Joshua Alfred Thomas, the father of Leona Thomas Griner, moved his family to the High Desert in 1938, settling first in Lucerne Valley. Not long after, in 1941, he purchased property in the area of Bell Mountain. Mrs. Griner shares her memories here, along with her husband Jim Griner, giving pertinent information about her family history, the black community at Bell Mountain in Apple Valley, and Murray's African-American Dude Ranch.

* * * * * * * * *

Interviewed by Richard D. Thompson, September 3, 2002.
Transcribed by Richard D. Thompson.

LTG: You asked how we came to the desert. My father had a cross touring service. When he married my mother in ‘24, she had contracted asthma, so in his tours across country he would always try to find a doctor that could cure her -- you know everybody had a cure then for asthma -- and they moved from Pasadena, to Santa Barbara, to San Francisco, where my oldest brother was born. They came back to Santa Barbara -- too close to the ocean -- back to Pasadena.

Somewhere in the Midwest my father met a man that told him, "You need to take her to a high dry climate." They had a friend that had some property in Arizona, so they drove there. We had a big Packard seven-passenger touring car, and that was the family car. But my mother said when they got to Arizona, all she could hear was this buzz, buzz, buzz, buzz. She said, "those are rattlesnakes, I'm not getting out. You turn around Alfred, and take me home." So we came back to Pasadena.

In ‘38 when they were opening homestead properties in the Lucerne Valley -- and I still have some of the paperwork on that -- my father homesteaded an 80-acre parcel there. We moved to Lucerne Valley in May of ‘38.

RDT: Your father was named Alfred Thomas?

LTG: Yes, Joshua Alfred. That's why everybody called him "Poppa Joe."

RDT: And your mother?

LTG: Ivese, I-V-E-S-E. We lived there until the war broke out and a plane crashed, an AT-11 crashed in the mountains behind our home. It was Victorville Army Air Force Flying School then, and a colonel and a major came out, and they said they couldn't retrieve it. And there were four men that lost there lives there.

My father, being a mechanic, had a Model T and assorted other vehicles, and he made a trailer out of a Model T frame, made a four wheel trailer, and he drove up.... You see the crash happened in early summer so there wasn't anything you could do until it was colder, and then he drove his Model T truck -- it was by the old Gold Belt mine in Lucerne, at the northern end of the valley -- and we pulled it all down and piled it all in our yard and they told my father they would pay him for it. Of course, there was nothing on paper. So when they got it all down they brought a crash truck out, picked it all up and said, "Thank you."

RDT: They didn't pay?

LTG: No! My mother wrote -- I still have stacks of her communications, she was a great communicator -- and the army administrator said he did not have the right or the authority to authorize payment for that. So they got a letter "E" for effort; that was their payment.

When the war broke out in ‘41 -- in ‘42 we moved over here -- they did offer him a job at the air base, so he went to work there. My two older brothers both worked there. I know they had to be too young to work there but they did, before they went into the service. One went to the Air Force and one went to the Army and that's how we got to the Bell Mountain area. My dad bought 100 acres from Bill Johnson, who had.... I don't know how he purchased or acquired the old Marietta orchard, or vineyard, no one ever talks about the Mariettas, but there had to be about 260 acres of grapes.

In ‘38 and ‘40 -- that little rain we had day before yesterday -- they were weekly. We ran 80 head of cattle in Lucerne Valley, dry land graze. We raised wheat. So we homesteaded 80 acres and my dad leased 1000 acres at a penny an acre. We ran cattle at the north end.

RDT: Would you care to mention when you were born?

LTG: You know what they say about a woman that would tell her age, but I am proud of my age. February 19, 1932, and I am the baby of four children.

RDT: Where were you born?

LTG: In Pasadena.

RDT: So you came out here when you were six.

LTG: Yes, I had already been to school for a year, and they told me, "You can't go to school, you have to be seven to go to school." It was all day. In Pasadena it was half day. So I languished for a year with my mom then I went to Midway School in Lucerne Valley. We lived 12 miles out of town.

RDT: What was that like with no electricity?

