Murray's Ranch:
Apple Valley's African-American Dude Ranch
Page 10


Lela died on March 18, 1949. She was born Lela Campbell in Kentucky on June 12, 1890, and was only 58 years of age at the time of her death. Despite racial animus in some quarters, Lela was widely admired, even loved, by most of her fellow townsmen.

Photo of Lela with youngster
Ebony Magazine photo, Feb. 1947

Her generosity was shown following the floods of March 1938, when she contacted Red Cross officials and put the ranch's numerous bungalows at their disposal. These were used for homeless families. During the war years, Lela gave much of her time and energy to civic betterment projects. This included being active in the Chamber of Commerce, creation of the sunrise services, use of the ranch for USO entertainment, and bringing better sanitation to those living along the banks of the Mojave on E Street in Victorville.

Funeral services were held in Los Angeles at the church of Reverend Clayton Russell, the pastor who had been conducting the Easter Sunrise Services at Catholic Hill for over a decade. Victorville services were conducted by Rev. Merrill A. Norton, of the local Episcopal church, and her pallbearers included George Cummings and James Forbus.

Her personal friend Annie Benjamin sang "I've Done My Work," and "Goin' Home." A sheaf of condolence letters were read, and a most touching tribute was paid by Mrs. Orene Phelps, a Bell Mountain friend and neighbor, who compared Lela's spirit to "A desert flower -- A Masterpiece of Life." Lela was buried at Evergreen Cemetery, the oldest existing cemetery in Los Angeles, and the same place where former slave Biddy Mason was interred.

Photo of Lela with camera
Life Magazine photo, Nov. 15, 1937

A few months after her death, the members of the Bell Mountain District Improvement Association voted to name their nearly-completed community center building in her honor. They said it was "...because of her great record of many years in the field of welfare of Negro children."

The site of the community center, located north of Bell Mountain at Dale Evans Parkway and Quarry Road, included a ten-acre recreation area that contained an equipped playground, swimming pool and ball diamond. There were also classes for children, which were held in the building. Leona Thomas Griner, a Bell Mountain resident knowledgeable in the area's history, recalls that Nolie Murray and Goler Banks pushed the project through. The community center building still exists, but it has been converted into a residence.

Photo of Lela in dining hall
Ebony Magazine photo, Feb. 1947

Nolie must have felt lost without Lela, and running the ranch without her was surely difficult. He tried to sell the place, and in 1951 it appeared there was a buyer, but the deal fell through. He had limited his prospects for selling it, since he, most likely through a previous agreement with Lela, had decided that the ranch would be sold only to a black person. The Murrays probably had hoped to find an African-American buyer who would continue the home for troubled black youths.

After a few years, Nolie married Callie Armstrong, an attractive school teacher who had taught in Los Angeles at Gorman Avenue School on 104th Street for 24 years. Malcolm Keyes, the cook hired in the 1930s, was still at the ranch, and his meals continued to attract diners from all over the valley. Newcomers to the area, the Apple Valley Ranchos buyers, quickly found out about the little treasure near Bell Mountain.

Picture of Nolie and Callie
Courtesy Denise Robinson, Callie's relative

Eva Conrad, who bought the Apple Valley News, particularly enjoyed the hospitality, atmosphere and food at the ranch (the chicken dinners were her favorite). Leona Thomas Griner, who worked as a secretary for the Murrays from 1944 to 49, said that chicken was not necessarily a specialty of Keyes, that he made stews and just about anything else that could be cooked in quantity. On her part, she remembers Keyes' hamburgers.

Picture of Nolie and Callie
Courtesy Denise Robinson, Callie's relative

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