Each month, View looks at a place –– perhaps a road, a bridge or a building –– that’s named for someone. This month, the Oliver Ranch is in the spotlight.
Originally the ranch was part of the leased grazing grounds for the Wilson Ranch (now known as Spring Mountain Ranch State Park). The Oliver Ranch was originally owned by William “Bill” Morgan, who created the Morgan Ranch when he homesteaded 160 acres around 1920. His brother, Reese, was listed as part-owner but is not believed to have lived there.
Chuck Williams, who volunteers with the Friends of Red Rock Canyon, has been doing research on the ranch, which sits just past Red Rock Canyon off state Route 159.
Morgan was reported to have done a little moonshining back in the day, but when his farm was raided in June 1929, all that was found were two stills, neither of which was working, so there was no arrest.
“His brother Reese that I mention? He was on the police department, so you never know if there was a tip-off there or not,” Williams said.
Williams said his research turned up documentation showing extensive grazing rights with hundreds of heads of cattle, although he’d “never seen an estimate of how many cattle Morgan kept on his ranch. Morgan, he was an interesting fellow. He won a world championship at the Chicago World’s Fair. The fair was in 1893. He won it for breaking horses to harness, and he worked for a while in ‘Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show.’ He was quite a horseman.”
In 1937, the ranch was sold to Chauncey Oliver, and it became the Oliver Ranch. It had more than 300 acres. It stayed in the Oliver family until 1993, when it was sold to the Bureau of Land Management.
“The Olivers actually lived in the Chicago area,” Williams said. “They came out several times a year, but I think one of the reasons they bought it was for tax reasons. They didn’t have to pay state tax in Nevada.”
Perhaps the people who know its history best are those who lived there. Susan Smith grew up on the ranch, starting in 1965. Her parents, Frank and Bobbie Logan, were the caretakers. The main house was not large, she said, perhaps 1,800 square feet with enough bunk beds to sleep about 10 people. It had stone walls packed with adobe and slate flooring to keep things cool in summer, as there was no air conditioning. They could count on the ranch being 5 to 10 degrees cooler than Las Vegas’ temperatures, and things cooled off considerably in the evenings. Both houses had screened-in porches. There was also a bunkhouse near the corral.
The Logans lived in the caretaker’s cottage, also made of stone and about 1,300 square feet. It was a 45-minute ride to town.
“You don’t realize until you leave that it was just like the Western movies you see on TV,” Smith said. “It was growing up on a ranch, with horses. At that time in the ’70s, you had snakes; you had mountain lions and bobcats. All that was around. … The last main drag, two lanes, was at Decatur (Boulevard), and when I got older, it was Rainbow (Boulevard). That was the last street you would pass, and that was it. It was like a 40-minute drive to get out there. Now, it’s almost like the suburbs.”
She said she would fall asleep to the sounds of coyotes howling and burros braying. Her first day of school saw a flood that washed out the road. Her father had to take her to school on his tractor.
The Olivers used the ranch as a summer retreat. When they sent word they’d be coming for a few weeks, the Logans got the main house opened up and aired out. Smith’s chores were a labor of love.
“They had a few horses, and we were able to have our own horses there,” she said. “Horses were my life. I’d saddle up the horses for anybody who wanted to ride, and then we’d go out and ride. When we got back, everybody would go swimming.”
Outside was a huge pool, bigger than an Olympic-sized one, she said, and fed by a natural spring. The water stayed a constant temperature.
“It was about 58 degrees,” Smith recalled. “We’d swim in it until we were blue.”
She recalled riding in her father’s truck and running over snakes and tarantulas that ventured onto the beat-up pavement.
“Nobody believes me, but when I grew up, tarantulas were 4 or 5 inches wide,” Smith said. “They’d go across the road at night and — splat — you knew you’d run over them.”
Smith saw many animals on the ranch. She recalled hearing her dogs make a fuss in the bushes when she was 8 or 9, so she went over to investigate.
“They were barking and barking and — whoop — a green Mojave rattler popped up right in front of my face,” she said. “I just froze. And my father came over, and he shot it … knowing that, with a green Mojave rattler, the mate isn’t too far away, as soon as that one went down, he turned around and there was the other one, right beside me.”
Her father shot that one, too. It was within striking distance of her foot. She said there were many “snake adventures,” but that one was the most memorable.
The BLM hopes one day to turn Oliver Ranch into a learning center with housing, classrooms, labs, wild horse and burro facilities, administration, dining and an observatory in approximately 57,000 square feet of buildings. Funding for it has not yet been secured.
Smith said she’s apprehensive about all the plans for the 10-acre site and is worried it will lose its rustic atmosphere.
“You grew up out there; you don’t want to see it destroyed,” Smith said.
Contact Summerlin/Summerlin South View reporter Jan Hogan at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2949.
Naming Las Vegas
The history behind the naming of various streets, parks, schools, public facilities and other landmarks in the Las Vegas Valley will continue to be explored in a series of feature stories appearing in View editions published on the first Tuesday of every month.
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