LTG: No electricity, no water, no gas. You were homesteaders, not really primitive because my father built a house. We had coal oil lamps, we had fuel oil stoves and wood stoves. Ny mother loved her wood stove, and so the wood heated the kitchen area and she cooked on it.

RDT: How did you get water?

LTG: We hauled it in 50-gallon drums from the Box S Ranch -- Goulding's. Daddy built the cooler out of.... It was four sided with burlap. He ran a trough around the top, put up a 10-gallon container with water that trickled and kept the burlap cool inside of a lattice shed and that's where we kept our milk and lettuce, etc.

RDT: It sounds like you were self sufficient. So your dad was a mechanic.

LTG: He was the only mechanic in Lucerne Valley.

RDT: Plus he was running a ranch. And it was ‘41 when you moved to Bell Mountain.

LTG: He got the job with the Air Force. We were in Bell Mountain, and he relocated our house -- he took it all down and rebuilt it. It's a little bit smaller than it was in Lucerne because, you know, when you nail things you have to cut the nail holes off.

RDT: Oh, you moved it from Lucerne?

LTG: Yes, well it came originally from Pasadena and it's redwood. He dismantled it in Pasadena and moved it to Lucerne, rebuilt it in Lucerne in 1938-39. Then when he got the job, he dismantled and rebuilt it at its present location on Dale Evans Parkway.

JG: Tell him what your dad paid for an acre of property in Bell Mountain.

LTG: They offered him property in Apple Valley [not in the Bell Mountain area] for $2 an acre and he said, "Who wants all that sand." And before he passed away he said, "Well, that was $2 I could really have invested."

JG: But when he bought in Bell Mountain, what did he pay?

LTG: $100.

JG: A dollar an acre.

LTG: Well, Bill Johnson wanted to give it to him, because when we lived in Lucerne, Daddy had done an enormous amount of mechanical work for people. What could they pay him with -- early '30s, what are they going to pay him with?

So Daddy would come home with potatoes, he'd come home with a goat, he'd come home with pigs, he came home with a calf, and I remember when Brace Tyler was up on the side of the mountain before they -- what did they call that, it's Pfizer now [Cushenbury], one of the springs where they had a little cabin built back into the hills -- he said, Joe, I can't pay you but take that sow over there, but you have to take her 8 piglets, too. Then we were raising hogs. And we already had chickens.

RDT: So the old house is still there. You were about to give the address.

LTG: 19800 Bell Mountain Road, which is now Dale Evans Parkway.

RDT: So your dad's house is still there after 60 years.

LTG: And out of the 100 acres, I have 27 that Jim and I are kind of refurbishing, and it will be my studio.

RDT: Oh, it's still in your possession?

LTG: Oh, yes. Since 1942.

JG: There's quite a history to the house because it originated in Pasadena.

LTG: Its been moved three times.

JG: And it's a three- or four-bedroom house -- yes, four bedrooms.

LTG: But only one bath. We had outside facilities. When we first came over here Daddy started accumulating cattle, and we ran with Lee and Mary Barry from the Slash X over in Turtle Valley, and then when they came out of the valley our Herefords ran south and we kept the Brahmas more to the north, because they were a wild bunch. Daddy said six-foot fences will do it. We had a bull come in one night and say, "Six foot, that's nothing." Cleared it. Took part of the fence with him. But that was our life. My mother had a garden, all watered. There were 37 families out there.

RDT: Can you talk about that a little. I don't recall anybody describing that community out there very much.

LTG: My children's great grandfather, Joseph Pinkney Whitby, had the Sidewinder Well. Part of the old arrastre and the ramp where the mules brought the ore down from Sidewinder Mine or the old Doheny mine, is where they washed the ore and did some assaying there. It is still there. And the Sidewinder Well was a test well until ‘64 or ‘65 when we had a light earthquake. I wasn't living here then.

RDT: You described him as your children's great grandfather -- that would be your grandfather?

LTG: No, my children's great grandfather. I was married before. Bazile. This (referring to Jim) is my lifetime long partner of 31 years right here, and I talk to him about things, do you remember so and so, and he says, "That wasn't me." He is my right arm. I can't get along without him.

