Murray's Ranch:
Apple Valley's African-American Dude Ranch
Page 9


Sunrise services on hilltops have been popular in many communities over the years, and the dramatic effect can be very pronounced. A service was held in the 1920s at the Upper Narrows just east of Fred Bosch's place (now the Bascom Ranch), but it seems to have been a one-time event.

In 1939 the Murrays took it upon themselves to sponsor a sunrise service at Catholic Hill, and they produced the event every Easter for a number of years. It was a perfect spot for Nolie and Lega to stage services. Catholic Hill was convenient to the ranch, less than a mile southwest, and it offered an excellent dramatic setting, rising sharply to a pointed peak and visible for many miles.

The Murrays' first Easter Sunrise Service in 1939 was a major event for the desert. Nolie and Lela were friendly with Reverend Clayton Russell, the pastor of the Independent Church of Los Angeles. In the fall of 1938 Reverend Russell married Gwendolyn Diggs, the daughter of one of the most eminent doctors in Los Angeles. The couple completed their honeymoon at Murray's Ranch, where they were given the honeymoon cottage and provided with all of the care and attention their hosts could muster.

During his stay the Reverend discussed Easter services with the Murrays, and it was agreed to provide a spectacular service the following year, which would include members of Russell's church choir. The Reverend's congregation numbered 5,000, and had a choir of 100 voices, which reportedly were "famed" in the Los Angeles area.

Picture of a lighted cross

Ted Smith, the Bell Mountain area resident mentioned earlier, helped work on the production of the services, and he recently provided some interesting details about them. Nolie Murray, Smith said, "was the one who put the cross up there. He had a power generator down at the bottom of the hill and the wiring leading up to it; in fact, I helped string it up there." The hill rose up very steeply, about 650 feet vertically from its base, making for an impressive backdrop.

Adding to the drama were several dozen of Russell's singers (the number varied from year to year), all dressed in their colorful flowing robes and accompanied by a piano that was taken as far up the hill as was practicable. Smith said the generator and wires were all out of sight (and sound) on the east side of Catholic Hill, so that the effect of the lighting of the cross, the singing choir, and the sunrise made for a very stirring event for the spectators, who were all located on the west side of the hill. There are still sunrise services on the desert, but it is doubtful they compare in drama and pageantry to that provided by the Murrays and Reverend Russell's choir.

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