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.Make Keys Ranch part of your personalized Joshua Tree National Park itinerary using our Joshua Tree National Park tour builder.
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.
Keys Ranch 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.
Build a planTell us where and when you
want to go, we will build
the best sightseeing itinerary
Refine itYou have complete flexibility on your destinations and itinerary
Book as a packageUse our travel agents to get
package savings and hassle free booking
Enjoy your trip!Enjoy our 24x7
See all ›
Nature in Joshua Tree National Park
Hidden gems in Joshua Tree National Park
Trails in Joshua Tree National Park
Side trips from Joshua Tree National Park
Plans to Keys Ranch by other users
47 days in United States & Puerto Penasco BY A USER FROM UNITED STATES August, outdoors, historic sites, wildlife, popular sights Preferences: August, outdoors, historic sites, wildlife Attraction style: Popular sights Pace: Medium 3 days in Joshua Tree National Park BY A USER FROM UNITED STATES September, popular sights Preferences: September Attraction style: Popular sights Pace: Medium 30 days in Joshua Tree BY A USER FROM UNITED STATES September, popular sights Preferences: September Attraction style: Popular sights Pace: Medium 12 days in Palm Springs BY A USER FROM UNITED STATES September, popular sights Preferences: September Attraction style: Popular sights Pace: Medium 29 days in Blaine & Joshua Tree National Park BY A USER FROM UNITED STATES November, popular sights Preferences: November Attraction style: Popular sights Pace: Medium 10 days in United States BY A USER FROM UNITED STATES November, culture, outdoors, relaxing, historic sites, wildlife, popular & hidden gems Preferences: November, culture, outdoors, relaxing, historic sites, wildlife Attraction style: Popular & hidden gems Pace: Medium