JG: My first experience with Bell Mountain was 1952 -- from then on.

LTG: He came down from San Francisco to Barstow, and he made Marine of the month and they gave him a weekend at the Inn. They don't do that anymore. That's basically how most of the people in Bell Mountain were, I guess you could call them truck farmers because they raised.... My mother had a feed store and she sold pullet chickens. In fact, Barbara Davisson said, "Oh, we used to come out there and buy chickens from your dad, and trade livestock." I don't remember that, but you can't remember everything.

RDT: You said there were 37 families -- was that about this time, 1940s?

LTG: Yes, I can name most of them. Bukay, Guess, Whitbys, Banks, Andersons, Pointers, Soares, Sydnor, Thwaites, of course the Johnsons, the Wallers, the Medlocks were there, nobody lived down below us, the Horns, then we had the Community Center, the Cooks, Weems, Whitby, Beshear, Wysinger.

Well the reason I know how many people there were, we had an association, BMDIA, Bell Mountain District Improvement Association, and they met once a month. We did not have a telephone, so my mother would sit down and write all the invitations, or announcements, rather, and I'd saddle up my horse. I rode clear around the valley and delivered the notes, and she said, "Make sure you get there on time." My mother didn't ride. She never touched a horse that we had, but she could sure give you directions.

JG: He would probably be interested in how you first got electricity out there.

LTG: Oh, the REA? Well, my mom and dad, Goler Banks and Sam Guess -- and there were a couple of Caucasian families that wanted to be in the area.... But we would go once a month or every six weeks over towards Lancaster, Llano, that's where it was. That's where they had their meetings, and we wouldn't get back home until twelve or one o'clock. It was the old REA, and some people are familiar with that, Rural Electrification Association. It was in L. A. County. We had nothing like that in San Bernardino County.

RDT: Llano, that socialist place there?

LTG: REA, north part of Los Angeles County, because they didn't have power either. They figured with numbers they could get something going, which they finally did.

RDT: So how did it finally come to be?

LTG: We must have gotten electricity in about ‘42 or ‘43, because that was when one of their primary concerns was getting electricity. Telephones didn't come in until ‘49 or ‘50 -- no, after that. I graduated in ‘50, so it had to be ‘51 or ‘52 before telephones came in. The water situation is still the same because of the wide location and the large parcels the people own. It was virtually impossible to develop a water system and none of the wells were deep enough or had the volume to supply a community that was so widespread.

Sidewinder Well was 38 feet deep with a six-foot lateral, hand dug, and provided Papa Joe with.... He raised watermelons in the front yard, and alfalfa from Stoddard Wells to Quarry Road. As he became older and couldn't farm it anymore. he sold off parcels to the Laceys and Beshears, Wysinger, Phelps, right up to his property.

JG: One of the Beshears is still alive. They live in Lucerne Valley, don't they?

LTG: No, they moved to Oro Grande and then to San Bernardino. We still have Wysinger's son living there.

Most of the older people like the Whitbys.... Whitby had two stepchildren. Now he came here in 1906, and that's why I was asking -- you know he came here in a horse and wagon in 1906 -- and that's why I was asking about the Bell Mountain School. Because they had two children, Antoinette and....

RDT: How do you spell Whitby?

LTG: W-H-I-T-B-Y, and her name was Josephine.

RDT: When we get off the tape I'll show you the pictures I have of the schools and the schoolkids.

LTG: When we moved there in ‘41, there were just adults. There was no recall of their children or grandchildren having stayed in the area.

JG: When did the kids go to Eva Dell?

LTG: Well, we never went to Eva Dell.

JG: Which one did you go to?

LTG: I went to Victor. Only the children that lived north of the railroad tracks went to Eva Dell.

JG: But later didn't they transport the kids from here to Eva Dell?

LTG: No, they never did.

RDT: Did the bus come and get you?

LTG: Of course, my father was the bus driver. I missed the bus more than any other child in the valley. He'd wait on anybody else, but if my shoes weren't tied -- hoof it to school.

