jump into a saddle at Eatons Ranch, just 18 miles from Sheridan. Eatons didn’t disappoint.
The horses and barn at Eaton's Ranch in Wolf, Wyoming.

A rustic cabin, built in 1919, became home for my stay. The bathroom had, naturally, been renovated, but the rest of the space looked original with pine wood closets and doors. The bedroom offered two twin beds, plus I had a living room and, best of all, a porch with a rocking chair. I could hear the rush of water from the stream running behind the cabin.

The Applegate Cabin at Eaton's Ranch in Wolf, Wyoming
Bedroom in the Cabin
The porch and rocking chairs. 

Eaton’s handles all ages and abilities of riders and provides everything needed except a pair of blue jeans. They fit me with a saddle and loaned me a pair of boots. Even Florida girls own cowboy hats, so I'd packed mine. Its stampede strap becomes useful when the wind picks up.

Wranglers, the barn employees, asked about my ability, or lack thereof, and chose an appropriate steed. Since I had little prior experience, I was happy to ride a well-behaved quarter horse.

Getting fit for a saddle. 

The first group trail ride began after dinner. We started out on flat ground, surrounded by magnificent mountains.  About 20 minutes into the ride, the clouds burst open and we turned around and hurried back to the barn. Everyone got soaked, but it was a memorable adventure.

The Evening Ride started out at a slow pace. 

The following morning brought lovely sunshine and my group, led by a knowledgeable wrangler, headed to the hills. We crossed a small river on horseback, a first for me as an inexperienced rider. I felt like I was dropped into a scene of a western movie. Yippee!

Wading across the creek.

My horse, named Badger, behaved and worked hard carrying me up the steep hills. The views at Eatons look like those enticing Wyoming brochures: drop dead gorgeous wide-open cowboy country.

Riding into the hills of picturesque Wyoming. 

An outdoor barbecue became lunch on Eatons' grounds, just beyond the swimming pool.  Grilled burgers, hot dogs, potato salad and beans made an ideal noonday meal. 

Barbeque Lunch at Eaton's Ranch.

I skipped the opportunity to take an afternoon ride and instead investigated the fishing options. Staying on a dude ranch reminds me of going to Girl Scout camp. Guests choose from a variety of activities, and one hardly has a care in the world.

The day’s after dinner ride encountered no weather problems. My anxiety level disappeared, and I was getting somewhat used to the feel of a saddle.

The beautiful horses are well loved and cared for at Eaton's Ranch .

On my final morning, I enjoyed the best ride ever.  We ascended to the top of a peak overlooking the ranch. Some of the trails were very rocky and steep, but Badger knew what to do. I was absolutely “in the moment.” Our wrangler also led us off the trail and through deep grass and wildflowers. The air smelled clean, and the sun shone brightly. I, more a city slicker, felt like a real cowgirl from the West and, for the first time, comfortable in a saddle. Perhaps I was home on the range. 

Reaching the peak. 

Heading back down toward Eaton's Ranch. 

If you want to experience the west, a dude ranch is the place to go. 

Home on the Range. 

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Dudes in the Saddle

Howard, Willis and Alden Eaton. Photo courtesy Eatons Ranch.
The Dude Ranch began at Eatons' Ranch in 1879 when the three Eaton brothers came West and established a horse and cattle ranch in Medora, ND. Friends, "dudes," from the East trekked out almost immediately and those who wanted to stay longer than courtesy dictated suggested the Eatons' charge for room and board.

A new concept and business was born. In 1904 the Eatons moved their operation to Wolf Creek near Sheridan, Wyoming, to give their guests better riding terrain.

Dudes in the saddle at Eatons. Photo © by Judy Wells.
The dudes are still coming to the ranch being run by the fourth and fifth generations. Guests have 51 cabins, more than 200 hundred horses and 7,000 acres to explore between the Eatons' property and the Big Horn National Forest. The trout in Wolf Creek and a bass pond keep anglers happy.

