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The Making of A Dude Ranch – The Historic 63 Ranch

June 11, 2019
  • Facts & Insights
  • History & Area Info

In the 1800s, the land southeast of the Yellowstone River expanding all the way to Montana’s south and east boundaries was Crow country.  Located within Crow territory, the Crows named the Absaroka Mountains after their nation that the range encompassed.  Mission Creek and the nearby Absaroka Mountains nurtured early people and the Crow Indians by providing them essential ground to hunt, fish, live and worship.  It is said these people used this area as a vision-quest site.  As a result, many artifacts have been left behind for present man to ponder.

On May 7, 1868, the Crow sold around 30 million acres of their 1851 Territory and acquiesced to live on a reservation.  This was about the time the Mission, or Crow, Agency, as well as Fort Parker, was built at the mouth of the Mission Creek.  In 1882, the portion of the reservation west of the Boulder River was ceded back to the government.  This opened up land for homesteaders.

In 1919, the first of the Christensen Family came to Montana.  With other siblings to follow, they each had separate paths, yet they had a commonality – a love of dude ranching.  Elmer, Johanna and Paul, after having dabbled in this lifestyle near Yellowstone Park, decided to pursue a mutual dream to own their own dude ranch.  The three Christensens began their quest for the perfect location, and gleefully, in the year 1929, purchased 420 acres from Memorous at the mouth of Mission Creek.  Subsequently they negotiated and purchased the “63” brand from George Bruffery, and in turn named the new family business and land the “63 Ranch”.  This was one of the easier parts of the processes.  From there, many hardships and obstacles arose, both from the downing economy and from the nature of creating a vision from scratch.  Little did they know the Great Depression was about to hit.

They learned to operate the mill and constructed the main log lodge and five guest cabins.  The buffalo skull logo and the main-lodge design were created by Elmer, and the three siblings worked together to form the general layout of the other buildings.

In the spring of 1930, the Ranch opened for business.  The Ranch quickly grew in land, visitors and family.  Through the years, family members came and left the Ranch, each providing help with crucial projects and elements of the dude-ranch lifestyle.

63 Ranch has been a member of the Dude Ranchers Association, which was organized in 1926, since 1930 and an active member since 1938.

When WWII arrived, life was affected far and wide, and the Ranch was no exception.  With family members going off to help the war effort, the Ranch slowed and energy was spent in other ways.  It was about this time that the nearby school house burned down.  Since resources were scare for the small community, school was held on the Ranch until a new framed school house could be built.  The teacher, Jinnie Christensen, wife of Paul and mother of Sandra, taught class for the children.

In 1946 after WWII ended, the Ranch re-opened and bounced back to become once again a thriving dude ranch.

In 1982 with the work of Sandra Christensen, a proposal was drafted and accepted by the State of Montana which resulted in the Ranch becoming one of the first dude ranches to receive the status as a State Historical Site and soon following, a National Historical Site.

With an extensive expansion that now includes the Triangle 7 property, the original Bruffey homestead and other adjoining land parcels, the nearly 2,500-deeded acres create a world within itself – still beautiful and pristine.  With many of the original buildings still in use, it is a true historical site and is presently one of the oldest family-owned and operated dude ranches in the business.