JG: What year did he start, because he was also the school custodian -- what year did he start driving the bus?

LTG: I'd have to look -- '43 or so.... We drove, they paid us 25 cents per day per child to drive to school, so our car, a ‘36 Ford four-door, was our bus. Yes, my brother drove it and he drove down the valley and picked up Thad and Darrell Reems, Charles Bazile and the four of us, and that was it. The Stewards moved in and the Horns moved in, and there were no other children. Three other girls and that was it.

RDT: You mentioned there were four of you girls. Who were the other three?

LTG: Milbry Spicer, who became a school teacher. She still lives there. Venus Horn and Sarah Smith, who were cousins.

RDT: The Spicers, are they the ones with the new home on the corner?

LTG: Yes, Milbry Spicer, she still lives there. We've known each other all of our lives. Her mother and my mother were childhood chums.

RDT: So there were four girls, how many boys were there?

LTG: Oh, I forgot, the Andersons, Dianne and Carl Anderson.

RDT: Give us your brothers' names, too.

LTG: Ramon Thomas, who is just deceased, and Leonard Thomas and Alfred Thomas.

JG: Leonard still resides on Dale Evans Parkway, Alfred's in Africa.

LTG: And my older brother is in Sierra Leone. Ultimately he has been over there about 40 years. He came home just before my mother passed, stayed here about three or four years and then he went back.

JG: When they had the uprisings over there in Africa....

LTG: They have uprisings all the time, that's a common....

JG: Well, he's back over there now.

LTG: He was in Liberia and that's why he came from the first uprising.

JG: He happened go over to Africa by working for International Harvester.

LTG: International Harvester, when they were paying people 25 cents an hour. I think I still have some of those pipe fittings they were doing. It was just like a tinker toy.

RDT: Twenty-five cents an hour?

LTG: He got the people a raise to 50 cents an hour, and that's why the company people didn't like him.

RDT: That must have been quite a while ago.

LTG: Well, he was in his thirties when he got out of the Air Force, so ‘49, ‘50.

JG: When did a lot of the black families move to Bellview Heights?

LTG: There were only two families that moved to Bellview Heights.

RDT: Is that over by Denny's?

LTG: Yes, Newt Bass built that. It was called Bellview Heights. At one of our meetings, he did condescend to come, and he said, "We built those houses over there for you, why don't you move into them." They are 900 square feet and fifteen, maybe twenty feet apart. Why would I want to move to a little cement crackerbox when I've got horses and cattle....

JG: That relates to the fact that Newt Bass was quite prejudiced.

LTG: Well, it relates to the fact that he knew he was landlocked and through Bell Mountain was the only way he had to get to the freeway. He couldn't get through Victorville, and Lucerne is too far out of the way. Bell Mountain was his direct route.

In fact, they did a water survey in there at one time, and we never got one. So finally I called and I asked them why hadn't we gotten a survey or report for Sidewinder Well since it was a key well that they were measuring annually and semiannually for water quality, depth, etc. So the gal waited a minute and she called and said, "Oh, you're one of the highest, 16 parts per million for flouride." I said okay, and she said, "Stop drinking the water immediately," -- my husband at that time was raised as a little boy [drinking that water] -- she said, "all your teeth would rot," and blah, blah blah.

I was working for a veterinarian then -- what was his name, Royal Klofanda -- and I said, "Royal what's with the water?" And he said, "Well, four parts per million is just about fatal." So I handed him the report and he said, "You're dead four times over and you don't know it." But those were the different ruses that they tried in order to remove the people from the valley.

RDT: The Sidewinder Well, is that close to you?

LTG: It's on the corner of Stoddard Wells -- it's about a mile and a half, it's on the corner of.... The well was a very attractive site because it had the old wooden tank stand with the tank on it. The house on it was a five-bedroom shotgun-type house, all in line, five-car garage, had a porch across the front....

RDT: Whose place was that?

