Country Nodes
An Anthropological Evaluation of William Keys' Desert Queen Ranch, Joshua Tree National Monument, California
NPS Logo

Chapter 4:
Acquisition of important information

The quality of significance in American history... is present in... sites... that have yielded, or may be likely to yield, information important in pre-history or history (Advisory Council 1974: Sec. 800.10 [a][4]).

For purposes of scientific study, an historic property that lacks the potential for yielding useful information possesses little value, regardless of the events, people or processes with which it may be associated. That Keys' Ranch contains information is virtually unquestionable; what needs to be considered is the importance of that information to the anthropological study of the patterns identified in Chapter 2.

Aten (1974: 93-96) has identified several steps that he feels should be considered in the evaluation of cultural resources. Included among the operations identified by Aten as necessary to the proper preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement, with reference to archeology, are:

1) A statement of the kinds of cultural resources present and their distribution;

2) A statement of the kinds of cultural values, historic values or data categories known or thought potentially to be present;

3) A statement of the relationship of the resource to its regional cultural setting, based on the information values and categories previously enumerated;

4) A statement fully evaluating the effect that loss of all or part of the resource would have upon future investigation or appreciation.

Although the present study is not an Environmental Impact Statement, Aten's recommendations are useful in structuring a discussion of the ranch's potential for yielding important data. The "kinds of resources present and their distribution," to the extent these are known, have been discussed, in part, in Chapter 1. The "relationship of the resource to its regional cultural setting" has been presented at length in Chapter 2. This chapter provides a brief synopsis of data concerning the resources present at the ranch, followed by a discussion of the data categories they represent and the effect that the loss of these categories would have upon future anthropological investigation of the patterns represented at the ranch.


Buildings, surface structures and agglomerations of materials at the ranch nucleus have been described by the Historic Preservation Team (1975) and by Jahns (1971). Both reports stressed the amazing quantity of cultural material present and the apparent organization of these materials into functional technoeconomic activity areas.

Briefly, the ranch includes the remains of at least five residences (the ranch house, McHaney's house, the north house, the south house and the guest house) and the inferred ruins of several adobe houses. With the exception of one or two years in the 1940s, the ranch house was continually occupied from 1916 to 1969. The other residences were used seasonally and sporadically by the various individuals and groups that visited or lived at Keys' Ranch. In addition to the residences, there are three sheds, five outhouses, a museum/storehouse, a chickencoop, a tack house, at least one schoolhouse and a barn. Other structures include an arrastra, an ore hopper, a water tank, a windmill, three dams and a cemetery (Historic Preservation Team 1975). This list could be expanded to include stamp mills, amalgamators and other large machinery, as well as "islands" of material separated by walkways, which are distributed over the ranch nucleus (see Map 1).

Other surface materials include trash heaps in canyons and washes, behind retaining walls and in and around buildings and structures. There seems to be a great deal of internal consistency in the distribution of even small quantities of surface trash; pop bottles were discarded according to size or shape of bottle, pop cans of single brand dominate the retaining wall trash dump and beer cans are found almost exclusively in the barrels around the "lake cabin" (the north house). Little concentrations of broken glass, clearly placed deliberately, are found in areas out of the main walkways, as well as lined up in front of the Joshua log fence (Hickman and King 1975). Discarded shoes are found shoved together in rock crevices below the "lake cabin." In general, trash is found throughout the ranch nucleus and is non-randomly organized into discrete units.

A great deal of material is also found in the buildings. In addition to domestic furniture, the ranch house contains crates of books, cooking and eating equipment, notes, bedding, clothing, etc.; a small storeroom on the east side of the building contained magazines, miscellaneous papers, cloth items and boxes of recipes before it was cleaned out for fire-prevention purposes (this material is being preserved: see McDowell 1975). The papers of Genevieve Lawton were found scattered over the floor of the machine shop and are preserved at monument headquarters. The shop also contained vast quantities of non-randomly organized tools and parts, most of which have been removed for safekeeping after being recorded and photographed in situ (Black 1975: personal communication). Magazines, books, notes, maps, photographic negatives and similar items were scattered on the floor of the "schoolhouse" (south house) at the time of my visit.

