I discovered the first clue that lead me to Eatons’ Ranch, in a book. I found Through Glacier Park in 1915 by Mary Roberts Rinehart, at a gift store during one of my visits to Glacier National Park in the late 1980s. I was intrigued by this historical work of a woman traveling by horse pack through the newly designated Glacier National Park, and how that compared to a similar horse pack trip I made through nearby Bob Marshall Wilderness, early in my discovery of Montana and the west.
It turns out that the original title of the book was Through Glacier Park: Seeing America First with Howard Eaton, now out of print but available online. Howard Eaton was the guide for Ms. Rinehart’s trip. Seeing America first appropriately described their journey; a mere five years after its establishment, by horse pack was the only means to see the park.
I mentioned this book to a friend, who shared with me that he had visited the Eatons’ family ranch many times. I was amazed to learn that it existed, and I marveled that there was this thread through the past that still connects the present to the history of the American West.
A book and a friend. Two clues.
Years past. I married, we had a son, and life continued, until an unexpected exchange between colleagues reminded me of Eatons’ Ranch. He and his family had visited the ranch and had met guests there from my current home in LaGrange, Georgia. What a coincidence! This friend and I shared a love of literature of the west, and he encouraged me to take my family to Eatons’. He assured me the trip would undoubtedly be a memorable family milestone.
Third clue. I knew I must go there.
So as my son neared an age when he could begin riding, my husband and I embarked upon a plan to introduce him to horses and begin traveling to the west. Then the summer arrived when the choice was clearly upon us: do we go?
I have always been up for an adventure, but having a husband and child in tow is another thing altogether. We would be traveling somewhere we’d never been, putting ourselves in an unfamiliar landscape.
What if they hated it? What if it all went wrong?
Isn’t this what we typically worry when embarking upon the unknown? I asked them to talk amongst themselves and let me know if they were up for it. I couldn’t take responsibility for the entire decision. We had to reach a mutual agreement. They decided to go for it. With reservations made, we planned a trip to include Eatons’ Ranch along with other Wyoming destinations.
On route to the ranch in Wolf, Wyoming, we stopped at Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument where I picked up Crazy Horse and Custer by Stephen E. Ambrose, a sobering stop along the path of our nation’s history. Reading the book during our week’s vacation was especially meaningful, since we were experiencing a landscape still similar in nature to the near past of history.
We arrived at the ranch and lodging was a rustic two-bedroom cabin. During our stay, we were assigned our own horses and saddles, and if we needed boots, there were plenty in the office basement from which to choose. My son was immersed in video games, so we found it appropriate that his horse was named after a Pokemon character. He was won over.
There was riding twice a day: after breakfast and in the late afternoon. Mid-day the horses rested. There were daily activities, trips into nearby Sheridan, or dips into the spring-fed pool to occupy our non-riding hours.
We were newbies, and didn’t know the trails, of course, and guides accompanied all our rides. One of the attractions of the ranch, is riders are welcome to explore the 7,000 acres on their own, if they so desire.
Food was varied and delicious, and we had the opportunity to get to know other guests during meals. A family from Britain was assigned to our table: the Shakespeares. Really! It was lovely sharing our experiences and getting to know them during our stay. A personal touch was the inscribed napkin rings at our place setting. It had our names and our horse’s names, and when we departed, we got to take them home with us.
We had a marvelous adventure. The riding was scenic, exploring trails and creeks, riding up and over passes, and to the top of overlooks. We enjoyed the time spent together, and my son grew more confident in his riding. The ranch can accommodate almost every age rider, and the care they take to create a memorable experience is exemplified by all who work there. There are overnight rides, rides with meals on the trail and even rodeo riding for those so inclined. There were lovely wildflowers along Wolf creek, wildlife, and a pond stocked with fish for fishing. We had interesting conversations with the wranglers, fellow guests, and employees.
The ranch has a rich tradition, and we sensed we were experiencing a continuation of a unique part of American history. The Eaton family began dude ranching in America. Howard Eaton, along with two brothers, established their first ranch in 1879 in North Dakota. As friends from “back east” came to visit, sometimes staying for long periods, the visitors suggested the Eatons charge room and board to offset expenses. The Eatons moved the ranch to its present Wyoming location in 1904, to offer more varied riding options. It’s nestled at the foot of the Bighorn Mountains. With over 200 horses and 7,000 acres, one is unlikely to grow weary of the scenery. The ranch is still family owned, with subsequent generations running the guest and cattle ranch operations. For more than 100 years, families have traveled to Eatons’ Ranch to share their lives with succeeding generations of the Eatons’ family. As the ranch will tell you, once you’ve visited, you become a part of their ranch family.
It was a poignant moment the night before we checked out, when our son was clearly grieving with thoughts of leaving. He had grown so attached to his horse, that he couldn’t bear the thought of saying goodbye. I knew then that taking the risk of a new adventure, paid a generous reward in the heart of my son.
We will certainly remember our Eatons’ Ranch visit forever. It encompassed all that makes for a remarkable adventure: a willingness to experience something new and different, a unique sampling of American history and culture, and the opportunity to grow together as a family. We intend to revisit Eatons’ Ranch, and become a member of Eaton family in the broadest since, for generations to come. Books, horses, America, landscape, history, adventure, friends, and family are all threads that when woven together provide for an interesting life.
Teresa Rolfe Kravtin currently resides in LaGrange, Georgia with her husband Billy and her fifteen year-old son, Taylor. She’s loved horses her entire life and began exploring the west as a single twenty-something, and earned her saddle cred during a 10-day horse pack trip into the Bob Marshall Wilderness in Montana in 1988, the year of the Yellowstone fire. Teresa has been a publisher representative in the southeast for over twenty-five years. She earned her degree in music education from Columbus State University.