Murray’s Ranch: World’s First Negro Dude Ranch

Published on

Murray’s Dude Ranch was a guest ranch, celebrity get-away and desert oasis for Black travellers in the High Desert from the 1920’s to the 1960’s.

Nolie and Lela Murray, business owners from Los Angeles, bought the 40 acre land located where Waleew and Dale Evans Parkway cross in 1926 for $100. 

The Murrays weren’t the first Black people in the area. The desert near Bell Mountain had been a gathering place for black homesteaders for close to a decade. It was Lela Murray’s respiratory problems that caused them to leave Los Angeles for the High Desert.

By the 1930’s 20 structures including cabins, a stable, the main house; tennis courts, a swimming pool, and a windmill to draw water from the 215 foot deep well had been built on the property.

RELATED: Boots from Apple Valley Dude Ranch on display at Academy Museum until April 2023

During this time widespread segregation practices limited Black Californians’ access to most private and public recreational facilities. Resorts, hotels, nightclubs, and even public parks in many California communities were closed to Black patrons.

Murray's dude ranch newspaper clipping

It was in this landscape that the Murrays decided to launch their dude ranch as a desert oasis for the black families in the high desert. 

In 1937, heavyweight champion Joe Louis visited the ranch with photographers from Life Magazine. Aside from Louis who returned to the ranch on several occasions, other visitors included singer Lena Horne, actress Nina Mae McKinney, architect Paul Williams, and actor Clark Gable. A series of negro westerns were filmed at the Murray Ranch including The Bronze Buckaroo starring Herb Jeffries.

After Lela Murray’s death in 1949, Nolie eventually sold off most of the ranch to actress and singer Pearl Bailey. The actress and her husband kept the place for a decade before selling it off. By 1988, the ranch had been abandoned for some years and unfounded rumors of a brown recluse spider prompted the owners to ask the Apple Valley Fire Department to use the remaining buildings for training. They were burned down shortly thereafter.

Although the remains of the ranch are scarce, its memory will live on through the photos and films that captured the essence of Black people in the West during the 1930’s and 40’s. 

Sources: 

Clarke, Chris. “African-Americans Shaping the California Desert: Murray’s Ranch.” KCET, 15 February 2012. https://www.kcet.org/socal-focus/african-americans-shaping-the-california-desert-murrays-ranch

Thompson, Richard D. “Murray’s Ranch: Apple Valley’s African-American Dude Ranch.” http://mojavehistory.com/murray1.html 

 

spot_img

Latest articles

Hesperia Alpha Brush e-commerce business selling for $45,000

HESPERIA – Alpha Brush, a professional-grade acrylic nail brush e-commerce business, is selling the brand for $45,000.

Amazon $25,000 small business grant application due Sept. 30

NATIONWIDE – Amazon is accepting applications for grants up to $25,000 for small businesses that are Amazon business account holders.

Hesperia wrestling team raising money for 2022 season

HESPERIA – The Hesperia wrestling team 2022 fundraiser is underway with a current financial goal of $7,000.

Calico Days bringing back the Old West this weekend

YERMO – A frying pan toss contest, gunfighter show and music from the Blacksmith Boys are some of the activities taking place this Saturday and Sunday at Calico Ghost Town 55th annual event.

More like this

Boots from Apple Valley Dude Ranch on display at Academy Museum

LOS ANGELES – Regeneration: Black Cinema 1898-1971, will feature Herb Jeffries cowboy boots worn in 1937’s ‘Harlem on the Prairie’ filmed at Murray’s Dude Ranch in Apple Valley.

Student Film Festival extends deadline for submissions to Aug. 1

INLAND EMPIRE – Superheroes and science prodigies are this year’s themes for Cinema Culturas International Storytelling and Film Student competition.

Cultural Arts Center of the High Desert presents Summer Under Construction Series

V VICTORVILLE – The Cultural Arts Center (CAC) of the High Desert, formerly known as the High Desert Center for the Arts, is hosting a summer Under Construction Series, ending August 27, to raise funding for the center as it is currently undergoing renovations and upgrades.