The subsurface resources of the ranch nucleus are unknown, as no excavation has been done. In addition to the prehistoric remains (see Appendix B), there are at least two obvious trash dumps (see Map 1) that apparently have depth and could well be stratified. Presumably, there are outhouse pits that have been filled in, and which might well contain trash, and there probably are also filled wells. As Keys seemed to regularly cache things in the rocks, there might be subsurface cache pits as well. The geomorphology of the site is such that soil deposition is going on in many locations; this would result in the gradual burial of surface phenomena. Soil buildup has been accelerated in some areas, particularly just south of the adobe barn, where tailings from the five-stamp mill are apparent. Because it is at this location that Keys reported McHaney's adobe houses to have stood, their ruins may be buried beneath the tailings.

Other pertinent cultural resources present in the vicinity, but not at the ranch, include artifacts removed from the ranch after provenience recording and now stored elsewhere in the monument. Numerous documents are on file at Monument Headquarters; these include the Perkins Papers, collected or prepared by Michael Perkins during his periodic residence at the ranch during the 1960s; the papers of Genevieve Lawton, who apparently visited the ranch for stays of various lengths during the 1940s and '50s, and a wide variety of photographs, newspaper clippings, letters, notes, lists and other material collected at the ranch or donated by persons associated with the ranch. The Public Library in Twentynine Palms has a substantial collection of tapes, transcripts and newspaper clippings pertaining to the ranch; both Cheryl Erickson of the library and Reino Clark of the monument are engaged in oral history projects, which are providing useful ranch-related data. The monument has at least five tapes of Keys himself, plus six of his son Willis, dealing in whole or in part with ranch life and related matters.

Cultural Values

Aten's second step requires us to consider how the ranch might be valuable to the study of culture. Culture is a core concept in anthropology, and at this point I must introduce the view of culture that has guided this study. Culture is a set of shared standards for perceiving, believing, evaluating, communicating and acting (Goodenough 1970: 99). Culture is a phenomenon of people's minds, standards that are learned and shared by a population. Anthropologists study these standards for behavior, however, by looking at people and what they do; in other words, by examining what anthropologists call society. Society is made up of individuals who interact with each other and their environments. In Chapter 2, I described the changing society in and around Keys' Ranch as it is represented in documented social behaviors. I interpreted those behaviors, however, by drawing on a construct from the theory of culture. Specifically, I have considered the formation of statuses, the rights and duties expected of individuals occupying social positions. Expectations regarding rights and duties are products of people's minds; they are cultural phenomena. Human behaviors in accordance with expectations associated with statuses are social phenomena. The materials relevant to Keys' Ranch, archeological as well as oral and written, should be studied in a way that can tell us about culture.

That the study of material remains can yield inferences about past social behavior is an archeological given. Some archeologists, however, feel uncomfortable with inferences about culture. Their view emphasizes the incomplete and fragmentary nature of the archeological record and reflects a belief that inferences about thought underlying behavior involve assumptions unwarranted by the organization of material evidence alone. Few would quarrel with the proposition that the archeological record is fragmentary, or that it is impossible to associate the material manifestations of complex behavior with specific thoughts in the minds of individuals. Nevertheless, I do not accept the position that archeologists cannot and do not deal with culture on theoretical and empirical grounds. Although it is commonly accepted that archeologists deal with phenomena "on the ground" and not "in men's heads," many archeologists, at least implicitly, make cultural inferences. For example, data from cemeteries recently have been analyzed in order to trace the development of social stratification and political organization in prehistoric societies (Brown 1971; Saxe 1970). Subpopulations within cemeteries are defined archeologically by kinds and quantities of grave goods, location in cemetery, position of skeleton, and so forth. It is inferred that differential treatment at death represents differences in social position among individuals. We assume that differential treatment reflects perceived standards of appropriate behavior; in other words, that a society's behavior expresses its culture. Statuses, a cultural phenomenon, are associated with social position, and we assume that the preshistoric population had different expectations as to the rights and duties associated with different social positions. What those statuses were, in terms of specific powers and obligations, cannot be directly inferred from the prehistoric archeological record, but archeologists have been able to trace trends of increasing or decreasing social differentiation over time and have attempted to account for it.

Keys' Ranch, like many historic sites, contains a wealth of information not available to the prehistorian, such as oral testimony and written records of many kinds. It should be possible, therefore, to deal with culture more explicitly at historic sites than at prehistoric sites.

