- Historic Sites
First "Dude Ranch" Trip to the Untamed West
Never again can there be a hunting party as gay or as risky as the one Sir William Stewart devised in 1843
February 1956 | Volume 7, Issue 2
Now commenced two weeks of free and relaxed frolic and pleasure, the highlight of the trip. “Having pitched tents and formed camp.” Field wrote, “one of the India rubber boats was put together and launched, in which eight of us started, with two strong men to row, loi the exploration of the lake. Om progress was slow, and having made about seven miles, we put into a lovely little sandy cove, bordered with pine and half hidden by enormous rocks. In this romantic little nook we disembarked, built a shanty of boughs, got our fishing arrangements to angle after a supper. The water was so dear that we could see the little finny people darting about among the rocks at the bottom, and we could drop our bits of bait almost into their very mouths. … We soon had a plentiful mess for supper, and after supper we disposed of half a dozen of ‘Steinwein.’ imported by E. Johns, of New Orleans, and put tip in diminutive demijohns.”
Fishing, hunting, exploring and lazing went on day after day. Then, as Field described it: “Jump, jump! Get your guns! Quick, for your lives! was the loud and alarming call heard suddenly in the stillness of the alternoon. Such a splashing and hurrying head-long out of the water, and up into camp as instantly followed, was probably never seen before in that section. Our ears were next cognizant of distant Indian screaming and almost the next moment a party of some thirty people appeared in view, dashing, with seeming frantic speed towards us. The alarm was soon over, however, the strangers proving to be trappers and Snake Indians, coming to visit us from the vicinity of Bridger’s Fort …
“These Snakes, or Sho-sho-nees, threw up their lodges alongside of our camp, while the trappers did the same in close vicinity, and we did not part company again for nearly a fortnight. A busy trade time commenced, and after getting our skins from the trappers, we set the Sho-sho-nee girls to work tailoring up our mountain dresses for us.”
The Snakes loved nothing better than horse racing and, moving downstream to a level plain, Field wrote, “We had three days’ racing sport. … A straight mile had been laid off and marked upon a beautiful level meadow between Willow Creek and Green River, about half a mile from our encampment, and the stripes and stars floating upon an Indian lodge pole at one end marked the judges’ stand.” A tin pan, used as a drum by the Indians, served as starting signal, and during the races, the Snakes in the audience galloped around wildly, rolling about on their horses in mad tricks, yelling and screeching and Hinging their arms in the air.
On August 17, after two weeks of holiday merriment, the time came to start back east. Sir William, for whom this U.S. visit was to be the last, and Bill Sublette, destined to die in two years, bade farewell to their old acquaintances of the mountains, and the dudes, no longer dudes, but hardened sportsmen of the West, made final trades for leather shirts and moccasins. The two parties streamed down the Plains along Green River and took their separate ways for home, the trappers and Snake Indians to Fort Bridger, the others retracing their steps toward the settlements of civilization 1,100 miles away.
Two months later, as the emigrant covered wagon trains, now well up in the Northwest, straggled on their last lap to the Columbia River, the sporting excursion, bursting with tales of adventures they had had in a playground where only trappers and Indians had previously ventured, reached the first outposts of Missouri’s frontier. Giving voice to the proud feelings of the young bloods, Matt Field wrote as dudes ever since have tel t as they returned to civilization and their homes trom a holiday in the Rockies: “We are the fattest, greasiest set of truant rogues your liveliest imagination can call up to view. VVe are the merriest, raggedest—perhaps you would add, the ugliest—set of Buffalo butchers that ever cracked a rifle among the big hills of Wind River.”