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Chuckwagon BBQs at 320 Guest Ranch

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Guests from around the world have enjoyed the simple American tradition of the Chuckwagon BBQ at 320 Guest Ranch. PHOTO BY MICHAEL SOMERBY

Carrying a tradition as old as The West itself


BIG SKY – Cattle drives, like everything else, are what you make of them. At least that’s what Colonel Charles Goodnight determined when he invented the “chuckwagon.”

“Chuck” Goodnight, dubbed “father of the Texas panhandle,” is one of those good ol’ Texas cowboys that served as inspiration for the likes of Tommy Lee Jones’ Woodrow Call and Paul Newman’s Butch Cassidy—unlike the actors, however, Goodnight was probably tougher than a piece of boot leather. His life as one of America’s preeminent cattle drivers, moving steer from Texas into western markets like Montana, would have made him so.

But this doesn’t mean Goodnight didn’t appreciate a little bit of luxury, if not for himself then for the competitive advantage it provided in recruiting a good crop of cowboys to staff his booming enterprise.

The savvy Goodnight purchased a Civil War munitions wagon, equivalent to a modern day tank in its constitution, and outfitted the vehicle with a state-of-the-art kitchen.

Voila: the food truck is born.

Goodnight’s innovation was not only efficient in feeding his men hearty and delicious meals, but also provided them with the water cooler of antiquity, a place to gab and exchange “windies,” that is, tall tales, after an honest day’s work.

At the 320 Guest Ranch’s Chuckwagon BBQ, you won’t find the hardships Goodnight and crew faced—blistering heat waves, breath-snatching colds and arduous mountain passes—but you will find the reminiscent trappings of those times of old.

The experience begins with a horse-drawn wagon ride, touring the ranch grounds under the guidance of cowboys to which Goodnight would’ve tipped a hat.

Down on the banks of the Gallatin River, guests let their hair down and indulge in the simple pleasures of summers in Montana. PHOTO COURTESY OF LARRY STANLEY/320 GUEST RANCH

It brings you to the banks of the Gallatin River where piles of hot steaks and grilled chicken await, complemented by fixings you simply need: potato salad, cabbage slaw, ears of corn and baked beans, to name a few.

Be sure to wash it all down with a beer or whiskey while the ranch guitarist plays acoustic covers, new and old. It’s what Goodnight would have done.

“This is something that’s been successful for a lot of years,” said Sara Offutt, the ranch’ s conference services manager . “We have yard games and horseshoes out there too. It really sets the scene for the good old days—where kids have a space to run around, and a place where parents can sit by the river and relax.”

For parents and ranch guests without children, it’s easy to slip into a childlike mindset; the horses, flowing river, chirping birds, live music and good barbecue make it happen.

And if those don’t do the trick, sit by the campfire and round out the experience with a s’more.

Chuckwagon BBQs are available at 320 Guest Ranch every Wednesday evening, all summer long. A two-hour horseback ride is also available to customers. For pricing and to make a reservation, visit

Joseph T. O'Connor is the previous Editor-in-Chief for EBS newspaper and Mountain Outlaw magazine.

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