The basic argument presented in Chapter 2 was that Keys did not live in a vacuum; he was in continual interaction with those who lived around him. His behavior at the ranch can be interpreted in terms of his response to what was going on in the region. The archeological record at the ranch can and should be used in conjunction with what is known, or can be learned, about the culture of the Joshua Tree area.

Since anthropologists study culture by observing and interpreting behavior, it is appropriate here to indicate some of the kinds of behavior that we could study archeologically at Keys' Ranch and to indicate how that behavior could be studied to learn about culture. The assemblage at Keys' Ranch is unusually varied, both absolutely and in terms of the range of activities and interactions it represents. The phenomena represented include construction, use of the natural environment, recycling, repair, changes in personnel, changes in technology and interactions with people and places beyond the ranch boundaries.

Construction activities are represented by a wide variety of buildings, structures, etc. Obvious construction methods include use of adobe blocks, poured concrete wood frame, etc. Variability is apparent in types of wood and nails used, care in construction and evidence of deliberate planning. Many of the structures and structural segments are dated or are datable from photos, documents and oral accounts. Thus it should be possible to monitor changes in construction mode, availability of materials, and so on with relative ease.

Use of the natural environment is reflected in the tools and equipment that appear to have been actually used at the ranch, rather than hoarded. Those tools associated with plausible work areas (e.g., the orchard, the dams, the field near the present trailer) or standing in positions that suggest mobilization for use (e.g., the cluster of farm machinery adjacent to the house: Cluster 21) can be assumed to have been used by the occupants in manipulations of the environment. Again, documentary and oral sources can supplement archeology to indicate how these uses changed over time, both in type and in location. Uses of and changes in the environment should also be reflected in floral and faunal remains present in garbage dumps, plant parts and pollen present in adobe blocks, etc.

Recycling and repair of material are also obvious behavioral attributes of the assemblage. Auto engines are used to power mills, a truck chassis becomes the base of a hoist, buildings are moved, patched and reused, tools are sharpened, welded, wired, wrapped and spliced, cyanide tanks become a tack house, and so on. The incidence of repair, recycling and reuse can be determined, at least in part, both from documentary and oral sources and archeologically, by studying the technology involved in the adaptation of the materials and by plotting spatial relationships between examples of reuse and datable features. Maximum reuse and recycling are expectable concommittants of desert life, but their incidence should be inversely proportional to the availability of new materials and the accessibility of markets if the occupants of the ranch were economizing optimally.

The personnel involved in ranch activities should be reflected in the assemblage, both in terms of numbers and, in some instances, in terms of individuals. A certain level of manpower is necessary to operate the equipment used in dam construction, for example, or to run a stamp mill. Photos of ranch operations show numbers of people at work even when individuals are not recognizable. The presence of particular people (Mike Perkins, the Kelleys, etc.) at particular times is recorded in the documents. Changes in level of manpower, level and kind of expertise and connectedness with other areas through ranch personnel should thus be ascertainable, at least in general.

Technological change is apparent in the assemblage. Certain equipment types are datable and are associated with the inception of special activities—dam building, road building, farming, making adobe bricks.

The nature of interactive connections between the ranch and other elements of its network should also be specifiable. Some obvious changes in interaction are documented in Chapter 2. The fact that these are recorded in the documents and reflected in the material distributions at the ranch suggests that more detailed study would make it possible to identify interaction types with greater precision. It should be possible to determine, with varying specificity, when and where the ranch's residents marketed, with whom they exchanged things, to whom they provided services and where they collected.

Thus the various aspects of ranch life—its economic base, its personnel and their deployment, its technology—can all be reconstructed in some detail and changes in each aspect can be observed. Knowing that such reconstructions and observations are possible does not automatically require a decision that they are worthwhile, however. The changes undergone by the inhabitants of Keys' Ranch are meaningful to anthropology only if they represent "broad patterns" that, in turn, may embody processes of change and stability subject to comparative analysis. I have suggested (Chapter 2) that Keys' Ranch, as one node in a complex interaction network, would reflect patterns of change in that network. These changes may be seen as representatives of a general process—that of focusing on smaller numbers of larger nodes—that is likely to characterize passing frontiers in general. Chapter 2 presented evidence indicating that Keys responded to his ranch's changing character as a node by adopting new roles in reciprocal exchanges. The major utility of the ranch for anthropological research, I believe, lies in the possibility that by studying its material things we can better understand how its inhabitants perceived their changing statuses and expressed them as roles in reciprocity.