LTG: That was part of the Whitby property. The mule corrals, etc., were out in back. That was Bazile, the grandson.... Some people don't have any appreciation of what older things can be. We had built across the road. About 260 acres left in that parcel -- he had a full section, but it was a big full section, and Mr. Weems next to him had a half a section. Captain Bright had a half a section. They talk about people living in the boonies, the newspaper reports that when they change the name of the road, it's not our fault that we don't have a 1/3-acre or a 1/4-acre parcel. You can't sell less than 2-1/2 acres without water. And at that time you could divide your property into three parcels once a year. Now you can't do it, you have to have a survey, etc.

RDT: Can we talk about Mr. Whitby? He came real early, built a five-bedroom house next to Sidewinder Well. The house is no longer there?

LTG: The house is no longer there.

RDT: And he had a family?

LTG: No, no children. He married a woman who had two children.

RDT: And the two children were?

LTG: Antoinette and Wendell Gladden. I married Antoinette Gladden's son, Charles Bazile.

RDT: Antoinette Gladden married a Bazile and had two children?

LTG: Yes, Charles and Erlene, and she's deceased. And she had no children.

RDT: But you had children.

LTG: We had four. Frances, Charles Jr., Thomas and Annette.

I don't know why the pump house was dismantled, but it had a beautiful eight-cylinder engine that sat in the ground with the belts that came up out of the ground that would have been a historic landmark, but all that was disposed of and an electric pump was put in.

I know J. P. Whitby raised watermelons in the front yard because of the circular drive, and then from the south -- from the chicken pens south -- that was all alfalfa, because you had to feed the mules, and the mules were stabled there for the Sidewinder. I don't know how many mules they had, but when I lived there, the wagons were there, some of the grass rakes and the harrows, etc. On the corner there was a reservoir and the only thing that sealed it was caliche.


RDT: [Referring to Harris Lane and the lot sizes] ...those lots there are more traditional, so it was not quite as countrified.

LTG: Oh, yes, it was countrified.

RDT: Well, you don't have 100-acre lots, you have two- and three-acre lots.

LTG: No, they are larger than that because none of those properties are sold with water, you can't sell less than 2-1/2 acre properties.

JG: But that was all Johnson and Forbus property then, wasn't it?

LTG: It was all Johnson, because Medlock on the end, which is now -- I can't think of the people's name, it's changed hands two or three times -- that is a 37-acre parcel.

RDT: I am thinking there are a bunch of houses and slabs, former houses, and they are fairly close....

LTG: On the left-hand side was the Wallers. That was one family. One family had a strip of land, and Melvin lived here, and Glen Pinchem lived here, and Faustina Waller Wilson and, you know what his name was, lived there, and then the mother....

RDT: This is the Johnson family?

LTG: No, the Waller family. They lived on the east side of Harris Lane, which abuts some of our property -- not really, because there was a little narrow strip which goes from Johnson Road to Quarry Road, I think it was 96 feet wide, because Bill Johnson and Poppa Joe Whitby laid out property the same way: you take from that greasewood bush to that joshua tree; it was eyesight survey, you know.

JG: Her father did basically the same thing on Dale Evans Parkway, or Bell Mountain Road -- the family parcel, he divided off five-acre parcels, for each....

LTG: No, fifteen.

JG: Fifteen-acre parcels for each....

LTG: He did that later. That was in ‘54, because that was all surveyed, measured and staked.

RDT: But each one of the boys got their share of the property. They eventually built houses on them.

JG: But that's how that 100 acres got divided up.

RDT: The Wallers, it looks like they're all gone, the houses are all....

LTG: They've all moved. Melvin lives in San Bernardino. Faustina just had cancer surgery -- she had to move into Victorville -- and her sister lives in Ridgecrest.

RDT: Now the places on the west side, some people have expanded, modernized....

LTG: Annabelle lives there....

RDT: Johnson?

LTG: Johnson. Next to her was another Waller, Marcell, who married John Waller, but she passed away and they sold that.

JG: The one on the north side of her, that was the daughter that lived in there wasn't it?

LTG: North of Annabelle? No, that was her aunt and her mother-in-law.

JG: They were Johnsons, too.

LTG: Yes.

RDT: You said the Community Center was along in there.

