Archive for the ‘This ‘n That’ Category

Bill McGee and Flying M.E. guest taking a beer break on a trail ride, 1948 (Author Collection)

Don your Western wear and watch a classic Western movie

Owen Wister is said to have created the first romantic cowboy in 1902 with his best-selling novel The Virginian. The hero, known simply as “the Virginian”, was brave and honorable, tough but soft-spoken.

The Virginian was portrayed on the big screen in 1929 by Gary Cooper, in 1946 by Joel McCrea, and from 1962 to 1971 by James Drury in a television series of the same name.

Deb Caletti's new novel "The Secrets She Keeps", front cover


Deb Caletti, best selling author, sent Bill and me a copy of her new novel set on a Reno divorce ranch in 1951. The inscription read


“For Bill and Sandra, Divorce ranch royalty! With gratitude.”




Deb shares what it was like doing research for this novel: 

“I owe a debt of gratitude to Bill and Sandra McGee’s wonderful book The Divorce Seekers, which was an invaluable resource for information about the Nevada divorce ranches. . . . This book is a treasure if only for the photos alone—images of cowboys, the ranch, old Reno, and Moscow mule-sipping socialites in the midst of their six-week cure.

Bringing that time period to life was trickier than I’d anticipated because of exactly what I’d found so thrilling—how little there was out there about the divorce ranches. Luckily, I discovered The Divorce Seekers, a stunning coffee table volume of photos and memories by Bill McGee, a former dude wrangler at the famed Flying M. E. 

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 them [my characters] to life in the novel. Not only was the book an invaluable resource for information on day-to-day life on a divorce ranch, it also set the mood. I’d open the book to an image of two sleepy roommates in the middle of their Reno cure, wearing silky chemises, drinks in hand, or to a photo of one of the gals in her party-night finery, and I’d be just where I needed to be.” -Deb Caletti


Brochure for the Boulderado Ranch, circa 1940s. (Courtesy Nevada Historical Society)

Brochure for the Boulderado Ranch, circa 1940s. (Courtesy Nevada Historical Society)

Two former Las Vegas divorce ranches were featured in the Travel Channel’s new series, Time Traveling

The new series premiered on April 20, 2015 and the first episode featured the Boulderado Ranch and Tule Springs Ranch.

In 2014, Bill and I were contacted by the producers, who were seeking information on former Las Vegas divorce ranches of the 1940s and ’50s.

Though our book, The Divorce Seekers – A Photo Memoir of a Nevada Dude Wrangler, is focused on Reno-area divorce ranches – where Nevada’s six-week divorce business began – we do include how and when Las Vegas got into the divorce business years after Reno.

We gladly sent the producers a copy of our book.

In an April 2015 interview for the Las Vegas Sun, Brian Unger of the Travel Channel told Robin Leach, “a book fell into the hands of someone in the home office, and they thought this would be a great story.” We bet that book was The Divorce Seekers. 

In our opinion, the first episode was a disappointment. Reno’s role in the history of Nevada’s unique divorce ranch business was omitted completely. In fact, the program claimed Las Vegas where the town where Nevada’s divorce ranch business began. Shame, shame.

Related Post 
“A Place to Split” by Sandra V. McGee




When the curtain fell on the third season of Mad Men, Betty Draper was on her way to Reno to get a divorce.

This created some buzz about Reno’s six-week divorce era and inspired Priya Jain’s story for SLATE.COM (see link below).

After all, how many of today’s younger generation know about this slice of history in the American West that eventually empowered women in their marriages?

Click on the link to read…

“Betty Goes Reno: A visit to the glamorous divorce ranches of the Mad Men era” by Priya Jain (July 21, 2010)


Note: In 2014, Christopher Spata wrote a piece in the Tampa Tribune about the screenwriting and attention to historical accuracy in AMC’s highly-successful television series (“Mad Men respectful with details from the past”, Tampa Tribune, April 13, 2014). Unfortunately, this piece is no longer available to read on the Tampa Tribune’s site, but as an example of historical accuracy, Mr. Spata addresses Betty’s going to Reno and why it fit historically with the script. As part of his fact-checking, Mr. Spata contacted Bill McGee for a comment or two and included a nice plug for The Divorce Seekers in his story.

Related Post
Priya Jain and the Reno divorce era for BUST Magazine

Doing research... (Author photo)

Conducting research – Bill McGee (right) at the Clyde Park Tavern, Clyde Park, MT, 2013 (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 roots for his upcoming memoir, Montana Memoir: The Hardscrabble Years, 1925-1942.

First stop: – Livingston (pop 7,000)
Like so many other small towns in the West, Livingston was established in the 1880s alongside the tracks of the Northern Pacific Railroad.