From the anthropological perspective presented here, the archeological record at Keys' Ranch presents an opportunity to study how social interactive systems as manifestations of culture, change under specifiable conditions. Archeological study at the ranch should be designed so as to integrate specific behaviors at the ranch with changes in the society and culture of the region of which it is a part. The idea that social relationships are "embedded" in material goods is not new (see Polanyi 1944). The general idea is that things acquire their value in terms of the social context of which they are a part. It has also been proposed that, in general, the more scarce material items are, the more important the items become socially:

...material culture may be regarded as part of social relations, for material objects are chains along which social relationships run, and the more simple is a material culture the more numerous are the relationships expressed through it (Evans-Pritchard 1969: 89).

Evans-Pritchard then notes a process crucial to the theoretical orientation of this study:

Thus people not only create their material culture and attach themselves to it, but also build up their relationships through it and see them in terms of it...Moreover (with specific reference to the Nuer), social relationships instead of being diffused along many chains of material links are narrowed by the meagerness of culture to a few simple foci of interest. This may be supposed to lead to a small range of relationships-forms with a high degree of solidarity in the smaller local and kinship groups, and we may expect to find a simple social structure (Evans-Pritchard 1969: 89).

Following Evans-Pritchard's reasoning, we can expect to find that as the relatively simple society of the Joshua Tree area in general, and of Keys' Ranch in particular, was replaced by something more complex, the material richness of the total system—that is, the quantities and densities of things—should also have increased. What is important, however, is that the materials should have come to mean something other than what they had meant before. Evans-Pritchard speaks of how goods in a situation of material scarcity served to foster solidarity among local groups and kinship groups. I think the same process can be seen operating at Keys' Ranch, not only among the local group of Keys, McHaney, Lang and the Keys' kin who came to visit in time of need, but also between Keys and those to whom he provided services. The boots and pick of a prospector are crucial to his existence; when Keys mended them he, in a sense, provided the miner with the means of subsistence and thus a bond was created between them.

The number and intensity of social bonds created at Keys' Ranch should be inversely proportional to the amount of material goods available and to the alternative strategies available to someone in need of services. This proposition can be tested, using both documentary and archeological data. Documentary and oral sources should provide data on the numbers and kinds of social bonds formed at the ranch during different periods, while analysis of the distributions of material things at the ranch should make it possible to determine when varying quantities of such materials were available.

We saw in Chapter 2 that Keys acquired what was left behind by the first exodus of miners. By so doing, he was making both a capital investment and a social investment. Of course, he could and did use whatever he needed for himself and his family; at the same time, however, he accumulated a surplus, which could be turned into social prestige when people returned to the area.

It is obvious to everyone that Keys was a hoarder; it seems as if he collected everything and anything and that he spread it carefully about him at the ranch center. The obvious explanation for this behavior is functional: one must save everything because one does not know when one will need it and one has to fend for oneself out here. I think this is one important explanation for the masses of material at the ranch, but I do not believe it is a complete explanation. For example, it does not account for the fact that during the 1940s, when Keys was in court and in prison, when the economic productivity of the ranch was at an all-time low, when the family's economic needs were great and the value of scrap metal was high—in short, when the accumulation at the ranch could have been translated into much-needed capital—most of the material was not disposed of. Moreover, it is clear that hoarding continued long after the simple "need" for it disappeared. By the time of Keys' death he did not need used sparkplugs, old buckboards, broken tractors or rusting hayrakes, any more than did the people of Twentynine Palms, but he did keep them.

I think that we may be seeing in the concentration of material items at Keys' Ranch and in the organization of the material a special expression of the process described by Evans-Pritchard. From the mid-1930s onward, Twentynine Palms rapidly became a larger and more complicated node in an expansive and complex interaction system. Accordingly, the numbers and intensity of social relationships expressed through given material items decreased. Life was becoming more complicated at Keys' Ranch, too, but in a different way. The social and economic networks with which Keys had traditionally interacted were shrinking as the Depression ended, mining collapsed and the monument was established. As we have seen, Keys responded, in part, by establishing new relationships with distant areas and by systematically ignoring or behaving in a hostile fashion toward Twentynine Palms. It is also possible that he hoarded material goods because to him they continued to represent social relationships, actual or potential. The "islands" of material in the ranch nucleus can be interpreted as a form of display. The visual impact of these "islands" is directed by Keys selective clustering. In other words, the organization of clusters as a whole is a statement about Keys' material wealth and status and is designed to be interpreted by others. Description of the organization becomes, in part, a description of the information Keys was trying to convey about himself and the ranch and of the kinds of social relationships he was trying to maintain or establish as the social environment about him shifted.

