Buckaroos in Paradise: Ranching Culture in Northern Nevada, 1945-1982

A History of the Ninety-Six Ranch

The Ranch After 1910

Three children inherited the ranch; Elizabeth had died in 1904, and the property passed to William F., Edith, and Minnie. William F. was paralyzed by a runaway horse accident in the early thirties and died in 1936, vesting ownership in his two sisters and their families. Minnie married and moved to Sacramento, leaving the actual operation in the hands of Edith and her husband, Fred Stewart.

William F. Stock helped run the ranch until his accident, but Fred Stewart was the real manager from the 1920s to the 1950s. Edith was also an important influence on the operation. Everyone in the community remembers her as energetic and tough. Although Grotsch's family history emphasizes the founding years, rancher Les Stewart has written about his parents: "I believe the thirties were much worse, required more fortitude, devotion, and hard work for no financial reimbursement than any time in the ranch's long history. Fred and Edith deserve more credit than the real early-day people."

During this era--especially between the world wars--the ranch specialized more and more in beef and became less diversified. Interest in horses continued, however, and saddle and work horses won prizes in Nevada competitions. Capital improvements included the construction of outbuildings and line camps, notably the handsome stone structures built by the Italian immigrant stonemason Tony Ramasco.

Les Stewart was born in 1920, and by the age of nineteen was fully involved in the ranch, spending spring, summer, and fall on the range and running the roundup wagon. He attended the College of Agriculture at the University of Nevada in Reno, but his disaffection with scientific experts and authority figures soon manifested itself. In a 1982 letter nominating her husband to the Nevada Cattlemen's Association 100,000 [Horseback] Mile Club, his wife, Marie, writes:

In the spring of 1940 [Leslie] decided that higher education was not for him. Near the end of the semester, while attending a class in ranch management, the professor was discussing the merits of a tidy farmstead. "When piling debris to be burned, don't stack it too close to the barn as you might burn the barn down." Leslie thought about this for awhile and decided his education was complete and school was over as far as he was concerned. He packed his saddle and other belongings and headed back to the ranch and never returned to the college.

Les Stewart, like many workers in agriculture, was exempt from the draft during World War II. He stayed home and helped run the ranch.

The war years and the postwar era brought more changes to the operation. Improved roads and greater use of trucks reduced the amount of horseback work. Ranch workers were fewer in number and less specialized. The audio selection Changes at Wartime describes the war-related disruptions of the work force. Les says he feels the era marked the demise of the true buckaroo, the man who only worked from the saddle. The transition being made in technology is evident in Les's films Haying Season (ca. 1945) and Feeding Cattle in Winter (ca. 1945). A variety of horse-drawn or formerly horse-drawn devices are shown in these films, notably the derrick used to stack the hay. But in all but one case, tractors had replaced the teams of horses while the equipment "behind the hitch" was largely unchanged. Within ten or fifteen years, the transition to motorized apparatus was complete. The haying machines of the 1980s are shown in the video selections Cutting and Windrowing Hay with a Swather, The Baler, and The Harobed.

Les Stewart's parents died within six years of each other. Fred died in 1959, the year in which Les and Marie were married and their son Fredrick William Stewart was born. During the early sixties Les and Marie built their new house while Edith continued to occupy the two-story main house. Edith died in 1965, leaving Les and Marie in operational control of the ranch. Les's cousins--Minnie Grotsch's children--still owned a share, which the Stewarts bought in 1979, using the event as the occasion to change the name of the operation from the William Stock Farming Company to the Ninety-Six Ranch, the name used throughout this online presentation.