Former dude wrangler recalls Nevada’s quickie divorce era
July 8, 2004
Like the classy Eastern socialites who visited the dusty Nevada ranch where William McGee was a dude wrangler, McGee and his wife, Sandra, are an unlikely pairing.William McGee, a Montana-born wrangler and Navy veteran, and Sandra McGee, a film buff from Southern California, teamed up to write “The Divorce Seekers: A Photo Memoir of a Nevada Dude Wrangler.”Alongside more than 500 photos, William McGee first documents his time in Tahoe working at a deer hunters’ pack station, behind what is now Alpine Meadows. In Part Two of “Divorce Seekers,” he recalls his experience as a dude wrangler in the late ’40s at the Flying ME, a Nevada ranch where Eastern socialites and celebrities would stay for six weeks to be eligible for Nevada’s state-sanctioned quickie divorce.Since it had been more than 50 years since William McGee first set foot in Nevada and the Tahoe region, it took some prodding from Sandra McGee to get him to jot down his memoirs. Little did she know that once he started, she would become fully enveloped in the process.
“I’d been urging Bill for many years to write about those days, which I see as a very glamorous period,” Sandra McGee said in an interview from the McGees’ home in St. Helena, Calif. “When he sat down to write his memoirs three years ago, I said I’d help. I became absolutely fascinated by the Eastern socialites.”The Flying ME was a place where the likes of Clark Gable and Ava Gardner stayed, and that intrigued Sandra McGee.So while the wrangler recalled his cowboy days, the So Cal girl did the research – three years’ worth of investigation into the historical facts of Nevada’s quickie divorce era, which ran from the ’30s to the early ’60s.Though most of the book is about William McGee’s stay at the Flying ME, there’s also a bit about his stay in North Tahoe. There are several photos of the North Shore in “Divorce Seekers” – including a few from Truckee photographer Larry Prosor – recalling those days in the mid-1940s.For most of that time, William McGee called Tahoe City home, but Truckee was where he and his buddies found the night life.
“While I was a cowboy, we were in Truckee many evenings,” he said. “Tahoe City was kind of dead compared to Truckee in those days.”William and Sandra McGee will put on a slideshow with a couple hundred photos from “Divorce Seekers” at the Truckee Library on July 13 at 7 p.m. Though they hope to sell a few books at the event, they’d also like to get people interested in what they say is an intriguing period of Tahoe and Nevada’s history.”I think it’s a wonderful and rare opportunity to meet a real cowboy and wrangler who was there at the time,” Sandra McGee said. “We’re hoping to share our enthusiasm. We’re hoping to preserve this time in history for future generations.”
Check it out”Divorce Seekers” slideshow and book signing• Tuesday, July 13, 7 p.m.• Truckee Library• Free (book costs $49.95, with Bookshelf at Hooligan Rocks giving a percentage of the proceeds going to Truckee Friends of the Library)