Keys Ranch, Joshua Tree National Park

The Keys Ranch is the prime example of early settlement in the Joshua Tree National Park area. Bill Keys was the area's leading character, and his ranch is a symbol of the resourcefulness of early settlers. The ranch is an extensive complex of small frame buildings built between 1910 and Keys' death in 1969. Keys pursued both ranching and mining to make a living in the desert.
William F. Keys was born at Palisade, Nebraska, in 1879. After working as a ranch hand and smelter worker, he was a deputy sheriff in Mohave County, Arizona. During a time in Death Valley, he befriended Death Valley Scotty, becoming involved in a swindle that resulted in the so-called "Battle of Wingate Pass". He arrived in the Twentynine Palms, California area in 1910. In the area that became Joshua Tree National Park, he became acquainted with local outlaw and cattle rustler Jim McHaney, taking care of him in declining health. Keys eventually took over McHaney's properties after McHaney's death, gradually expanding what became the Desert Queen, its name borrowed from the nearby Desert Queen Mine.
Keys married Francis M. Lawton in 1918, and they had seven children together, three of whom died and were buried at the ranch. During a dispute over the Wall Street Mill, Keys shot and killed Worth Bagley. Keys was convicted of murder and went to San Quentin Prison, where Keys educated himself in the library. Keys was paroled in 1950 and was pardoned in 1956 through the efforts of Erle Stanley Gardner, author of the Perry Mason novels.
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Keys Ranch Reviews
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TripAdvisor Traveler Rating 4.5
34 reviews
Google
4.7
TripAdvisor
  • Well worth making the reservation necessary to learn so much about the human spirit to live the homestead lifestyle raising a family. Our park Ranger Keith did a wonderful job showing and educating th...  more »
  • I had wanted to do this tour for years and so happy I finally made it. You need reservations and tours are about 30 people. You wait at a locked gate which is only open to let those with reservations ...  more »
Google
  • Really beautiful scenery and amazing story to hear. Definitely worth grabbing your ticket in the morning to be a part of the afternoon tour.
  • The tour was very informative and really really interesting. I would recommend the tour to anyone that visits the park. Very informative about keeping the park clean and sustaining it for future generations as well

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