Wall Street Mill

Ore cart rail leading to a drop area just above the stamp mill, which is enclosed in corrugated sheet metal.

County: San Bernardino
Primary Mineral:  This two stamp mill was used to crush ore for local mines including the Desert Queen and Eagle Cliff. Most of the ore processed here was gold.

Years of Operation: Operated sporadically from 1930-1966. In 1943 the owner, Bill Keys shot and killed Worth Bagley in a dispute over access to the mill and was subsequently convicted of manslaughter. He served nine years at San Quentin State Prison. After leaving prison Keys erected a stone marker near the mill, proudly commemorating the killing.

Nearest City or Landmark:  Joshua Tree Nat. Park, Mojave Desert

Upstairs there was a grizzly to sort material. Larger pieces were then fed into a jaw crusher.

History of the Wall Street Mill

The Wall Street Mill is located in the eastern Mojave Desert, inside of Joshua Tree National Park. It’s a two stamp mill (ore crusher) that operated from 1930 to 1966. The enclosed building that houses the mill was once supplied with water from a nearby well, pictured on this page. Two stamp mills are relatively small, however this mill handled massive amounts of ore from the Desert Queen Mine and others throughout the region. The mill was manufactured by Baker Iron Works of Los Angeles, which was founded in 1877.

Baker Iron Works was founded in L.A. in 1877. This mill was transported from Pinon Wells.


The mill was owned by William F. Keys, a Russian immigrant who began working at mills, mines and cattle ranches when he left home at the age of 15. For a time Keys worked at the Desert Queen Mine as a custodian and an assayer, but upon the death of the owner he gained possession of the mine as payment for back wages. In 1917 he filed under the Homestead Act on an 80 acre parcel and built a ranch. Eventually the Key’s homestead grew into a ranch house, a store, two school buses, a teacher’s home, outhouses, a shed, a stamp mill, a corral, an orchard, a cement dam and lake, a windmill, irrigation systems and a cemetery. 

Amalgamation table where gold was separated from wet sand. The objects are stamp weights.

Prior to the mill’s existence this area was a popular cattle watering area, where William McHaney dug a well in the late 1800’s. In 1928, Oran Booth and Earle McInnes filed a claim at the well site, built a cabin and named the site “Wall Street”, but in 1930 they left the site due to other opportunities. In July of that year, Bill Keys filed for a milling claim on the site, where he built a bunk house, outhouse and transported a two-stamp mill moved from Pinon Wells.

A schematic of Wall Street Mill. Ore was hauled in by trucks, separated and crushed. 

How The Mill Worked

The schematic above shows the basic layout of Wall Street Mill. Trucks would haul in gold ore, mostly from the Desert Queen MIne, which was then shoveled into ore carts that were pulled up the inclined tramway (seen in the photo at the top of this page). From there the ore was dumped onto a grizzly, a grate used to separate ore sizes. Smaller pieces were dropped into an ore chute, while larger pieces were broken up in a jaw crusher first. Gravel sized rock was fed into the mortar, where it was mixed with water and mercury. That mix would then be crushed by two heavy stamps which were dropped repeatedly onto the ore. The final product would be a wet sand which flowed out onto the amalgamation table (seen two photos up). Gold particles in the sand would adhere to mercury coated plates. After the gold was separated from the rest of the rock it was sent to a mint or a smelter.

This well supplied water to the mill. A motorized pump can be seen in the shadows.

Gunfight at Wall Street Corral

In the 1940's Keys was involved in a dispute with Worth Bagley, an ex-Sheriff from Los Angeles. Bagley reportedly left the police force because of repeated abuses of power and mental instability. After moving to the Joshua Tree area in 1938, Bagley quickly gained a reputation as a trouble maker, always armed and generally in a foul mood. Unfortunately Bagley purchased a piece of property which bordered Key's Desert Queen Ranch and the two men did not get along. Keys would often find his cattle shot near their common boundary, but could never prove that Bagley was the shooter. The bad blood came to a boil when Bagley began blocking the road Keys used to access the Wall Street Mill. The final straw for Keys came when Bagley posted a sign which read, “Keys, this is my last warning. Stay off my property.” Keys once said, "If the law won't uphold me, I'll uphold myself." And that's apparently what he did. 

