A Look Back

The history of Mountain Sky Guest Ranch epitomizes the authenticity and romance of Montana’s Paradise Valley and the American West.

1863 – 1900

The warm Western hospitality and superb service enjoyed by today’s guests have deep roots in the ranch’s history as a working and guest ranch. Serving guests since 1929, the ranch and its historic buildings resonate with the memories and storied lore of the Old West.

In 1863, Ohio native Nelson Story settled with his wife, Ellen, in Montana in a log house at Alder Gulch. Three years later, in 1866, he drove 1,000 head of cattle up from Ft. Worth, Texas, on the Lonesome Dove Trail to help feed starving Montana mining town residents isolated by harsh weather. He came through Paradise Valley and, beset by an early winter, he camped in a “pretty little canyon” offering protection from the elements – the present-day site of Mountain Sky Guest Ranch.

1900 – 1929

Through the early 1900s, the site served as a base camp for sheepherders and cowboys. In the late 1920s, Charles Murphy purchased the Paradise Valley site and founded Ox Yoke Ranch, a 50,000-acre working cattle ranch.

A depressed livestock market forced Murphy to consider ways to diversify the ranch and generate income. While cattle ranching was not always a lucrative profession, dude ranches were growing in popularity in the 1920s and 1930s. When the Northern Pacific Railroad came to Paradise Valley, establishing a train station in Emigrant, Murphy seized the opportunity to be among the first Western ranchers to open the wonders of the West to pleasure travelers from the East.

Working with Northern Pacific Railroad officials in Chicago, Murphy began construction on present-day Mountain Sky’s main lodge. While the dining room and sitting rooms have since been renovated, and amenities have been added, much of today’s historic Mountain Sky main lodge remains structurally unchanged since the 1920s. Murphy also relocated a rustic house on the property, inhabited by earlier homesteaders, the Lewis family, from the upper pasture to a new location closer to the main lodge. Murphy used the log home as his year-round residence and office for the ranch. This home now serves as Mountain Sky’s gift shop.

1929 – Present

In 1929, Murphy welcomed his first guests at the railhead in Emigrant for their stay at Ox Yoke Ranch. It was not unusual to see private rail cars parked for two and three months in Emigrant throughout the summer. Guests came from Chicago, Minnesota, New York and Florida to enjoy the same spectacular riding, hiking, fishing and warm Western hospitality enjoyed by today’s Mountain Sky guests.

Charlie Murphy’s son, Jim, grew up on the ranch and attended classes in the rustic schoolhouse at the base of Big Creek Road. He was destined to be part of one of the first great love stories to blossom on ranch grounds. Jim met his future wife, Gayle, during her family’s summer stays as guests at the ranch. Jim and Gayle married and became owners of the property when Charlie Murphy passed away. They moved into the historic Homestead House, filling its rooms with a romance that can still be felt in this rustic treasure today, and continued to run guest operations in the warm tradition of Murphy hospitality.

Through successive ownerships, the AAA 4-Diamond rated dude ranch officially was named Mountain Sky Guest Ranch in 1979.

Today, guests who vacation at Mountain Sky Guest Ranch share in the wonder of the “pretty little canyon” discovered by Nelson Story at the turn of the century. The romance between the land and its guests continues, warming cabins, lodge and countryside with the same Western-style friendships and conversation celebrated here since 1929.