Cottontail Ranch


Cottontail Ranch

Cottontail Ranch

an abandoned brothel in Nevada


In Winter of 1967, Melvin Dummar, a 23 year old magnesium plant worker from Gabbs, Nevada, was driving through the Nevada desert one night when he pulled off the highway and onto an empty dirt road about seven miles south of the Cottontail Ranch for a quick bathroom stop. It was here that Dummar saw a man lying down, beaten and bruised, in the dirt road. He would ultimately give him a ride to Las Vegas where the man asked to be dropped off, leaving the dazed stranger with a little bit of money at the back of the Sands Hotel, before continuing on toward his destination in Southern California.

Years later while working at a gas station in Utah, a man came in and set an envelope with Dummar’s name on the counter and then left. After helping a customer, Dummar saw and opened the envelope, containing what he says was a copy of the will of billionaire aviator Howard Hughes, and touching off decades and multiple court trials over the authenticity of the will and Dummar’s claims.

The will named Dummar as one of 16 equal beneficiaries of Hughes’ estate, which encompassed Hughes Aircraft and large amounts of land holdings. Though a series of court cases with opposing accounts made by Hughes’ family eventually found against Dummar’s claims.

Over time, others would hear about the will and the trials, and would come forward providing information that until that time had been secretive. One person was Robert Deiro, Hughes’ personal pilot during that time. Deiro, years later, confirmed that despite the belief that Howard Hughes had never left his Desert Inn suite during the time that he lived in the penthouse of the Las Vegas casino, that in the months following its opening in 1967, Deiro had flown Hughes on regular trips to the dirt airstrip immediately behind the Cottontail Ranch, where Hughes would see a woman named ‘Sunny’, a red-head who worked at the Cottontail known for having a diamond embedded in her left incisor.

Deiro admits to falling asleep one night in the kitchen, where the brothel staff would allow him to wait for Hughes. On this night, he was awoken when the brothel was closing. After asking for Hughes, staff at the Ranch said that he had been drunk and kicked out hours earlier. Unsure of what to do and unable to find Hughes, Deiro flew back to Las Vegas without him, certain he would be fired. Rather than being fired, he remained working for Hughes, and over time was promoted, this he believes as an encouragement to keep quiet about his knowledge of Hughes’ activities.

Howard Hughes would die in 1976. Melvin Dummar would claim that later that same year was when the copy of the Hughes’ will was left at his gas station.

In 1978, following a trial instigated by other members of the Hughes family who stood to benefit from the will, Dummar’s story of the encounter with Hughes and the will were ruled a fraud by the courts.

Having opened in 1967, the Cottontail Ranch would close in 2004 when the property and business were sold by Howard Harrell, the husband of Madam Beverly Harrell. Beverly Harrell, a dancer and actress originally from New York, had run the brothel with her engaging and larger than life personality until her death in 1995. Harrell’s husband maintains that she had told him in secrecy that Howard Hughes would visit the brothel in its early years.

To this day, Hughes’ top aide, Robert Mayhew claims that Howard Hughes never left his penthouse at the Desert Inn. Though other witnesses claim to have seen him during that time inspecting mining claims that belonged to him in the Nevada desert.

Melvin Dummar has exhausted his legal avenues of challenging the earlier rulings on the authenticity of the will – judgements made before several people with knowledge of Hughes’ habits had come forward.

Today, Dummar says that he was told the will was kept as evidence, and then eventually was destroyed following the trials.

The Cottontail Ranch has sat empty in the Nevada desert since it closed.

Two different mythologies in the boom and bust cycle of rural Nevada.



(you can view larger versions of the images or purchase digital images or prints by clicking on the link at the bottom of the page.)


Cottontail Ranch Bar
The main parlor of the Cottontail was a trailer that was hauled into place and then had the additions of a main entranceway built onto it.


Cottontail Ranch parlorThe parlor served as the main waiting area and lounge.


cottontail ranch wallpaperWallpaper detail.


cottontail ranchUnlike most brothels in Nevada, workers at the Cottontail lived and entertained customers in separate rooms. The eastern wing rooms were for entertaining.


cottontail ranch
Remains of one of the entertaining rooms.


Cottontail Ranch Jacuzzi Suite
The whirlpool tub suite, referred to as the Palm Room.


cottontail ranchThe western wing was composed of rooms where the women lived.


cottontail ranch
The Cottontail Ranch was a complex made of multiple trailers sitting side-by-side.


cottontail ranch
A closet used for storing linens and sale items like condoms and “lubricates”.


cottontail ranch
A room between the parlor and the sleeping rooms called the Cat Walk. Here, girls could play cards or listen to music during quiet periods. The kitchen, as well as the madame’s office were located adjacent to the Cat Walk.




