DEVILS TOWER — When Ashley Driskill learned that the owners of Devils Tower Gulch Restaurant were ready to retire and wondered if she wanted to take it over, Driskill didn’t hesitate to say yes.
“You could either drive past this business a couple years later and regret not giving it a chance,” she said. “Or you could jump, you know, face-first into a ball of flames and give it a shot.”
Still, she and her husband Lincoln did take a cautious approach for their first year.
“We leased it last summer,” she said. “And then bought it this spring.”
Last summer being July 1 -- the hot spot for tourism at Devils Tower -- and just a few weeks ahead of the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.
“Lincoln and I have done the rallies before down at the (Devils Tower) KOA but to do it on our own that was (a trial by fire).”
The Driskills estimate they ran at least 200 order tickets a day, or close to a thousand people a day.
It was hectic, but not as hectic as she remembers the 75th anniversary, Ashley said.
Showcasing The Campstool Ranch
One of the first things the Driskills did after they bought the Devils Tower Gulch Restaurant was start filling up its walls with photographs and history of the family’s eighth generation ranch, the Campstool Ranch, which boasts Devils Tower for a backdrop.
“I’m the seventh generation, and I manage the ranch and do all the work on the ranch,” Lincoln said.
The couple has one son, named Merritt, who will be the eighth generation.
“He goes into first grade and he’s already told us that he’s not going to school,” Ashley Driskill said. “He’s just going to come back to the Campstool and run the ranch.”
But he made sure to tell his mom in no uncertain terms that he’s not interested in running the Gulch, Ashley added, laughing.
Only time will tell if youthful aspirations continue to align as the child grows up, but the family is hopeful the ranch will make it to the eighth generation.
Vertical Integration Makes For Some Great Food
The Campstool Ranch presently supplies beef for all of the hamburgers at both Devils Tower Gulch Restaurant as well as at the Devils Tower KOA’s cafe.
Occasionally, there are also Campstool Ranch steaks, and there’s buffalo meat from the Durham Ranch in Wyoming.
The burgers are one-of-a-kind thanks to that, and get rave reviews from customers. The steaks are really good, too, and certainly do not play second fiddle to the burgers. They’re top quality and smooth as butter — the way you’d expect a high-end steak to be.
Accompaniments include salad and fresh-baked bread, and there’s a selection of Wyoming beers available, such as Saddle Bronc Ale.
Like most restaurants in the area, the menu during the motorcycle rally is tremendously slimmed down, but at night, after most of the rally goers have slipped back into South Dakota, the restaurant will bring out its usual menu for its regulars.
Campstool Ranch hats and T-shirts are also for sale in the restaurant, which also houses an eclectic gift shop upstairs.
“We’re really trying to market the ranch, too,” Ashley said. “There’s a lot of history, and we’re really proud of it. And so all the pictures and stuff on the walls are all from the Campstool Ranch.”
The Family Legacy Is Tenacity
Neither the restaurant nor the Devils Tower KOA cafe needs as much beef as the Campstool Ranch produces, so the rest of the cattle go to market. Lincoln is running it as a cow-calf operation, alongside hay and wheat production.
Looking ahead, Lincoln said he will probably reduce the number of cattle on the 10,000-plus-acre ranch to about 400 cows.
“Right now, I’m just kind of flying solo,” he said. “So we’re going to get a little more manageable number and focus on farming projects and stuff.”
Lincoln is proud to be carrying on a family tradition that has persisted through so many generations.
“I can’t remember what the statistic is, but I think three generations is like usually when family ranches don’t go any further,” he said.
The Driskills trailed cattle up to Wyoming from Texas in the late 1870s, Lincoln said, and started out by homesteading the D Ranch, which is near the Campstool Ranch.
“The most proud thing to me is that we’re still here doing this, through all the trials and tribulations. They stuck with it, you know. It’s not easy, and I can’t even imagine what it was like way back when, and they’ve failed several times.”
That first failure came in the wake of the 1886 blizzard.
“We lost, I don’t know, like 20,000 cows up here and went bankrupt, lost the (Driskill) hotel (in Texas),” Lincoln said. “(That) takes up a city block in Austin, Texas, and we never, our family never got to manage it.”
The family lost the D Ranch in the 1930s, but had, in the meantime, bought the Campstool, which is home base now.
A Restaurant With Some History
Ashley and Lincoln do not plan any major changes at the Devils Tower Gulch Restaurant. The menu was already doing well when they took over the restaurant.
In a year, Lincoln said they plan to assess how the restaurant is doing, but they both feel that so far everything that’s at the restaurant now looks good.
“It was important to me to preserve the tourism here,” Ashley said. “I was just, I guess, terrified that it was either going to be torn down and something that’s you know, kind of a historical piece of Crook County would be gone.”
One thing she would like to do is put up more historical artifacts that tell the restaurant’s history. The business is about 39 years old.
“Maybe we’ll bring back a few — and I don’t want it to be you know like Red Rock or anything like that in Colorado, you know — but you know, bring back a few bands, kind of like the way the old Fort was back in the day,” she said. “That’s what (the restaurant) was called before was the Fort. That’s what locals around here remember.”
Ashley and Lincoln both recall big dances at the Fort growing up, and their grandparents and parents have often told them the place has a wild past.
“They say if the walls could talk you would hear some stories probably good, some bad, and some that, you know, probably shouldn’t be repeated,” Ashley said.
For now, though, in the absence of restaurant history, locals have helped her decorate the walls with all kinds of taxidermied animals, to give the interior just a bit of the character of the wild, even if the walls remain silent about the history they know.
“Those belong to Russ Roberts and his wife Lois,” Ashley said. “And he showed up on a Sunday or Saturday afternoon, and at the time, I just had log walls. I didn’t really have anything to fill them.”
After first asking permission to place a few items in the restaurant to help decorate it, he showed up with a horse trailer full of all kinds of wild animals, some of them from Africa.
“We wanted it to stay with what you can actually shoot here in Wyoming up in this area,” Ashley said. “But that’s been the coolest part probably, is the amount of people who have helped us do stuff like that.”
The support of their families and the community has meant a lot, Ashley added.
“They’re willing to help us make it,” she said. “We’ve got an army of people who want us to succeed, and that is a very good feeling.”
Renée Jean can be reached at Renee@CowboyStateDaily.com.