Montana’s original wants to set you straight.

It’s a fair guess that “the man who put ‘dude’ in dude ranching” would be pleased.

Although he’s long gone, Montana’s original dude ranch he and his wife founded in 1898 is once again alive and presenting that Western wilderness lifestyle to city slickers.

The O.T.O Ranch, which closed in 1939, became a “pop-up dude ranch” in 2022, welcoming guests for the first time in 82 years. And this year, it repeated the offer, thanks to a special use permit from the U.S. Forest Service, which now owns the ranch just north of Yellowstone National Park

“You get the full historic scope of this vacation, a way for people to get outside, slow down and relax. You’re living in that history,” notes Bridget Brussels of True Ranch Col-lection, which “stewards” five historic dude ranches in Mon-tana and Arizona.

And what a history it is. James Norris (Dick) Randall was a stagecoach driver who recognized the business potential in this new idea of setting aside beautiful land for the benefit of all the people—Yellowstone had become the world’s first national park, thanks to President Ulysses S. Grant, in 1872. Randall and his wife, Dora, purchased squatter’s rights to land along Cedar Creek in the shadow of the Absaroka Mountains. What they originally bought was a corral and a one-room log cabin with a sod roof and a dirt floor.

At first they offered just guided trips into the wilderness. But they had so many guests, they started building more log cabins in 1912.

Soon, wealthy Easterners were sending their kids out to work as cowboys for the summer at the O.T.O.—the name was simply an easy cattle brand. 

From 1914 to the 1920s, the Randalls built a grand lodge with a rubblestone foundation and rustic log walls. They retired in 1934, and new owners closed it in 1939. 

“It’s amazing how well it was preserved,” Brussels says. But then, it had been built to last. After cleaning out the pack rats and layers of dust, True Ranch Collections restored the Navajo rugs and animal heads that had originally adorned the lodge. 

Part of each reservation goes into a preservation fund for the O.T.O. 

There’s hope that with all the horseback riding and archery and hiking and fishing and white-water rafting and visits to Yellowstone, there will be a demand for another season next year…and next…

Because, as Dick Randall would probably say, “It’s time to relax in the wonderful wilderness, Dude.” 


Dick and Dora Randall’s 1898 O.T.O. Lodge was Montana’s first guest ranch. Expanded in the early decades of the 20th century, the True Ranch Collection company has restored the lodge and its cabins, operating today as a “pop-up dude ranch.”

Photos by Scott T. Baxter, Courtesy True Ranch Collection

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