About the Book

What was really going on at those Nevada divorce ranches?



Bill McGee and his co-author/wife, Sandra McGee, recapture the glamorous days of the Reno divorce ranch era in The Divorce Seekers – A Photo Memoir of a Nevada Dude Wrangler — a richly-illustrated, coffee table book with a collection of stories about the changing cast of fascinating guests who came and went every six weeks on the Flying M.E.

The stories are true… only some names have been changed to protect The Divorce Seekers.

Click to view the Table of Contents

Praise for The Divorce Seekers

“The images – with their smoky, black-and-white, retro allure – are what brought the time and place alive for me so that I could bring my characters to life in my novel …
This book is a treasure if only for the photos alone.”
Deb Caletti, bestselling author of The Secrets She Keeps

“The best book yet about Nevada’s famous dude-divorce ranch business.”
Eric Moody, Nevada Historical Society, Reno

“As Bill McGee recounted stories of life on the Flying M.E., it was like an old Hollywood movie coming to life.”
Jonni Hill, Gardnerville Record-Courier

“We were always a bit jealous of dude wranglers. What was really going on in those dude ranches and wouldn’t that be the job for a young fella like me! This book is a wonderful sharing of an inside perspective. Real cowhands, famous Hollywood actors, the business powerful, the low profile rich, the watering holes, and the special sightseeing areas. It’s all here with the best of photos and the colorful commentary that brings them to LIFE. A must read for its entertainment and historical value.”
—Neal Cobb, Reno Historian and Sheriff, Westerners International Nevada Corral

Click for more Praise and Editorial Reviews

Book Details

A Photo Memoir of a Nevada Dude Wrangler
by William L. McGee and Sandra V. McGee
Foreword by William W. Bliss
Published by BMC Publications, 2004
444 pp, 502 B/W photographs and illustrations, maps, appendices, notes,
bibliography, index.  8.5″ x 11″, $39.95
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The Divorce Seekers is currently under option
for a television or streaming platform series.

The Reno divorce ranch era was launched in 1931

Today, no one needs to get away to divorce; they just divorce. But “splittin’ blankets” was not always so easy.

Before March 20, 1931, in most other states, divorce required a waiting period of one year or more, and the only ground allowed was proof of adultery – a messy business and potential embarrassment for either spouse.

On March 20, 1931, Nevada made it simple. In the depths of the Great Depression, Nevada Governor Fred B. Balzar signed two highly controversial bills: one for legalized gambling; the other for a reduced residency requirement for a divorce from three months to only six weeks.

The Nevada State Journal headlines shouted out the big news in boldface type on page one:

Front page of the Nevada State Journal, March 20, 1931

Anyone seeking a “quickie” divorce could reside anywhere in the State for six weeks, pick their reason for wanting a divorce from a list of nine legal grounds that required little or no proof, and spend an average of six minutes in court before a judge to get the divorce decree.

The motives behind the legalized gambling and six-week divorce measures were purely economic: to bring people and their money to the State. And, indeed, people came and spent their money.

For decades to come, these two highly-controversial measures set Nevada apart from the rest of the nation, and colored the popular image of the State. However, legalized gambling and easy divorce helped Nevada get through the Great Depression years.

Motel sign in Reno reading "Restless Divorcees Welcome"

Hotel sign in Reno, circa 1940. (Photo Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

The floodgates opened

When word got out about Nevada’s six-week divorce, the State’s divorce business exploded. Divorce seekers (as the media called them) came running to Reno by the thousands. (Las Vegas would get in the act later.) They came from all walks of life – the rich, the poor, Eastern socialites, and the working class.

The wild and wooly small town “out West” became known nationwide, even worldwide, as the “Divorce Capital of the World.” Reno was the place to go.

Publicity about the Reno divorce generated its own glossary of divorce terms. “Getting Reno-vated” (a term coined by columnist Walter Winchell), “I’m Going to Reno!” and “Taking the Cure” were synonymous for getting a divorce in Reno. A “Divorcée Special” was a train bringing divorce seekers to Reno. The Washoe County Courthouse was “The Separator.” There was even a brassiere called “The Reno” because it both separated and supported.

To accommodate the influx of divorce seekers, hotels, boardinghouses and dude ranches (the media called them divorce ranches) sprang up in and around Reno. For six weeks, divorce seekers spent their money on food and lodging, gambling, drinking, Western wear, and more. Many divorce seekers fell in love during their six weeks – some with the West and others with someone they met. Many wealthy Easterners stayed in Nevada after their divorce, bringing with them their wealth and their culture.

Bill McGee and a divorce seeker on the Flying M.E., 1948

Bill McGee and a divorce seeker in her newly-purchased Western wear on the Flying M.E., 1948. (Author Collection)

The Reno divorce ranch era flourished throughout the 1930s and ’40s

Reno continued to retain its title as “Divorce Capital of the World” throughout the 1940s. However, in the 1950s, Las Vegas began to catch up, and by the 1960s was granting half of Nevada’s divorces.  By the 1970s, as other states were relaxing their divorce laws, the need to go to Reno for a divorce faded out.

Today no one needs to go to Reno for a divorce, they just divorce. But the story of how a small town in Nevada came to redefine divorce in America is a remarkable true story and a part of history few know about today.

The unique Nevada institution — the divorce ranch — has faded away, but Nevada as a place “to split” will always remain a legend of our time