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An Anthropological Evaluation of William Keys' Desert Queen Ranch, Joshua Tree National Monument, California
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The present study grew out of an overview of the historic archeology of Joshua Tree National Monument, undertaken for the Western Archeological Center by the author in the fall of 1974. In the spring of 1975, in connection with the overview, I reviewed "Keys' Desert Queen Ranch Preservation Study" by the Historic Preservation Team of the NPS Western Regional Office. That report was written primarily from the perspective of historians and historical architects and I suggested that an anthropological viewpoint might also be helpful (Hickman 1975). As a result, I was asked to provide an anthropological evaluation of Keys' Ranch, to identify the research potential of the ranch and the cultural material contained in it and to provide an explicit set of recommendations, clearly related to research potential, for preserving and managing the ranch's cultural resources.

The study has involved minimum fieldwork and maximum attention to documentary sources of all kinds. A visit to the monument in December of 1974, reference to published sources and research in the National Archives provided initial data. A week spent in the monument vicinity in July of 1975 permitted closer attention to documentary and tape data pertaining specifically to Keys' Ranch, as well as several days of physical inspection of the ranch.

Within the limits imposed by time and funds I have attempted to gain access to and to inspect all published and unpublished sources concerning the ranch and its occupants, with emphasis on those primary sources and materials which contained information on socioeconomic processes in the area. Research was necessarily eclectic and generally inductive, since the nature and extent of the available data were essentially unknown when I began work, the anthropological questions to which the data might be relevant were not at all certain and I knew of no models for this kind of study. My approach has been to become immersed in the ranch's history and to attempt to account for it. This has resulted in identifying the processes of social and economic change and stability which presumably have affected the ranch. Because fieldwork had to be limited in scope and undertaken before the documentary study had permitted development of definite research questions, field observations were based on somewhat intuitive assumptions about the kinds of data that would be important. Basically, I looked for evidence of organization in surface distributions, for modifications in mass-produced items, for evidence of selective behavior governed by choice and for data concerning subsistence and interaction patterns. I attempted a comprehensive inspection of the ranch nucleus; each structure, ruin, activity/storage area and identifiable refuse dump was inspected. Notes and photos were taken to record the composition of material concentrations and their interrelationships.

As Keys' Ranch is a National Register property and as this study probably will be used as an aid in complying with agency procedures set forth in Title 36 CFR VIII 800, this evaluation is organized in consonance with the National Register criteria issued by the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (1974}. Each criterion of National Register eligibility will be discussed in turn, with reference to Keys' Ranch and from an explicitly anthropological point of view. Those anthropological terms with which the reader may be unfamiliar and those used here in a specific or narrow context are defined in the appended Glossary.

To qualify for the National Register a property must first possess "state or local significance." Keys' Ranch is regarded locally as an important historic site, but its anthropological importance does not turn on how residents of the local area or of the state feel about it. The importance of the ranch resides in the fact that it can be studied as one manifestation of some types of human behavior that, in turn, are shaped by historical processes worthy of scientific study.

National Register properties also must possess "integrity," which from a scientific standpoint means that they must be sufficiently intact to allow meaningful study. The integrity of the ranch as a body of potentially usable data is striking; it is a highly complex, highly organized site, including standing and ruined structures, clusters of machinery, artifacts and trash, modified landforms, boxes and piles of paper, clothes, photographs, magazines and books and so on. Associated with the ranch, although not physically present, are taped oral data, documentary accounts, photos, recollections and miscellaneous written items describing the ranch, or events there, at various points in its history. The integrity of the ranch and its associations has suffered with the passage of time; items have been removed, material has weathered and recollections have faded and been transformed with their passage into folklore. In spite of some near disasters, however, the monument staff has been careful and generally successful in its efforts to preserve the contextual integrity of the ranch, which is essential to anthropological and archeological research. The ranch, then, presents an unusual opportunity to study a historical site in virtually the condition in which it was left by its occupants.

Another characteristic qualifying a property for the National Register is its association with "events contributing to the broad patterns of our history." Events are often taken to mean those discrete behaviors of individuals or groups at particular times and places which, when shown to be interrelated, form constellations, or patterns. It is important to remember, however, that "event" and "pattern" are not absolute, but relative terms; their definition and use are products of particular historical analyses. The intellectual experience and interests of individual researchers determine what is taken to constitute "event" and what kinds of relationships are seen as connecting events in a "pattern."

