Dixie Dude celebrates 75 years. Gave Bandera the title, 'The Cowboy Capital of the World'
By Carolyn B. Edwards BCC Staff Writer
Part 1 of a 3-part series on the Dixie Dude Ranch
The Dixie Dude Ranch celebrated its 75th year as a guest ranch with a special barbecue and fireworks party for family and friends on July 4. A highlight of the event included the dedication of the family Totem Pole.
Hand-carved by 4th generation ranch owner Clay Conoly and family members, the totem features fantastical creatures like the butterlope - a cross between the mythical Texas jackalope and a butterfly - that represent family members, both the living and those that have passed. It will stand as mute testimony to a family that has endured through hard work and strong purpose, overcoming challenges and tragedies.
Conoly, his wife Diane, and their two sons, Sharp (10) and Alec (19), are the current owners and operators of the iconic ranch that has come down
through the generations from the original family owner, William Wallace Whitley, who bought the land in 1904. The property has been designated a Texas Heritage Ranch by the Texas Department of Agriculture.
The award is given to rural properties that have been owned by the same family for over 100 years.
Whitley started the guest ranch business on July 3, 1937 with his daughter and son-in-law, Billie and Dee Crowell. The Crowells returned to Texas from California where Billie had worked as an actress and Dee did a stint as a stunt man. The switch to entertaining guests on a ranch was a natural for them.
Billie became very active in the Bandera Tourist Association, promoting local guest ranches with activities and the quarterly publication of The Dude Wrangler. The tabloid-sized magazine went out to subscribers and dudes all over the world, sharing stories about Bandera and the dude ranch experience.
Billie, says Clay, "coined the phrase 'Dude Ranch Capital of the World.' Then she expanded that and coined the phrase 'Cowboy Capital of the World.'"
Conoly's mother, Darlene Conoly, inherited the ranch from the Crowells.
Just as generations of the family have cared for guests for 75 years, generations of guests return again and again.
"This is a great place for grandparents to bond with their grandchildren," said Clay. "It's a pleasure to see three or even four generations sitting down to meals together. Some of our families have been coming for 20 or 30 years."
One family has reserved the ranch for a week in the summer for many years. And there is a 2-year waiting list for returnees to visit at Thanksgiving. "I don't know what kind of system Clay uses to make sure everyone gets a chance to spend Thanksgiving here, but so far it works," said Diane.
Keeping guests happy isn't all that goes on at the Dixie Dude. From the beginning the ranch has been a working ranch. They raise their own longhorn cattle, Spanish goats, pigs and more. The "cowboys" on the Dixie Dude aren't just playing a role to please the customers, they are real.
In recent years, Conoly has diversified the ranch's brand with 7UKatering, which has been bringing the Dixie Dude's reputation for excellent food to many events in the community. The name was inspired by the ranch's 7UK brand.
With the help of 20-year ranch cook Maria Hernandez, the ranch is also producing the Texican brand of pepper sauces and salsas. They can be purchased locally at The Apple Store in Medina, and at Brick's restaurant, Bandera Wine and Spirits, and the General Store, all in Bandera.
Part II next week.
Pictured: Clay and Diane Conoly finish up the work on a family totem to celebrate 75 years of dude ranch history at the Dixie Dude Ranch in Bandera County.
Dixie Dude owner Dee Crowell published The Dude Wrangler quarterly to let locals and guests know what was going on in the "Cowboy Capital of the World." This special edition included lots of Bandera history for its centennial celebration in 1953.
The Dixie Dude Ranch is a recognized Texas Heritage Ranch, having been owned by the same family for over 100 years.
From The Dude Wrangler Cookbook Compiled by Diane Conoly, updated 2004
1 pkg. Crescent rolls
8 oz. Cream cheese
1 lb. Sausage
Cook sausage; drain well. Mix in cream cheese. Separate crescent dough into two rectangles. Place ½ the sausage mixture down the middle of each rectangle. Bring dough up sides of sausage and pinch ends and top together. Bake until brown.