Dorothy Scossa describes early ranch life
December 27, 2004
by Marie Johnson
Dorothy Scossa and her family received an award of recognition this year as a Centennial Family, a family that’s shaped Nevada’s history by its continued ranching operations for more than 100 years. Dorothy, a very spry 82-year-old, recently opened the backdoor of her ranch home along Foothill Road and invited me in. Seated at the wooden table in her small but very tidy living/dinning room Dorothy shared her personal history and the warmth of her spotless, Home Comfort, wood burning, cookstove.
Dorothy’s maiden name was Shuart, Pennsylvania Dutch, she quickly adds. Self-described as a quiet only child of divorced parents, she speaks her mind now as she pleases. When 14, her mother looked for work for Dorothy to keep her in school and provide room and board. Dorothy’s mother’s friend, Mrs. Alexander Scossa, was looking for a quick girl to help her on the Scossa ranch.
Ranching women in late 1800s early 1900s, Dorothy explained, had a number of chores needing constant attention. Besides cleaning the house, mending, cleaning clothing, they prepared and cooked three full meals a day for large hay crews in hot summer and hungry hired men in cold winter, as well as a growing family. Three big meals served everyday, on time, at 6 a.m., 12 p.m. and 6 p.m. Dorothy stresses the times ticking them off on her fingers. As soon as one meal finished you cleaned up and started the next one.
Smiling widely Dorothy speaks of falling in love with one of the Scossa boys, the dashing cowboy, Eugene, who recited poetry while riding summer range up in the mountains around Markleeville. May 1940, the senior year of Dorothy’s schooling, she and the dashing cowboy ran off and got married in Carson City.
Dorothy describes announcing the marriage to his parents with the phrase, “If I’d a’known the war that was to break out (after telling his family) I could have joined the service and seen less fighting.” But they stayed on and survived to raise four very healthy children, Sonja, Cecile, Russell and Georgia. Russell with his son Jeremy now operate the Scossa Brothers ranch.
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Dorothy says women today don’t like traditional ranch wife work. They want to be more independent of their husband’s work and have their own money.
Dorothy describes traditional chores as gardening, baking, canning, making sausages, minding the turkeys, cleaning, cooking, childcare and taking care of the home.
She said when she was a young mother she had to think twice before going to the outhouse in the dead of winter with three small children at home with a cook stove fire going.
Today’s woman misses that kind of excitement.
But the children grew up fine, the outhouse blew down in the last bad windstorm and Dorothy remembers electricity in 1924 and an indoor privy in 1950.
Christmases included lots of guests dropping in so you always had your sausages, bread and cheeses to put out as well as your homemade wines.
Christmas gifts were practical items, mittens, boots, warm clothes, thing you would need for real winters Dorothy said, “When winter came and really stayed winter, all winter long.”
The horses were always fed before breakfast, even Christmas morning, so they had time to eat before they were hitched to wagons to feed cows. But you did get to open one present early on Christmas morning, only one, like a visit with Dorothy.
— Marie Johnson is a Gardnerville rancher with more than a passing acquaintance with agricultural life.