One of the last dude ranches

MEDORA -- Not many people know the significance associated with the history of the Peaceful Valley Ranch that's located about 7 miles into the South Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

MEDORA -- Not many people know the significance associated with the history of the Peaceful Valley Ranch that's located about 7 miles into the South Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

* The ranch is one of the last remaining dude ranches located in a national park in the country.

* The history of dude ranching began in the early 1900s in that area of Medora.

* The ranch is an important part of the national park's establishment, and it has gone through many owners and operators through the years.

Ranch influences park's start


The Peaceful Valley Ranch got its start around the time Theodore Roosevelt came to the area. It is not documented, but there is a good chance Roosevelt stopped by there on his way to and from what is now known as the Maltese Cross Cabin and Elkhorn Ranch.

Peaceful Valley resides atop a terrace above the Little Missouri River near the confluence of Paddock Creek.

The earliest Euro-American occupant of the ranch was Eldridge Gerry Paddock, an area rancher and early guide for people. There is evidence, however, of others who were around the area thousands of years before Paddock settled.

According to "Peaceful Valley Ranch: An Extended Narrative History" (1993), Paddock was a guide for Gen. George Armstrong Custer and the Northern Pacific surveying parties. Paddock sold bison, elk, deer, sheep, bear and antelope meat to the railway crews and made money returning lost horses to camps. He also served as a guide for hunting parties and was known as the right-hand man of the Marquis de Mores.

Paddock wasn't there long and the Norman Lebo family moved into Paddock's cabin in December 1883, staying there until the following March. Lebo was a hunter and guide for Theodore Roosevelt during his 1884 trip to the Big Horn Mountains. The Lebo family moved to the Custer Trail Ranch shortly after their time in Medora, the narrative history states.

The place was sold to Benjamin Lamb in March 1885. Since Paddock did not hold the title to the land, it is thought he sold Lamb the range rights. Lamb had 200 head of cattle and ranched horses there. He was an active member of different stockgrowers and other associations.

Lamb also was a big part of civic affairs there. The core of the ranch was built by Lamb, with the barn built in 1905 and the bunkhouse later in 1920. The original barn, lodge and ranch house have survived.

In the late 1890s, the ranch saw a couple of different owners, including Joe Caughtin, Tom McDonahue and George Burgess. Burgess sold the property to Harry and Carl Olsen in 1915 when it became a dude ranch.


Eventually, Olsen owned 11 sections of the ranch from 1915-1924. It was Olsen who filed and registered the ranch as Peaceful Valley Ranch in 1922.

"Carl Olsen doesn't get a lot of credit, but he was very prominent with working to establish the national park," TRNP Chief of Interpretation Bruce Kaye said. "He sold the ranch to the federal government in 1936, but the Olsens conducted the first dude ranching out there as early as 1918."

The Olsens took people to the Petrified Forest, neighboring ranches, on overnight cook-outs, round-ups, moonlight rides and other excursions, he added.

"The ranch is noted for its open range, dude ranching history and development of the park," Kaye said. "It is those three implements which factored into why today, three buildings on the ranch are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. This happened July 13, 1994."

Olsen's work is responsible for the Roosevelt Memorial Park Association establishing a park in the Little Missouri Badlands, he added. The association later became the Greater North Dakota Association.

"Olsen did a lot of writing and touring in 1925 and 1928, which is when people became very interested in establishing a national park," Kaye said. "Having the ranch there, people touring saw an infrastructure which later in the 1930s would be cemented by the Civilian Conservation Corps' (CCC) framework in building campgrounds and trails in the effort to establish a national park."

Peaceful Valley Ranch played a big part in establishing the TRNP, he added.

Between 1934 and 1939 the CCC, the Works Projects Administration and Emergency Relief Administration used the ranch as their base of operations. The ranch was their headquarters with camps for workers around the area.


