The Secrets She KeepsOn July 2, I received a Google Alert with the words “divorce ranch” in it. Used to getting these Google Alerts for stories about celebrity couples “divorcing” and one of them getting the “ranch,” I clicked on the link anyway and was directed to an article on by Deb Caletti. She was promoting her new novel, THE SECRETS SHE KEEPS, a dual narrative set in the present day and the past–a Nevada divorce ranch in 1951.

The article was illustrated with vintage photographs from The Divorce Seekers: A Photo Memoir of a Nevada Dude Wrangler, a book my husband Bill and I co-authored in 2004.

Ms. Caletti is too young to have lived through the Reno divorce era and she wrote this about the research and writing of her novel:

“Bringing that time period to life, though, was trickier than I’d anticipated because of exactly what I’d found so thrilling—how little there was out there about the divorce ranches. Luckily, I discovered The Divorce Seekers, a stunning coffee table volume of photos and memories by a former dude wrangler at the famed Flying M. E. Ranch, Bill McGee. The images—with their smoky, black-and-white, retro allure—are what brought the time and place alive for me so that I could bring them [my characters] to life in the novel. Not only was it an invaluable resource for information on day-to-day life on a divorce ranch, it also set the mood. I’d open the book to an image of two sleepy roommates in the middle of their Reno cure, wearing silky chemises, drinks in hand, or to a photo of one of the gals in her party-night finery, and I’d be just where I needed to be.”-From The Six-Week Cure by Deb Caletti

We wanted to know more about Ms. Caletti. The next day, Bill and I emailed her and set up a time for a phone chat. A week later, we had a delightful conversation and Deb–as we now called her–said she was sending us a signed copy of her book. When the book arrived, it was signed and inscribed:

“For Bill & Sandra, Divorce ranch royalty! With gratitude. –Deb Caletti”.

And on page 329 of the Acknowledgments were even more kind words:

“I owe a debt of gratitude to Bill and Sandra McGee’s wonderful book The Divorce Seekers, which was an invaluable resource for information about the Nevada divorce ranches. . . . This book is a treasure if only for the photos alone—images of cowboys, the ranch, old Reno, and Moscow mule-sipping socialites in the midst of their six-week cure.”

It’s words like these that warm a researcher and writer’s heart and make the long hours, days, weeks, months and years worth it. Though a decade has passed since The Divorce Seekers was published, I love that the Reno divorce era and that unique Nevada institution—the divorce ranch—still continue to fascinate. -Sandra McGee

1-Boulderado Ranch

Brochure for the Boulderado Ranch, circa 1940s. (Courtesy Nevada Historical Society)

In an interview for the Las Vegas Sun (click here to read), Brian Unger tells Robin Leach about “a book that fell into the hands of someone in the home office, and they thought this would be a great story.” I’m betting that book was “The Divorce Seekers: A Photo Memoir of a Nevada Dude Wrangler”, Bill’s Nevada dude and divorce ranch memoir (now in eBook as “The Cowboyin’ Years, 1947-1950”: A Nevada Dude & Divorce Ranch Memoir).

A little backstory: In spring 2014, Bill and I were contacted by a production company about a possible new series for the Travel Channel and they were seeking information on the  Las Vegas divorce ranches of the 1940s and ’50s. Though our book is set in Reno, we do write about the Las Vegas divorce business — which made the news in 1939 when Ria Langham divorced Clark Gable in Las Vegas — and we sent the producers a copy of our book.

Fast forward to a year later: On Monday, April 20, the new series ‘Time Traveling’ premieres and a premiere episode will feature a visit to the sites of two former Las Vegas divorce ranches: Boulderado Ranch and Tule Springs Ranch. We’ll be watching to see how these Las Vegas divorce ranches are brought to life.

‘Time Traveling’ premieres Monday, April 20, on the Travel Channel at 10 p.m. PDT.

Cowboyin Years

The Cowboyin’ Years, 1947-1950
by William L. McGee
as told to Sandra V. McGee

Bill McGee recounts “three of the best years of my life” cowboyin’ at Yellowstone, Lake Tahoe, and on the legendary Nevada dude and divorce ranch, the Flying M.E. 154 photographs and illustrations


Sample the first 10% of this eBook for free at

Bill McGee and a divorce seeker on a trail ride at the Flying M E. 1948

Trail ride on the legendary Flying M.E. dude & divorce ranch, 1948 (Photo

Great AP story on the upcoming online exhibit about Reno’s divorce era from the University of Nevada, Reno, Special Collections… Click here to read the story and view fun photos . . . Reno Divorce Story

If you have a story to share, call 775-682-5640 and leave a message or email Mella Harmon at  

Bill McGee with his custom made ropin’ saddle purchased in Bozeman, Montana in June 1947.



For fans of “Mad Men,” Christopher Spata has written a good piece on the screenwriting and attention to historical accuracy.

Click  Tampa Tribune (4/13/2014) . Scroll about half-way down to Marriage over? Just hit a ‘divorce ranch’ and there is a mention of Bill McGee.


