Harry Wilmot Drackert Papers

Identifier: 91-49

Scope and Contents

The Harry Drackert Papers consists of records and papers of the Drackerts' three guest ranches, the Pyramid Lake Guest Ranch, the Donner Trail Guest Ranch, and the Silver Circle Guest Ranch; their store, Indian Territory, Inc.; their personal interests in horses, rodeos, southwest Indians arts and crafts, and trapshooting; and papers of Harry Drackert's parents, Charles E. and Alice Richtmyer Drackert. The collection was donated to the Special Collection Department by Phillis Abry Kaplan and Betty Abry Arensberg and dates from 1869-1990.

The Drackert Papers is a significant record of the Nevada guest ranch industry, which from 1931 to the mid-1960s played a vital role in one of Nevada's most important economic mainstays. Nevada's state laws provided the nation with one of the few legitimate means of obtaining a "quick" divorce in the United States. The bulk of Nevada guest ranches drew their clientele from the east coast of the U.S., where state laws made divorce a lengthy, messy, and often times a very public event. Divorce laws in Nevada provided that individuals who could prove state residency of six weeks and whose spouse was agreeable could be divorced without extensive evidence of wrong-doing. Although staying at a guest ranch was not cheap, it provided a divorcing spouse with a comfortable vacation-like atmosphere and a "western" experience. Most of the clientele who took advantage of this opportunity were wealthy eastern women who departed Nevada on day 43 of their stay, sometimes with a new husband. But many newly divorced women (and men) stayed on in Nevada either because of their new love of the west or because of their lack of financial resources. Both were the case with Joan Drackert.

This collection provides a partial financial record of the industry and nearly complete guest list of those who stayed at the Drackert's ranches from about 1950 to 1976. It also provides a glimpse of the experiences of former guests after they returned to their "normal" lives. Letters to Joan Drackert reveal how the newly divorced managed when they returned home, as well as the lasting impression they gained of Nevada. They included the rich and famous and the formerly rich who were sometimes forced to cope with post-divorce reduced circumstances.

The collection also provides a glimpse of horse raising activities in northern Nevada through the records of Harry who organized the Reno Rodeo and raised horses for ranch and race use. Also documented is trapshooting in the eastern U.S. and Nevada through Joan's memoirs, clippings, and meet programs. Two scrapbooks are filled with clippings of her late-1930s and her 1960s participation in the sport and the Spanish Springs Trap and Skeet Club north of Sparks, Nevada. A significant manuscript within this collection is the [History of] "Verdi and Dog Valley" written in 1960 by Victor Goodwin, an employee of the U. S. Forest Service. Goodwin apparently gave the Drackerts a copy of his work to either read critically, or as thanks for providing information on the history of the Donner Trail Guest Ranch. This work is a substantial volume documenting in detail the lumber industry in Verdi and Dog Valley and related events in those locations. Valuable, seldom-seen photographs accompany the text.

The collection has been arranged into series which reflect either the businesses or individuals who created the materials. The one exception to this arrangement is that the bulk of the correspondence in this collection has been assigned to Series 5, the "Joan Drackert Papers" series. This correspondence, mostly letters written to Joan by future or former guests and from friends and relatives, could have been divided according to the name of guest ranch at which the client stayed; i.e., correspondence between 1959-1970 might have been placed in the "Donner Trail Guest Ranch" series. However, Joan had clearly isolated this correspondence from other ranch records and that filing system has therefore been retained.

The main value of this collection is to document the guest ranch industry in Nevada, circa 1950-1976. Augmenting the records of the Drackert's ranches are other materials collected by the Drackerts. There are numerous clippings about the Drackerts, divorce in Nevada, guest ranches, and former lodgers filed in Series 5; these articles were either saved by the Drackerts or sent to them by former guests. Most notable of the materials about former guests are clippings on San Francisco socialite Dolly Fritz McMasters Cope, baseball star Jackie Jensen, and Greek premiere Andreas George Papandreou and his wife Margaret. Series 1 also includes copies of A. J. Liebling's New Yorker magazine articles from the 1950s, which describe at length the Pyramid Lake Guest Ranch, Joan and Harry Drackert, and Senator Pat McCarran's maneuvers to have Pyramid Lake Paiute Reservation land deeded to white ranchers.

