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An Anthropological Evaluation of William Keys' Desert Queen Ranch, Joshua Tree National Monument, California
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Chapter 1:
Importance and Integrity

The quality of significance in American history, architecture, archaeology, and culture is present in districts, sites, buildings, structures and objects of State and local importance that possess integrity of location, design, setting, materials, workmanship, feeling and association... (Advisory Council 1974: S 800.10)

State or Local Importance

Anthropologists usually study small local groups of people. We study the, however, not because we are professionally interested in each group per se, but because the operations of such groups should reflect principles underlying types of human behavior that are meaningful in a comparative context, either as units within a single cultural system or cross culturally. Marshall Sahlins, for example, used data on the social organization of many individual Polynesian societies in a comparative analysis that showed how principles of kinship organization operated under varying ecological conditions. He attempted to account for the development of different degrees of social stratification throughout Polynesia, using data on a variety of small localized groups (Sahlins 1958). The individual studies that produced his data sometimes were comparative analyses of single societies. Firth's volumes on Tikopia, for example, discuss the integration of principles ordering different aspects of Tikopian society: kinship (We, the Tikopia), economics (Primitive Polynesian Economics) and religion (Tikopia Ritual and Belief; Rank and Religion in Tikopia) (Firth 1963, 1946, 1967 and 1970, respectively). By analyzing local groups comparatively, both through time and across cultural boundaries, we can generalize about the range of ways in which human societies respond to given conditions and participate in given processes.

Given this perspective, the idea of "state or local importance" has little meaning. Keys' Ranch could be regarded as utterly insignificant by the people of California or of the monument area and still have great meaning anthropologically. The ranch is locally regarded as important, as "a symbol of the area's leading character" (Holland 1971), but this attribution of significance will have little to do with my analysis. To me, the importance of Keys' Ranch lies in the fact that its occupants played analyzable roles in the area's expression of patterns important in human social history. The questions of whether Keys was a "leading character" and whether he was "typical" or "unique" in the area (Historic Preservation Team 1975) are not relevant to the present analysis.


Although the Advisory Council for Historic Preservation refers to integrity of "location, design, setting, materials, workmanship, feeling and association," the concept can be applied anthropologically only in a more holistic sense: is the information represented by the property so organized—and is that organization sufficiently well preserved—as to make its systematic study possible?

The gross physical attributes of Keys' Ranch have been described a number of times (Holland 1971; Jahns 1971; Historic Preservation Team 1975) and I do not propose to add another detailed description to the record. In general, however, the ranch is a complex archeological site, located on the southwest side of Queen Mountain in the Little San Bernardino Mountain Range. It contains 20 standing or quasi-ruined buildings; the remains of a stamp mill and other gold-processing facilities; a dam, retaining walls and other masonry structures, and an extensive non-random distribution of tools, equipment, furniture, vehicles, parts, papers and trash. These remains represent a number of discrete activities, definable with varying degrees of accuracy and overlapping to varying extents. Table 1 lists structures and areas of apparent activity and/or deposition; Map 1 illustrates their distribution. These are based only on cursory surveys by Jahns (1971) the Historic Preservation Team (1975) and myself, and should not be taken as comprehensive.

Table 1: Buildings and activity/storage areas at Keys' Ranch; see Map 1 for locations.


A = "McHaney's House;" ruined frame structure

B = Chicken coop with associated wire fence, car body

C = "Disney Darkroom;" originally used by movie company in filming "Chico the Coyote;" contains machinery, furniture, tools, etc.

D = Tackroom made of cyanide tanks; contains tack, etc.

E = "Guest House," with beds, etc.

F = "Teacher's House" at edge of smaller dam; contains beds, furniture, etc.

G = "Second Schoolhouse;" contains magazines, books, photos, "Windsor fireless cooker"

H = Machine shop; frame and aluminum; contained vast numbers of tools, parts, etc. (many removed after photodocumentation); contained forge (stolen)

I = Adobe barn, allegedly built by McHaney; about 1/2 collapsed; contains lumber, steamer trunk, papers, clothes, etc.

J = "Museum;" small outbuilding next to ranch house; contains display case, etc.; boxes of prehistoric sherds near door

K = Main Ranch House; frame, multi-story; contains furniture, books, papers, clothes, etc.

L = Outhouses (3)

M = "First Schoolhouse;" frame structure in wash, with miscellaneous furniture, etc.

AA = Amalgamator; functional, with ore bin and all associated equipment; powered by old truck engine

BB = Adobe ruin, partly incorporated into Structure AA

CC = Housetrailer furniture, boxes

DD = Rockshelter area with tools, kitchenware, etc.

EE = Pit and machinery; presumably Chilean Mill ruin


1 and 2 = Parts of autos and parts of wood stoves

3 = Adobe mixing machine and associated material

4 = Arrastra, one-stamp mill, rock breaker, engine, Mack truck, rock drill, sluice boxes, other mining equipment, parts of autos and wagons, tack

5 = Mine rails, mine cars, ore buckets, scales, etc.