Each cluster of objects, as well as the attributes of modified artifacts, are physical manifestations of a system of order. Archeologically, we can define physical features that distinguish clusters of materials and the way artifacts have been modified. An analysis of the ranch's materials should not stop with a description of the distribution and modification of thousands of items, but should be followed by an interpretation of physical organization. We should try to deduce principles that underlie the system of organization at the ranch. This requires studying relationships among clusters of artifacts and trying to explain the rules governing order. These rules, or principles, might or might not be identical with what Keys had in mind as he placed things around him. The point of trying to discover them is not to "get into Keys' head," but rather to try to establish principles of organization that could be meaningful in a comparative framework.

"Broad patterns of history" are not expressed in terms of objects, but rather as systems of organization governed by principles. If we can ascertain how Keys, as the central figure in an interaction node whose importance decreased while that of a neighboring node increased, tried to maintain and reorganize his systems of interaction, it will be a step toward defining the range of organizational principles that may be employed in similar situations at other places and at other times. I assume that the organization of kinds, quantities, distributions and modifications of materials at Keys' Ranch contain information relevant to the description of Keys' network of interpersonal relations and to the changing system of statuses within which he lived.

The data that may be pertinent to Keys' perceptions of himself and of his relationships should be present at the ranch, if such data are ever present in any such situation. Every writer about the ranch has commented on the wealth of material and the organization apparent in its distribution. These comments are usually focused on the "islands" of material and, sometimes, on the piles, boxes, shelves, racks and heaps of items in the buildings. No one has systematically recorded all the items in any given "island," nor have they been analyzed. Something of the complexity of the task confronting the student of the ranch can be grasped by reading Table 5, which includes all the items recorded in our notes (Hickman and King 1975) for one activity area: the location where Keys was constructing a stone wall some 7 to 8 feet high to protect the ranch house from flooding (see Map 1). It is difficult to imagine that the dressing of stone, the operation of a boom and the cementing of the stones into place required all the recorded paraphernalia.

Table 5: Contents of "quarry area" adjacent to uncompleted stone wall north of ranch house (Area 23 on Map 1)

large wooden boom with hand-cranked winch, block and tackle
blocks of granite lumber
forms for adobe bricks rags
Folgers coffee can
bed springs
cardboard boxes
sheet metal
gas can
broken bottles
tin cans
window screen
wooden boxes
crow bar
3 wooden cabinets
petroleum can
1/4" screen
mounted window screen
washing tray
rolled window screen
carpet sweeper
beer cans
metal box
galvanized sink
file handle
broken axe head
curved metal sheet
wash tub

While what Keys kept, stored, displayed and used is fairly apparent, if by no means easy to interpret, no one now knows what he threw away. Upon casual observation, it appears that only tin cans, pop bottles and the like were discarded and that even refuse dumping activities were highly organized. The concentration of beer containers near the "lake cabin" has been commented upon; it is also notable that the "Cactus Cooler" cans, which are ubiquitous in the dump behind the retaining wall, tend to be lined up in neat and orderly rows. In reality, however, we cannot know what Keys threw away or how he disposed of it until some excavation is done in the trash dumps. Similarly, the "islands" of stored material cannot be analyzed until they have been systematically identified and described. Chapter 5 offers recommendations for initiating studies of the ranch.

If the fact that the ranch and its contents are highly organized is obvious, the potential for identifying changes in that organization through time is less clear. The site is certainly not the kind of deeply stratified site in which archeologists are accustomed to seeking information on cultural change. The extent to which it will be possible to identify organizational change cannot be determined without further exploratory research, but on the basis of presently available data the task appears far from hopeless. The following methods could be used to develop a sequential history of the ranch's spatial organization:

Interviews. Several Keys children are still in the area and could be interviewed. Willis Keys (1975) has already provided useful data on when particular items were brought to the ranch or modified for use. A large scale, systematic interview program could result in the dating of many objects and activity areas. Frequent or recurrent visitors to the ranch could also be interviewed.

