Life on the Keys Ranch
By Willis Keys
(Son of early Joshua Tree settler Bill Keys)

I am asked many times, what did you do for excitement or to pass the time? For us kids there was always something to do.

We had few toys to play with, both inside the house and out.

As soon as we could walk we acquired chores to do. I remember my Mother taking me out to gather the eggs every evening. first to the chicken coop, then to the goat pen and barn. The chickens had nests in many places and we would find new ones quite often. At night the chickens had to be put into the chicken house at sundown because Coyotes, skunks or wild cats would finish them off.

We had many animals at the ranch. Besides chickens, we had guinea hens and Peking ducks, sometimes turkeys, a cat or two, sometimes a dog or two, up to a dozen goats, one or two milking cows, usually two horses, but sometimes up to a dozen, several mules and may burrows. The goats and burrows and some of the time the horses and mules ranged out in the valley's and fed them selves for the most part.

As we grew older we took on more of the chores. My Dad and Mother we're busy all of the time.

Dad had many mining claims on which assessment work had to be done each year in order to hold them. This entailed about a month and a half. My Dad would usually hire one or two men to help with the work.

While doing assessment work they would usually take out some ore to be milled later; thus providing a bit of money which was hard to come by in those days.

My Dad's work also included many other things; taking care of the orchard, the garden, live stock (We ran a few cattle), building fences, keeping the water hole open, doing a little milling (gold with a two stamp mill), also milling for other miners.

I look back and wonder how he got it all done. My Mother had much to keep her busy, cooking for the family and at times for several other people, taking care of us kids, taking care of all the chores at the ranch while Dad was at the mines or milling; sometimes for a week at a time.

In the Fall there was canning of fruit, vegetables and meat. The whole family would pitch in and help peeling, pitting and cutting up to put in jars, then into an old wash boiler to boil for four hours over a wood fire. My Mother over saw this operation so she incurred a great part of the work.

My Mother did all of the sewing of clothes for the family. We kids we're hard on clothes and shoe's. We had a gasoline powered washing machine which was fired up about once every two weeks. The water was heated in a wash tub over a wood fire outside, then bucketed into the washing machine. The whole family would take part in this chore.

My Mother was a very good cook and did most of the cooking over the years. Some times there would be eight or ten people to cook for besides the family.

My Mother was a city girl before marrying my Dad, so one can imagine what a change it was to come out to the ranch in 1918. A trip to the town of Banning for supplies once every two months was a four day event traveling by mule and wagon; later with a Model-T. It cut the time to two days.

My Mother loved the desert and especially the ranch. People passing through the area usually stopped at the ranch and brought the latest news and stayed for a meal before leaving.

In later years 1928-1934 there was an increasing number of travelers through this area. Mining picked up during the depression. There were a number of homesteaders in the Quail Springs area; also Lost Horse Valley and Queen Valley.

In 1933 my folks hired a teacher to teach us kids. My sister Virginia and I were the first pupils. The teacher (Miss Perkins) got $30.00 dollars a month and room and board. In 1935 the county paid the teacher and furnished the books and materials.

In 1929 mail service was started from White Water to 29 Palms; delivering once a week. A Mr. Stead who owned the Morongo Lodge was the first Mail carrier. Before the mail service we picked up our mail in White Water. There was a small store, service station, garage and Post office run by the Burkes; an older couple. Friends and people who knew us would stop and pick up our mail when coming to the ranch. Out going mail was the same.

In 1934 or 1935 the county graded the highway from Garnet to 29 Palms. Some of the old road was by passed in the Yucca Valley & Joshua Tree area; it was known as Coyote Valley.

In 1935 my Dad built a sturdy mail box and installed it at a point about a block east of what is now Park Blvd. It was the only man made structure there at the time.

I used to ride horse back from the ranch down to the mail box every Saturday. I would take a short cut going down and then let the horse head his way back. He would follow the road and I could rest my leg around the saddle horn and read a magazine or catalog that had come in the mail. It took most of the day to make the round trip.

During the 1930's there was quite a bit of activity in this area with new homesteaders. Several of the old mines reopened and a store or two in 29 Palms.

Homesteading in what is now Joshua Tree National Park was touch and go, as water was non existent in most case.

The people had to haul water from Quail Springs (set aside for public watering), or the Lost Horse Well owned by J.D.Ryan; who had moved to LA in the early teens. There was a nice adobe house there that Ryan would lease to different people who wanted to live in the area.

Ryan also had an agreement with the cattlemen for them to water stock in exchange for up keep of the well and windmill.

Most of the homesteaders dug wells by hand, some to over a hundred feet. None ever got water. Mr & Mrs Harmon dug 4 or 5 wells, some in solid rock but still no water.

All but two out of fifteen gave up their homesteads by the early 40's.

Jobs were scarce and with no water it was an uphill battle. A few people in the area made a living,

My folks made it by being very diversified; mining, milling, running a few cattle, and raising a large amount of our food.

Some of the miners did pretty well, although it was very hard work. There was no modern mining equipment.

During prohibition there, were a few bootleggers. They didn't get rich but made ends meet.

©Copyright 2001, Willis Keys, all rights reserved.

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