Monday, November 17, 2008

Gilcrease Ranch

Move from Reno
Leonard and Elda Gilcrease met when they were both college students in Reno. While there, one of Leonard’s professors encouraged him to spend summers picking fruit for E. G. McGriff in Las Vegas. After graduating in 1913, Leonard worked a short time for Edison’s power companies. Months after they married in 1915, Elda’s mother died, leaving her with an inheritance of rental properties, some of which was used to purchase the Maxwell car dealership. When the business closed, his friend McGriff encouraged Leonard to join the influx of pioneers moving to the Las Vegas valley.

McGriff had a ranch south of the city, near an artesian aquifer. According to an article on page 1 of the 29-Jan-1921 Las Vegas Age, Gilcrease applied for a tract of land south of McGriff’s Ranch through the 1919 Pittman Underground Water Act. He also purchased 80 acres, which included a house, from Reese Morgan who, along with his brother Bill, owned land near the lower tule spring.

Although water was abundant due to an active artesian well, the ground they'd purchased from Morgan was too rocky for the crops they hoped to grow. After scouring the area, Leonard and Elda found rich soil southeast of the well and several tracts of land available in between. The illustration below shows the 960 acres that the young couple contracted to purchase.

Ranch Beginnings
Gilcrease brought one of the first tractors to the area, and used it to dig an irrigation ditch from the well on the northwest property to the area he intended to plant in the southeast. Only a year after moving to the valley, while working down the road, Leonard and Elda saw a plume of smoke. According to 7-Jan-1922 Las Vegas Age article, the couple “made a dash for their home only to find it enveloped with flames.” All that they owned, including furniture, linens, a library of books and a baby grand piano brought down from Reno, as well as their clothing and other personal belongings were lost. Having nothing left, they moved into a small storeroom located on the southeast tract, near the farmland.

The next few years were spent completing the irrigation ditch and planting grapes. By 1925, it became obvious that the grape crop was not going to be sufficient to support the farm. With land contract payments continuing to be due each year, and no money left, the young couple was forced to take a loan from the Federal Land Bank. All of their property, including water rights and the irrigation ditch, was mortgaged to pay outstanding debts. What cash remained was then used to purchase materials to build coops and buy chickens to fill them.

The couple soon added Thanksgiving turkeys, and planted grains to feed their poultry. Just as things began to look promising, the stock market crashed, bringing with it the start of the Great Depression. As business slowed and many around them were defaulting on land contracts, Leonard decided to move back near his family in California. Elda chose to stay where she had a roof over her head and food on her table. Although he returned several times, the couple eventually divorced. Leonard stayed in California, where he remarried in 1932 and had two more children.

Elda and Her Boys
Elda’s mother, active in the early Nevada woman’s suffrage movement, had encouraged her continuing education. After working to become a teacher at the University in Reno, Elda spent time in Boston studying piano. Using this love of learning, Elda home-schooled her sons in the evenings, encouraging them to read all they could.

For the next several years, the boys studied at night, and worked alongside their mother during the day. In August 1940, soon after Ted turned 24 and Bill 21, Elda Gilcrease executed a deed of gift, granting 1/3 of her interest in the property to each son. Although they now owned a portion of the ranch, an active mortgage meant that land grants were not yet issued.

Ted’s Ambitions
When World War II came along, a family friend noticed Ted’s mechanical skills and offered to help him secure a job with the now growing Hughes Aircraft Company. Ted was enthusiastic, as he saw an opportunity to invest in land that had returned to the state during the depression. Elda was hesitant to let her son go, as she’d become dependent on his growing skills. She asked him to stay, offering Ted more responsibility in managing the ranch, and a chance to use his portion of the earnings independently.

Ted began to actively inquire about open land in the area around the Gilcrease Ranch. In 1941, he purchased 200 acres from the Nevada Land Office. After the war, Ted determined that they could finally afford more permanent help. He hired a local Piute Indian by the name of Johnson T. Mike (know as John Mike) and built what they called a “hired man’s house” for the family to live. Mike worked on the Gilcrease Ranch for 25 years. His stepsons joined him as they got older, as well as his son-in-law.

