You know, some stories just write themselves.
That was the headline in the Indianapolis News on November 26, 1947, which I found doing some random dude ranch research the other day. Naturally, I had to investigate, and if you think today’s celebrity culture is weird, just wait.
Alva LaSalle “Beau” Kitselman, Jr. was the heir to the Indiana Steel and Wire Co. fortune founded by his father. He had a deeply analytical mind which was coupled with a yearning for mysticism. In 1936, at the age of twenty-two, he bought the Pyramid Lake dude ranch near Reno, Nevada for $67,000 (in today’s money that’s a little over $1 million).
Beau spent a lot of time at his ranch, along with his mother Leslie and sister Marjorie. Then, in 1940, he became interested in the study and practice of yoga, which started to gain popularity in that decade (that’s right, well before the hippie era). He spent hours in a special light-proof cabin on the dude ranch, read up on yoga philosophy, and meditated.
By 1947 his interest had waned, and he became “lucid,” as he put it. To his horror, he discovered that he had signed over the Pyramid Lake ranch to his mother and sister a few years earlier, and he did not remember doing it. When he told them he wanted the ranch back, they informed him they had leased it to another couple.
So, in December of 1947, he sued his sister and mom. The headlines were hilarious.
The trial was held in the court of Judge William McKnight of Reno through January of 1948. Beau claimed that his relatives took advantage of him and that he had memory lapses during his yoga period. “My studies probably were learned imperfectly, for I often became unconscious for long periods and lost my memory,” he said.
Yoga was new and imperfectly understood. A Reno psychiatrist testified that Beau had been temporarily insane, while reporters said he had been “off balance.” His comments on the stand were also great fodder for the newspapers. “The trial was chiefly remarkable for the nature of Mr. Kitselman’s assertions and for the two-hour discourse he gave on the witness stand concerning yoga…which held the courtroom absorbed.”
The case went to Judge McKnight on January 30, 1948, and Beau lost. He appealed the decision in 1951, but the verdict was upheld.
The Pyramid Lake dude ranch went on to fame as one of Nevada’s “divorce ranches.” Beginning in 1931, you could get a quickie divorce if you lived in Nevada for 6 weeks (for the best film example of this phenomenon see 1939’s The Women). Many dude ranches hosted future divorce-seekers, and playwright Arthur Miller stayed at Pyramid Lake to get unhitched from his wife before marrying Marilyn Monroe. Today, Beau’s former ranch is a campground called Crosby Lodge.
Losing his ranch didn’t stop Beau from traveling or continuing his studies of world philosophies, and he wandered all over Asia in the late 1940s and early 1950s. He wrote books about religion, was a math prodigy and an early computer coder. He died, mostly unremarked and unremembered, in 1980.
Here’s some more information about Beau: https://kitselman.com/index.php/man