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The Ninety-Six Ranch Sesquicentennial

The following is part of a series of guest posts by Carl Fleischhauer of the Library of Congress’s Office of Strategic Initiatives.  Carl is a former staff member of the American Folklife Center and participated in many of the Center’s field collecting projects. All the photos embedded in this post were shot by Carl in August 2014. The first post in Carl’s series can be found here. The second can be found hereThe third can be found here. The fourth can be found here.

This is my second blog post about my August 2014 visit to Paradise Valley, Nevada, the site of an American Folklife Center ethnographic field project from 1978 to 1982.  I revisited the valley at the invitation of the Stewart family, whose Ninety-Six Ranch was central to the earlier project and is extensively documented in the web presentation Buckaroos in Paradise.  This is the ranch’s 150th birthday, same as the state of Nevada.

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Patrice Stewart competes in the barrel racing event at the Humboldt County Events Complex, Winnemucca, Nevada, August 6, 2014. This competition was one element in the week-long sesquicentennial celebration of the Ninety-Six Ranch in Paradise Valley, Nevada.

Thirty-odd years ago, during our field research project, the Ninety-Six was run by Les Stewart, the grandson of the founder, William F.Stock, and thus the third generation in the family line.  Les passed away in 2006 at the age of 85.  His widow Marie still lives at the ranch, now managed by her son Fred and his wife Kris–the fourth generation.  Their teenage daughter Patrice, representing the fifth generation, already takes an active interest in the operation.  Patrice hones her horseback skills by competing in activities like barrel racing.

Daughter and father: Patrice and Fred Stewart after Patrice had been award a rodeo-style belt buckle for her winning performance at the barrel racing competition in Winnemucca, Nevada.  Fred emphasized his regional buckaroo connections on this occasion by wearing colorful "wild rag" neckerchief.

Daughter and father: Patrice and Fred Stewart after Patrice had been award a rodeo-style belt buckle for her winning performance at the barrel racing competition in Winnemucca, Nevada. Fred emphasized his regional buckaroo connections on this occasion by wearing colorful “wild rag” neckerchief.

The Ninety-Six remains a classic ranch where revenue flows from the sale of cattle, in Kris’s words “calves, culled cows, and culled bulls.”  Fred added, “The Ninety-Six is strictly a cattle ranch, we don’t sell hay, we don’t raise any grain or anything.  Any hay we put up here, like it was 30 years ago, it goes to our own cattle, so our entire focus is on our cattle.”  The animals are kept at the home ranch in winter, grazing in meadows and fed hay.  In summer the herd is turned out on public land to graze, although Fred said that this year, in the face of a serious drought, they arranged with the Bureau of Land Management to reduce the number of animals on the range, keeping more in the valley for the summer.  The good news is that beef prices are high this year and the market looks pretty good.

Part of the Ninety-Six herd in a hay meadow at the ranch in Paradise Valley, Nevada.  The line of trees in the background marks the location of the home ranch compound, where the Stewart family's residences, barns, and other outbuildings are located.  In the distance stands the Santa Rosa mountain range.

Part of the Ninety-Six herd in a hay meadow at the ranch in Paradise Valley, Nevada. The line of trees in the background marks the location of the home ranch compound, where the Stewart family’s residences, barns, and other outbuildings are located. In the distance stands the Santa Rosa mountain range.

Kris did most of the planning for the week-long series of anniversary events.  Some of these I might have predicted: competitive team roping (one rider lassos the steer’s head, the second rider ropes the animal’s heels, all while a clock is running) and barrel racing (a competition for women, who race against the clock around on a three point course marked by barrels).  Both events had big turnouts–dozens of competitors–and the equestrian skills on display gave evidence of the breadth and depth of horsemanship in the region.  As in competitive rodeo, the top prizes include decorative, inscribed belt buckles.

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Shane Bell tees off at the Ninety-Six Ranch golf tournament at the Winnemucca Municipal Golf Club wearing wooly chaps, a slicker, boots and spurs, and other buckaroo gear. The photographer made this exposure a split-second too late: the ball has already left the frame.

Tony Mentaberry's cowboy putting iron at the Ninety-Six Ranch golf tournament at the Winnemucca Municipal Golf Club.

Tony Mentaberry’s cowboy putting iron at the Ninety-Six Ranch golf tournament at the Winnemucca Municipal Golf Club.

What I had not expected were the bicycle race (I arrived too late to see it) and the golf tournament.  Kris said that the bicycle race gave competitors a chance to see some of the valley’s ranches close up.  Meanwhile, the golf tournament at the Winnemucca Municipal Golf Club (an event that provided funds for the high school golf team) offered not only foursomes on the links, but also a fascinating play on buckaroo style.

Buckaroo style has been much in display and celebrated at such Nevada events as the annual Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, a town that lies a little more than 100 miles east of Paradise Valley.  At the gathering, you are likely to see big mustaches, chaps made with angora skins (“wooly chaps“), and a range of other accoutrements like slickers (long raincoats tailored to wear in the saddle), and the brightly colored, floral-patterned neckerchiefs called wild rags.  Although some may take this style as, um, customary, regional working dress (which it is, up to a point), the flamboyant touches suggest a high level of good-natured regional pride and image-self-consciousness.

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Rodeo-style belt buckle for one of the winners at the Ninety-Six Ranch golf tournament at the Winnemucca Municipal Golf Club.

Well, the golf match convinced me.  It turned out that the organizers had this brainstorm: among the other prizes, there was one for the best buckaroo and another for best buckaroo foursome.  This led to some nifty costumes on the links: my favorite was Shane Bell (who won the best buckaroo prize) golfing in a slicker, wooly chaps  boots (no cleats) and spurs, with white fleece sweeping from left to right when he drove from the tee.  Meanwhile–for my camera–Tony Mentaberry demonstrated his “cowboy putter” made from a horseshoe.  Tony’s foursome won the other best buckaroo prize.  And, as though at a rodeo, all the top winners got fancy belt buckles, this time with the image of a golf ball in the middle.  Overall, I thought, an affectionate self-parody of the region’s buckaroo style.  I loved it!

The week-long sesquicentennial celebration ended on Saturday at the ranch itself, in a big event open to the public.

More on that in my next blog.

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