In 1946, with things continuing to look up, Ted acquired another 120 acres by assuming land contracts from a couple in California. With help from Mike and other temporary hired hands, new properties adjacent to the ranch were cleared and planted with alfalfa. By the start of 1948, the family was able to pay the balance on the Farm Loan and land patents for the original 960 acres were delivered. A couple of months later, Ted attended an auction, where he picked up an additional 80 acres at a bargain price. Shortly after that, he added another 160 acres. This addition brought the acreage Ted acquired to 560, bringing the total to 1520.

A subset of a 1954 map in the UNLV Digital archives is shown below, with the original Gilcrease land highlighted in orange, and the land Ted accumulated in green.

Hired Help
Around 1950, Delbert Allan moved to a tract just north of the main ranch. He planned to grow produce to sell at the local markets. Allan had limited success, as the jack rabbits got to many of his vegetables before he could! John Mike was still working at the Gilcrease Ranch and in 1952 Dell Allan began working there as well.

The Gilcrease Ranch now had two regular employees, and several young men, including John Mike’s stepsons, available as-needed. They had the Holt Caterpillar Steel-wheeled tractor Leonard bought when he started the farm, along with an International TD9 and a Farmall H tractor. They soon added International Harvester’s first self-propelled combine, the 123-SP. With the additional farmland, the Gilcreases were increasing the number of alfalfa and grain fields, and decreasing the amount of poultry they raised.

Dell Allan worked for the Gilcrease Ranch until about 1955. In 1957, his 14-year old nephew, Bill Allan, came looking for a job. The younger Allan began working around his school schedule. He found that farming agreed with him, and was hired as the next permanent employee when he graduated High School. The Gilcreases helped Bill Allan to set up a trailer so that he could be available to share night-time irrigation chores and perform early morning field work.

Changes at the Ranch
While Elda and Ted were getting enthused about the ranch expansion, Bill’s interest began to wane. When Bob and Ila Taylor moved nearby, Bill became friendly with the couple and spent some time working at their Ranch House Supper Club. The next year, he ordered a yard tractor, hoping to perform lawn maintenance. After finding it difficult to secure customers, he took a job mowing for another company. In 1959, Bill decided he wanted a change and moved to Arizona. He returned a year later, and split his time between lawn care and helping out at the ranch. He tried his hand at being a distributor for a couple of different products, but neither sold as well as he’d hoped. When the Las Vegas Art League rented studio space at Lorenzi Park, Bill joined the group and began spending much of his time there.

In the 1960s, with more people interested in moving north of the city, and land values increasing, it seemed like a good time to sell. Lots in unused sections were sold to pay off outstanding land contracts. In 1963, patents for the last parcels of land purchased from the state were finally mailed to the ranch.

In 1965, with the mortgage paid, and nearly 500 acres being cultivated, the Gilcreases purchased additional farm equipment. The next year, extra hands were hired to replace a mile of irrigation ditch with underground pipe. That year, Ted also purchased a John Deere self-propelled hay cuber. According to Deere, cubed hay promised a savings in labor by getting the hay immediately off the field, allowing automated transportation and providing for more efficient storage

A Tough Year
In March of 1968, Elda Ann Orr Gilcrease died. After giving the family a couple of months to mourn, the IRS requested an inheritance tax payment. As had been the case for almost 40 years, there was very little cash available as Gilcrease money was tied up in land and farm equipment. To make matters worse, some of the land patents were in Elda’s name, alone. It appears that when family friend, J. T. McWilliams delivered the paperwork for the land contracts that Ted initiated, he was told that only one applicant could be listed, so Elda’s name was used. As executor of her estate, Ted searched through old records, trying to document the history of the purchase. Unfortunately, he was only able to find a few canceled checks, as many of his old bank statements were long gone.

Seven months after Elda’s death, while her estate was still in probate, neighbors lost their house to a devastating fire. The Racel family met Bill before moving to the area, and he had become a good friend. Stopping by that morning to visit, Bill found Mary Ellen on her way out to run errands, and offered to stay with the younger children. When a fire broke out, he was unable to do anything but keep the children away from the flames and watch the house burn to the ground.

It happened that the Gilcrease house was nearly empty at the time. Elda was gone, Bill was spending most of his time in the city and Ted slept in a small studio apartment he’d built just east of the house. So the brothers offered to let the Racel family of nine move in while they rebuilt their home. Two sets of bunk beds were added to each bedroom and two days later, the family moved in.