Left: Photo of Bill Keys / Right: Approximate location of the Keys & Bagley gunfight

After reading the sign, Keys spotted Bagley in the distance with a gun in his hand. An old west shoot-out followed, though some describe it as more of an ambush. Keys grabbed his rifle and claimed that he waited for Bagley to open fire. Bagley missed, Keys didn’t. Keys shot and killed Bagley, turned himself in shortly after and was later convicted of manslaughter. He served nine years at San Quentin State Prison for his crime. Keys did his time, but was lucky enough to have met Earle Stanley Gardner (the creator of Perry Mason) in the 1920’s, who championed his case for parole. Eventually The California Adult Authority concluded that Keys had been wrongfully convicted. He received a full pardon in 1946.

Left: Worth Bagley Stone before.  Right: After it was vandalized twice it was finally removed.

Upon returning from prison to his Desert Queen Ranch, Keys carved a stone marker, called the Worth Bagley Stone, which he placed at the site of the killing (seen above). The stone read as follows: “Here Is where Worth Bagley bit the dust at the hand of W.F. Keys, May 11, 1943.” Unfortunately in the 1990’s vandals painted over the lettering with green paint. The stone was restored by a conservator in 2012, but was again vandalized and broken off at the base in 2014. Park staff finally removed the stone from the site, where there is now nothing remaining. The stone's current location is unknown. 

Bill Keys passed away on June 28, 1969 from typhoid. With only a fifth grade education he managed to carve out a small empire in the Mojave Desert. Today Keys is buried in a private cemetery at the Desert Queen Ranch in Joshua Tree, still owned by the Keys family.  Keys Ranch is located on private property, however small groups are allowed to enter for a small fee on specific days. For more information, click here: Keys Ranch Group Tours. Be aware that it is located within national park boundaries, so there's an additional fee to drive inside.

Early 1900's truck, found near the mill, probably used to transport ore from Bill Key's mine.

Barker Dam

Barker Dam, also known as Big Horn Dam is located fairly close to Wall Street Mill. Today it's a small oasis in the middle of an otherwise parched desert. But back in the late 1800's this area was mostly grasslands. Annual rainfall was about 10 inches per year, as compared to 2-5 inches today. The dam was constructed by early cattlemen, including C.O. Barker around 1900.  Originally the dam wall was 9 feet tall, made of stone and concrete. Later the height was raised by Bill Keys between 1949 and 1950.

Originally named for the Bighorn Sheep that watered here, this pond has created a new ecosystem

Securing rights to reliable water sources - wells, tanks and springs - was critical, often pitting rancher against rancher, rancher against miner, and miner against miner. The Barker & Shay Cattle Company chose this natural basin to create a permanent watering hole for their cattle. Bighorn sheep also used it, hence the original name, Big Horn Dam. Prior to the arrival of white men, bands of Chemehuevi, Serrano and Cahuilla Indians had laid out trails between water holes, which ranchers, miners and homesteaders later used to store water behind cement dams.

Barker or Big Horn Dam was built by cattlemen in 1900. The height was raised in 1949.

The wall is currently 20 feet high, 150 feet long and 14 inches thick at the top. The inscription seen above can be found on top of the dam. It reads as follows: "Big Horn Dam Built by Willis Keys, W.F. Keys, Phyllis M. Keys, 1949-1950". But like virtually every other site that appears on a map of Joshua Tree, this wall was badly vandalized, and for awhile it was closed off to the public, until repairs were made completed in 2013. Since then it has re-opened. Today the pond behind the dam is frequented by migrating birds you wouldn't expect to find in the desert, such as green-backed, black-crowned and great blue herons.

An old watering trough for cattle. This area was mostly grassland in the late 1800's.


The Native American petroglyphs seen below were pecked or scratched into a shallow cave-like indented area close to Barker Dam. No one knows their exact age or who carved them, but as far as I know these are the only petroglyphs that appear on maps of the park. And that’s unfortunate, because they’ve been badly vandalized in the past. Easy access is also causing them to be worn away by hikers who walk across them in mass numbers. In 1961 while filming a movie called "Chico, the Misunderstood Coyote", the morons at the Walt Disney Company thought it would be a good idea to paint over the top of the markings to make them stand out more in the film. To date, these painted areas have never been restored. Disney claimed they were given permission, which seems far fetched, but whatever the case may be they did permanent damage to irreplaceable history. If you or I had done this we’d probably have wound up in prison.

Petroglyphs near the dam. Unfortunately these were vandalized by the Disney Company in 1961.

