By Anne Marie Mistretta, Ph.D., Historic Crail Ranch Conservators Chair and Lead Conservator and Jeremy Harder-Teacher
For close to a century, log cabins perched on a rise along the western side of Route 191 in Gallatin Gateway where the West Fork joins the Gallatin River- think Big Sky’s first stoplight! Tom and Mary Michener owned and operated the dude ranch on their homestead, which they established in the 1890s. Like other ranchers along the road to Yellowstone National Park, the Micheners added the dude ranch vacation feature in the early 1900s to attract national park visitors. Tom was an entrepreneur and recognized the prospect of subsidizing his homestead’s income, much like the recent development boom in Big Sky. Michener Dude Ranch cabins remained along the road until 1998 when the property was sold, and the cabins were removed.
Fast forward to the late 1990’s and one cabin still sits proudly on Big Sky School District’s property. The cabin was dismantled and moved onto the campus as a school-wide place-based project. Under the direction of then superintendent Pat Ingraham and middle school teacher Joan Traylor, the joint community/school project salvaged one of the Michener cabins.
It is fitting that a Michener Dude Ranch cabin welcomes everyone to the school campus, honoring the Micheners’ hard work to educate the children here during the first two decades of the 1900s.
Many people driving by or who live in Big Sky, mistaken the cabin for an old school house. Although one of the Michener’s cabins did serve as a home school for local youth, this one was primarily used as a residence.
Recently, the cabin has been restored by the Historic Crail Ranch Conservators. This summer consider coming down for a historical visit to explore a sense of place in a dynamically changing community.