It wasn’t long before both Gilcrease brothers were joining the Racels each evening for dinner. After a small trailer was set up in back to provide rooms for the older children, Bill collected the things he’d gathered in town and moved back to the ranch.

Settling Two Estates
In May of 1969, while Elda’s estate was still in flux, her good friend Iona Ida McWilliams died. Ted was named executor of that estate as well. Things got complicated when a boarder claimed Mrs. McWilliams owed him several thousand dollars. After contacting a former employee of Mrs. McWilliams, Ted was able to settle that estate and return his attentions to his mother's.

While he was never able to convince the IRS that he’d purchased a portion of the land, a compromise was reached that recognized the ranch as jointly owned. Ted’s next hurdle was to try to figure out how to sell enough to pay the inheritance tax, without having capital gains taxes negate any profits. After researching land exchanges, he and his attorney worked with Nevada Exchange Coordinators, to trade 480 acres for the Harve Perry 3-building office center on Maryland Parkway and Sahara. Ted next negotiated an arrangement with the IRS that would allow the tax burden to be paid through rental income for the next 10 years.

The arrangement was approved by the IRS and Elda’s estate was settled in the fall of 1971. With the tax burden taken care of, there were still several outstanding debts, including the remaining balance on recently purchased equipment and upgrades that a now diminished farm income would not be able to cover. In the next two years, another 120 acres were sold to pay down the equipment debt.

After sales in the 1960s, used to pay off land contracts, the settling of Elda's estate, and sales to pay down equipment debts, the Gilcrease holdings were cut in half, leaving them with about 720 acres.

New Beginnings
While Ted had his hands full trying to settle two estates, he relied on foreman Bill Allan to keep the ranch running. There were still fields to harvest and one of the exchange partners allowed his property to continue being cultivated as well. To increase production, Ted added a new parcel northwest of the ranch, along Tenaya Way. He depended upon Mary Racel to handle the overflow of administrative chores. She made ranch purchases of supplies and groceries when she was in town, and often visited Ted’s attorney, delivering correspondence and messages between the two men.

Bill planted some fruit trees and a large garden across from the house, and began to raise quail. While his interest in ranching continued to fade, his interest in these small birds increased. Soon, he added ducks, monkeys and other exotic animals to a collection that he kept in the family's old turkey house. In 1973, Fred & Dina VanHorn bought land from the Gilcrease brothers to create a home for wild animals. In 1976, when the Nevada Wild Animal Preserve liquidated, Bill took his birds and other animals and moved to the facility.

With fewer cultivated fields, and competition from larger farms outside Las Vegas, profits at the Gilcrease Ranch began to dwindle. Ready to take on a new challenge, Ted decided convert some of the alfalfa fields to fruit trees. With Bill looking to upgrade the Gilcrease Bird Sanctuary, and Ted ready to start the Gilcrease Orchard, the brothers sold off nearly half their remaining land. In 1990, Ted Gilcrese harvested his last crop of alfalfa, signaling the end of the old Gilcrease Ranch.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Winterwood Ranch

One of the largest tracts of land set aside for farming in the Las Vegas Valley was purchased by John C. Winters and his Winterwood Land Company. If you go to the Nevada Division of State Lands Land Patent Database, and enter "Winterwood Land Co." into the Patentee field, you will see patents granted in 1914 and 1915 for nearly 5000 acres!

A Google Earth map shows lots that once held the Winterwood Ranch, located just west of the Las Vegas wash, south of what is now Charleston Blvd East and east of what is now Pecos.

The Winterwood Land Company (aka the Clark County Land Company) began efforts to start a farm in Las Vegas around 1911. A 16-Sep-1911 Las Vegas Age article, titled Another Well Rig reported the arrival of a well rig to begin drilling for artesian water on the property. Just a week later, the 23-Sep-1911 Las Vegas Age reported, in the article Land Company Gets Busy, plans for 340 acres to be cultivated the first year.

If you read old articles about Winterwood (Las Vegas Age, 18-Oct-1913, 15-Oct-1913, 15-Nov-1913, 29-Nov-1914, 17-Jan-1914) it's interesting to note how much concern was given to improving the six-mile stretch of Winterwood Boulevard. This is noteworthy, as a search only brings up a very short stretch of road, that is likely not the original Winterwood Blvd.

