This is a study of the anthropological research value of William Keys' Desert Queen Ranch, an historic site at Joshua Tree National Monument in the southern California Desert. General problems for future research were derived from an analysis of the history of the ranch in its regional context. Documentary records were used to identify networks of interaction at the ranch itself and in the surrounding region, providing a context of social and economic change within which behavior at the ranch could be studied.
Keys' Ranch was associated with the development of local cattle ranching, cycles of mining activity, homesteading, the creation of a rival community at nearby Twentynine Palms Oasis, the Depression economy of the 1930s and the development of the desert retirement and recreation industries. Regional networks of social interaction were centered in several nodes, or loci, with connections extending to the California coast and the Colorado River. Keys' Ranch was one of several such nodes during various times in regional history. The overall pattern of regional change, however, featured a reduction in the number and an increase in the size of such nodes, as is typical of the passing frontier. Keys' Ranch's function as an interaction center was eventually eclipsed by the permanent settlement and development of land around Twentynine Palms. A study of the ranch in terms of its relationship to changing interaction networks should be useful to our understanding of "frontiers" in general. The responses of ranch occupants to the ranch's diminishing role as an interaction node should help us understand how other groups might respond to similar changes on other "frontiers."
In this analysis a distinction is made between social, or behavioral, phenomena and cultural, or perceptual, phenomena. The kinds, quantities and distribution of materials at Keys' Ranch contain information descriptive of Keys' social behavior as expressed in specific activities, such as construction, repair, recycling and use of the natural environment. The information contained in material at the ranch, as well as in documentary sources, can also tell us about Keys' system of personal relationships, reflected, for example, in changes in ranch personnel and in exchanges of goods and services. Information derived from material distributions, documents and oral testimony can help us understand Keys' response to cultural phenomena, including changing systems of statuses associated with changes in the regional socioeconomic system. The creation of statuseshere defined as sets of expectations about the rights and duties associated with particular social positionsin the region is traced insofar as is possible on the basis of available documentation; it is suggested that the organization of materials at the ranch can be interpreted as reflective of changing statuses. A major objective of this study has been to indicate how written, oral and material records pertinent to the ranch might be studied in a way that will help us learn about cultural, as well as social, change.
Last Updated: 04-June-2007