"Weldon Gratton was a senior supervisor and landscape architect for the park service working on the plans which the federal relief crews completed," Kaye said. "His wife Marge runs Buttes Antiques in town today."

Eventually as the administrations left the ranch, the area simply had a custodian in charge of the place in the 1940s.

The TRNP's South Unit and the Elkhorn Unit became a national park in 1947. The ranch's buildings were again headquarters, but for the Park Service employees. It was this way until 1959, when facilities were built right outside the park in Medora for park employees and where most still are today.

"What made the ranch so important is it represented open range ranching and is one of the few in the state with a frame-constructed house representative of the open range industry," Kaye said. "This is an important physical link to both history and economic development of western North Dakota."

The NPS considered turning the ranch into a working ranch and demonstration area during the early 1960s under what was called the Longhorn Ranch Project. This would have included, however, demolishing the ranch buildings and instead creating a more typical open range ranch. This was never done.

In 1967, the Park Service advertised for a concessionaire who would provide saddle horse services for visitors to the park. The concessionaire would use Peaceful Valley Ranch as their base of operations.

"Dude ranching was a very important element of the park's history with the ranch and to have a base of operations for public rides was important to have," Kaye said. "It was a great fit for an operation."

Operating a dude ranch


From 1967-1982, Beach's Alvin Tescher operated the ranch, followed by Medora's Wally Owen, who operated it for little more than 16 years.

Tescher was originally from the area and saw an ad on getting the ranch started again as a dude ranching operation. Prior to working at Peaceful Valley, Tescher was a farmer and rancher in the area.

"I had some horses and thought I'd just try it out," Tescher said. "Our trail rides were usually an hour long, but we branched out into having meals for groups and some groups would stay there for a week at the Halliday Wells camp site."

During Tescher's time there, the Park Service furnished a buggy and the Teschers also gave buggy rides.

While Owen was at the ranch, many stories were published in various publications such as the National Geographic's Traveler magazine, New York Money magazine and the Wall Street Journal. Several of the stories focused on the trail ride guides Owen hired, which were mainly women from all around the world.

"I hired women as trail ride guides from different areas of the world for the change in language," Owen said. "I wanted the languages so when people were riding they would ask where the guides were from. My guides would sing traditional folk songs with different voices because those are the songs they sang back then around the fire, not 'Home on the Range' which didn't come out until the 1920s."

The women employed by Owen were true interpretive guides who also reflected a lesser known historical aspect of western homesteads.

"A third of women were homesteaders out here," he said. "We look at all these men and you think it was tough on them, but what about that lonely lady who sat out there under a tar-paper shed coming here from the Chicago sweat mills and just trying to make it. They were cowboys."


The trail guides were dressed in authentic looking western attire. They took riders along different named trails such as the Pioneer Trail, so each had a different story to tell which was specific to the trail they were on.

Owen and his employees attended different training to continue expanding the interpretive side of the trail rides. Owen even kept the old blacksmith shop intact with some of his people making horseshoes and other items while visitors watched and asked questions.

Owen's background is history and park and recreation, so when the opportunity to operate the historic ranch in the park became available he jumped on it.

"This is the last of the open range ranches. It has national significance," Owen said. "This ranch rates with the world's best remaining open range ranches. There are only two or three left that I know of, including one in Grant-Koors Ranch, Mont., and another in Arizona."

For Owen, the ranch is a place more for interpretation than anything else.

"The interpretation is the value of it," he added. "The trail riding is secondary to that. You'd make more money as an operator doing total interpretation like I did with my girls who dressed up and spoke or demonstrated things. It should look like a 1880s ranch so people feel like they've stepped back into that time."

During his time at the ranch, Owen had up to 250 horses. He still has about five trail horses today.

Owen worked with the Park Service and others to get the ranch on the National Register of Historic Places.


Today the Park Service owns the land and ranch. Laura and Neil Tangen are the current operators who take people on trail rides through the park.

NEXT: Current operators continue tradition.

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