Washoe Valley and the English House of Lords
This started out as a story of a prominent Washoe Valley resident of days gone by but it also ended up as a tale of historical research. I was rummaging the local papers of 1933-1970 and came with a variety of contradictory snippets of information. Very frustrating and I wondered if the story I was going to present would even be accurate. Then I happened to find a relevant article in the Oakland Tribune of California which wrote up the whole affair entertainingly and succinctly. What a relief. It also illustrated how different the reporting quality was between Reno and “the big city”. So, I will pretty much quote that article with some info brought in from other sources.
Oakland Tribune, Tuesday, November 14, 1933.
Earl To Seek U.S. Citizenship
Nephew of Duke of Wellington, Who Wed Night Club Girl, Will Live Near Reno
By James F. Wickizer
United Press Staff Correspondent.
Christian Arthrur Wellesley, Fourth Earl of Cowley, who married a Reno nightclub hat-check girl last June, plans to give up his seat in the House of Lords and settle down to a pastoral life on a Washoe Valley ranch, he said today. Lord Cowley, grandnephew of the original Duke of Wellington revealed he had made application for American citizenship and had a purchased the Lakeview Ranch, a section of land 25 miles south of here in Washoe Valley.
“My wife and the life of the West mean more to me than titles”. said Cowley, who wears blazing red-and-green plaid shirts and chaps after the fashion of the Hollywood cowboy at his ranch.
Cowley’s marriage to Mary Elsie Himes, beautiful brunette hat-check girl of “The Cedars” Reno nightclub, startled two continents.
Wed Check Girl After Divorcing Lady Cowley
He married Mrs. Himes the day following his divorce from Lady Mae Josephine Cowley, known the London stage as Mary Picard. The divorce was granted on the grounds he and Lady Cowley, whom he married in New York City in 1914, had lived apart for five years. A settlement of $18,000 per year was made on Lady Cowley and their three children.
The new Lady Cowley is a native of Reno. She was born on the old May ranch.
She divorced Joseph T. Himes of Oakland, Cal. here on June 8, after she testified Himes made her mow the family lawn, build the fires, and left her sitting in the family automobile while he attended baseball games. (the charge was mental cruelty-ed).
Her 7-year-old son, George Hadley Himes, is living with the Earl of Cowley, who said he may adopt the boy.
Predicts happiness on Little Ranch
“We shall be immensely happy on our little ranch.” Lord Cowley said. “We shall have sufficient pasture for my horses, raise a little hay and settle down being happy living a simple life.”
Cowley’s Lakeview ranch is one of the most picturesque places in Nevada. It is situated on a rolling ill which overlooks Washoe Valley to the north where the half-million-dollar stone mansion built in 1861 by Sandy Bowers and Eilley Orrum, first “King and Queen of the Comstock,” now is transformed into a beer garden.
To the south is the sleepy town of Carson City, Nevada’s State Capital. Virginia City, the “billion dollar city” on the Comstock Lode, lies to the east.
In a clapboard ranch house of eight rooms Lord and Lady Cowley expect to spend the remainder of their days, Cowley said. (end of article)
The House of Lords is the upper house of Parliament in the United Kingdom and was once only made up of the upper class who inherited their seats. These inheritances were the result of titles given as “Kingly Favors” stretching back to the Middle Ages. Lord Cowley who evidently rejected the privileged but stiff lifestyle we see in the TV show, Downton Abbey, came to America in 1925 and pursued an artist’s life on the stage.
Lord Cowley insisted on being known as Christian “Bill” Wellesley when he lived in Washoe Valley. As outlined in the above article, he came to Reno for his divorce for unlike nearly everywhere else, Nevada had just instituted “quickie” divorces by only requiring a six-week residency. This created a divorce industry in Western Nevada employing lawyers, entertainers and funding many dude ranches in the area where wealthy divorce seekers could live their western fantasies. There were several in Washoe Valley.
Despite the unusual and scandalous circumstances of their union, The Wellesley’s apparently really did live happily ever after in Washoe Valley. They were married in the home of his divorce attorney and her immediate family were the only other guests. They had two sons and they both attended the one-room school house in Franktown on the west side of the valley. In fact, over the years, more than a few children from notable domestic and foreign families attended the school as their parents waited for their divorces to finalize.
Christian’s daughter, Lady Patricia Wellesley, visited in 1938 and made numerous friends in Reno and Carson during her visit of a year. In September, 1944, the Wellesley’s received news she was killed in London. It may have been the result of a robot bomb. She was 28 and a member of the WRENS the British equivalent of the WAVES.
Christian passed away here in 1962 and was buried in Mountain View Cemetery in Reno. The Lakeview Ranch was purchased by the father of future governor Bob List. I have not had time to research the precise location of the 700 acre ranch but it may have included the Lakeview subdivision north to Franktown Road, west of Highway 395. It was modeled on the English style of self sufficiency with it’s own blacksmith, carpentry and butchery shops. Along with cattle, Mr Wellesley raised prized race horses.
Even though he insisted on living as a “commoner” (but a wealthy one) he did do a couple of interviews for the local papers. In 1936, he gave his opinion of the controversy that rocked the world- King George’s decision to abdicate the throne of England and marry Wallis Simpson, a twice divorced American socialite. “The day of Kings marrying Princesses and nobility marrying nobility is gone forever-as well it should be”. In another article, this one in 1936, the Earl is asked to contribute to the Nevada State Journal’s feature, “One Sound State”. The title was, “Why I Chose Nevada”. It deserves it’s own article at a later date.
The Lord and Lady’s son, Garrett, excelled in school, college and corporate America and later moved to England to take part in his aristocratic connections. Christian’s first son from his first marriage became the 5th Earl of Cowley but due to life events, Wellesley’s Washoe Valley born son, Garrett, despite being an American and a “cowboy from Nevada” eventually assumed the title and his seat on the House of Lords. His mother, Elsie, the “Dowager Countess Cowley”, and his brother Tim continued to live in Western Nevada amongst the commoners. The Dowager Countess joined William at Mountain View cemetery in 2003 to spend eternity together in their beloved Nevada.
The Wellesley’s have made a complete circle and are now firmly back in England. Now, Garret’s son will inherit the title and his son. but now they are fortified with Nevada blood.
We can really be proud of our wonderful valley and those it inspired over the years. We have a history and heritage that most places can’t match.
Editors note: Additional information was obtained by contemporary articles in the Nevada State Journal and Reno Evening Gazette and an article by J. D. Deming, Reno born nephew of the Dowager Countess who’s article appeared on the Nevada Journal website.