History of the Ranch

The high mountain environment of the Bitterroot is beautiful but it is a harsh one to survive year round, leading one of the early inhabitants to remark that, “the only thing you can grow successfully here are jackrabbits!”

The original residents in our valley were the Sheep Eater Indians, a little known but fascinating tribe that lived in the high country of Wyoming. The first European to settle in the valley of the East Fork of the Wind River, was Henry Olsen, known as “Dirty Ollie” because he is reputed to never bathe, who built what we now call the trapper’s cabin around 1900. He filed a claim for the land, but couldn’t prove that he had lived on the ranch for the requisite period of time and was forced out of his original cabin by Scottish settlers downstream. He moved over the hill to Spring Creek on land that is now owned by the Wyoming Game and Fish and borders the Wind River Indian Reservation.
Gavin Duncan, one of four brothers from Ayrshire, Scotland, built the original cabin on the west side of the river that runs through the ranch, known to us now as Homestead guest cabin. When Homestead was renovated in 1972, Scottish newspapers from 1903 were discovered insulating the walls. Gavin Duncan raised Hereford cattle, horses and turkeys. The east side of the river was part of the Wind River Indian Reservation until 1906 when an act of Congress allowed the government to purchase the land and open it up for settlement. In the late 1930’s the President gave unclaimed land back to the tribes, but controversy remain regarding the legality of this move.

Robert Campbell, a friend of the Duncans, first owned the land on the east side of the river. He sold out to his brother, John, and the land changed hands several more times until Ben Butler acquired both sides in 1927 and named the ranch the Flying T. John Lambert, a wealthy and flamboyant easterner, arrived in 1937 and built the lodge and the barn. He had several cowboys working for him and they all participated in rodeos and gambling in Dubois. In 1950 the Trester family from the Midwest purchased the land, and built an airstrip so the family could fly in for the summer. It was leased to several different people in the 1960’s before being acquired by Harold Goodell in 1967. Bayard Fox purchased the land in 1971 with the idea of creating a dude ranch, and renamed it the Bitterroot after the pink flowers that carpet the sagebrush plains in June.

There was much remodeling in the early years and cabins were either moved in or built to accommodate guests.

Cedar, Cottonwood and Spruce were outbuildings, originally located near the vegetable garden, which has been producing for nearly 70 years. The Riverside cabin was used by former owners to to rear chinchillas. Studio was a chicken house by the river; it was moved to its present location and was Bayard’s office in the early days of Equitours before being converted to a small guest cabin with an unbeatable view. Juniper was constructed in 1972 by Bayard’s cousin, Fran Fox, who had helped find the ranch and was the manager while Bayard extricated himself from business interests in the Solomon Islands. Aspen was originally located up Bear Creek at the old Dennison Ranch and was moved to the Bitterroot in 1975.  Of interest are the hand hewn logs reflecting the tie hack heritage of the area.  Corral was transported from Togwotee Lodge in the late 1970s and renovated for guests in 1992.  Pine and Sage were constructed on the ranch in the 1980s.  The last cabin to arrive was Willow, which was moved in from Pinedale in the 1990s.            

As the horse herd grew it became necessary to find a place to winter them since trucking in hay and access to sufficient water was difficult and expensive in this area up against the mountains. A farm was purchased at a lower altitude near Riverton and we then  moved  into cattle ranching after being allocated a summer grazing permit by the Forest Service. This fits in well with the guest operation and leads to a more well rounded and traditional experience.  Richard and Hadley are based at the farm in the winter and join Bayard and Mel at the original ranch during the summer months.