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

About This Collection

Folklife Research and Team Fieldwork

Paradise Valley is the name of both a cattle-ranching valley and a crossroads community in northern Nevada's Humboldt County. The valley is a cul-de-sac formed by the Santa Rosa Mountains and watered by their melting snows. Miners and agriculturists arrived at about the time of the Civil War, but the mines played out by the end of the century and the valley was devoted to ranching through the 1980s. Ranching has continued in the 1990s--post-dating this collection--even as improved technology has again made the extraction of gold profitable and revived mining.

The American Folklife Center conducted an ethnographic field research project in Paradise Valley from 1978 to 1982. The study employed a team of researchers representing different disciplines who documented a variety of aspects of traditional life. The focus of the work was cattle ranching and the work of buckaroos, as cowboys are commonly called in the region. Howard W. "Rusty" Marshall, then of the Folklife Center's staff, directed the project. His essay "Buckaroos in Paradise" presents an overview of the valley and highlights the key findings of the field project. Marshall also carried out extensive research on material culture, especially vernacular architecture, focusing on the work of the immigrant Italian stonemason-builders who constructed many ranch buildings. After the project ended, Marshall's additional research took him to the old villages of Passobreve, Sagliano Micca, and others in the northwestern Italian Piedmont region. There, relatives of the people he had met in Nevada guided him to the nineteenth-century quarries, gravestones, retaining walls, and buildings that were familiar to the generation that immigrated to America. The results of this broader research may be found in Marshall's book Paradise Valley, Nevada: The People and Buildings of an American Place (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1995) and in other publications.

The project involved collaborating specialists from other institutions. Richard E. Ahlborn, curator in the Division of Cultural History in the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History, documented ranch crafts and horse gear and organized an exhibition entitled Buckaroos in Paradise at the museum in 1980. Marshall and Ahlborn co-authored the publication that accompanied the exhibition (Buckaroos in Paradise. Washington: Library of Congress, 1980. Reprint, Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1981).

Thomas Vennum Jr., an ethnomusicologist with the Smithsonian's Center for Folklife Programs and Cultural Studies, interviewed Northern Paiute Indians about their work as ranch hands and buckaroos. Selected results of his research in this online collection include six audio selections and numerous photographs.

James Deetz, then director of the Lowie Museum at the University of California, Berkeley, led a group of historical archeologists (Eugene Prince, Lynn Eisenmann, and Jamey Deetz) in a survey of the valley's former Chinese community and two historic archeological sites on the Ninety-Six Ranch. Margaret Sermons Purser, then a graduate student in Berkeley's Anthropology Department, continued to research the early history of the community, culminating in her doctoral dissertation "Community and Material Culture in Nineteenth Century Paradise Valley, Nevada" (Ph.D. diss., University of California, 1987).

Carl Fleischhauer, then a Folklife Center staff member, participated in various roles, notably organizing the project's overall media documentation effort, compiling information about Leslie J. "Les" Stewart and his Ninety-Six Ranch, and producing a videodisc about the ranch, now transformed into this online collection. Fleischhauer was joined in producing media documentation by William H. "Bill" Smock, a filmmaker from San Francisco, who worked as a still photographer and produced the motion pictures included in this online collection.

The project team also included specialist researchers contracted by the Folklife Center. Keith Cunningham, a professor of folklore at Northern Arizona University, documented oral traditions in the town of Paradise Valley. He and his wife, Kathy Cunningham, also prepared a comprehensive index to the field research project's 150 hours of tape recordings, available in the Center's Folklife Reading Room at the Library of Congress. Linda GastaƱaga, a Basque studies specialist in Reno with family ties in the valley, studied the Basque presence. Suzi Jones, then an Oregon folklorist, studied foodways and material culture. A portion of her interview with German immigrant Martha Bruns Arriola is included in this collection, as are many of her still photographs. William A. "Bert" Wilson, then a folklore professor at Utah State University, studied the annual cycle of work on several valley ranches.