An initial intellectual commitment that guided this study was my desire to study behavior at the ranch in relationship to regional and national developments. The "regional approach" was seen as particularly appropriate to the Joshua Tree area, which, at least since earliest documented contact, has not produced an economically self-sustaining nor socially isolated community. Despite geographical isolation, the Joshua Tree region has been characterized by settlements with a high degree of interdependence among members and reliance upon natural and capital resources from outside the region.

My commitment to a regional study led me to select as "events" those behaviors that linked occupants of Keys' Ranch not only to each other, but also to others living in surrounding communities or in more distant settlements on the California coast or along the Colorado River. In other words, "events" in this study are social interactions and "patterns" are associations of related social interactions occurring during particular periods.

One way that anthropologists approach the study of social interaction is called network analysis; a form of network analysis has been used here. The concept of network has long been used in anthropology in a metaphorical sense, expressing the observation that an individual's social links with others in any society ramify throughout that society. When used in an analytical sense, what becomes important is specifying how the ramification of social links affects the behavior of people involved in the network (Barnes 1972: 1-3; J. C. Mitchell 1974: 280). The concern is not merely with the fact that A is somehow socially connected with B, but also with how A, who is in touch with B and C, is affected by the relation between B and C (Barnes 1972: 3). In this analysis, for example, I am interested in the fact that William Keys (A) was connected with Mrs. Tucker (B) and with Mrs. Campbell (C), both of whom lived in Twentynine Palms. I am also concerned with trying to discover how the relationship between Mrs. Tucker and Mrs. Campbell could have affected Keys decision to invite Mrs. Tucker and her children to live with the Keys family at the ranch. I did not attempt to explain individual decisions per se, for that kind of analysis demands detailed ethnographic and ethnohistorical work beyond the scope of this study. My efforts were directed instead at outlining the framework of social relations within which Keys made decisions.

Using network as an orienting concept (cf. Homans 1967, cited in Barnes 1972: 2), I traced all documented social interactions between ranch occupants and others from earliest historical settlement to the death of William Keys in 1969. I identified patterns of interactions characteristic of different phases of regional development. Individuals were linked by social and economic activities, such as running stores, digging wells, operating mines, riding in cattle roundups and so forth. In the course of carrying out such activities, they came to occupy different social identities, such as storekeeper, mine operator, realtor, parent, midwife, teacher. These identities are associated with sets of rights and duties that are called statuses (Goodenough 1965). People interact with each other according to perceptions of what obligations they have to or rights they can demand from each other. Behavior patterned by perceptions of status is called role. Different systems of social identities and accompanying statuses developed during different phases of regional history, e.g., mining booms, homesteading and cattle ranching.

William Keys lived in the context of changing statuses; some of his behavior undoubtedly was affected by his perception of what the system of statuses was and of his position within it. I tried to interpret his particular interactions within the regional context of changing systems of status.

Testable propositions regarding interrelated behaviors within a network can be derived from an analysis only if the network concept is integrated with some body of theory. Theoretical assumptions are required before the nature of relationships between links can be specified. A "theory of networks" does not exist. The network concept, in its analytical sense, has been found useful by anthropologists interested in exchange theory, role theory, transactional and action theory. I used a model from exchange theory to analyze that segment of documented interactions characterized by the exchange of goods and services. The model, proposed by Sahlins (1965), focuses on the expectations of mutual obligation (i.e., reciprocity) that parties to the exchange have of each other. Expectations of appropriate reciprocal behavior, such as immediate repayment (quid pro quo), deferred repayment or no expected repayment, vary according to the statuses of parties to the exchange. I tried to derive some propositions about what sorts of patterns of reciprocity could be expected to characterize Keys' exchanges with individuals of different statuses.

Consideration of the spatial correlates of social interaction was an essential step toward defining "broad patterns" with which the ranch was associated. Mapping the interactions characterizing each time period made it possible to identify what I have called "nodes" of social activity. As used here, a "node" is the site, or locus, of frequent and varied social interaction. When set in network terminology, nodes are characterized by "density" (number of linked individuals connecting at that locus) and by the nature of the relations between linked individuals. Connections between individuals tend to be "multistranded," or "multiplex," which means that several kinds of things are exchanged between linked individuals; these exchanges may take the form of personal assistance, cash transactions, gossip, personal conversations and so forth (Kapferer 1967, cited in Barnes 1972: 13). Simply put, nodes are places where people come together to talk, buy, sell, hear the news, etc.