Click on the link below for a readable PDF of
 “NEVADA as a Place to Split is a Legend of our Time

Roundup is published bi-monthly by Western Writers of America.Roundup contributors-001Roundup pg1-001Roundup pg2-001

Marilu Norden in the 1950s (Photo courtesy Norden family)

Marilu Norden in the 1950s (Photo courtesy Norden family)

In May 2013, Bill McGee and I were interviewed by Theresa Iker for her Scripps College thesis about the Nevada divorce ranch era. (See my June 2013 post: “Fascination with the Reno divorce era continues”)

For her blog debut on Huffington Post, Ms. Iker writes about her interview with another Nevada divorce ranch era survivor, Marilu Norden…   Click the link to read the Huffington Post story… “Divorcing at Dude Ranches”

Doing research... (Author photo)

Doing research… Bill McGee (right) at the Clyde Park Tavern, Clyde Park, MT, 2013 (Author photo)

In September 2013, Bill and I visited his home state of Montana. Our objective: A research trip to fill in the blanks of Bill’s family history in preparation for our next book Growing Up in Montana, 1925-1941: A Memoir.

Destination #1 – Livingston (pop 7,000, elev 4,501 feet)

We began our research in Livingston where Bill was born in 1925.

In 1925, Bill’s father, Harry Ellwood “Mac” McGee, was homesteading in the Shields River Valley about 30 miles north of Livingston. When Bill’s time came to be born, his “rich” Uncle Clyde M. Lyon drove Bill’s mother, Vivian (Lyon) McGee, to the Lott Birthing Hospital in Livingston. Maternity patients at that time were not usually kept in regular hospitals, and numerous “maternity houses” or “birthing hospitals” (as they were called) were scattered throughout Livingston before hospitals were thought important for “lying in”.

The former Lott Birthing Hospital, Livingston, MT, 2013 (Author photo)

The former Lott Birthing Hospital, Livingston, MT, 2013 (Author photo)

The Lott Birthing Hospital, at 128 S. Yellowstone Street, was originally a private residence built in 1889 (the year Montana achieved statehood) in the affluent West Side neighborhood known as “Bankers’ Row”. From 1920 to 1929, the residence housed the Lott Birthing Hospital run by local nurse Edith Lott. Nurse Lott, renowned for her compassion, never asked if a patient could pay. She also took care of “the ladies from B Street” (Red Light District).

Today the former Lott Birthing Hospital is once again a private residence and is on the National Register of Historic Places. (See photo.)

Livingston was established in the 1880s around the Northern Pacific Railroad. Situated on the Yellowstone River, the town soon became known as “The original gateway to Yellowstone National Park”. Tourists en route to the park had to change trains in Livingston and many spent the night in town before continuing their journey. By 1882, Livingston was a thriving community with 40 businesses, 30 of which were saloons. Rough and tumble, the town attracted the likes of Calamity Jane who is said to have lived in a local hotel with periodic stays in the local jail.

Today, Livingston’s historic Main Street is a reminder of the past, with grand old buildings that have been restored. The town is a haven for artists, writers and actors, with good restaurants — and still a healthy number of saloons. (Photo Livingston Chamber of Commerce)Cover Photo

Doing research... The Bank, a bar in Wilsall's former bank building. Wilsall, MT, 2013 (Author photo)

Doing research… The Bank, a bar in the former bank building, Wilsall, MT, 2013 (Author photo)

In September 2013, Bill and I visited his home state of Montana. Our objective: A research trip to fill in the blanks for Bill’s family history in preparation for the eBook, Growing Up in Montana During the Great Depression: A Memoir.

Destination #2 – Wilsall (pop 237 at the 2000 census)

In 1911, Clyde M. Lyon (who would become Bill’s uncle), was roaming around the West looking for a satisfactory place to locate, and came to Wilsall, a small community about 30 miles north of Livingston in the Shields River Valley. Already established in the Midwest as a successful businessman, Mr. Lyon began a new career in ranching and, by 1919, owned several ranches in Park County, a mercantile store in Wilsall, and was numbered among the prosperous and well-to-do citizens of his community. In 1921, Clyde M. Lyon was written up in a Montana “Who’s Who” as “one of the well-known agriculturists and ranchmen of Southern Montana…never losing the dignity which is the birthright of the true gentleman”. (Source: Montana: Its Story and Biography, Vol. II, 1921)

Bill recalls:

“When Mother and Dad married in 1921 in Livingston, my father, Harry Elwood “Mac” McGee, had quite a reputation around Montana as a top hand with horses. Clyde Lyon, my mother’s brother, who owned several ranches at the time in Park and Meagher counties, immediately spotted Dad’s talent with horses and hired him on the spot to work. Dad moved around a lot while working for Uncle Clyde, thus my three siblings and I were each born in a different part of the state.”

Betty and Doris with their mother, Vivian (Lyon) McGee on Clyde M. Lyon's Catlin Ranch near White Sulphur Springs, MT, 1923. (Author collection)

Betty and Doris with their mother, Vivian (Lyon) McGee on Clyde M. Lyon’s Catlin Ranch near White Sulphur Springs, MT, 1923. (Author collection)

Bill’s oldest sister, Doris, was born in 1922 on Uncle Clyde’s home property near Wilsall. Bill’s next oldest sister, Betty, was born in 1923 on Uncle Clyde’s Catlin (or Caitlin) Ranch near White Sulphur Springs (pop 965 at the 2012 census) about 40 miles north of Wilsall. (See photo.) Bill was born in 1925 at the Lott Birthing Hospital in Livingston. Bill’s younger brother, Bob, would be born in 1927 in Malta on the Hi-Line.

Back then: Clyde M. Lyon's Wilsall Mercantile Company, Wilsall, MT, 1921 (Building on the right.) (Wilsall Museum)

Back then: Clyde M. Lyon’s Wilsall Mercantile Company (building on the right), Wilsall, MT, 1921. (Wilsall Museum)

Now: Wilsall Mercantile Company, Wilsall, MT, 2013 (Author photo)

Now: Wilsall Mercantile Company, Wilsall, MT, 2013 (Author photo)