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Washoe Valley Royalty

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.

Winters Estate Still a Monument

Winters Ranch History (editors note: scroll up to find later chapters as they become available)

By: Rick Cooper

Chapter 1: Early Days

Winters Ranch HouseOn the northwest corner of Washoe Valley, in the shadow of our new super highway is a unique home that looks like it is from another era. It was completed in 1863 and was a grand mansion for it’s time. Mark Twain visited in 1864 and filed a newspaper dispatch describing the home. Both Twain and Winters knew each other well as they were among the handful of prominent men in the Washoe Valley/Virginia City area at the time. But first, some background info.

Theodore Winters immigrated from Illinois in 1849 and joined his father and brothers in various commercial endeavors in California during the Gold Rush. Similar to others caught up in the Gold Rush like Levi and Studebaker, they apparently realized it would be more profitable to sell things to the gold seekers than to actually mine. They engaged in freighting, cattle raising and mine speculating. Their operations led them to be familiar with the early settlements in western Nevada. In 1853 his wife, Sarah and a young daughter perished in a boat accident in the Sacramento Delta while a young son survived having been thrown ashore by Sarah.

In 1857, the Mormon settlers of Washoe Valley were called back to Utah by their church and  had to abandon their ranches that they had diligently spent 10 years developing. Winters acquired a square mile tract of prime pastureland in the north end of the valley for a song. One prominent Mormon, Orson Hyde, who was forced to sell his fine sawmill for an old wagon and a yoke of oxen laid a famous curse upon Washoe Valley and it’s people (but that’s another story-ed.).

Soon after, the fabulous silver strike was discovered in Virginia City and the exodus was on from California to the new sensation known as “Washoe”. Winters brother happened to invest in a stretch of dirt that turned out the be the fabulous “Ophir” claim in the heart of the strike and the two rode the crest of the riches produced in the Comstock Lode. Theodore was now involved with mine operations and supervision and was even a state legislator in 1862. Now, a ranch and creek in Washoe Valley are named for him, a street in Reno and a town in California!

According to Twain, Winters engaged a Washoe City architect and builder and built a mansion commensurate with his new found position as a mining magnate and rancher. The first floor was occupied by the kitchen and a huge pantry, bathroom, dining room and bedchambers for the servants. This floor was fully plumbed and fed by the pure snow waters of Winters Creek fresh from the Carson Range to the west. On the next floor are two large drawing rooms with adjoining luxurious bedrooms outfitted with the most luxurious furnishings. On the top floor are six bedrooms and a billiard room to accommodate Theos large family. Mark described the house from his memory of attending a party there were, even though his companion and he got lost in the dark, they eventually made it to the ranch to enjoy several hours of the festivities. He makes note of the distinctive “Gothic” style windows that make the homes appearance so unique. The house rivaled the luxury and conspicuous consumption of the Sandy Bowers Mansion further south. From the photo of the current home it is hard to imagine all the rooms Mark described fitting within but was Mark ever know for exaggeration?

In addition to the acres of pastures and hay fields, he built gardens, a pool and a quarter mile horse race track. He and his brothers were greatly interested in “the sport of kings” horse racing and their horses grace the histories of the sport on both coasts at the time. Later, a 2 huge barns were erected, one that was a landmark until the 1960s. At one point, Theodore recognized that the roofless, stone buildings of the abandoned Ophir Quartz mill were being wasted to time. He built new roofs and established there a dairy to produce world class cheese, importing a herd of exceptional dairy cows. A Swiss cheese maker was brought in and Washoe Valley cheese became famous and much prized throughout the west coast. A last remaining wall of the mill can still be seen to the immediate east of Highway 395 in the valley. Eventually, the Winters ranch would extend to nine square miles in 1888. At the time there were about 16 ranches in the valley supplying produce, hay and wood to the Comstock.

Overview of the ranch

Winters had a large breeding farm along the banks of the Sacramento River in Yolo County where bred champions Emporer of Norfolk and Maid Marion. In 1870, Winters sold his farm in Yolo County, California to make the commitment to Washoe Valley where he believed the altitude, climate and verdant valley would raise the best racehorses the world had known. Among the most famous of his horses were Maid Marion, her colts, El Rio Rey and Yo Tambien; and Mollie McCarthy. Two American Derby winners were Emperer of Norfolk and CH Todd. El Rio Ray is said to have held the records at all the great tracks in America and was considered an “equine wonder” in the 1880s. Mr. Winters had a custom railroad car for transporting his prize horses to events around the country. For more history on the horses, see their Wikipedia entries.

At various times Winters owned the Bower’s Mansion property, the townsite of Ophir and the Smoke Creek Ranch in Northern Washoe County.

Next: Chapter 2: Family Matters

(editors note: scroll up to find later chapters)

San Antonio Ranch on Youtube

Mark Elsman, descendant of the Elsman family that owned the San Antonio Ranch in the south end of west Washoe Valley between 1927 and 1939 has posted a 10 minute compilation of home movies on Youtube. It starts out with a great scene of a wrangler astride a bucking horse under the great Ponderosa Pines with Washoe Valley in the background. The ranch house is magnificent and it is fun to see the Elsmans motor off in their Packard convertible coupe. This is a neat period in Washoe Valley where several of the wealthy who came to Reno for a quickie divorce (“the cure”), found they liked Washoe Valley and bought homes here. Much of this time is documented in William McGee’s memoir “The Divorce Seekers” that recalls his time as a dude ranch wrangler in Washoe Valley and it is a fun read. Mark has been kind enough to share his family’s history with us and it is a great addition to the documentation of Washoe Valley history. Check back to see more!

Second Conservation Easement Sought

deer2 County commissioners just voted to approve seeking $1million from the state and another $1million from a federal ranchland protection program to place 45 acres in west Washoe Valley owned by the Bob Rusk family in a conservation easement as reported in this article at RGJ.com.

Conservation easements are a tool for placing deeded restrictions on a parcel of land to control the land use forever. Usually, they are to retain ranch uses and/or natural states. The land owners, who still retain ownership, can receive cash compensation and tax breaks.

The state money comes from a parks and wildlife bond passed by voters in 2002. The other conservation easement is the 113 acre Greil Ranch in southeastern Washoe Valley. This is the alfalfa fields along Eastlake Blvd where the deer congregate.