Keys' Ranch represents such a node, or interaction cluster, in a network of social and economic relationships extending throughout the southern California Desert and beyond. The ranch, as a node, is associated with a very general historical pattern, characterizing the western United States, at least; during the past century interactions have become concentrated into fewer, but usually larger, nodes at the expense of smaller, more dispersed nodes. Keys' Ranch is an example of a once important node eclipsed by the growth of competing nodes, such as Twentynine Palms, Joshua Tree and Yucca Valley.

The importance of Keys' Ranch as a node in an interaction system has varied over time. Starting from a position of more or less equal importance in the late nineteenth century, Keys' Ranch declined relative to Twentynine Palms after about 1930. Keys' Ranch was associated early with the cattle importation industry, serving as a pasturage, rest and regroupment site along an importation trail leading from Arizona/New Mexico to coastal California. Mining began in the area during roughly the same period and became a dominant activity at the turn of the century. Keys' Ranch became an important node in the network of relationships among mines and between mines and "the inside" (local vernacular for the West Coast). It was the site of the Desert Queen Mill and, in the second decade of the twentieth century, the center for William Keys' extensive prospecting and mining activities. As the population of the area grew and became organized into subpopulations focused on mines and small communities, intercommunity zones of tension developed where areas of conveniently obtained natural resources overlapped. At the same time, cattlemen continued to use the area for seasonal grazing, mostly around major water sources, such as those at Keys' Ranch. As the mining boom collapsed with the advent of World War I, Keys began collecting abandoned material and storing it at the ranch.

Homesteading began in earnest after the war, especially around Twentynine Palms. The development of this node, at the expense of others, was rapid. Keys seems to have responded by developing an antagonistic attitude toward Twentynine Palms, by harboring persons rejected by Twentynine Palms society and by strengthening his ties with the "old timers" who continued to prospect and to operate small mining operations south of the Pintos.

The Depression era brought boom conditions back to the area, as new homesteaders arrived and the increased cost of gold again made mining feasible. Keys' Ranch once again became a milling center and Keys provided a variety of other services to miners within the monument. He operated his own mines and mills, ran cattle and extended his social network throughout southern California and the Northwest Pacific Coast. Establishment of the monument and aggressive competition from larger cattlemen eventually began to restrict his growth, however, while Twentynine Palms continued to grow.

Keys was in prison during much of World War II and during the immediate post-war years. On his return in 1948 he planned to exploit the new income potential offered by tourist-oriented enterprises. He directed his town-service connections toward the new centers of Joshua Tree and Yucca Valley, not to the older Twentynine Palms. Keys continued to improve the dams on his property and to work in his mines until his death in 1969. By the time of his death his notoriety in the surrounding towns had been replaced by his reputation as a respectable pioneer.

Keys responded to socioeconomic changes in the region by altering the ways in which he interacted with other people and groups. The quality of these interactions can be partially monitored by focusing on the types of reciprocal exchanges characteristic of particular individuals or groups. A form of "negative reciprocity" (getting all you can from the other guy) developed between Keys and Twentynine Palms, while balanced reciprocal arrangements (quid pro quo) developed between Keys and those who regularly worked in mining activities south of the Pintos. A "general reciprocal" relationship existed between Keys and the "old timers," whom he supported during their lifetimes and whose claims he eventually expropriated.

Thus Keys' Ranch is associated not only with processes important in local and regional historical development (the cycles of mining, grazing, etc.), but also with the responses of an individual and his small associated group to the rapid development of a competitive interaction node at the expense of his own. These sorts of responses have been poorly studied and are worthy of more anthropological consideration. They should characterize many culture contact, frontier and developmental situations.

Properties can also achieve National Register significance through their association with important persons or distinctive architecture. I think it is unnecessary to argue for the significance of Keys' Ranch along these lines; the ranch is important because of the processes it may elucidate, not because it is associated with William Keys or because its architecture is interesting.

The Keys' Ranch site itself is of scientific significance, however, only if it can actually shed light on the patterns with which it is associated. I believe that Keys' Ranch can be studied in such a way as to answer questions about cultural process; the location of buildings and things at the ranch should reflect the nature of the interactive networks within which the site operated at different times, as perceived and interpreted by Keys and his associates. The distribution of material items at any given time, above and beyond any functional reasons for such distribution, should reflect principles of organization through which Keys attempted to communicate his perceived place in the world. If we can deduce these principles of organization, we should be able to say something about Keys' response to his ranch's position as a node in a shrinking interactive network. A number of regionally specific questions could be answered along the way, but the human social response to diminishing importance as an interactive node is an anthropological issue worthy of considerable study. Keys' Ranch provides an exceptional opportunity for that study.

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Last Updated: 04-June-2007