On 31-Jan-1914, a Las Vegas Age article reported that after an ambitious start in 1911, the Winterwood Ranch property lay mostly dormant. The owners, John C. Winters, John M.Prophet and Charles H. Palmer had just agreed to sell to a "syndicate of Japanese capitalists."

According to a 13-Nov-1915 article, after many months of negotiations, the nearly 5000 acres passed into the hands of Mr. L. Lindsey and associates, of Los Angeles. Their plans were to begin cultivating a large amount of alfalfa. Just a few years later, a 01-Nov-1919 article reported that Charles S. Sprague of Goldfield planned to purchase the Lindsey tract. An 08-Sep-1920 article noted that cotton was being grown there, but it seems that only a small portion of the 5000 acres was actualy being used.

According to a 1954 Las Vegas Valley map in the UNLV Digital collection, by the mid-1950s, the land was well broken up. The largest portion was owned by S. J. Lawson. The Las Vegas Review Journal's list of The First 100 people who shaped Las Vegas includes information on Ed Clark. Among other things, Clark "ran Las Vegas' first bank, its first telephone company, and its first power company." The article mentions that he mentored "S.J. Lawson, who would succeed him as president of the power company." This is probably the same S. J. Lawson who acquired a portion of the Winterwood Ranch.

Archive News Articles

Archive issues of the Las Vegas Age include interesting articles about farming in the early 1900s. They include:

  • 21-Feb-1914
    Clark County is Rich Land

    Overview of farming in the county including a description of irrigating with water from artesian wells, the fruits, nuts and vegetables that are grown, where produce is sold and the early population of Clark County.
  • 18-Feb-1922
    Los Angeles C of C Sends Expert Here

    Dr. George P. Clements, head of agricultural research for the LA Chamber of Commerce visits some of the leading ranches in Las Vegas. The article includes a list of committee members who met with him, and the ranches they visited.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Tule Springs

Blodgett, Nay, Hefner, Ward, Goumond and more
Floyd Lamb State Park at Tule Springs is probably one of the largest areas in the Las Vegas Valley that has changed hands several times, and still remains open land. A Google Earth aerial view shows the nearly 700 acres that make up the park.

An interesting Tule Springs article appeared on page 6 of the 26-May-1906 issue of the Las Vegas Age newspaper, noting an abandoned Tule Springs, and encouraging an "intelligent tiller of the soil" to establish a home there. Although it wouldn't stay empty for long, this suggests that no one lived near the spring at the time.

Tracing the history of this land requires following 17, 40-acre parcels that were passed through several different owners. According to an early 1900s map showing flowing water in Las Vegas, the original artesian well was supposed to have been located in the NW 1/4 of the NE 1/4 of section 9 of Township 19S, Range 60-E

Goumond: 1941 thru 1964
The most recent private owner of this property was Margo Goumond Hines, who inherited around 680 acres of land when her grandfather, Prosper Jacob Goumond died at the age of 70. A 1954 Las Vegas Valley map shows the land he had accumulated by then.

According to an search Goumond was born in Indiana in December 1876. In 1892, he married Ona Belle Prindle (born in Ohio, June 1878.) They had a daughter, Neva M. Goumond in September of 1998. Soon after the couple divorced, Goumond married Gertrude, who gave birth to Charles Harold Goumond in August of 1900 in Nebraska.

The Goumonds moved to Las Vegas, along with their son Charles (a musician) and his wife, Margaret (Marguerite?) C. Duffy. In September of 1930, Charles and Margaret had a daughter, whom they named Margo Marilyn Goumond. Four years later, Charles died. A search of the Clark County marriage records shows that Marguerite Duffy Goumond was remarried in 1934, to Cliff M. DeVaney, who moved down from northern Nevada. In 1938, Goumond's wife, Gertrude died. The family is buried at Woodlawn Cemetery in the center of Las Vegas.

According to the Tule Springs Preservation Committee's web page on the community link, Prosper Goumond opened the Boulder Club on Fremont Street in the 1940s. In 1941, after buying the Tule Springs Ranch, he expanded it, eventually acquiring 880 acres. In 1946, Goumond created a man-made lake, and by 1949, there were more than 100 acres of alfalfa planted. To get an idea where Goumond planted his fields, you can go to the Nevada Division of Water Resources web page, click Water Rights Database and then click that you accept the terms of using the database. After doing a Permit Search using Goumond as the Owner Name you will find three records. One is to allow water for a swimming pool, and the other two are for alfalfa fields. The Permit Map shows land Goumond planned to irrigate.

