Leslie Stewart was born in 1920 and has lived his entire life on the Ninety-Six Ranch in Paradise Valley, Nevada. He has never worked anyplace else nor has he ever lived anyplace else. His father was Fred B. Stewart and his mother was Edith Stock Stewart, the daughter of William Stock who founded the ranch in 1864. It is one of the oldest continually family owned and operated ranches in the state. In 2004 it was designated a Centennial Ranch by the Nevada State Historical Preservation Office.
Leslie attended local schools graduating from Humboldt County High School in 1938 and attended UNR before becoming active in the management of the ranch.
At about age six, Leslie started going along with his father and other buckaroos while they worked cattle on the ranch. During pre-high school years he learned a lot about working cattle from observing the "old timers"; men like his father, Fred Stewart, the Holt brothers, Charlie Sheldon, Jim Grigsby, and many others of the top, old-time buckaroos.
Leslie started doing serious riding about the time he entered high school. He was never much interested in school sports and social events, but rather, spent most weekends working cattle horseback on the ranch. During summer vacation he rode with the "wagon" for about two months on the open range, working cattle and gathering horses. During this period the ranch still used many work horses and they were gathered from the range prior to haying season.
In the fall of 1938, Leslie enrolled in the College of Agriculture at the University of Nevada, Reno. All vacation time and as many weekends as possible were spent at home on the ranch. When he couldn't get home he still rode whenever possible, riding and breaking horses for several people in the Reno area. In the spring of his junior year he decided that higher education was not for him. Near the end of the semester, while attending a class in ranch management, the professor was discussing the merits of a tidy farmstead. "When piling the debris to be burned, don't stack it too close to the barn as you might burn the barn down" he admonished the class. Leslie thought about this for a while and decided his education was complete and school was over as far as he was concerned. He packed his saddle and other belongings and headed back to the ranch and never returned to college.
That fall, at the age of 20, he became buckaroo boss and started running the 96 wagon, riding year around. This he did for 20 years. In those days all the work was done on horseback from a horse-drawn chuck wagon with a "cavvy" of about 40 saddle horses. Looking back, Leslie felt this was the best time for the buckaroos. They rode spring, summer, fall and quite a bit in winter. He often said that one of the most pleasant and gratifying experiences in buckaroo camp was lying in bed in a canvas teepee at daybreak listening to the bell on the bell mare and the shouts of the wrango as he brought the cavvy into the corral; his shouts punctuated by the call from the cook announcing breakfast.
Cattle carrying the 96 brand ran in common with several neighbors from Paradise Valley to the Oregon border and from Quinn River Valley to the Owyhee Desert. Counting all cattle worked in conjunction with the neighbors, the largest of which was the McCleary Circle-A ranch, eight to ten thousand cattle a year were handled, about two thousand of which were "96"s.
The buckaroo crew consisted of the boss, six to eight riders, a wrangler, and a cook. Their home was the wagon and they never saw the inside of a bunkhouse until the cattle came home in the fall. Some of the better buckaroos who rode with Leslie over those years were Oscar ‘Leppy’ Arnold, Antone ‘Wild Bill’ Guerrica, Frank Sellars, Lil Davey, Lynn Kimball, Fred Raker, and Jim Dewar, who all learned their trade from the real old timers.
During this time Leslie did some rodeoing in northern Nevada, northern California and Oregon. He concentrated on calf roping, team roping, and wild cow milking. He had found out rather early that saddle broncs were not adding many miles to his time in the saddle.
With the death of his father in 1959, Leslie took over complete management of the ranch and had to turn some of the riding over to others. In the early 1960s the range was fenced into individual ranch allotments. This, coupled with better roads and the use of trucks to haul saddle horses, reduced the miles of riding considerably. He relied heavily on Indian buckaroos from Ft. McDermitt, the best of which were Albert and Oscar Skedaddle, Theodore Brown and Tex Northrup.
Leslie watched ranching and America change forever with WWII and the advent of machinery to replace horses and the drifting hay crews who had done the seasonal work for decades. He watched work horses replaced by tractors but never quite adjusted to the change. When he watches old movies of the ranch, while some of the names of the men escape him, he can almost always recall the names of the horses. Along with his horses, Leslie also loved his dogs, probably regarding them more fondly than most people.
There came a time in his career when he realized that it was necessary to devote time and energy to the organizations that supported the industry that he so much enjoyed. He was aware that the range cattle industry faced grave problems; the result of government regulations and opposition and harassment for the extreme environmentalists and others who wanted the land for other uses or even no use at all. So he began to give time and travel to organizations and causes that were devoted to protecting and preserving a unique industry and way of life.
He became a charter member of the National Cowboy Hall of Fame and Western Heritage Center in Oklahoma City and was elected to its Board of Directors in 1982. In additional he has served as:
Even while attending to these obligations he never missed being present for his ranch duties such as branding, gathering and moving cattle from the spring to summer range, and roundup in the fall.
When he had some spare time, Leslie did some big game hunting in Alaska and Canada and has quite and impressive trophy room, including a grand slam of big horn sheep;
Leslie also has an artistic side and is quite an accomplished artist, sculptor, filmmaker and photographer. While his eyesight is about gone and he’s not able to do those things anymore, he’s never slowed down and has spent the past few years restoring many of the old wagons and farm equipment on the ranch. The big rand on the 96 has turned into quite a mini-museum.
Leslie is married to the former Marie Jones whom he met while she was a teller at the First National Bank in Winnemucca. They have three children, Debbie who lives in Bozeman, Montana, Darlene in Boise, Idaho and Fred who with his family lives on the 96 and who has taken over management of the ranch. They have 9 grandchildren and 3 great-grand children. Fred’s daughter, Patrice is the 5th generation to live on the 96 which makes Leslie very proud.
Leslie Stewart was inducted into the Buckaroo Hall of Fame in September 2005.