The wild and wooly town was situated on the Yellowstone River and was known as “the original gateway to Yellowstone National Park”. Tourists en route to the park had to change trains in Livingston and many spent the night in town before continuing their journey. By 1882, Livingston was a thriving community with 40 businesses, 30 of them saloons. Rough and tumble, the town attracted the likes of Calamity Jane, who is said to have lived in a local hotel with periodic stays in jail.

Bill was born at the  in Livingston in 1925. Bill’s father, Harry Ellwood “Mac” McGee, was homesteading in the Shields River Valley about 30 miles north of Livingston. When it was Bill’s time to be born, his “rich” uncle, Clyde M. Lyon, drove Bill’s mother, Vivian (Lyon) McGee, to the Lott Birthing Hospital in Livingston. Maternity patients at that time were not usually kept in regular hospitals. Numerous “maternity houses” – or “birthing hospitals” as they were also called – were scattered throughout Livingston before hospitals were thought appropriate for “lying in”.

The former Lott Birthing Hospital, Livingston, MT, 2013 (Author photo)

The former Lott Birthing Hospital, Livingston, MT, 2013 (Author photo)

The Lott Birthing Hospital, 128 S. Yellowstone Street, was originally a private residence built in 1889 (the year Montana achieved statehood) in the affluent West Side neighborhood known as “Bankers’ Row”. From 1920 to 1929, the residence housed the Lott Birthing Hospital run by local nurse Edith Lott. Nurse Lott was known for her compassion. She never asked if a patient could pay. She  took care of “the ladies from B Street” (the Red Light District) with no questions asked.

Today, the former Lott Birthing Hospital is once again a private residence and on the National Register of Historic Places. Livingston’s historic Main Street is a reminder of the past, with grand old buildings that have been restored. The town is a haven for artists, writers, and actors, with good restaurants – and still a healthy number of saloons.

Related Posts
Montana Memoir Research – Second stop: Wilsall (Post 2/3)
Montana Memoir Research – Final stop: Helena (Post 3/3)

Conducting research: The Bank Bar & Vault Restaurant, Wilsall, MT, 2013 (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 family history for his upcoming memoir, Montana Memoir: The Hardscrabble Years, 1925-1942.

Second stop: Wilsall (pop 237 at the 2000 census) 

In 1911, Clyde M. Lyon — who would become Bill’s uncle in 1925 — was visiting the West, looking for a good place to raise cattle. Clyde Lyon had already established himself in the Midwest as a successful businessman. However, like so many entrepreneurs of his time, he was drawn to the West seeking new opportunities. 

When he visited Wilsall, a small community about 30 miles north of Livingston in the Shields River Valley, he was convinced it was a good place for cattle ranching. 

By 1919, Clyde Lyon owned several ranches in Park and Meagher counties, as well as the Wilsall Mercantile Store, still doing a thriving business today (see below for then and now photos).

At the time, Harry Elwood “Mac” McGee, a cowboy and blacksmith, had a reputation around Montana as a top hand with horses. Clyde Lyon spotted Harry McGee’s talent with horses and hired him on the spot to work on his  ranches in Park and Meagher counties.

While working for Clyde Lyon, Harry McGee met Clyde’s sister, Vivian, who was working in the Wilsall Mercantile Store. In 1921, Harry and Vivian married, much against Clyde’s wishes, who did not want his educated sister to marry a cowboy. Harry and Vivian had three children while living on Clyde Lyon’s ranches: Bill, and his sisters, Doris and Betty. 

Clyde Lyon would be numbered among the prosperous and well-to-do citizens of his community. In 1921, he was written up in a Montana “Who’s Who” as “one of the well-known agriculturists and ranchmen of Southern Montana. . . never losing the dignity which is the birthright of the true gentleman”. (Montana: Its Story and Biography, Vol. II, 1921)


Clyde M. Lyon's Wilsall Mercantile Company (on the right), Wilsall, MT, 1921 (Wilsall Museum)

Back when: Clyde M. Lyon’s Wilsall Mercantile Company (on the right), Wilsall, MT, 1921 (Courtesy Wilsall Museum)


Still in business today: Wilsall Mercantile Company, Wilsall, MT, 2013 (Author photo)

Still in business today: Wilsall Mercantile Company, Wilsall, MT, 2013 (Author photo)


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)




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

Scripps College student Theresa Iker first learned about the Reno divorce era from a story in Vogue magazine by novelist Lily Tuck about getting her divorce at the Donner Trail Guest Ranch in Verdi, 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

Divorce hotels, a new concept by Jim Halfens

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?