The Goumond's daughter-in-law and her husband lived on the ranch, where Cliff DeVaney became foreman. According to the Preservation Committee's history “Initially, the ranch was a private retreat for Goumond and his friends; eventually, it became a guest ranch with motel-like apartments available. Tule Springs was one of several guest ranches or dude ranches that operated during the postwar boom in the Las Vegas economy.”

In 1946, Goumond died, leaving the property to his grandaughter Margo, when she was just 24 years old. Margo’s stepfather eventually moved to Wells, Nevada, where he became a cattle rancher. She sold the ranch “to a group of businessmen in 1959 for $200,000. For a while it was leased and operated as a working ranch .” In 1964, the Tule Springs ranch was sold to the City of Las Vegas, and converted to a city park.

Early 1910's owners
The illustration below shows owners of what is now Floyd Lamb State Park at Tule Springs, according to an early J. T. McWilliams Artesian well map created some time between 1910 and 1920.

Blodgett: 1916
The original land patent for the parcel claimed to have held an artesian well in the early 1900s was given to Millard W. Blodgett. According to an search, it doesn't appear that Blodgett lived in Las Vegas for long (if, at all.) He was born in Ohio around 1851. His parents were from New York, and he moved there for a while where he met his wife, Viola. They eventually moved to California and perhaps he either purchased the land on his way through, or he sponsored another farmer. At the time that this land patent was issued, John Hebert ("Bert") Nay is reported to have had a ranch at the upper Tule Spring.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Land Patents

The National Archives web page on land records says that Land Patents are "the legal documents that transferred land ownership from the U.S. Government to individuals." Patents were granted only when a transfer was complete. This means that if an individual was not able to complete the contract, a patent would not have been issued.

This information is useful in that much of the land in the Las Vegas Valley changed hands several times before a patent was issued. For example, an early map created by J. T. McWilliams lists owners of section 9 in Township 19S, Range 60E as shown in the following illustration (note that this is a best guess at the spelling of names from a map found here, in the UNLV Digital Archives.)

Much of this land did not receive patents until afer 1912. A search of the Nevada State Land Patent Database shows patents received before 1930 as shown below.

Notice that the first property transfer from section 9, township 19S, range 60E did not occur until 1913 and that by 1930 there were still four 40-acre parcels on the east side that had not been completely transferred.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

McGriff Ranch

Evey, Wixon, McGriff and Griss
According to a 30-Oct-1909 Las Vegas Age article, John F. Evey tapped into an artesian basin to produce one of the strongest flowing wells in the valley. Local news on page 4 of the 03-Dec-1910 Las Vegas Age claimed that he would “be remembered in Vegas as the owner of the greatest of the artesian wells developed in this valley to date, on what is now known as the Wixon ranch.” According to the map titled Las Vegas Valley showing Artesian Wells, the Wixon Ranch was located in Section 10, Township 22-S, Range 61-E which is a 160-acre parcel, now bordered on the north by Warm Springs Road, on the west by Amigo Street, on the south by E Robindale Road and on the east by Paradise Road (east of the intersection of I-15 and I-215.)

After finding a general location of the ranch on the early McWilliams artesian well map my initial attempt was to search the Nevada Division of State Lands database to find the initial "owner". However, there is only one patent listed for any of the 16 40-acre parcels that make up section 10, Township 22S, Range 61E... and it's not for the Evey / Wixon / McGriff farm. My next try was the Bureau of Land Management, or BLM's Nevada Land Records Search. Feeding the township, range and Mt Diablo meridian, requesting a Master Title Plat, and then chosing section 10, I found a map that showed the ranch's location. This provided patent #174779, which could then be fed into the BLM's Land Patent Search engine (using serial patent number) to find a patent issued to John F. Evey on 1-Feb-1911.

