Conducting more research (Author photo)

Bill and I spent the month of September in his home state of Montana

Objective: To research and fill in the blanks of Bill’s Montana family history for his upcoming memoir, Montana Memoir: The Hardscrabble Years, 1925-1942.

Final stop: Helena, Montana’s capital (pop 29,351)

The Montana Historical Society in Helena had a wealth of information on Bill’s Uncle Clyde M. Lyon and Granduncle Frederick A. Lyon.

Frederick A. Lyon visited Montana in 1879 and, a few years later, settled in Forestgrove, near Lewistown. He courageously began his career as a homesteader on what was practically desert land. His operations grew and prospered, and, by 1921, he owned 2,000 acres of valuable and productive land. He was one of the pioneers in the business of alfalfa growing in Fergus County.

We hated to leave “Big Sky” country, but it was time to head home to California and process our new research into the manuscript for Bill’s Montana memoir, published three years later.


Related Posts
Montana Memoir Research – First stop: Livingston (Post 1/3)
Montana Memoir Research – Second stop: Wilsall (Post 2/3)





Sandra with Mark P. Hall-Patton (left), Clark County Museums Administrator and a regular guest on the hit TV series Pawn Stars.

Las Vegas, Nevada, June 25-29, 2013 — Hundreds of the country’s top Western writers gathered at the Riviera Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas for the Western Writers of America 60th Annual Convention.

Western novelists, historians, screenwriters, songwriters, and the agents and editors who represent them, enjoyed five days of Western camaraderie, networking, and learning.

This year a much-debated topic was the recently released Johnny Depp movie, The Lone Ranger. WWA members are serious researchers and know their history when it comes to the “old West”,  so there were lively debates about the movie and just who was the real Lone Ranger.

On Friday, June 28, seventy Western writers signed their books at Barnes & Noble in Henderson. The book signing was kicked off by a few words from Mark P. Hall-Patton, Clark County Museum administrator, and a regular guest on the hit TV series Pawn Stars.

Bob Wiseman, the Las Vegas author of the award-winning cookbook Healthy Southwestern Cooking, said, “This is a rare opportunity to meet some of the best known writers of the old and contemporary West.”

Bill and I represented the contemporary West with our book, The Divorce Seekers: A Photo Memoir of a Nevada Dude Wrangler. Other writers taking part in the signing included Thomas Cobb, author of Crazy Heart, adapted into an Oscar-winning movie starring Jeff Bridges, and Kirk Ellis, Emmy-winning screenwriter of  HBO’s John Adams.

Western Writers of America (WWA) was founded in 1953 to promote and recognize literature of the American West. The membership includes novelists, historians, essayists, journalists, songwriters, screenwriters, editors, agents, and others. Annual conventions are held each June in a different Western community. Past winners of WWA’s prestigious Spur Award include Jane Smiley, Larry McMurtry, Stephen E. Ambrose, Tony Hillerman, and Elmer Kelton.

A new book idea is explored with Lynn Bueling (left) and Sandra and Bill McGee.

Bill and Sandra discuss a book idea with Lynn Bueling (left).


Related Post
WWA at National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum, Okalahoma City, June 2009




Scripps student Theresa Iker interviews authors Bill and Sandra McGee, June 2013.

Scripps student Theresa Iker interviews Bill and Sandra McGee for her thesis on the Reno divorce industry. June 2013

Theresa Iker’s interest in the Reno divorce era was sparked when she read novelist Lily Tuck’s story in Vogue magazine about getting a divorce at the Donner Trail Guest Ranch in Verdi, outside of Reno, Nevada (See link below to read “On Her Own” by Lily Tuck, Vogue, June 2012).

Theresa was then a student at Scripps College in Southern California. Like others of her generation, she  was unfamiliar with Nevada’s six-week divorce era and thought it would be a good subject for a thesis. What was so different about getting a divorce back then? Why did women — and some men — want to go to Reno for a divorce?

Theresa applied for and received a fellowship to conduct a research study about people’s experiences with the Reno divorce industry from 1915 to 1970.

There aren’t many individuals around today who experienced the Reno divorce era firsthand. However, Internet research led Theresa to Bill McGee and our book, The Divorce Seekers: A Photo Memoir of a Nevada Dude Wrangler.

