How presidential retreats bolstered America’s love of rural ranchlands.
The lure of the West is cemented in stories of perpetual hope, oil booms and gold rushes, and endless open space getting pinched at the horizon. In the back of our minds, it’s always been a place to getaway; to work hard; to live outside of the structures of “city life”.
With the winddown of Manifest Destiny and the settlement of the frontier in the late 1800s came a new direction for the West with a drive to get closer to the land through recreation, especially hunting and fishing. Tourists capitalized on the ever-expanding coast-to-coast train network rolling through open lands teeming with wildlife. And it’s at this time when we get our first look at the allure of western ranches for U.S. Presidents.
Elkhorn Ranch – Medora, ND – Teddy Roosevelt
Teddy Roosevelt set the pace toward the land of sunsets as he explored a pre-statehood Dakota Territory, eventually hanging his hat in the Badlands near Medora, ND. Ever the adventurer, Roosevelt was driven by the western lifestyle and the ranching boom that followed the introduction of barbed wired. While he never actually owned ranchland in North Dakota, he invested in cattle herds and was instrumental in bringing awareness to overgrazing and wildlife conservation.
Elkhorn Ranch was more than a business opportunity for Roosevelt as he explored the bottomlands of the Little Missouri River on horseback hunting buffalo while setting the backdrop for his run to become the first “Cowboy President”.
Today Elkhorn Ranch is part of 70,000 acre Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota.
LBJ Ranch – Gillespie County, TX – Lyndon Johnson
2,700 acres – Ranch Map
As a young boy in the Texas Hill Country just west of Austin, Lyndon Johnson worked on and explored his Uncle’s cattle ranch. Years later, he would inherit the property and eventually expand it to include more than 2,700 acres in Gillespie County. He continued to operate the ranch throughout his political career keeping a daily pulse on the operation for years from Washington, D.C.
Johnson used the ranch as a stage to entertain luminaries including Presidents Nixon, Truman, and a recently elected JFK often giving personalized tours of the property. The ranch became known as the Texas White House. Johnson was a rancher first and espoused the same western philosophies established by Roosevelt. With his land stewardship practices the LBJ Ranch became of flagship property and during his presidency, he signed almost 300 laws dealing with conservation issues.
The LBJ Ranch is now maintained by the National Park Service and serves as a memorial for a man who was born, lived, died, and is buried on the historic property.
Rancho del Cielo – Santa Barbara, CA – Ronald Reagan
688 acres – Ranch Map
Commonly known as “Ranch in the Sky,” Rancho del Cielo was President Reagan’s retreat just outside Santa Barbara, CA. The ranch’s style and design embraced Reagan’s California Cowboy persona from his days as an actor in western movies in the 1940s and 1950s. Never a true “working ranch”, Reagan treated it as a playground for numerous horses, family dogs, and a few cows.
During his presidency, the ranch truly became the Western White House as the Reagan’s hosted world leaders from Mikhail Gorbachev to Queen Elizabeth II. Expanded media access in the 1980s to the presidency resulted in plenty of photo ops for the President and visitors alike. From horseback riding to canoeing and cutting trees, Reagan always had an eye on the camera which ultimately brought a little piece of the Ranch in the Sky to every living room across America.
Later in Reagan’s life, the property became more of a retreat and the ranch remains preserved as a living monument to Reagan’s life.
Prairie Chapel Ranch - Crawford, TX – George W. Bush
1,583 acres – Ranch Map
Building on his love for the open skies of the Lone Star State and seeking a therapeutic refuge, George Bush purchased the Prairie Chapel Ranch just west of Waco, TX in 1999. Bush turned the old turkey and swine ranch into the Western White House 2.0 spending nearly a month every year at the ranch.
Bush used the ranch property to work the land, entertain, and get a good workout. He famously hosted Russian President Vladimir Putin and British Prime Minister Tony Blair in the months following the 9/11 attacks on the U.S.
Following his presidency, Bush added an art studio to the property and continues to use the Texas ranch as a personal retreat.
Other notable ranches visited by U.S. Presidents:
Dutch Branch Ranch – Fort Worth, TX – Franklin Roosevelt
Owned by Franklin Roosevelt’s son Elliot, the ranch was visited several times by the president.
Custer State Park – Custer, SD – Calvin Coolidge
President Coolidge spent several months in the Black Hills of South Dakota embracing a routine of morning business and afternoon play often enjoying horseback riding and fishing while hosting visitors.
Woody Creek Ranch – Woody Creek, CO – George H. W. Bush
Bush and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher famously visited the Colorado ranch in the lead up to the Gulf War in 1990.
6666 Ranch – Guthrie, TX – Teddy Roosevelt
President Roosevelt visited the storied 6666 Ranch during a trip to Texas to discuss ranching leases.
Rancho De La Osa – Sasabe, AZ – Lyndon Johnson
Located on the U.S.-Mexico border, the Rancho de la Osa has been a destination dude ranch for celebrities since the 1800s.
Celebrities on the Range
One of the resulting impacts of Presidential ranches has been an influx of interest in luxury ranches for business moguls and celebrities across the West. From Big Sky Country in Montana to the plains of West Texas, the popularity of ranch life prevails.
Frederick Jackson Turner called the frontier closed in 1893, but today the range and prairies of the Western U.S. continue calling us – perhaps a sign that we could all live a little closer to the earth.