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Keys Desert Queen Ranch

Twentynine Palms, California 92277 USA

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“The former home to the Joshua Tree sheriff”

The Keys Desert Queen 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. Mining equipment at the ranch includes an arrastra and a stamp mill for ore processing. Other buildings include an adobe barn, a schoolhouse, a tack shed, machine shed, cemetery and a variety of houses and cabins. Panorama of the ranch yard Park rangers provide guided walking tours of the ranch from October through May. Tours are limited in size and should be booked in advance.

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April 22, 2017

I spent two weeks living with Mr. Keyes in the Palen Mountains in 1957. It was the year of the first Russian satellite. We witnessed a flaming ball passing overhead and you can imagine Mr. Keyes reaction. Fortunately my father had brought us a newspaper the day before , thus, we knew what it was. A correction to the killing story it was a park (monument) ranger that Mr. Keyes shot and the ranger lived on property abutting Keys property. After many years the Rangers wife went to the judge and told him that her husband had been drinking all night and had told her he was going to get Bill Keys. As keys drove down the road the Park (Monument) ranger (it was then known as Joshua Tree National Monument) stepped from behind a rock and pointed a gun at Mr. Keys in his Jeep -Keyes grabbed his rifle from between his seats and shot and killed the Monument Park Ranger. He drove to the Twentynine Palms Sheriff Station and told them what he had done. During my two weeks living with him he told me many stories. I have a letter written to my parents after he had dinner at our home, I think Mrs Keyes , was deceased, which he identified as "Copper Mountain". My father Bernard R. Crawford sold the Queens Ranch to the USA for Mr and Mrs Keys. I am now 77 years old and intend to write a letter about Mr. Keys and will send it to the appropriate Park office. He told me and showed me many stories and places.

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Keys Desert Queen Ranch

Twentynine Palms, California
92277 USA

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  • Parking
  • Pets Allowed
  • Restrooms
  • Wifi
  • Wheelchair Accessible
  • Credit Cards Accepted
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