History of Donna’s Ranch

Prostitution first came to Elko County, Nevada in the 1860’s. Donna’s was the first house established by the Central Pacific Railroad to service the needs of its men installing the intercontinental railroad – 1.912 miles of track from Oakland to Council Bluffs, Iowa

The source of the Humboldt River is spring and swampy area just west of the present town – once called Humboldt Wells. In the late 19th century the town was burning – and a frantic telegraph was sent that said simply “WELLS IS BURNING.” After the town was re-built it was simply referred to as Wells.

Once the railroad was completed the area became a major watering station and transfer point to load cattle onto the Central Pacific. The cowboys would be paid for the herds, and “with their pockets filled with money and their hearts with desire” they would often visit Donna’s. Local ranches would establish a “line of credit” with the house by “donating” a few head of cattle.

During the Great Depression Donna’s made major donations of food and money to help prevent starvation in Wells.

rom 1919 to 1935 world champion boxer Jack Dempsey owned Donna’s but faced criticism and eventually sold it.

The last 154 years:

  • 1867 to 1919 – People loosely affiliated with railroads
  • 1919 to 1935 – Maxine and Jack Dempsey
  • 1935 to 1955 – Hazel ?, then Ida ?
  • 1955 to about 1965 – Helen Smalley
  • 1965 to 1971 – Dorothy and Roy Jett
  • 1971 to 1987 – Helen Smalley and Ada Hull
  • 1987 to Present – Me, Geoff Arnold