LTG: It's on the corner of Dale Evans and Quarry Road, on the east side.

JG: A family by the name of Turner bought that and remodeled it, and built. You will see it as a big house with dormers on it, right on the corner of Quarry and Dale Evans.

LTG: But there have been no changes other than bathrooms and divisions put into the Community Center.

RDT: Could you give us some background on that? You mentioned the other day about the tax thing.

LTG: The Bell Mountain Improvement Association met in homes, and then they started collecting money. Goler Banks, who was a realtor, and Nolie Murray, well-known throughout the L.A. area, he started talking to people in different organizations, telling them what we wanted to do, that we needed a central meeting place, because we also met at Murray's Dude Ranch and dining hall. So they started selling -- for a building fund -- they sold bricks, a dollar a brick. As each person paid, we made a list, and Creola Banks, who was quite a calligrapher, printed their names on the blocks.

JG: I remember those, I remember the Community Center, because after we got married, it was there; in fact, there was a polling place and her mother ran the voting thing.

LTG: Yes, you put up all the booths. As the older people moved away and became disinterested, they stopped paying the taxes on the property. So my mom and dad paid them for several years. Well, my father retired and my mother was a homemaker, so there was no income there, and her little feed store didn't provide that much.

They offered it to Victorville Park and Rec, because I taught there in ‘62 and ‘63, and then they decided, well, that was too far from our local area, even though it did provide for the children in that valley we wouldn't have to provide transportation, and then they decided, no, we don't want it.

They offered it to the church, Immanuel Temple, and they bought it, or they paid the back taxes, I don't no what monetary -- well, there couldn't have been any monetary value because the property, itself, I don't believe had a formal deed at that time. Other than Association members being responsible for, not liable for, so therefore it kind of went to the county.

After Immanuel Temple purchased it, my daughter and a friend of hers attempted to purchase it; he was a truck driver, but he decided the road was more important, so they let it go and Bob Turner bought it. There is a well there. It's 8 1/2 acres, 9 acres, something like that.

RDT: You mentioned the Emmanuel Temple. I have never heard of that.

LTG: That's the church on....

JG: Stoddard Wells.

LTG: Just before you get to Bellview Heights, by the park there.

JG: You know where Grady Trammel park is?

RDT: Oh, on the other side of the freeway. I know there was a little house with a cross on it, and I thought that was what you were referring to.

LTG: No, that was Faith Home and that was back in the early ‘40s. Dan and Orene Phelps -- I forgot them, they're part of that line of people on Bell Mountain Road -- they had a Sunday School, bible study, and I could just walk right out my back yard and go to Sunday School.

RDT: In this little house I talked about that is still there.

LTG: You're talking about the one Gus and Annie Barrows built. Used to be we called it the little pink church. It was non-denominational. We had people there that were of the Catholic faith, Baptist, my father was Episcopalian....

RDT: I'm getting confused on the churches now.

LTG: There were two.

RDT: It sounded like there were three. The one you could just walk out your back door....

LTG: That was Faith Home. That's on Bell Mountain Road, just below Stoddard Wells Road. The other one, that we used to call the little pink church, the one the Barrrows built, is on Stoddard Wells Road, about 3/4 of a mile from the freeway. After Aunt Orene got ill, stopped, she was just older, everybody kind of segued to the little pink church. Gus and Annie Barrows built that church.

RDT: Okay, then there was the church on the other side of the freeway, so essentially you had three churches.

LTG: Well, there was no church on the other side of the freeway because we are taking about years before Emmanuel Temple got built on Stoddard Wells. Emmanuel Temple got started on E Street.

RDT: Oh, Emmanuel Temple is the one that is there on Stoddard Wells now?

LTG: Emmanuel Temple is on.... just before Bellview Heights -- that church isn't 10, 12 years old.

JG: Her mother was very instrumental in that church, that's why it reverts back to....

LTG: But that was the bona fide church. These other ones virtually were Sunday Schools.

RDT: So Emmanuel Temple was started in Victorville, and your mother was involved there, and then when they came out.... When did your mother die?

LTG: ‘91.