Debi and I each had a grand time but for very different reasons. I'll start out and she will follow with the next post.

Cross over the cattle guard and under the Eatons Ranch sign with its Arrowhead and Bar-11 brands and enter a different type and pace of life. You are a dude, dude, and denims are the attire du jour.

The setting is idyllic, surrounded by hills, heavily treed with a creek running along one side. Don't know about playing but the deer certainly come to eat. It's quiet except for bird song and the buzz of benign insects.

Mellon cabin. Photo © by Judy Wells.
The cabins are rustic and comfortable with shaded porches perfect for siting and slowing the day's pace. Mine is Mellon, like many, named for frequent guests.  And yes, these were the Mellons.

Riding through this glorious country is the focus at Eatons and I am apprehensive about the rest of our stay.

You see, I adore horses. Read everything equestrian I could find, spent as much time as I could on horseback, showed English and Western, even rodeoed a bit and grew up with several horses of my own. In my late 30s, I took jumping lessons.

Since then work, life, knees replacements and an artificial hip have kept me out of the saddle. A fall, especially from horseback height, could severely limit any mobility. I had decided not to ride and left my socks and boots at home.

Beginners become comfortable in the saddle.
We were with other travel writers, one with much riding experience, one who had never been on a horse and the rest in between. I followed them down to the barn and corrals where we were to be measured for our saddles.

Saddle fitting comes first. Photo ©  by Judy Wells.
The aromas of horse, leather and hay, my favorite scent, weakened my resolve. Watching the expert and professional approach to fitting guest to saddle was reassuring. It felt good when I got on the sawhorse mount, even better after the fitting.

Evening ride time at Eatons. Photo © by Judy Wells.
Common sense said no but every other fiber of my being said yes. Almost as bad was the indignity of needing a mounting block and no longer having the muscle tone to do what used to be second nature. No running barrels anymore.

Maybe just once? Photo by Judy Wells.
Maybe once, I thought, and signed up for the short, post dinner ride, one of three we could participate in each day except Sunday. Watching the saddling and mounting procedures I relaxed; these people knew what they were doing.

Slow and level to begin. Photo © by Judy Wells.
We asked our wrangler for an easy, level route to reassure the beginners and we headed out along the fence line toward the front pasture. The horses were well-mannered, the pace a walk. Skies darkened with the threat of rain which hit with a vengeance about 20 minutes into our ride. We trotted back to the corral, emerging like drowned rats, but it felt so good in the saddle I decided to do it again.

Crossing Wolf Creek. That's Debi in the pink jacket. Photo © by Judy Wells.

Caution wasn't totally thrown away. There were a few dicey times crossing creeks and climbing up high ridges - my horse was a stumbler - but the views were worth it.

Follow the wrangler. Photo © by judy Wells.
I rode once a day and although I could have taken a map and gone off on my own - a rarity on most dude ranches - I opted to stay with wranglers who knew the trails and terrain.

In between I got to know Peggy, the bartender, with whom I had friends in common. Her late husband had been a lion tamer with Ringling Bros. Barnum and Bailey Circus and I had met and written about several of his colleagues.

Out to pasture. Photo © by Judy Wells.
Almost as good as riding was watching the wranglers at work. The horse herd was taken back to high pastures each night and rounded up again in the morning.

The day's remuda. Photo © by Judy Wells.
From the large corral, mounts for the day were funneled into a smaller corral where individuals were lassoed and moved to the front corral where they could easily be roped again for saddling and added to the picket line until their riders arrived.

Not today, please. Photo © by Judy Wells.
Some cooperated, others resisted. A real touch of the old West we dudes rarely experience.

Best of all, though, as dudes rather than ranchers, we had wranglers to ride out at 5 a.m. to herd the horses in and do all of the other work from mucking manure to taking the herd back out at night.

Best view of all. Photo © by Judy Wells.
Thank you, Eatons, for putting me back in the saddle.