Ross W. Musselman

Promoter, cowboy known as Father of Canyonlands


by Buckley Jensen

Ross W. Musselman was one of the most colorful of San Juan’s early cowboy promoters. His love for the beauty of this area, and his efforts to promote it in the East won him the title of “Father of the Canyonlands” in 1949 at a black tie event at the Hotel Utah in Salt Lake City.

Ross was born March 30, 1889 in Fairfield, PA. He was the youngest of three siblings. He married Mae June Roberts in Philadelphia and settled down to a successful career as a railway clerk, YMCA secretary, boys camp director and lecturer.

Ross’s older brother Roy was a government trapper in the Four Corners Area and in 1930 Ross made a trip to San Juan County to visit. He fell head over heels in love with the wild, untouched mountains, canyons and deserts of the area.

He was so mesmerized with the country he began to dream about sharing it with others. When he returned to Pennsylvania, all he could do was think about the magnificent places he had visited and he decided to pull up stakes and begin a new career.

He and Mae had a comfortable three story home with a maid, and even though Ross was a born salesman, his greatest “selling” job was convincing Mae that she should trade her beautiful home in the East for a small log home on a small ranch east of Monticello with no maid and no conveniences.

But love prevailed and in l933, the M4 ranch on Boulder, east of Monticello, was established as a base camp for the pack trips Ross planned to sell to “city slickers” in the East.

Every spring, Ross would make the long journey to Pennsylvania and New Jersey to recruit “dudes” to come west for the adventures he promised. They would come west together in a car train, stay at the M4 ranch, and spend the summer taking pack trips and working cattle.

In the beginning it was mostly young men, but later whole families came west for the “adventure of a lifetime.” Along with the other activities, Ross took everyone on a three-week horse pack trip over the Blue Mountains, down into Mormon Pasture, through Beef Basin and the Canyonlands, around through Dark Canyon and into the Natural Bridges. Then it was up through the Bears Ears, across Elk Mountain and back to the Ranch at Boulder.

Few veterans of that pack trip did not go back to the East proclaiming that San Juan County Utah was the wildest, most pristine, beautiful, unbelievable, magnificent place on Earth. As Ross’s veteran “dudes” told their tales, recruiting got easier.

Ross was the first man to take “tourists” into the Canyonlands on horseback. He was also the first man to take visitors to the Canyonlands by motorized transport.

In 1949, he moved his Ranch at Boulder to the Pack Creek area at the base of the LaSal Mountains in northern San Juan County. He continued to run cattle and host guests and take scenic trips for ten years.

Ross was active in civic and church affairs. In l940 a group of Christian people met at his ranch and with Ross in the lead, organized what would later become known as the San Juan Community Church in Monticello. In 1948, with Ross as building chairman, the building, which now houses the Community Church, was built.

Ross belonged to the Lions Club in Monticello and the Rotary Club in Moab. He was a member of the Chambers of Commerce in both places, a member of the Points and Pebbles Club, the museum board and the Canyonlands Highway Association.

In 1959, his health started to decline and he moved to Moab where he built and operated a rock shop on North Main. He remained active, particularly in trying to get his beloved Canyonlands made into a National Park. He gave hundreds of slide shows in the summer time to tourists behind his rock shop in Moab.

Ross enjoyed people. He had a soft spot in his heart for the Navajos. His son, Rusty said, “I can hardly remember a night when only our family was at the dinner table. There was always a friend, a guest, or someone who just needed a meal.

“Often our guests were Navajos. We enjoyed having them. For vacations when we were small, Dad would take us to visit our Navajo friends. They would see us coming and by the time we got to their place, they would have a hogan all cleaned out with fresh sand on the floor for us to sleep on.”

Whenever Ross took his guests from the East to the Reservation his Navajo friends would hold a “sing” for them, which was an experience unlike any of them had ever had.

In 1952 Ross took a reporter from the National Geographic Magazine through the Canyonlands on horseback. The trip resulted in the first article on Canyonlands in the world famous magazine, published in l952.

Both of Ross’s M4 ranches were working cattle ranches, as well as dude ranches. He ran cattle all around what is now Arches National Park after he moved to the Pack Creek area. In those days, Arches was a National Monument and there were no fences. When his cows strayed into the Monument, and the Rangers would tell Ross about it. His reply was usually something like, “Well, Damn! Can you believe that? And after we spent all that time teaching them cows how to read those “keep out” signs you boys put up.”

One of the favorite memories of his children and grandchildren was sitting around the fireplace at night and having Ross read to them. It was said he claimed his education came as a result of “night school.” Indeed, his family said he read in bed virtually every night of his life and loved reading aloud to his family.

One of the memorable events of Ross Musselman’s long and colorful life was in 1949 when Utah State Governor, J. Bracken Lee, held a black tie dinner at the ballroom in the old Hotel Utah in Salt Lake in honor of Ross and his lifetime of promoting Southeastern Utah.

The story goes that Ross didn’t know the event was a black-tie affair and arrived in a bolo tie. The doorman would not let him in. Ross used his best salesmanship on the determined doorman, but lost the sale.

Finally the governor saw him frantically waving at the door and walked over and said to the doorman, “It’s ok. This dude is the guy we are throwing the party for. You better let him in.” That night Ross was given the title “Father of the Canyonlands.”

Ross Musselman spent most of a lifetime sharing the wonders of San Juan with people from across the world.

He worked much of his later life toward the goal of seeing his beloved Canyons preserved forever as a national park. Canyonlands National Park was created by an act of Congress, just a few weeks after Ross passed away in 1964.

San Juan Record

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