Ronald Reagan: Why the Actor-Turned-Politician Was Called the ‘Cowboy President’

by Matthew Wilson
Photo credit: Getty Images

President Ronald Reagan, in the grand tradition of our nation’s leaders, had a nickname. He became known as the Cowboy President to many people.

So where did the moniker come from? It may have something to do with the Rancho del Cielo or The Ranch in the Sky that Reagan purchased in 1974. The 677-acre property would become Reagan’s respite and place of privacy during his presidency. The president visited the ranch almost 50 days a year, donning a cowboy hat and blue jeans. He enjoyed life on the ranch in what he dubbed the “Western White House.”

Reagan even hosted world leaders like Margaret Thatcher and Mikhail Gorbachev. He also made important decisions for the country from the scenic ranch. But most of all, the Ranch in the Sky became a place for Reagan to escape the pressures of politics.

“Really, there were very few visitors, and almost nobody, even his top staff, went into the main house,” John Barletta told Cowboys and Indians. Barletta was chief of security for the Reagans during his presidency. “Everyone knew that this was his place to recharge.”

Ronald Reagan’s Time on the Ranch

Ronald Reagan once described the ranch as, “This place casts a spell. I suppose it’s the scriptural line, ‘I look to the hills from when cometh my strength.’ I understand it better when I’m up here.”

Reagan would spend his mornings going over important presidential work such as bills. He would also take a two to four-hour morning ride through the ranch on horseback. Barletta would always ride beside the president, followed by Reagan’s wife, and another secret service agent. They also had a Hummer trail closely behind as well for security.

While the ranch appeared rustic, the Reagan administration delivered on top-of-the-line security for the president. For instance, fake boulders hid motion detectors and tripwires. There were also hidden snipers and agents across the property, keeping eyes on the president’s location. Often, they would find Reagan indulging in a litany of chores on the ranch.

“Rancho del Cielo can make you feel as if you are on a cloud looking down at the world,” Reagan once said. “From the house, we look across the meadow at a peak crowned with oak trees and beyond it, mountains that stretch toward the horizon. From some points on the ranch, you can watch boats cruising across the Santa Barbara Channel, then turn your head and see the Santa Ynez Valley unfold like a huge wilderness amphitheater before your eyes.”