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. (Note: this is the ninety-sixth post on Folklife Today, and it concerns the Ninety-Six Ranch!) The first post in Carl’s series can be found here. The second can be found here. The third can be found here. The fourth can be found here.
This is my third blog about my August visit to Paradise Valley, Nevada, the site of an American Folklife Center ethnographic field project from 1978 to 1982. I revisited the valley in August at the invitation of the Stewart family, whose Ninety-Six Ranch is extensively documented in the web presentation Buckaroos in Paradise. This year marked the ranch’s sesquicentennial and the family organized a week-long celebration.
The ranch was founded in 1864 by Bill Stock, born Friedrich Wilhelm Stock in Germany in 1837. One of Stock’s daughters, Edith, married Fred Stewart. Fred and Edith’s son Les Stewart and his wife Marie ran the Ninety-Six at the time of our fieldwork in the 1980s. Les passed away in 2006 at the age of 85, but his widow Marie still lives at the ranch, now managed by her son Fred and his wife Kris.
During Bill Stock’s lifetime he encouraged others to come from Germany and settle in the valley. Another of his daughters, Wilhelmina (called Minnie), married the immigrant John Grotsch. Other collateral kin also turned up and, over time, several families intermarried. A few descendants live in the vicinity, including John and Minnie Grotsch’s granddaughter Christine and her husband Joel DeYoung, as well as related folks with surnames like Miller and Schwartz. In recent years, the American Stock, Stewart, and Grotsch descendants have been touch with, and visited, their German relatives, and a half dozen of the German kin turned out for the 150th anniversary events in Nevada.
The concluding day of the Ninety-Six celebration was held at the home ranch on Saturday, August 9. The events included self-guided tours of the main ranchstead, a Chautauqua talk, celebratory speeches in the afternoon, a steak dinner, and–after dark–live music and a dance DJ with flashing lights. I would guess that at least two hundred people attended. The Chautauqua monolog was presented by Michael Fischer, playing the role of John Sparks, the governor of Nevada from 1903 to 1908, talking “as if” he had visited the ranch shortly after the turn of the (previous) century.
During the afternoon walk-around tours I met Earl Northrup, a member of the Northern Paiute tribe and a resident of the nearby Fort McDermitt reservation. Since the founding of the Ninety-Six, many of its hired buckaroos and ranch hands have come from McDermitt, including Northrup. During our field project thirty-odd years ago, we had met Earl’s brothers Clale and Tex, and their images are part of the online Buckaroos in Paradise collection.
The centerpiece of the speech-making later in the afternoon was an affectionate memorate by Fred Stewart, the owner and operator of the Ninety-Six today. He singled out those who mentored him in his youth, including several members of the Northern Paiute tribe, in his words, “Native American men I grew up with, learned with and from.” These men, Fred said, “are part of the thread that takes things back almost to the very beginning of the ranch or at least as far as we have records.” As a tangible example of that long connection, Fred said that, in their home, his wife Kris proudly displays a Northern Paiute willow laundry basket said to have been made for Bill Stock’s wife Wilhelmina when she moved to the valley from Germany in 1881.
At this point, Fred paused his speech and presented Earl Northrup with a handsome rodeo-style belt buckle. The next day I learned that Northrup was not only respected for his skills with horses and cattle but also for his mastery of rawhide braiding. Kris proudly showed me a set of reins that Northrup had recently made for the family and noted that “Earl is considered one of the best.”
Meanwhile, back at the celebration, a good time was had by all, and everyone wished the Stewarts well as they start the next 150 years.
Stay tuned: I’ll soon have one more blog about another artist-craftsman steeped in the region’s traditions: the saddlemaker Ken Tipton.