RDT: So she was involved.

LTG: But not in the new building; in fact, she had already passed.

JG: If you look over to the right of the original church is the smaller of the two.

LTG: Now it's the Sunday School, that was the original. I just met a fellow the other day who is a locksmith. His father, who was with Bennington and Smith, drew the plans for the old church.

JG: There is another family out there that you haven't talked about, that lived on the slope of Bell Mountain there. Major's family.

LTG: Oh, the Broyles. They came in the late '40s to mid-'50s. They didn't really live there. That was their vacation home. They had electricity because they had generators, huge diesel generators. They had a bunkhouse and the main house. They were virtually out of sight within the shadows, south shadows of Bell Mountain -- people just picked it clean.

They came up, oh, every two weeks, or some member of the family came up, because they were all doctors, lawyers, pharmacists. They weren't hard-rock scrabblers like us.

JG: Why don't you tell him about working for Murray's.

LTG: When I was 12 my brother and I used to ride over to Murray's. First we were out riding around and we said, "Look, there is a place," and we went over and looked. And we saw they had horses and we met Mr. Murray. He said, "What are you kids doing out here?" We said, "Oh, we're riding," and he said, "You can't ride."

We had already ridden four or five miles from our place, and my brother did a few tricks for him. We used to do trick riding on the weekends, for the "celebrities." I met Mrs. Murray and she solicited me to be her secretary. I did that until I was about 17.

RDT: What did that consist of? Did you physically go to the ranch?

LTG: Oh, yes. I rode my horse over there. Better than walking. I did her communications, reservations, did the returns -- she did all the banking;I couldn't drive -- inquiries about the ranch. She'd tell me what to write and I'd write it.

RDT: You were her secretary?

LTG: Well, yes. I worked for her for quite a few years.

RDT: Are there any stories or communications you can recall that were memorable?

LTG: Oh, I had written to Joe Louis, Lena Horne and Sammy Davis. Now, Sammy Davis was a jewel. He liked to play games. And there's Tony Harper.... If I can find what's left of my mother's guest book -- because a lot of them did not believe that two little "black kids" had horses of their own, so they would come over to our place, right over the other side of Bell Mountain. Let's see, Rex Harrison.... I don't know, these were just people, I am just a kid.

RDT: Rex Harrison, wasn't he a white actor?

LTG: No, he's black. Of course Lena Horne, she was a little different.

JG: Besides the entertainers, wasn't there a musical at the ranch.

LTG: I don't remember, I was a child. These were just people. It was fun.

RDT: What was it like around there? What would be a typical day?

LTG: If I got there in the morning early enough, I would unsaddle my horse, put Pepper in the corral or in one of the stalls, and I would go in and talk to Mrs Murray and she says, "You know what, Baby, I think you need to go over and tell Keyes that I want...." Keyes was the cook, and he was the only cook that I can remember ever being at Murray's until they hired Harris. I don't even know what Keyes' first name was. He was a big heavy-set -- just about your size.

RDT: I ran across the name. It was Malcolm.

LTG: It might have been. All we ever said was "Keyes."

RDT: And he was Asian?

LTG: No, he was black. Light skin black. Frank was the Asian yard man. And Frank worked there forever.

JG: What was Frank's last name?

LTG: That's all we ever knew -- Frank.

LTG: Ramon told me that they had another kind of general purpose fellow who worked with the horses, cleaned the stalls. I can't remember, Ramon told me his name.

RDT: So you were there from ‘44 until ‘50.

LTG: 'Forty-nine or ‘50, when Mrs. Murray got ill and was more or less confined to the big house. I was telling Jim the other day, the only thing that I can really remember was that her favorite food was artichoke hearts with mayonnaise and lemon juice, and lamb chops. And I hear people talking about her being known for her fried chicken dinners.

RDT: Yes, they're kind of famous.

LTG: I read that a couple of times. I never saw her in the kitchen. She would go to the dining room, Keyes would come out and she wrote what she wanted.

RDT: So she was famous for Keyes' cooking.