Photoanalysis. A number of snapshots, showing the ranch at various times back through the late 1930s, are already in monument files. Many more probably exist elsewhere. Some of the negatives in the boxes and piles of "trash" in the ranch buildings probably show portions of the ranch; members of both the nuclear and extended family probably have more. Photographs may be on file in the National Archives in Washington, D.C.; time has not permitted a survey for these. Visitors to the ranch, especially such journalist guests as Earl Stanley Gardner, may have taken photos and some of the moving picture footage shot in the 1950s might be pertinent. Comprehensive comparative photoanalysis, combined with on-the-ground identification of objects, might prove to be one of the best tools for sequence building.

Metallurgy. It should be possible to define a relative sequence for metal artifacts on the basis of differential oxidation. The idea would be to determine how long, relative to one another, given islands of material or given items within "islands" have been in the same place. Ideally, the longer an item has been in place, the deeper its rust layer. There are, of course, numerous factors which influence oxidation. Items with similar chemistries and which have been subjected to similar forms of exposure would have to be chosen. Items that had laid elsewhere for some time before Keys collected them could be expected to skew the analysis. However, if sufficient quantities of items were analyzed this method might have positive results.

Excavation. Excavation of the dumps should, at least, reveal data on when various kinds of items were discarded; these items might include parts of equipment or other materials present in buildings, activity areas or storage islands, providing some key to the times when these features of the site were in use. Some entire activity areas may have become buried; the most likely example of this possibility is the McHaney adobes, which may be buried under the mill tailings. Soil formation processes are sufficiently active in various parts of the site to have buried other features, as well.

Dated and dateable items. Some of the materials in the islands or structures bear dates; Keys or one of his helpers pecked the date on the stone wall north of the house, some of the recipes in the ranch house were clipped from dated magazines and so on. Other items are dateable on the basis of style or because processes required for their construction were invented or discovered at a known date. If such items consistently occurred in a given cluster of materials, it would be reasonable to infer that the cluster dated no earlier than the dates ascribable to the items.

Cross-dating with other sites. If items now at the ranch can be identified as having come from sites that were occupied or operated up to a known date, this would establish a probable base-line date for the transfer of the items to the ranch, but not for their placement in particular clusters. Items might be assigned to other sites through analysis of photographs taken when the sites were occupied or operated, through review of records or documents pertaining to the sites or through discovery of parts of the items at the sites through archeological survey.

Clusters reflecting dated events. Some clusters might be found that would reflect events whose dates are known from documentary sources. Genevieve Lawton's papers on the floor of the machine shop, for example, probably came to the ranch during her period of residence there; that date is ascertainable, but is not known to the author at present. Similarly, the period when Mrs. Keys lived at the ranch alone may have produced distinctive clusters of materials, as may the periods when other families were present or when particular work groups are known to have been operative.

Summary. Defining a sequence in which material remains accumulated at the ranch would require techniques that go beyond those usually employed by archeologists. The combined use of archeological documentary and oral historical data, however, should make it possible to determine with reasonable accuracy how the ranch was organized at different times. Given this possibility, Table 6 presents some of the obvious categories of data present at the ranch nucleus itself (not including additional documentary and oral historical information) and some of the ways they could be used to elucidate Keys' organization concepts.

Adverse Effect of Loss of Keys' Ranch

The extent to which the loss of a given archeological site would adversely affect future anthropological research (Aten's Step 4) depends on the extent to which the data classes represented at the subject site are also represented elsewhere. This does not mean that the more nearly unique a property is, the greater is its value. On the contrary, a unique site may have relatively little research value, because there will be no way to study it in a comparative framework. On the other hand, if a site represents classes of data which are not being preserved or systematically studied elsewhere, the site may become the only surviving unit of comparison with those classes of data; its value becomes correspondingly high.

Table 6: Gross classes of data and their uses in defining organizational concepts.

EntityUtility in research
"Islands" of stored material

Combinations of items should reflect choices according to organizational categories. Modifications of items should reflect concepts of utility or of fashion.

Trash dumps

Presence/absence of classes of material will indicate definitions of "trash" relative to "good stuff."

Discarded containers will provide data on selection of food, drink, medicine, etc. Some material may be identifiable as to source, thus reflecting network organization.


Locations, sizes and relations among buildings and among components of buildings should reflect perceptions of space and social distance.

