For those who wanted a "taste" of Western life, Dude Ranches were established somewhere in the 1870's, for Eastern and also foreign tourists. Those who were interested in the "Cowboy Mystique" which was fanned by the famous "dime novels" about Western life, wanted to experience life on a ranch, so a demand was there and some ranchers figured there was money to be made from this interest, so many of them began to take on "paying" guests. There are several versions of how the word "Dude" became associated with the people and the ranches, but the most believable is that Dude is a corruption of "duds" referring to clothing. Of course part of the fun of going to a "Dude Ranch" was getting to dress-up in real Western clothes, and of course these store-bought, too new, and too clean clothes easily marked the "dudes" that were coming to the west to play cowboy, for a couple of weeks, as the tourists.
Also in the 1880's, some of the rich British game hunters came to the American West to hunt the various animals, including the American Bison (Buffalo) which was available no where else. Reports are that a Mr. Howard Eaton (the same name as a very exclusive British school which probably didn't hurt his business) had British hunters at his ranch in South Dakota but that the hunting and fishing would be better in the Big Horn Mountains of Wyoming and so he opened a ranch there, not so much as a working ranch, but as a working ranch for the "Dude Ranch" tourist trade. In the beginning, Dude Ranches were only for the wealthy, but as time went along they began to draw people from all walks of life.
Dude Ranches had a boom of sorts shortly after the start of World War I, because Europe was no longer a place to vacation during, and for some time after the war. Of course Dude Ranches were very popular with the tourists, but less so with the "real" cowboys, many of whom thought it was beneath their dignity to work at these "fake" businesses, and so many refused to work on a Dude Ranch. Nonetheless, the popularity of Dude Ranches grew in the 1920's and 30's, whereas the cattle business dropped off and jobs at "real" cattle ranches became far and few between. So many of the then crop of cowboys traded in unemployment for jobs on a Dude Ranch. Dude Ranches continue to thrive today, and it is ironic that much of the "cowboy culture" is preserved by Dude Ranches, that would have otherwise died off. Today's Dude Ranches offer staged gunfights, holdups, and cowboy and Indian battles, however, after a hard day on the range, today's "Dudes" can retire to a room or cabin with air conditioning, swimming pools, and color TV, a far cry from what old time cowboys, or even the early "Dudes" had available to them.