********* update *********


On September 5th, 2022, a morning fire destroyed the remains of the Cottontail Ranch.







*** Beverly Harrell’s record, Coming My Way, was recently re-released on vinyl for the first time since 1976 and is available here ***





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00:14 March 21, 2019

I stopped there i 2001 when I was running out of gas (Lido is in the middle of a 90 mile long dry stretch.) Didn't know what the place was until they opened the door. Interesting experience being a fly on the wall waiting for 5 gallons or $50.

Debra Sunderland
00:11 March 16, 2020

That was the best place. Its was so different from any one. That place mated money. It was In the perfect area. I hate going by there known that was one of the best. All you need is 1 exting wall to build. It would still be running but bad management. I know this place would and could come back. I am a firm believer. With the right people. Please anyone one want to know about this place. I can share. And experience. This is a winner of a place. Thank you. This should have never happened.

    03:10 November 20, 2020

    I would absolutely love to know more about this place. I’ve driven by a few times and always wondered what it would take to bring it back to life.

    17:58 January 19, 2023

    Hi Debra, I would love to interview you about what you know about the Cottontail Ranch! Please reach out to me at if this is something you would be interested in!

Ian Tombelson
13:40 May 17, 2020

Debra Sunderland I would definitely like to know more about the history of this place and will be traveling by there in a few weeks. I may stop in to get a few photos. Please contact me. Thanks

Missi Boness
18:06 June 15, 2020

Madam Harrell died in 1995, not after 2004.

    christopher dechesero
    16:59 November 14, 2020

    missi how do you know the place??

    Edward Josef Schuler
    23:27 March 26, 2021

    Buried in gold field Nevada?

    Wick Beavers
    16:59 May 3, 2021

    Right. And her grave is featured right up front at the Old Goldfield Cemetery. It states the dates: Born June 2, 1929 Died Sept 4, 1995. She was 66 and a beloved member of the Goldfield community. And the rest of the headstone, planted in the cemetery by a small mobile crane named, "the Happy Hooker", says, "A Fearless Beauty of Class and Intellect". If you saw her picture, you'd know that at least part of that comment was true- she was a good looking woman.

Joyce Campbell
15:44 August 19, 2020

I worked as a housekeeper at the Cottontail for about 3 months. I greeted the guests, tended bar & cooked for the overnight guests. It was a good place to work. Money was good. Housekeepers maid a percentage of the girls tricks on top of our pay. Wasn't a bad living if you don't mind living in the middle of nowhere. But you worked 3 weeks off one week.

Joyce Campbell
15:49 August 19, 2020

I should add that Beverly was a beautiful soul & a beautiful woman. I was blessed to have made her acquaintance. Howard ran the house & was a gruffly old soul.

Lee Cobert
23:34 September 8, 2020

Wow memories. It didn't look like that at all.. was actually nice and the girls were beautiful.. we all had our own rooms and dressed to the nines. Most professional but an occasional single mom needing money.. way back in the 70's. Yep Howard was a character.. and Beverly interesting if she liked you and of course her home in Mexico. It was filled with music all the time. Sleep ? Hell no.. hahah spent a nice afternoon singing around the juke box with Willie Nelson and crew (nope he was good).. haha wow.. Love the post sad it was so run down. What an era ! Bree /Breezy

    christopher dechesero
    17:00 November 14, 2020

    what do u do now lee?

Stephane The French
13:47 October 9, 2022

Hi, It's the kind of place you remember. I visited the cottontail ranch in summer 1986 when one of my mates wanted to a have a Bordello experience for his 21 years old birthday. I was 16. We were three lost stupid french teens scared of being out of gaz in the middle of nowhere, far from France. I was even beaten up in the parking lot during a fight that went wrong. Isn't my story funny?

02:28 April 8, 2023

I visited there a few times back in the mid eighties.Worked in Las Vegas and Beverly had some rental properties in town that we worked on, painting etc. My boss had built up a bit of credit with her, long story short he took me and our plumber that worked with us, it was his birthday, we jumped in a limo and 170 miles later we were at the ranch where we worked off about 1800 dollars of his credit lol. The plumbers wife wasn’t too happy when we carried him in to his house his boots in our hands and a cotton tail hat on his head.Our company went out and rebuilt a few of their trailers a year later, wiring, roofing etc, that’s when we met Howard . She told us she made her money working on the Alaskan pipeline.

00:18 November 21, 2023

The picture of the fire taken in the air is not in the list of pictures for sale. Can it be purchased ?


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