Throughout Joshua Tree there are many other petroglyphs (carved designs) and pictographs (designs painted on rocks with natural dyes). Fortunately most of them are not publicized and not easy to find. The photo below shows a wider view of the petroglyphs near Barker Dam. Pictographs (designs painted with natural dyes) are found throughout the park, however the designs below were vandalized with paint. In the photo below you can see where naturally varnished rock has been worn away by people walking over the surface

In 1961 the Walt Disney Company vandalized these priceless petroglyphs by painting over them.

Side Trip To The Cabazon Dinosaurs

Whenever I'm visiting the desert I like to soak up all the weirdness of yesteryear. So on the way back home I decided to stop in and visit the famous Cabazon dinosaurs. I had passed by this location numerous times, but never decided to stop until now. 

The Cabazon Dinosaurs were originally known as Claude Bell’s Dinosaurs. The two enormous steel and concrete structures are named Dinny the Dinosaur and Mr. Rex. The brontosaurus (Dinny) measures 150 feet long and the Tyrannosaurus Rex (Mr. Rex) stands 65 feet tall. You might remember these two from Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, partially filmed here in 1985. A third beast (a Wholly Mammoth) as well as a prehistoric garden were drafted but were never complete due to the death of the sculptor, Claude K. Bell, who worked as a portrait artist and sculptor for Knott’s Berry Farm. Walter Knott, owner of Knott's Berry Farm also bought and restored Calico Ghost Town where he worked as a miner in his younger days.

Dinny's front foot. In the distance is Mr. Rex, made famous in Pee Wee's Big Adventure.

Construction began in 1964, with the goal of attracting more customers to a nearby restaurant owned by Bell called the Wheel Inn, which opened in 1958 and closed in 2013. Dinny and Mr. Rex were completed in 1975 and 1986 respectively. Upon Bell’s death in 1988 the property was sold and turned into a roadside creationist museum and gift shop. The brontosaurus took eleven years to build, created completely out of material salvaged from the construction of the nearby 10 freeway. The complete cost was $300,000 and was the first dinosaur shaped building ever to be constructed. 

Originally Dinny’s eyes were supposed to glow and his mouth was supposed to spit fire at night. However these two features were never added. Inside Dinny is a bizarre museum versing Earth’s creationist theories against those of evolutionism. The conclusion of the current owner is that the “Evolutionary Origin of Life is Impossible”. There is also a gift shop inside with items promoting this viewpoint. Toy dinosaurs labeled, “Don’t swallow it! The fossil record does not support evolution.” are available for sale.  It’s quite the bizarre museum.

Mr. Rex the Tyrannosaurus. He stands a whopping 65 feet tall and was completed in 1985.

Nearby there's an open air museum with fiberglass and robotic dinosaurs. Activities inside include a sand pit where kids can do a dino-dig with a gemstone and fossil-panning sluice. This exhibit was partially planned by Pastor Robert Darwin Chiles who worked with the current owner Gary Kanter in turning the exhibit into a non-denominational church. Asked why children are so drawn to the exhibit Pastor Chiles was once quoted as saying “There’s something in their DNA that knows man walked with these creatures on Earth.” The pastor also believes that the Earth is 6,000 years old.

For a fee you can enter Mr. Rex's Adventure,  featuring robotic dinosaurs and a dino-dig for kids.

Films the dinos have appeared in include the following, Paris, Texas in 1984, Pee Wee’s Big Adventure in 1985 (the Wheel Inn also appeared in this movie) in the infamous scene with Large Marge. The Wheel Inn and dinosaurs also appeared in a Tears For Fears music video in 1985 titled “Everybody Wants To Rule The World.” In 1994 this location appeared on Huell Howser’s show, along with the famous Hadley Date Ranch. Huell revisited this topic in 1999. The T-Rex was referenced as an influence for the fictional town of Novac in the 2010 video game Fallout: New Vegas. The dinos were mentioned in the horror novel “Endless Night” by Richard Laymon and also appeared briefly in a 1989 movie called The Wizard. They appeared in Susanna Hoff’s 2013 video for the song “Raining”, and were briefly featured in the Oasis video for the song “Supersonic”. Finally the dinos were seen from the inside of the diner in “The Time has Come” episode of Private Practice. They also appeared in the opening credits of the movie National Lampoon’s Vacation. 

Inside the fence there are robotic dinosaurs. I opted not to go in, but maybe next time.