Buckaroos in Paradise: Ranching Culture in Northern Nevada, 1945-1982


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A History of the Ninety-Six Ranch

The Founding Years, 1864-1910

Fredrick William Stock, who was born near Exten, Hessen-Kassel, Germany, in 1837, founded what is now called the Ninety-Six Ranch. His name in German was Friedrich Wilhelm; the family's records variously spell it Friedrick or Fredrick. He was apprenticed to a cobbler at fourteen but abandoned the pursuit after two years and came to America. He arrived in New York in 1853 and proceeded to Dayton, Ohio, where he worked as a cooper's helper. In 1857 he was drawn to California by the gold rush, traveling from New Orleans around Cape Horn to San Francisco, bypassing the mountain West where he would shortly make his home. He probably took the English form of his name at about the time of his arrival in the United States.1

In California, Stock worked in the gold fields on the northern reaches of the Sacramento River. He was not terribly successful and soon took a job with a stage line. In 1860 he bought two wagons and twelve oxen and formed a freight company. During this period he first met George Carrol (sometimes spelled Carroll or Carrel) from Petersburg, Virginia, who later would be a partner in Paradise Valley. The freight company hauled supplies from Red Bluff, the northernmost steamship landing on the Sacramento, to mines in southwestern Idaho. One route passed near Paradise Valley, where Stock saw promising farmland. He homesteaded in the valley in 1864 and 1865.

Early settlers in Paradise Valley faced Indian raids until about 1868, with one particularly severe outbreak in 1865. There is no clear evidence that white settlers displaced the more or less nomadic Northern Paiutes from the valley, but the period was a difficult one for Indian-white relations throughout the state. Thousands of whites entered Nevada after the discovery of silver in 1859, and the inevitable conflicts began. The first glimmering of the Ghost Dance religion occurred among the Paiutes in the 1870s; the movement became a widespread anti-white uprising a few decades later.

William Stock's relationships with Native Americans in this early period are always described as charitable and positive. A 1942 article in Pacific Stockman, based on interviews with family members, reports Stock's handling of the 1865 uprising: "He stayed on his place and when the Indians came he killed a beef, roasted it and made friends with the Indians. They never gave him any trouble after that." (Mann, Range. "Ranching in Paradise." Pacific Stockman VIII, 10; October 1942, p. 8). But others in the valley were not so sanguine and the cavalry fort Camp Winfield Scott was established in 1866. The role of Native Americans on the ranch in later years is the subject of a group of eight audio selections in this online collection.

Stock's first dwelling was a sod house and the farm's first product a crop of grain. Supplies were brought from Unionville, Nevada, a distance of 150 miles. Later, after the railroad reached Winnemucca, forty miles distant, Stock was able to obtain lumber and build a small wood house. Fort Scott provided Stock with a local market for grain and meat; the establishment of Fort McDermitt just across the mountains provided him with contracts to supply firewood and poles. Stock's grandson Leslie J. "Les" Stewart says that he has seen a mountain cabin and the remains of a sled he believes his grandfather used during his wood-gathering expeditions.

Stock and Carrol formed a partnership in 1866, adding horses to the grain and cattle already being produced. Acquisitions led to the growth of the holdings, including Stock's 1883 buyout of his partner. Other holdings, some quite distant from the present home ranch, were bought and sold through the years. The 1881 lithograph of Stock and Carrol's ranch that appeared in Myron Angel's 1881 History of Nevada with Illustrations and Biographical Sketches of Its Prominent Men and Pioneers (Oakland, California: Thompson and West) shows a diversified operation that raised and sold sheep, hogs, horses, cattle, and grain. For many westerners, such diversity and the inclusion of cash crops define a farm rather than a ranch. A ranch would sell exclusively livestock. The extent and sources of the property as of 1981 are described in the video selection Land Use Through the Seasons.

In 1879 Stock went back to Germany and married Wilhelmina Christina Wahague (or Wahagen or Wahaugen) from Strücken, a village very near Exten. They returned to Nevada early the next year. Six children were born during the 1880s, four of whom survived: William F. (1881), Minnie (1882), Elizabeth (1884), and Edith (1886). Grotsch's family history describes the extensive kitchen garden, flock of chickens, and milk cows overseen by Wilhelmina, who traded excess produce, butter, and eggs at the store. The family also raised two hundred ducks and geese, gathered the down for feather beds, and sold poultry to Chinese laborers at the nearby mines.

In the 1880s and 1890s, Stock invested in a bank in Winnemucca and a flourmill in the valley, and helped form the First Methodist Church of Paradise Valley. He was active in civic affairs and Republican politics. He aided his brother, Heinrich Edward, and three sisters, Louise Wilhelmina, Justine Carlena, and Louise Pauline Sophie, in their immigration to America. All four settled in the valley; Ed started a ranch, Wilhelmina married Henry Kirchner, Lena married Henry Knieke, and Louise married Robert Schwartz. Descendants of these unions live in Paradise Valley today.

It is interesting to speculate on the use of German in the valley. As the surnames of the men who married Stock's sisters attest, persons of German ancestry were prominent early settlers. Some, like the Stocks, came from Low-German-speaking areas. Martha Arriola, who married Wilhelmina Stock's nephew, said her first husband's family spoke Low German at home but learned High German in school. No letters from the Stocks survive, although there are letters from businessman and storekeeper Charles Kemler. Kemler immigrated from a German speaking section of Switzerland. He wrote relatives in California in 1879 in High German; some letters are signed "Carl" and others "Charles," implying that the process of Anglicization had begun. By the turn of the century or shortly thereafter, the valley also was home to speakers of Paiute, Chinese, Italian, and Basque.

Stock died in 1898. A visit to the home just before his death is the subject of the audio selection The Death of William Stock, a reminiscence by Charles Kemler's grandson, Fritz Buckingham. After her husband's death, Wilhelmina ran the operation with the help of her children and nephew, William Huck, until her death in 1910. By the time of Stock's death, the outfit no longer raised cash crops and limited its sales to livestock--cattle, sheep, and horses--and the operation could now properly be called a ranch. But Wilhelmina felt that Stock's first love had been farming and in the face of some family protests, she incorporated the operation as the William Stock Farming Company. According to Grotsch, the ranch's holdings at the time of her death included 3,000 cattle, 6,000 sheep, 1,000 horses, and 17,560 acres of land.



  1. Most of the history of the ranch is from a twenty-one-page typescript biography of William Stock by John E. Grotsch that the family dates to about 1955. Grotsch is Stock's grandson and Leslie Stewart's cousin. Additional information has been taken from personal communications and interviews with Leslie and Marie Stewart and the following published works: Myron Angel (ed.), History of Nevada with Illustrations and Biographical Sketches of Its Prominent Men and Pioneers (Oakland, California: Thompson and West, 1881); Range Mann, "Ranching in Paradise," Pacific Stockman VIII, 10 (October 1942): 8-10; and Adell "Casey" Jones, "An April Visit to Paradise Valley," Nevada Highways and Parks XVI (1956), 2: 3-13. Additional genealogical data was supplied by Edith Schwartz Aldous, a granddaughter of William Stock's sister Louise and compiled by Cindy Styx; by Margaret Purser, who provided copies of census data, Kemler family letters, and other information; and by Gene Prince, who recorded the inscription of every headstone in the Paradise Valley cemetery. My father, Wolfgang Fleischhauer, clarified points relating to German geography and language. Copies of these source materials are part of the Paradise Valley Folklife Collection at the American Folklife Center, Library of Congress. (Return to text)