About Dixie Dude Ranch
In 1901, William Wallace Whitley and his wife, Zoe Dixon Whitley, bought 1440 acres of raw ranch land in the Middle Verde Valley in Bandera County, just nine miles west of the small town of Bandera, Texas. The Whitleys, who had eight children, raised horses and Angora goats.
During the wake of the Depression, Whitley's daughter and son-in-law, Billie and Dee Crowell, approached Whitley with the idea of starting a dude ranch business. He agreed to give it a try, so the Crowells left their careers in California, where Billie was an actress and Dee was a stunt man and traveled with their daughter, Darlene, back to Texas. The name Dixie Dude Ranch refers to their trek from California to “Dixieland.” Once the Crowells arrived, they worked with Whitley to make the ranch suitable for guests. They converted an old bunkhouse to living quarters, fired up a wood-burning stove for cooking and opened for business on July 3, 1937.
Student pilots stationed in San Antonio during World War II for training were among the first guests and contributed greatly to the success of the business during the early years. The young servicemen were in search of a home away from home, and they found it in the serenity of the Texas Hill Country ranch. For a dollar or two they could get a comfortable place to sleep, enjoy plenty of home-cooked food, ride horses during the day and dance to country music at night. Word spread of the ranch owners' warmth and hospitality, and the business was passed on from one generation to the next.
Today, Clay Conoly—Billie and Dee Crowell's grandson—manages the ranch with his wife Diane and their two sons. The original ranch house burned down in 1964 and was replaced the same year with a limestone building that is now the ranch headquarters. Guests congregate in the community dining room for family-style meals, or gather in the spacious living room—called the Roundup Room—to read, watch television, chat or stretch out on one of the sofas. An antique piano parked against a side wall is available to any visitors inclined to tickle the ivories, and antique saddles from the Conoly family's collection are proudly displayed for those interested in touching a piece of Texas history.
The Dixie Dude Ranch is still a working ranch. Clay recently sold all but a few of his longhorn cattle and began raising Spanish/Boer goats, and the cowboys who work the horses are experienced ranch hands. The ranch's staff includes cooks, front desk clerks, wranglers and housekeepers.