Chances are you don’t think “dude ranch” when you think of Halloween. Some ranches didn’t do much to celebrate the day, because the end of October was the end of the season for Rocky Mountain operations, and the start for ranches in the warmer climates of the Southwest. In other words, it’s a busy time of year. Whenever possible though, a ranch owner would try to throw some sort of costume party or offer traditional Halloween treats at meals.
These two concepts came together more often in another way: as a gimmick.
Dude ranching was huge between the 1920s and 1950s, and resorts, cocktail lounges, dance halls, social and fraternal groups, and restaurants all used the phrase “Dude Ranch” in their name and their advertising. No matter how thin the relationship was, evoking the West was good business.
Holidays brought even bigger opportunities for marketing. In 1939 the Elks Lodge of San Pedro, California held its annual Halloween party at their temple with the theme, “Headin’ for a Dude Ranch Roundup.” As reported in the October 27 issue of the San Pedro News-Pilot:
“Irving W. Moore, Jr., who used to ride herd with the hands on his father’s ranch, is chairman of the evening. Moore has arranged to have a ton of hay placed in the grillroom and will bring other ranch equipment here from his Palos Verdes ranch-house, including a chuck wagon, to add to the atmosphere. ‘We’re going to mix horse-play with horse-sense, but if I know these Dude Elks, there’ll be more horse-play than anything,’ he said.”
Dude ranching was popular with the Elks: in 1951, the lodge in Hinton, West Virginia threw a dude ranch themed Halloween party for its members and guests, who all arrived in western costumes.
In 1959, square dancers converged on the Hesperia Dude Ranch in California’s Victor Valley, in the Mojave Desert near San Bernardino (one of the state’s dude ranching hubs). Local square dancers got together at Hesperia every Monday night, and they invited fellow “Squares” (that’s what the newspapers called them) from around the region to come by for a special holiday hoedown. The ranch had only been open for two years, and was really a cross between a resort and a dude ranch, offering everything from a shopping area to a western museum. By the 1960s, it was a regular hotel, called the Hesperia Inn, and its pool was a regular feature in the postcards they sold at the front desk.
The Peekskill Ranch in Peekskill, New York was also a resort, and it offered “Dude Ranch Fun with Luxury Hotel Comfort,” including riding and square dancing. In 1964 they celebrated Halloween over an entire weekend, and gave prizes for the best costumes.
While Halloween might not have been big on dude ranches, one thing is for sure: there was a time when cowboy and cowgirl outfits were all the rage for trick or treating.