6 = Traffic Truck (modified), other autos and parts, neatly arranged array of parts, bolts, nuts, etc., lumber, pipe, mining and construction equipment and tools, parts

7 = Wrecked autos, wire, parts

8 = Four buckboards and wagons, lumber

9 = Wrecked auto, chicken coop, plows, harrows, hay rake, mower, other agricultural equipment

10 = Cement Mixer, retort, dry washer, crucible (?)

11 = Apparent construction area; small cement mixer, cable hoist

12 = Bottles, screens, bedsprings, etc.

13 = Construction area; water tank, wheelbarrow, dragscoop, cables, parts

14 = Tools, parts, ore, etc., associated generally with amalgamator and trailer

15 = Five-stamp mill ruin and associated debris

16 = Windmill, windlass, conveyor, pump, etc.

17 = Converted truck, parts, tools

18 = Pulleys, lumber, parts, etc.

19 = Trailer, propane tank

20 = Jeep, picnic table, washing machine; tables and associated materials, tools (equipment removed after photodocumentation)

21 = Fordson tractor, saw, sewing box, truck, logs

22 = Stoves, trunk, prehistoric sherds, metates, manos (most of which were removed after photodocumentation)

23 = Hoist, tongs, stove, hand tools, etc.

24 = Bee hives not shown on Map 1; near Camper's trailer

25 = Rockshelter at west edge of site; assay equipment, cans, bottles, radio, preserves

26 = Second rockshelter; blacksmith tools, drilling equipment

Map 1: Keys' Desert Queen Ranch: see Table 1 for identification (building locations after preliminary map by R. Kelly 1976; remainder after Jahns 1974). (click on image for an enlargement in a new window)

Contiguous with the ranch to the south is "Cow Camp," an historic site consisting of a chimney, a dam, a well and non-random concentrations of trash. It was used for cattle-related activities beginning in the late nineteenth century and its history is intimately related to that of the ranch nucleus. Cow Camp is now listed on the National Register.

The ranch naturally has been modified since acquisition by the monument. The most serious unmitigated impact was the removal, by Keys' heirs, of an unknown quantity of "personal items" immediately after his death. Relatively minor thefts have occurred since that time. Two trailers have been installed on the edges of the site to house caretakers, but this has had little or no apparent impact on the site's integrity.

Some damage has resulted from natural weathering and erosion. In an attempt to protect particularly vulnerable items both from natural damage and from theft, a good deal of material has been moved for safekeeping to storage elsewhere at the monument. Fortunately, Park Naturalist Donald Black recognized the need to maintain the contextual integrity of the site and devised a sensible means of recording the proveniences of material to be relocated. The site was divided into 100-foot grid units and the distribution of items within each square was sketched. Items moved were plotted on the grid, photographed in situ and catalogued. In 1973, as a result of a misunderstanding of historic preservation practices at other levels in the National Park Service, Black was directed to "de-accession" all items from the ranch that were not suitable for museum interpretation. Black, however, wisely retained his catalogue and provenience data and this potentially serious impact on the site's integrity was largely averted.

The buildings and objects at the site are only some of the elements in the total body of data representing Keys' Ranch as an anthropological phenomenon. Other elements include tape-recorded and transcribed reminiscences by occupants of and visitors to the ranch and its environs; articles in newspapers and magazines about the ranch, its occupants and the social context within which they existed; comtemporary correspondence among members of the social networks to which the ranch related, and such representations of interaction patterns as mill logs, mine claims, shopping lists, recipe files, photographs, magazine and book collections, receipts and cancelled checks. Some of these sources remain at the ranch or have been moved recently to safekeeping. The schoolhouse, for example, is full of magazines, photographic negatives, maps and miscellaneous papers and the papers of Miss Genevieve Lawton (Mrs. Keys' sister?) were collected by monument personnel from the floor of the machine shop. Other data sources are available at Monument Headquarters, at the Twentynine Palms Branch of the San Bernardino County Library and at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. Major sources of information used in the current study are listed in the bibliography, but the list is by no means exhaustive.

The integrity of the "non-archeological" (that is, verbal and documentary) record of Keys' Ranch and the monument has suffered some damage with the passage of time. Documents, especially such mundane indicators of economic and social activities as receipts, lists and logs, have been lost or discarded. Moreover, the recollections of people who have lived in or known the area have suffered not only the simple erosion of time, but also have been subtly transformed by their evolution into folklore. The process is ubiquitous; it permeates almost every kind of information and shapes it to such an extent that all "facts" must be viewed in terms of it. The Historic Preservation Team (1975: 14) justifiably pointed out that the biography of William Keys contains a welter of contradictions. A researcher in this region must find some way to deal with this.

The conveniences and rapid communication system of "the inside" (coastal population centers) only recently reached the Joshua Tree area. Swimming pools, television, air conditioning and other artifacts of comfortable living, which now allow local residents to participate fully as national market customers, had tremendous psychological impact on an area noted for extreme temperatures and rudimentary services. People remember and like to talk about "the way it was." Local history contains elements which are popularly considered with romantic fascination both locally and nationally. It is fun to tell stories about cattle rustlers, gunfights and lost gold and it is tempting to recall the lofty spirit of community cooperation in the days "when we all pulled together in the Depression." The appeal of such items is illustrated by the popularity of current television programs idealizing American life in the 1930s.