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

She never expected to have a wonderful time.

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.

Click on the link below to read Lily Tuck’s story…

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





Marlboro ManLife magazine photographer Leonard McCombe shot this image of Texas rancher C. H. Long, a range boss for the JA Ranch near Amarillo, Texas. The image appeared on the magazine’s cover on August 22, 1949 and inspired Chicago adman Leo Burnett in the creation of one of the most successful advertising campaigns in history… the Marlboro Man.







Bill McGee back when on the Flying M.E. dude ranch… enjoying a Camel cigarette. 


Mount Rose, Nevada, November 2009 – On a chilly morning in November 2009, Bill and I gathered with four close friends to dedicate the Bill and Sandra McGee Mile on the Tahoe Rim Trail. The mile we chose to sponsor is the Connector Trail from the Mt. Rose Summit Trailhead to Relay Peak Road.

Per Bill’s wishes, our sponsored mile was dedicated to Emmy Wood, the legendary proprietor of the famous Flying M.E. divorce ranch, where Bill worked as the head dude ranch wrangler from 1947 to 1949.

Bill has a long history with Lake Tahoe going back to the 1930s, when he first visited the Lake as a teenager while thumbing his way around the West. Following his discharge from the Navy after World War II, he worked at the Lake as a trail and deer hunting guide for the Bob Scates stables in Tahoe City.

From 1947 to 1949, when Bill was the head dude wrangler on the Flying M.E., south of Reno, he led ranch guests on pack trips and overnight camping trips to the Lake.

Bill left cowboying in 1950, but he returned to Lake Tahoe as often as he could… as a hiker, a skier, and a writer. In the 1980s, when Bill was living in Incline Village, Nevada, he was one of the first volunteers to help build the Tahoe Rim Trail.

On May 15, 2010, Bill and I were presented with a Commemorative Plaque for our sponsorship of the Bill and Sandra McGee Mile on the Tahoe Rim Trail.

(L to R) TRT’s Janice Barbour, Director of Development; Mark Kimbrough, former Executive Director; and (far right) Mary Bennington, Executive Director

For more on the Tahoe Rim Trail Association’s Adopt-a-Mile program, visit Tahoe Rim Trail.


Carson City, Nevada, September 19, 2009 – Bill and I were among a host of Nevada authors invited to sign their books at the Carson City Library’s 11th Annual Oktoberfest.

That evening, we celebrated our 29th anniversary at our favorite Carson City restaurant, Adele’s. Bartender Mark always takes good care of his patrons.


Emmy-winning screenwriter Kirk Ellis (HBO’s John Adams) and Sandra at the Western Writers of America Mega-Book Signing, The National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum, Oklahoma City, OK, June 2009.

Oklahoma City, OK, June 19, 2009 – The National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City showcased members of the Western Writers of America with a Mega-Book Signing on Friday, June 19, 2009. More than 70 Western authors participated in the event staged in the magnificent Sam Noble Special Events Center.

“The Museum is pleased to be joining WWA in providing this occasion for the public to meet the authors who keep the history and spirit of the West alive in many different styles of writing,” said Don Reeves, the Museum’s McCasland Chair of Cowboy Culture.

Bill and I were accepted into WWA this year for our book, set in the contemporary West, The Divorce Seekers: A Photo Memoir of a Nevada Dude Wrangler.

I met Emmy-winning screenwriter Kirk Ellis, who wrote the teleplay for HBO’s John Adams. Bill shared stories with actor/writer/producer Andrew J. Fenady. Both men were in the television business back in the 1950s.

And Bill and I were interviewed for local TV. (See Related Posts below.)

Bill with Andrew J. Fenady (Chisum, Hondo).

Bill with Andrew J. Fenady (Chisum, Hondo).

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.


Related Posts
WWA 60th Convention, Las Vegas, Nevada, June 2013

Interview with Bill McGee, National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum

Interview with Sandra McGee, National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum

Western Writers of America authors Bill McGee and Ann Terry Hill

Portland, Oregon, May 15, 2009 – Western Writers of America authors Bill McGee and Ann Terry Hill discuss marketing plans for their books.  Ann Terry Hill’s newest, Pendleton Round-up at 100: Oregon’s Legendary Rodeo, will be released in July 2009 and is already a top seller on Amazon.  

A native of Pendleton, Oregon, and a former Pendleton Round-Up princess and queen, there’s no one better-suited than Ann Terry to write this authoritative history.  I had the opportunity to preview Pendleton Round-Up at 100, a beautiful coffee table book with more than 900 photos (many never before published). Every Western aficionado will want a copy for their collection.

We wish Ann Terry Hill many happy book sales ahead!