Construction methods may reflect work group organization.

Materials used may be identifiable as to source or association with particular time period, activity or group.

Modifications of buildings brought from elsewhere should reflect concepts of utility or of fashion.


Size and complexity of project should reflect availability of labor, skill of labor and organization of work groups. Materials used may be identifiable as to source.

Materials within buildings

Items modified (papers, etc.) should reflect the values of the modifier.

Items selected to save (clipped from magazines, etc.) should reflect values of the selector. Items selected to have (books, magazines, etc.) should reflect personal tastes, education, etc. Combinations of items (on shelves, in boxes, etc.) should reflect choices according to organizational categories.

The California Desert has not been systematically surveyed for historic resources and attempts to predict what sorts of resources should be present either have been very generalized (Bureau of Land Management 1975) or very localized (Weide and Barker 1974; Hall and Barker 1975). The Bureau of Land Management's developing approach to predictive archeological survey in the desert (Weide 1974) is designed specifically to deal with prehistoric resources; BLM planning for historic site identification is at a very early stage of development (H. Hanks 1975: personal communication).

Historic properties officially recognized as such are listed on or are in the process of nomination to the National Register of Historic Places; some are the subjects of determinations of eligibility for the Register by the Department of the Interior, but have not been nominated. Because determinations of eligibility are usually made only on properties subject to affect (usually destructive) by federal projects, it is reasonable to look upon National Register properties and National Register nominees as those likely to be available for future research.

Table 7 presents all historic properties in the California Desert listed on the Register as of February 1975, those known to have been nominated to the Register (Seidel 1975: personal communication; Hanks 1975: personal communication) or known to be in the process of preparation for nomination (Hanks 1975: personal communication). The entries are broken into gross categories. Many entries probably represent more than one category and some of the districts placed on the Register for their prehistoric value (not included in Table 7) probably contain historic period sites, but the available data are insufficient to evaluate these possibilities.

Table 7: National Register properties, nominees and near-nominees (historical) in the California Desert.

Warner's Ranch
Death Valley Scotty's Castle and Ranch
Ryan's Ranch and Well
Keys' Ranch

Andreas Canyon
Torres-Martinez Indian Reservation
Twentynine Palms Oasis
Cow Camp

Mines and Mine-Related
Desert Queen Mine
Dale Mining District
Providence Mining Camp
Tumco Mining District
Lost Horse Mine
Wall Street Mill

Harper's Well
Sackett's Well
Yuha Well
Cottonwood Spring
Barker Dam

Paiute Pass
Fort Tejon

Spanish Trail
Old Government Road
Bradshaw Trail
Imperial Dunes Plank Road
Emigrant/Butterfield/Mormon Trail
Yuma Crossing
Fages-de Anza Route

Zonapah & Tidewater RR
Barnwell & Searchlight RR

Defining the California Desert as the area from Owens Valley to the Mexican border and from the Colorado River to the Peninsular Ranges, we find only four ranches included in or nominated to the National Register. Of these, two are in Joshua Tree National Monument and three have associations with Keys. Keys was involved with Death Valley Scotty at various times and Ryan was, of course, Keys' predecessor, neighbor and co-user of the western part of the monument. Warner's Ranch was a major stop on the nineteenth century travel route into southern California.

If we regard Keys' Ranch as a "settlement," rather than as a ranch, it becomes a member of a somewhat larger and more eclectic set of resources, including a Cahuilla Indian agricultural settlement (Andreas Canyon), an Indian Reservation (Torres-Martinez), a community in Death Valley (Skiddoo) and a portion of Twentynine Palms. Cow Camp, of course, is so close to Keys' Ranch that it is artificial to segregate the two.

If we regard the ranch as a mining-related phenomenon, it falls into a class including Keys' own Desert Queen, Ryan's Lost Horse and the nearby Dale District, as well as the more distant Tumco and Providence Mountain areas.

As I have not systematically studied any of the properties in Table 7, except Keys' Ranch, I am not in a position to evaluate them relative to the ranch. It seems clear, however, that Warner's Ranch represents generally different data categories than does Keys' Ranch; it was a major node on an early transport network and remained so for a considerable period of time, beginning a good deal earlier than did Keys' Ranch. It decreased markedly in importance as travel routes and interaction systems shifted, just as did Keys' Ranch, but this only suggests the potential for a comparative study of the two ranches. Death Valley Scotty's ranch might also be of considerable comparative interest. Scotty, an early colleague and employer of Keys (Black 1975a: 21-22), became much more successful as miner, entrepreneur and "character"; how this affected his perception and organization of his universe might well be reflected in the organization of his properties and a systematic comparison with Keys' Ranch might be a good way to seek an understanding of that organization.

