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THIS IS AMERICA – December 16, 2002: Visiting a Dude Ranch - 2002-12-12



Thousands of holiday visitors come to the United States each year. Many visit cities like New York, Washington, San Francisco or Miami. Others come to the United States to visit the American West. I’m Mary Tillotson.


And I’m Steve Ember. We tell about holiday vacations in the American West on the Special English program, THIS IS AMERICA.


Here is a list of some eating and drinking places that have bands playing country and western music. They are the ”Lone Star Café,” the “Chuck Wagon,” and the “Yellowstone.”

If I asked where these places might be, you might guess Texas, Montana, Nevada or some other western American state. Would you be suprised to learn that they are all in the city of Tokyo, Japan?

If I said “Laredo,” you might know that Laredo is a city in the American state of Texas. Did you know there is another small western town with the same name near London, England?

Lubbock is also a city in Texas. But you can find a Lubbock Town in the German province of Westphalia, not far from the city of Cologne.


The culture of the old American West is extremely popular in many parts of the world. American television programs about the Old West are very popular. People who have read or seen movies about the West often want to learn more.

Some people come together to form organizations that study the history and culture of the old American West.

In Europe, that interest began with the extremely popular books of German writer Karl May (MY). Karl May wrote a series of books about the American West. The books followed the adventures of two men -- a Mescalaro Apache named Winnnetou (VIN-AH-TOO) and his white friend, Old Shatterhand. Mister May finished his series of Western adventures in eighteen-ninety-three. More than one-hundred-million of Karl May’s books have been sold in more than thirty languages.


Yet Karl May (MY) only visited the United States after he finished writing his series of books. And he never traveled further west than the city of Buffalo, New York.

Karl May made many mistakes in his books. He knew very little about the real American West. But the stories he wrote were good and millions of readers do not care about the mistakes. Having read the popular books of Karl May is one of the reasons that many people spend their holidays in the American West.


Those who visit the real American West often stay at places called dude ranches. A ranch is a kind of western farm. A dude ranch charges visitors money to stay and help work on the ranch. Or visitors can learn to ride and care for a horse. They can dance to country and western music, eat western foods and explore the surrounding areas.

Many visitors also buy western clothes to wear. They like to wear the famous American cowboy hat and cowboy boots. A good cowboy hat and a good pair of boots can cost several hundred dollars each. You can even buy a new cowboy hat that is made to look very old and well used.


The Dude Ranchers’ Association is an organization of American ranches that provide a western holiday for people who enjoy horse riding and learning about the western United States. Marcia Williams is the director of the association. Mizz Williams says the association has one-hundred-twenty-four member ranches. They are in most of the western United States.

Some ranches have as few as eight guests at one time while others have as many as one-hundred-twenty guests each week. Some of these western ranches permit visitors all year while others have visitors only in the summer months.

Mizz Williams says most foreign visitors who vacation at member ranches come from Britain. This is followed by visitors from Germany and Italy. She says it is not unusual to see a person dressed like an American cowboy and speaking English with a German or Italian accent.


Dude ranch experts say about four-hundred ranches can provide the experience of living in the American West. An example is the Eighteen-Eighties Ranch in the northwestern state of Montana. It is a new Dude Ranch and a little different from many others. The Eighteen-Eighties Ranch is really a small town, very similar to several that were found in the American West during the eighteen-eighties.

What is the ranch really like? Come with us for a few minutes while we visit this unusual place.



We are in Montana now. Montana is forever linked to the old culture of the American West. The Little Big Horn battlefield is here. That is where General George Custer was defeated by the Lakota and the Cheyenne Indians. Many other famous Indian tribes lived here too -- the Blackfeet, the Crow, the Shoshone. The mighty Missiouri River crosses much of Montana. The famous Lewis and Clark exploration team used this river to first travel through the American West.

The Eighteen-Eighties Ranch is high in the Rocky Mountains near the imaginary line that divides the North American continent. A nearby mountain is more than three- thousand meters tall. This is what is called “big sky country” in Montana. The air here is fresh and clean. You can smell the trees and grass. The sky is a sharp blue color.

The Eighteen-Eighties Ranch includes a kind of hotel called a boarding house. Next door is a drinking place called a saloon. Just down the street is a large Indian temporary cloth house called a tipi. Another place to stay is an Indian house made of wood called a bark lodge.

One house is made of logs and is called a log cabin. Another house is made of dirt that is held together by grass that has been growing for hundreds of years. This kind of very thick grass is called sod. The house is called a sod house or soddy.

Visitors to the Eighteen-Eighties Ranch can stay in any of these places. Each may look like it is more than one-hundred years old. But they all have modern equipment inside, including electric power, water and modern bathrooms.


We have sent a request to the ranch to stay in the sod house. American settlers in the West often built this kind of house because it cost almost nothing. All it took was extremely hard work. The dirt and grass sod is several meters thick. Each piece had to be cut and lifted out of the ground. These pieces were cut and fit together to make a warm, dry home. You could build a sod house any size you wanted. The one at the ranch is small but comfortable.

The walls of the little sod house have been painted white inside. Our room is bright and clean. This little house is extremely unusual. Once, thousands of sod houses could be seen across the old American West. The little sod house at the Eighteen-Eighties Ranch may be one of the last. It is truly a piece of American history.


Now we will go to the store to buy a cowboy hat and western clothes. It takes only a few minutes to buy what we need. After changing clothes in our sod house, we look like real American cowboys or cowgirls. Now, with our new hats and clothes, we can ride horses into Montana’s high country.

We can choose among many different trails. We can ride far back into the surrounding mountains to the high mountain lakes. Or we can stay close to the ranch in nearby Levengood Gulch. Or we can ride to Lost Creek Trail.

We can ride and explore thousands of hectares of land. When the day is done, we return to the ranch. Dinner tonight will be a western barbecue. That is beef cooked over a fire, the way it was done in the old West.

We planned to stay at the Eighteen-Eighties Ranch for a week. The price we paid includes horse riding, three meals each day, entertainment and transportation to and from the airport in Butte, Montana.

Our visit has ended and we experienced a little of what it was like to be a cowboy in the eighteen-hundreds. The unusual buildings at the Eighteen-Eighties Ranch provided us with a history lesson. We learned to ride and care for a horse. And, best of all, we lived deep in the beautiful Rocky Mountains. We will always remember the big sky country of Montana and the American West.



This VOA Special English program was written by Paul Thompson. It was produced by Cynthia Kirk. I’m Mary Tillotson.


And I’m Steve Ember. Join us again next week for another program about life in the United States on the Special English program THIS IS AMERICA.