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An Anthropological Evaluation of William Keys' Desert Queen Ranch, Joshua Tree National Monument, California
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Chapter 5:
Conclusions and recommendations

The basic conclusion of this study is evident: Keys' Ranch presents us with a significant opportunity to address useful anthropological questions. The questions spring from the fact that Keys' Ranch was associated with important historical patterns and processes, particularly with the consolidation of some community nodes and networks at the expense of others. The questions can be addressed by using a combination of archeological, documentary and oral historical techniques, which should permit us to determine how the organizational concepts, world views and interaction system of the ranch's occupants changed as their environment changed. At least insofar as the current population of National Register properties and nominees in the California Desert is concerned, the opportunities presented by Keys' Ranch are exceptional and should not be ignored.

This does not mean that the ranch should simply be preserved in perpetuity. A "no action" approach to the ranch—that is, one of passive preservation—would result only in a gradual but significant diminution in its value as informants died, papers rotted and metal rusted. Regardless of whether the ranch is preserved, destroyed or left to deteriorate, certain works should be undertaken immediately:

Mapping. An accurate map of the ranch nucleus is an obvious prerequisite for further study and is now being prepared. Such a map should be of sufficient detail to show all concentrations of items on the ground; the items comprising each concentration should be described and counted. The map should be correlated with the grid system established by Naturalist Black, so that the items removed by him after location can be replaced, at least conceptually. The map should be of sufficient scale to permit ready use in future research projects and should be maintained in multiple copies at several locations.

Preservation. At the time of my visit, items of paper, cloth and wood were scattered about both within and around the buildings. Although some of this distribution was the result of Keys' own activities (tatters of clothes were still hanging on the clothesline at the time of my first visit, for example) much results from efforts by the monument staff to reduce fire hazard to the buildings by removing material that could be subject to spontaneous combustion. Much of this material is of considerable value for research, however, and should be carefully preserved and filed. All such material should be located, plotted on maps, described and preserved as appropriate. Unmodified books and magazines (those not changed in any way by the occupants of the ranch) can be disposed of after a full record is made of their original location at the ranch and their identification; once we know that the Keys had the August 1952 issue of LIFE Magazine in their home, we do not need to retain the actual magazine unless the ranch's occupants did something to it. Modified items and items created by ranch personnel (letters, photos, negatives, lists, recipes, clippings, etc.) should be fully recorded and preserved. Some items of this sort will record events at the ranch, or events in the world that were interesting to ranch people, while others will reveal attitudes, preferences, wishes, etc. The locations of such items may reveal their ages and their relative importance, at least during the ranch's terminal phase; clearly, an item that is stored out of sight in a cupboard is of less immediate interest to its owner than is an item displayed in the living room, with certain obvious exceptions. Thus location of perishable items must be recorded, as well as the simple existence and description of the items themselves.

Document acquisition. The documentary data now at the monument should be carefully cared for and filed in an organized fashion. Documents that are crumbling or fading should be restored or copied and a consistent filing system should be designed. More documents should be acquired whenever possible. Special efforts should be made to contact people with connections to the ranch to insure that documents in their possession are not lost or destroyed. Not only should obviously descriptive documents like maps, diaries, and letters be acquired, but lists, logbooks, receipts, cancelled checks and the like should also be sought. The latter constitute unselfconscious records of life at the ranch and may be of critical importance to its interpretation.

Oral history. The oral history program initiated by Naturalist Black should be expanded, systematized and carefully integrated with that being carried out by Cheryl Erickson and Harold Weight at the Twentynine Palms Branch of the San Bernardino County Library. Both programs are active, responsible attempts to take down verbatim accounts of early life in the community, but the lack of coordination between them is beginning to have deleterious effects on both. Some informants are beginning to resent being interviewed by more than one researcher, each representing a different program, and some informants simply respond better to one kind of researcher than they do to another. If a regular schedule were worked out between the two programs, difficulties could be minimized and the advantages of having more than a single team working in the area maximized. Coordination in elicitation procedures, filing, editing and data storage is also important; differences in method at present make research difficult. Interviewers need professional training in elicitation methods. At present, much oral material is purely anecdotal; while interesting, this material is less useful for some kinds of research than it would be if an attempt were made to ask similar questions of different informants, pursue definite topics and check discrepancies in a more systematic way than is presently the practice. Definite decisions about the kinds of data required should be made and systematic efforts should be undertaken to obtain such data. The resulting tapes should not be edited in such a way that the context in which answers are given is lost.

Test excavation. Small scale test excavations are recommended in three locations, in order to acquire primary data useful to research design formulation. First, it would be useful to test areas around the storage "islands," in order to discover what may have become buried through soil deposition and formation; if material is buried, the possibility for stratigraphic study of change in "island" composition can be explored in later research. Second, all trash dumps should be subjected to minor test excavation, in order to obtain an idea of their composition and organization, at least vertically. Third, and perhaps most difficult, the file of mine tailings south of the adobe barn should be sampled in search of the remains of McHaney's adobes. The discovery of these ruins would open the potential for study of the pre-Keys period at the ranch. Other areas where excavation might be appropriate will probably be discovered during mapping. Excavation should be minimized, of course, and conducted according to the highest professional standards, in view of its inherently destructive nature.

Research design formulation. With an acceptable map and a better idea of what may lie under the surface, and with the immediate problems of resource management under control, the monument would be in a position to undertake development of a design for long term research at the ranch. Research could profitably address the questions raised in this report. The questions can be more explicitly formulated and elaborated, however, after a better idea of the ranch's tangible organization has been gained. Some questions, presumably, will prove impossible to address once the nature of the ranch is better known, and new questions may arise. Actual research operations should be designed to minimize damage to the site and to prolong its useful life; the ranch presumably will be useful for interpretation during the research period. The study of such a complex site can only benefit from a leisurely approach, once the immediate problems of disintegrating data and informant loss have been brought under control.

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Last Updated: 04-June-2007