Keys Ranch, Joshua Tree National Park

#17 of 29 in Things to do in Joshua Tree National Park
Historic Site · Hidden Gem · Tourist Spot
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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41 reviews
  • We were lucky enough to reserve this Ranger led tour ahead of time (minimal fee) and it was so interesting and rich. You learn so much history of the area and of the lifestyle of the Keyes family...  more »
  • Our guide Emily is very good and knowledgeable. She makes it fun to be on the tour. You will see all the ‘Precious’ junk laid down on the yard and understand how the many settlers live their life...  more »
  • Love this place! It's so desolate and interesting. You feel like you have stepped into the past. I can see why Mr. Keys wanted to have a ranch here! It's worth the visit.
  • Unique and informative tour that is not accessible without reservations.

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