A brief visit to Ryan's Ranch in July of 1975 suggested to me that this site has considerable potential for comparative study. Ryan and Keys seem to have had very different local images; Ryan never became a "character," was not widely feared or viewed with suspicion and apparently never had a gunfight. Admittedly, he died long before Keys and was apparently not a full-time resident during much of the time that Keys was prominent in the area. Nevertheless, it is strange that although he and Keys exploited overlapping grazing and mining areas (see Maps 6 and 7), there is little evidence of conflict between them. The spatial organization of Ryan's Ranch is very different from that of Keys' Ranch; instead of a compact cluster of buildings, those that survive at Ryan's Ranch are widely and irregularly distributed. Building materials are different; like McHaney and unlike Keys, Ryan used adobe, at least in the buildings that survive. If Ryan or his employees scavenged material from abandoned mines, there is little evidence of it at his ranch; the collected equipment so prominent at Keys' Ranch is absent at Ryan's (although what may have been there before the ranch was left open to public encroachment is not known). Trash appears to have been dumped widely and unselectively at Ryan's Ranch, in marked contrast to the recycling and obscure selectivity apparent at Keys' Ranch.

Thus the two ranches, operated by men occupying different socioeconomic niches, seem to contrast with one another in their organization; a systematic comparative study could seek an understanding of why the two neighbors seem to have responded so differently to their similar environments.

With reference to surrounding settlements listed on or nominated to the National Register, Keys' Ranch is again both unusual and valuable for comparative research. Andreas Canyon and Torres Martinez are Indian settlements, the former substantially older than Keys' Ranch and the latter a formal reservation. Both are in the Coachella Valley, well beyond the high desert environment of Joshua Tree National Monument. Skiddoo is in Death Valley National Monument, over 100 miles to the north. Twentynine Palms is the community whose growth I have suggested triggered many of the social events reported at Keys' Ranch; the two properties were touched in contrasting ways by the processes discussed in Chapter 2 and some questions about one of them will be answerable only with data from the other. Cow Camp and Keys' Ranch apparently were in use concurrently during the late nineteenth century as part of a large stock complex; study of the phenomena responsible for Cow Camp would be distinctly impaired by the loss of Keys' Ranch.

As a mine-related locality, Keys' Ranch is obviously important to the study of the Desert Queen Mine and the Wall Street Mill, as Keys was responsible, in large part, for the latter site and as there was a constant flow of people and materials between them and the ranch. When the Dale District experienced its second boom during the 1930s, Keys' Ranch and Wall Street Mill were important service nodes for the more dispersed claims to the west and south, providing some of the same services to these mines that New Dale provided to the mines in its vicinity. Lost Horse Mine and its associated community at Ryan's Ranch provide a contrasting comparative unit in the western part of the monument.

A listing of other sites with which Keys' Ranch was associated, or to which it might be profitable compared, could be continued. The point is that Keys' Ranch is one of only about a dozen National Register, or soon-to-be National Register, properties in the California Desert at which it appears that any of the processes of change identified in Chapter 2 might be studied. It is clearly more likely than many others to provide a variety of useful data, having been occupied longer, used for more activities and better preserved than most of the properties noted. The research value of at least five of the other National Register Properties (Ryan's Ranch, Cow Camp, Lost Horse Mine, Desert Queen Mine and Wall Street Mill) would be seriously impaired were Keys' Ranch not available for comparative study.

The National Register, of course, is not yet a comprehensive listing of all historically significant properties and there may be other sites in and around the California Desert which could duplicate the data categories present at Keys' Ranch. At the moment, however, Keys' Ranch is the only such site on record, the only one under federal ownership and the only one that has been maintained intact for study. If the patterns I have identified in Chapter 2 are worth elucidation and if study of the ranch could shed light on them as proposed in this chapter then the loss of all or part of the ranch would have a severe adverse affect on the region's research potential.

<<< Previous <<< Contents>>> Next >>>

Last Updated: 04-June-2007