As Bill likes to say, “I may be the only former Nevada dude wrangler — still above ground — who lived through the Reno divorce era.”

Bill and I wish Theresa the very best in her work to preserve this part of Nevada history few people know about today!

Related post
“On Her Own” by Lily Tuck, Vogue, June 2012

Jim Halfens, a Dutch entrepreneur, wants to introduce “Divorce Hotels” to the United States… a weekend program for couples seeking a speedy split-up.

In a recent  Internet search for “divorce ranches,” I found this interesting story in the New York Times: “Quick Getaways at the Divorce Hotel”  (5/27/2012).

A Netherlands entrepreneur came up with the idea of a “Divorce Hotel“… a place where a couple checks in on a Friday, married, and checksout on a Sunday, divorced. According to the story, the concept is already up and running at six high-end hotels in the Netherlands and may be coming to the United States soon.

Related posts:
What are the six biggest divorce trends in the U.S. today?

September 2012 – The documentary team for RENO and the Romance of Divorce met in Reno to discuss the next phase of development for the upcoming documentary.

After the morning meeting, the creative team (Bill, Sandra, John Cork, Lisa van Eyssen, Guy Rocha, Mella Harmon, Deb Wiger Geraghty) attended Neal and Mary Cobb’s Annual Pig Roast on their Reno ranch. More than 200 guests enjoyed a Western-style gather with an abundance of food, good music, camaraderie and, of course, the roasted pig.

Neal Cobb, Reno historian

Neal Cobb, Reno historian extraordinaire


“RRD” documentary producer John Cork (center) with “2012 Distinguished Nevadan” Guy Rocha (left) and Reno gaming historian/author Dwayne Kling (right).


(L to R) Steve Ellison, producer “Harolds Club” documentary; author and “RRD” creative consultant Bill McGee; Deb Wiger Geraghty, “RRD” creative consultant; James Stavena.


“RRD” producer Lisa van Eyssen (left) with “RRD” creative consultant and author Sandra McGee.


Roasting the pig on the Neal Cobb ranch, Reno

The roasting pig

Novelist Lily Tuck stayed on the Donner Trail Guest Ranch in Verdi in 1970 to get a six-week Nevada divorce

The heydays of the Reno divorce ranch era had already faded out, and the Donner Trail was the last of the legendary half-dozen divorce ranches that had been scattered outside of Reno from the 1930s to the 1960s.

However, as Ms. Tuck writes, she never expected to have such a wonderful time.

Click on the link below to read the story…

“On Her Own” by Lily Tuck, Vogue Magazine, June 2012 issue



Ed Pearce of KOLO-TV, Reno, interviews former 1940s Nevada dude wrangler Bill McGee on the site of the famous Flying M.E. divorce ranch, Washoe Valley, Nevada. November 2004.


This documentary short was produced by acclaimed documentary filmmakers John Cork and Lisa van Eyssen for Twentieth Century Fox. The exclusive featurette (as it’s called on the DVD) accompanies the re-release on DVD of the 1939 film Charlie Chan in Reno. Former 1940s Nevada divorce ranch wrangler and author Bill McGee provides on-camera commentary. Posted is a 2-minute clip from the 15 minute docu.

The Charlie Chan Collection, Volume 4, is a 4-DVD box set and includes Charlie Chan in Reno, plus three other Charlie Chan movies and many exclusive featurettes. Available from Amazon.

Take a listen to this interview on Nevada Public Radio’s KNPR in Las Vegas, March 1, 2011

Tales from Reno’s Divorce Ranches 

The interview includes commentary by the following Reno divorce era experts:

  • Author Bill McGee – former 1940s dude wrangler on Nevada’s Flying M.E. divorce ranch
  • Author Marilu Norden -divorce seeker at the Pyramid Lake Guest Ranch in the 1950s
  • Beth Ward – former owner of the Whitney Guest Ranch in Reno
  • Mella Harmon – Reno divorce historian

Opening page of Priya Jain's Reno divorce story for Bust magazineBrava to Priya Jain on her compelling, six-page feature story in BUST MAGAZINE, December/January 2010 issue

Click on the link below to read the story…

“The Six-Week Cure: Remembering the era when Reno ‘divorce ranches’ helped unhappily married women start new lives” by Priya Jain

More by Priya Jain