Some of the more colorful tales of Reno’s divorce days come from the dude ranches. Imagine a New York socialite fresh off of Fifth Avenue, bunking in a rustic cabin and spending her days horseback riding with a handsome cowboy. Dude ranches also offered relative privacy, which made them attractive housing options for people seeking to avoid media exposure.
The first of Nevada’s specialized dude ranches was the TH Ranch about thirty-miles northeast of Reno at Pyramid Lake, a stark body of water dating from the Pleistocene era. The remoteness of the location and the austerity of the setting made the ranch, founded in the mid-1920s, an ideal spot for divorce-seekers wishing to avoid detection and the hoi polloi who dominated Reno. The concept caught on, and in the decades to come, guest ranches proliferated on the outskirts of town.
Some of the ranches had been—and continued to be—working ranches that took in an occasional divorce-seeker. A few high-society divorce-seekers, fresh from their own exhilarating dude ranch experiences, bought or managed ranches of their own, catering to a class of patron they understood well. Among the best known of the ranches were the Flying M E (formerly the Tumbling DW) in Franktown, Washoe Pines Guest Ranch in Washoe Valley, and the popular Pyramid Lake Ranch, also called by different managers the Desert Inn and the Sage in Sutcliffe. All told, more than 25 guest ranches were in operation over the years.
Anne Tankersley Sturm’s mother, Pat Tankersley, arrived in Reno in 1950 at the behest of her husband who wanted a divorce so he could marry his boss, the publisher of the Washington Times-Herald newspaper. Anne’s mother was scandalized and demoralized because divorces were rare in her circle of friends and hers was especially high profile. Mrs. Tankersley arranged to stay with Emmy Wood at the Flying M E Ranch.
Located about 20 miles south of Reno, the Flying M E had its roots as the Franktown Hotel, built in the 1860s in what was then the heart of a small community called Franktown. Bought by Theodore “Dore” and Emily Pentz Wood in 1941, the hotel and associated land became the sole property of Emily after her 1946 divorce. She continued to operate the famous guest ranch, which catered to the upscale divorce-seeker, for the next 15 years.
Emmy Wood was known for the care and attention she gave her lodgers in addition to offering them outdoor activities ranging from horseback riding to private sunbathing booths. For Anne Sturm’s mother, Pat, the personal care, the group therapy that came naturally by fraternizing with others in the same boat, and the over-all body tan she acquired at the Flying M E restored her sense of self, allowing her to face her new lot in life with confidence and independence.
From hotels to boarding houses, guest ranches to auto camps, lodging for the divorce-seeker came in all shapes and sizes.
Nevada courts required proof that each divorce-seeker had remained in the state for the required duration.
Members of “the colony” often found instant camaraderie with those going through the same experience.
Dude ranches offered lodgers a taste of western living, often with first class amenities.