Much regional history has been written by locals or recurrent visitors and is directed toward a local audience and/or readers of adventure and travel magazines (Argosy, Westways, Desert, etc.). A "good story" is recorded as fact in a secondary source and is then cited or "lifted" from the secondary source by succeeding authors. If repeated often enough, it is accepted as fact and inserted as a matter of course into local histories or National Park Service reports (S. King ca. 1955; Schenck and Givens 1952, Gray 1966).

Bill McHaney talked to many writers during the 50 years he spent in the area and treated different interviewers to slightly different accounts of just how many Indians were living at the oasis in 1879, who discovered which mine and so forth (e.g., Campbell 1961; Walker 1931; Russell n.d.; Spell 1962; Schenck and Givens 1952).

McHaney was interviewed by Schenck and Givens, local residents and anthropologists, in 1933, four years before his death at about age 76. This interview has been cited as a source, yet I know of no one who has any idea where the notes might be (if they exist); nor has sufficient consideration been given McHaney's propensity to tell "good stories." Rogers (1937) reports that McHaney said at this time that he discovered the Desert Queen Mine, but most other stories have it that he and his brother "took over" the mine at the death of its discoverer, a Mr James (cf. O'Neal 1957; Levy 1969). It might be impossible to discover what purposeful or accidental modifications McHaney included in his life story, but information purportedly gleaned from this interview is cited as if it actually happened (S. King ca. 1955; Schenck and Givens 1952).

One possible position, of course, is that in lieu of other information one might as well believe McHaney. The point, however, is that in the Joshua Tree area there has been little concern for verification of detail. Information from the accounts of oldtimers finds its way into various sources, but often without being cited as such. As a result, even the most standard or acceptable of secondary sources relates as fact information which could be purely imaginary. Of course, that someone said something is a piece of information regarding the purported event and the person speaking, regardless of its factuality. What is necessary is to piece together not only what was said to have happened, but also who said what. The latter context is one which gives meaning, in Geertz's (1973) sense of meaning-as-interpretation, to chronological sequences.

I have approached the problem by relying on personal accounts as much as possible, as they supply data on at least two levels mentioned above. I do not propose that everything which follows is "true" in the sense that it actually happened, but rather that this is what someone said, or what someone said that someone said, happened,

The integrity of the documentary record also has suffered from the management methods applied to it, much as the physical record of the site suffered when Black's recording efforts were curtailed. Although some data, such as artifact catalogues, are impeccably maintained and organized, others are "filed" in unorganized boxes, envelopes and folders at various locations in Monument Headquarters, with their precise location at any given time usually known only to the staff naturalist. Some information has been excerpted from the primary documents and placed on 3-by-5 cards in a "fact file," arranged alphabetically by subject. Unfortunately, the source of the information on the cards in many cases is not referenced; although this may not be of great importance in terms of the "fact file's" purpose (to give park interpreters ready access to answers for visitors' questions), it does detract considerably from the file's research value. A somewhat similar phenomenon has affected the integrity of the data maintained on magnetic tape. The questions asked of informants have often been edited out, leaving only their answers. What the informant has to say about this or that evidently is assumed to be more important than what the interviewer asked him. This practice seems to be derived from the same sort of perception that affects many of the documentary sources: folklore is to be recorded and preserved for its own sake. There is little concern for verification or for systematic study of the folklore itself. This perception and concommitant practice seriously impairs the usefulness of the resulting document. In the most serious cases no one (except the interviewer) knows what the informant is talking about; in other cases it simply is difficult to determine how the interviewer might have been "leading" the informant.

Despite these problems the inroads made by time and change into the integrity of Keys" Ranch are similar to, but much less extensive than, those that have occurred at most other archeological sites. Most equipment at the ranch remains where Keys parked or left it. Most tools and parts, if not still where used or stored, can easily be replaced, thanks to Black's recording methods. An impressive array of everyday documents of ranch life has been preserved.

Keys' Ranch provides a good example of why historic archeology often can address questions beyond the reach of prehistorians; there are many cultural materials which have been modified by identifiable individuals for purposes indicated in documentary sources. At the same time, an archeological study of the ranch can provide data not present in the documentary record:

A culture's written record of its own history is always incomplete and is subject to the interests and evaluations of those who write it. The problems and concerns of historians and anthropologists today are not the same as the problems and concerns of those who recorded...history...Quantitatively, we might have a large amount of material written about the past two hundred years, but it is not safe to assume that these sources contain information pertinent to problems which concern scholars today. Archaeologists provide skills which result in the accumulation of a different kind of data, and by virtue of their training in anthropology, bring a theoretical perspective within which both documentary and artifactual materials can be studied. (King and Hickman 1973: 46)

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Last Updated: 04-June-2007