In a March 1911 newspaper article, Mr. Wixon is commended for the improvements he has made on the ranch. This suggests that Evey paid the balance on the land, and received his land patent just after selling to Mr. Wixon. Wixon doesn't appear to have stayed long, as in 1914, E. C. McGriff took over the ranch (LVA: 24-Mar-1914.) Mr and Mrs McGriff (LVA: 24-May-1913) previously lived on the Stewart ranch. Upon taking charge, the newspaper says that “Mr. McGriff has planted some orchard and is preparing to considerably increase the acreage of alfalfa.”

A 1936 map of the Las Vegas Vicinity still shows an arrow pointing toward the McGriff Ranch, south of the city. However, a 1954 map of the Las Vegas Valley shows the property to be owned by T. M. Griss who applied for water rights in 1951.

Although there is no indication when the property transferred from McGriff to Griss, a visit to the country recorder's office, looking at property record #16-45-2 shows that

  • In 1952, Griss sold to Lucille F. Athearn
  • In 1962, the property transfered to Maxwell L. Rubin and Angelus Industries, Inc and then to Arthur Liebert
  • In 1962, the land transferred to Star Investment, Co and to Menlo Inc.
  • In 1964, it was transferred to Yeltro Corporation and Ambassador, Inc.

The property went from Yeltro Corp / Ambassador, Inc to Clinton Ables, who sold it to the Hughes Tool Company in 1968. Looking at the history record, after searching one of the low parcel numbers within the old ranch area (such as 177-10-110-001) using the Clark County Assessor database shows that the land was finally subdivided into housing lots in 1986.

Land Resarch Tools

A good place to start, if you want to find out about early Las Vegas ranches is the University of Nevada, Las Vegas or UNLV online Digital Collections. An advanced search is available that will allow you look through the Southern Nevada and Las Vegas, History in Maps collection.

Search using keyword artesian and you'll receive links to maps of

One of the more complicated parts of researching an old ranch is to identify exactly where it was located. As an example, look on the early artesian well map and you can find the Wixon's ranch several miles south of the city.

  • Numbers close to the ranch will show you that it is in section 10
  • Left and right text indicates that the ranch is in Township 22 South
  • Top and bottom text indicates that the ranch is in Range 61 East

Once you know the location of the ranch, you can go to the Nevada Division of State Lands website and search the patent database to see who received the first state land patent. Note that this doesn't mean this was the first settler on the land... it was just the first person who was able to completely pay for it!

In addition to the land patent search from the state of Nevada, you can also search the Bureau of Land Management, or BLM Land Patents database.

If ranch owners filed for water rights, they can probably be found on the Nevada Division of Water Resources web page. After going to the Water Rights Database, you can search by permit, certificate or owner name.

Several ranches are shown on the early artesian wells map. You can chose the family name from any one of these, and use it to

A reference tool that may, or may not, be helpful is the Clark County, Nevada Assessor Property Records webpage. This database shows current, and recent owners. Some parcels contain historical owner information. However, it can be tricky to find it. To do so, you need to find past parcel identification numbers. For example, while very early records identified parcels by Section, Township, and Range, more recent records use an 11-digital parcel number.

To see if a parcel contains historical information in the assessor database, start by going to the Clark County Assessor Records and Maps webpage. The Parcel Map Index contains submaps for Clark County. If you can find the general area of your parcel, you will get a 5-6 digit number. As an example, the Wixon Ranch, used in early posts, falls in sections 177-10. These five digits can be used in a Parcel Maps Inquiry. Once you select a more detailed base map within this ranch, you can look for an 11-digital parcel number (I generally look for the smallest number available.) One of the lots in this submap, that we believe would fall within the old Wixon Ranch is 177-10-110-001.

Feeding this Parcel Number into a property records parcel number search will provide the current owner record. Above the record, click the Ownership History and you will find

  • A current parcel number of 177-10-110-001
  • A prior parcel number of 160-780-001
  • An 80-acre parcel owned, prior to 1971, by the Hughes Tool Company!

Flowing Wells

According to the City of Las Vegas web page, Las Vegas is Spanish for “The Meadows.” Around 1912, surveyor J. T. McWilliams created a map of artesian wells. The map pinpointed about 100 "flowing wells" and at least a dozen areas of "cultivated land."

If you know where to look, researching the history of these old ranches can be fun. This blog will be dedicated to trying to find out about some of the early Vegas ranches, who lived there, and how long they lasted.