The Drackerts lead a colorful life and met thousands of interesting people over the years. Many people urged them to write down their experiences or to tape record them so that these memories would not be lost. Unfortunately they did not do so, other than in a few brief reminiscences by Joan (91-49_5_82-84). They were both the subject of articles which are included in newspaper clippings in Series 5, and in 91-49_5_92, and 91-49_6_2. The latter biography of Harry was written for his successful nomination to the Cowboy Hall of Fame. Series 7 "Charles and Alice Drackert Papers," contains some interesting information on Harry's father, who was a mining engineer in southern Nevada at one time. There is also some Drackert/Richtmyer genealogical information in that series and an amusing series of comic postcards from about 1900.


  • 1869-1994


Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research. Materials must be used on-site; advance notice suggested. Access to parts of this collection may be restricted under provisions of state or federal law.

Biographical Note

Harry Wilmot Drackert was born on December 23, 1904 in Pony, Montana. His parents were Charles Edmond (1875-1938) and Alice (Allie) Richtmyer Drackert (1887-1963).

Harry grew up in ranch country and by the age of sixteen was working the local rodeo circuit and attaining the finals of events he entered. He also ran track for his high school, Gallatin County High School, Montana, from which he graduated in 1924. After graduation he continued to enter rodeos, eventually becoming Champion Cowboy of America at Madison Square Garden in New York City.

Drackert gained a reputation for being able to deal well with horses and people and eventually went to work for Grace Miller who ran the Elkhorn Ranch, a dude ranch at West Yellowstone, Montana. He also tried a stint as a cowboy in Hollywood and although he didn't become a star, he did work as a wrangler for western movie productions. Years later, in 1974, he was hired as an extra for the movie "California Split," a part of which was filmed in Nevada.

In 1931 Harry quit the rodeo circuit for good and moved to Reno, Nevada, where he was a riding instructor for Baker's Riding Stables on South Virginia Street; owned Town House Stables (1938) on West 1st Street; operated the Drackert's Stables at Brockway, Lake Tahoe (1940); and then managed the St. Francis Riding Club in San Francisco, California (1941). During the years 1941-1942 (and perhaps longer) he was a member of the International Brotherhood of Boiler Makers, Iron Ship Builders and Helpers of America and worked in San Francisco at one of the ship yards.

After World War II, Harry returned to Reno where he owned the Mt. Rose Guest Ranch. From 1945-1956 he ran the Pyramid Lake Guest Ranch which catered to easterners establishing their Nevada residency for the purpose of a divorce. Drackert began breeding horses in 1948, raising thoroughbreds and quarter horses for both racing and dude ranching.

Harry married Joan Abry Deeley in 1950. She had been his ranch hostess and continued during their forty-year marriage to be his both his hostess and manager in later business ventures.

After the Drackerts left the Pyramid Lake Ranch, they worked briefly as managers of the new Riverhouse Hotel and Bundox Restaurant on Lake Street and the Truckee River in Reno. In 1959 the Drackerts took over the operation of the historic Donner Trail Guest Ranch in Verdi, where Joan managed the business and Harry operated the outdoor aspects of the Ranch, including stock raising and racing. In 1970 the Drackerts suddenly lost their lease and were forced to move at short notice. Neither of the Drackerts was ready to retire yet, so in 1971 they became partners with Warren Nelson and his wife and purchased the Silver Circle Guest Ranch, which they sold in 1976. Two years before that sale they used their personal interest in the Native American crafts of the southwest to establish Indian Territory, Inc. at 130 North Virginia Street, Reno, where they sold quality Indian jewelry, baskets, pottery, and Navajo rugs. They continued to operate that business until 1986, when they finally retired.

In addition to his business interests, Harry was a director of the Reno Rodeo Association from its inception and president of the Association until 1968. He was one of the first members of Reno's Prospectors' Club.

Harry Drackert died on December 26, 1990.

