With the previous stories I’ve shared, I’ve not provided an introduction because each woman spoke for herself and told her story with only a little guidance from me. This time is a bit different however, because the woman I have chosen passed away in 2016. In this case, I have asked her daughter for help. She passed the idea on to her aunt who is Lana Gibbs’ twin sister. Here, Donna shares Lana’s story as she remembers it. Lana’s legacy indeed lives on in her children and with her husband Bill. When visiting the Gibbs Ranch, what Lana brought, and in turn left behind, is evident. One can feel her presence there in the flow of events on the ranch…Lana’s story is a remembrance, told by those who knew and loved her most, and it is a testament to the fact that these ranch women who often go unnoticed, unrecognized and unknown are truly the roots that hold the tree in place. Lana’s legacy lives on through her family and the foundations she helped create at the Gibbs Ranch and she will forever be remembered and held dear in the minds of those who knew her, even if only for a few moments.
Please enjoy the story of Lana (Tonelli) Gibbs as told by her twin sister Donna Cromie…
My goodness where do you start when you talk about a “City Girl” gone “Rancher Girl” after one look at a long-legged cowboy breaking a colt back in 1971! That was the beginning of the undeniable love between Lana (Tonelli) Gibbs and William (Bill) H Gibbs of GIBBS RANCH, Wells, NV.
Lana was born and raised in a Northern California city called Santa Rosa. You might ask, “How in the world did a “Songleader” girl from California end up marrying a cowboy from a Ranch in Wells, Nevada?
Lana’s twin sister, Donna, who was married to Tim Cromie lived in Santa Rosa, CA. Tim just happens to be Bill Gibbs’ cousin. As Tim was growing up, he would go out to Gibbs Ranch to work every summer alongside his Gibbs cousins. One winter, in December 1970, Bill Gibbs’ dad, William B Gibbs, called up Tim in California and asked if he and his family (wife Donna and 8 month old son, Jeff) would like to come work at the ranch for a couple years while young Bill went to UNR.
This was an easy decision for Tim who was working construction, and due to it being winter, work was slow at best. For Donna, who would be moving away from her inseparable twin sister; a girl afraid of spiders, and taking her parents “center piece” grandson approximately 600 miles away, it was another story. However, it didn’t take too long before Tim and Donna made the decision to move to the ranch. They packed up their belongings in their pickup truck and drove the 600 miles (including 40 miles on a mostly dirt road) to their new home at Gibbs Ranch, NV.
Looking back now at the first moment, turning the corner to see the Gibbs Ranch, and its yard in which there stood three homes the memory is still so vivid. The main home was where Bill Sr, his wife Mary, and their 7 kids lived (young Bill and 6 sisters), the second stone home was where Bill Sr.’s dad lived (grandpa Gibbs) before he passed away, and the third home was a 2-story house (most recently used as a bunk house). The third home was to be where Tim and Donna would live. When first walking inside the two-story house, it truly took an imagination to see the potential. Walls needed to be painted, floors needed to be re-carpeted, storage needed to be cleaned out, and the one and only bathroom definitely had to be fixed and made usable…but the excitement grew as the young twenty year olds from California and their 8 month old baby boy started out their new adventure looking forward to “ranch” life.
Initially, Tim and Donna lived with Bill Sr. up at the main house, while Bill Sr.’s wife, Mary, lived in town with young Bill’s 6 sisters while they went to school. Bill Sr. and Tim would work on fixing up the 2-story house when the ranch chores were complete for the day and soon the house was ready to be inhabited and called home.
Donna quickly adapted to ranch life. Many hours were spent cooking meals for her family, Bill Sr., hunters, ranchers, or stray guests that would happen by the ranch. Jeff thrived with the freedom and openness, playing and learning what ranch life was like for a toddler, and Tim was a natural from his past ranch experience. They quickly became adjusted to their new life.
That first spring, after arriving at Gibbs Ranch, Donna’s twin sister, Lana, and their parents, made a trip from California to see this new “ranch life.” Lana saw young Bill with his long legs, get on a colt to break and from that moment on it was “Love at first site”…..
It didn’t take long before Lana moved out to the ranch to stay with Donna and Tim. Young Bill decided that ranching, not college, was for him. Lana and Bill had quite a whirlwind romance; from the nights that the TV stayed on until the wee hours of the morning and all you heard and saw was the buzzing and dots on the screen, to the times that young Bill broke out in hives when his love went back to visit Santa Rosa to prepare for their upcoming wedding.
The two couples, Tim and Donna and Bill and Lana, were so completely compatible with each other working out the yin and yang of their relationships.
After Bill and Lana were married in September 1971, they moved into Grandpa Gibbs’ Stone house. Young Bill’s entire family welcomed this California girl, Lana, with open arms and hearts into their ranch family life. The couples continued to add to the numbers on the ranch. The twins, having babies at the same time, waddled around the ranch together; Lana with her first and Donna with her second.
With both husbands in the Elko National Guard, the couples would go into town once a month for Bill and Tim to serve their duty and the girls to go shopping and purchase supplies for the ranch until the next month’s meeting.
For the first time in their lives the twins learned to cook and make things from scratch. They had fresh milk from the cows, homemade butter, pies, bread, and even learned to macramé and sew. Even when it came to baking homemade pizzas for their families to eat together, the twins worked together, one liked to make the dough and the other liked to cut up all the toppings. They shared so many fun activities living on the ranch; camping at Tabor Creek, bathing in freezing creek waters, square dancing at neighboring ranches, going to town to party and dance with friends until the wee hours of the morning before heading back out to the ranch to arrive just in time for the kids to wake up. After approximately 4 years on the ranch together, Tim and Donna left Gibbs ranch and eventually moved back to Santa Rosa, CA.
Lana turned out to be the HUB of her Gibbs family ranch over the years, which is now over 100 years old. Many a time Lana was teased about her “notes” especially at branding time. But when there was an emergency, and Lana couldn’t be there, everyone would have been lost if it hadn’t been for her pages of notes. The "notes" were everywhere she thought they might be important, whether it be by the computer for business, T.V. for how to use the remotes correctly, or most importantly the Branding notes. She had everything written down to who was coming, what was going to be cooked that day, who was going to bring certain items, what needed to be put in the chuck wagon for branding, when to put this here or that there, It was written down. Everyone teased her, but at the same time everyone went to Lana to find out what, when, and how much. She would say,” I believe they finally appreciate my analness.”
Not only did Lana cook over the years for the hay and branding crews, but she worked right alongside her husband Bill, riding horses, branding cattle, mending fences, raising kids, and spoiling grandkids. Her organizational skills, as well as keeping the books for two ranch businesses, moving manual ranch records to businesses on-line, and changing the process of selling cattle to on-line auction, were instrumental in the Gibbs Ranch continual success.
With the passing of Lana, on January 15, 2016, due to an automobile accident, Gibbs Ranch continues to flourish thanks to this remarkable “Ranch Women” passing down her strengths, experience, guidance, and love to her amazing next generation of “Ranchers.”