Joan Abry Deeley Drackert was born at Morelands, the Abry family farm in Talbot County, Maryland, in 1914. She had two younger sisters, Phillis Abry Kaplan, and Betty Abry Arensberg. When Joan was thirteen, the family moved to Dayton, Ohio, and then in 1929 to Kansas City, Missouri. There she became an excellent trap shooter and by 1935 was entering and winning women's competitions. During that time, she spent summers in Evergreen, Colorado, where she learned to ride horses and fell in love with the west. She visited Santa Fe, New Mexico, for the first time in the early 1930s, beginning her lifelong love of both that city and its arts.

Joan returned to Maryland for a few years and there in 1938 began flying lessons. She received her pilot's license in July of 1939.

By 1940 Joan had moved to New York City where she a fashion model for the famous Powers Agency. Interestingly enough, although she was "in the Powers books," Joan characterized this modeling stint in her brief 1989 memoirs as an "unsuccessful stab." During World War II she worked at the Quarter Masters' Depot in Bellemead, New Jersey. She was also married for three years to Major Robert Emmett Deeley.

Joan moved to Reno, Nevada in 1946 in order to obtain a divorce (Harry had also been divorced). While establishing her Nevada residency she lived at the Mr. Rose Lodge and because of financial necessity worked there as well. The Mt. Rose Lodge is where she met Harry, although by that time Harry was managing the Pyramid Lake Guest Ranch. In 1947 and 1948 Joan was employed as a ranch hostess by John C. Fugitt, owner of the Donner Trail Ranch. Then she went to work as a hostess at Pyramid Lake. Joan and Harry were married in 1950.

During forty years of marriage Joan successfully managed three guest ranch businesses and a retail Indian crafts store. Joan's charm and skill as a hostess is reflected in the letters she received from appreciative guests and friends, who were grateful for her assistance in restoring their self-confidence and for turning an often painful experience into a restful vacation.

During her years on the ranches, Joan happily participated in the outdoor entertainment of guests, which included horseback riding and hunting (in season). In 1965 she was persuaded by Harry to try shooting traps again to help improve her duck shooting and loved it so much that she began to practice whenever her schedule allowed. She was very competitive and rose to the top of her sport to win numerous competitions, including state singles champion in 1966 and 1968, and ladies doubles in 1968. She was on the PITA All-Star Team in 1968 and 1969 and served as president of the Nevada State Amateur Trapshooting Association.

Mrs. Drackert's interest in art lead to her participation as a docent and board member of the Nevada Museum and Art. She was instrumental in that capacity in arranging a major Reno showing of the Durango collection of Navajo weaving in 1985. She was a member of several southwest arts organizations.

Joan Drackert died October 2, 1991.


11.417 Linear Feet (13 boxes, 1 oversize folder)

Language of Materials



Harry (1904-1990) and Joan Deeley (1914-1991) Drackert owned and operated the Pyramid Lake Guest Ranch, the Donner Trails, Guest Ranch, the Silver Circle Guest Ranch, and Indian Territory, Inc. (store). The collection consists of records and papers of the Drackerts' three guest ranches and their store as well as papers of Harry Drackert's parents, Charles E. and Alice Richtmyer Drackert.


Arranged into the following series: 1) Pyramid Lake Guest Ranch; 2) Donner Trail Guest Ranch; 3) Silver Circle Guest Ranch; 4) Indian Territory, Inc.; 5) Joan Drackert; 6) Harry Drackert; 7) Charles and Alice Drackert; 8) Photographs

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Donated by Phillis Abry Kaplan and Betty Abry Arensberg in October 1991.

Separated Materials

The collection contains several thousand photographs and a number of photo albums, all of which have been transferred to the photographic archives of the Special Collections Department as collection number UNRS-P1993-01.

A Part of

Nevada women's archives.

Guide to the Harry Wilmot Drackert Papers
Susan Searcy
December 1991
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the University of Nevada, Reno. Special Collections Department Repository

Mathewson-IGT Knowledge Center
1664 N. Virginia St.
Reno Nevada 89557-0322 USA
775-682-5724 (Fax)