LTG: And chicken wasn't really that high on the list, because there were stews, you know, home-cooked meals. He did a lot of hamburgers, because people would come in and order a hamburger and go back out to the swimming pool. And he loved dill pickles; I don't like dill pickles and that's why I remember that. He would load ‘em up with....

JG: What did they have, little cabins....

LTG: There were about six cabins to the east side, towards where the Desert Heart Motel ultimately began. There was the big house where the Murrays stayed. I think there were only three or four rooms. I was never in that house. Then they had the dining hall, which also you could move the tables back and that's where they danced.

JG: When did they put in the swimming pool?

LTG: It wasn't a swimming pool, it was a reservoir.

RDT: I hadn't heard that.

LTG: Yes, they called it a swimming pool, but it was reservoir.

JG: Because they did have a well there. You can see remnants on the east side.

RDT: A well and a water tank.

LTG: On the south side was the wind break, and then across the west end he had like a cabana area where you could sit, and finally he built an escarpment on the side where you could come up.

RDT: At one time Mrs Murray said she came up for her health, and Ted Smith said that is why they moved out there.

LTG: Yes, she had an ashmatic condition. A lot of those came to the high desert. But my curiosity is, if there were black children in the area, and this was primarily a black community, and if they had a Bell Mountain school, where were the children [from], and you had a mention of everybody in the valley getting together, well Joseph and Josephine were here in ‘06 and they weren't weekenders, they lived here.

RDT: Joseph and Josephine Whitby?

LTG: Whitby. And Cook; he came here, because.... I can't think of his wife's name, she was married to Captain Bright and then when Captain Bright passed away, she married Charlie Cook.

RDT: Charlie Cook.

LTG C. C. Cook.

RDT: Was he born here, or do you know who his father was?

LTG: No, he came from Los Angeles.

RDT: There are a bunch of Cooks around here, and I can't nail them down. Somebody is going to have to go through the census records.

LTG: That's what I was thinking.

RDT: And the other thing, Lucy Thompson was here very early.

LTG: But not in the Bell Mountain area.

RDT: Not in Bell Mountain, but in this area. Billy Vance said she came out on the 1890s, and I think he is off a bit.

LTG: Yes, he is. Talking to Billy you won't get the same story twice. We've been to several meetings with him, and actually the people in Victorville, they said that the people in Bell Mountain were different because they wore shoes. I think what he meant was that we didn't just live in little house, we were either ranching, farming, the ladies sold pies, had bake sales....

RDT: You mentioned that your mother had a feed store. Was there any other commercial activity out there?

LTG: No, that was it. Until in the early ‘50s, Goler Banks opened a post office. We had a fourth-class post office.

JG: In the general store, wasn't it?

LTG: Not a general store, just a convenience store, but that building still exists. It's on Stoddard Wells just below us.

JG: Sets real close to the road -- real close.

RDT: So you had a post office, you really had a community big enough for a post office.

LTG: Sure, like I said we had the Bell Mountain Improvement Association, and even though the Murrays lived on the other side, they were still included because they were people of color.

Well, I guess we did have a couple of other commercial establishments. See, we always called people by their last names, we talked about them by their last names, our folks forbid most of us to interact with them because they ran into Victorville a lot. But Bukay, he had the garbage disposal because he raised hogs from Victovillle, and Johnny Moore did too, and he raised hogs until Dave Medlock came along with -- what was that called before it was A-1 backhoe -- just Medlock's garbage disposal.

RDT: Was the hog ranch out there?

LTG: Yes. In fact, there are still remnants of Medlock's operation because he developed a steam cooker, to cook the -- because he was picking up refuse from the restaurants and you can't feed it raw, so he developed the steam cooker. He cooked it in a 55-gallon drum, and the steam tube, the apparatus went down into the containers.

RDT: So he was raising hogs, and you were raising cattle. Did you sell beef, or pork?

LTG: Yes, my mother had pigs. I don't like pigs. My mother had pigs up on the high side, and turkeys.

RDT: But she would sell the pigs whole. She wouldn't butcher them?

LTG: No, only butchering for the family, but everything went to the market -- went to L.A. to the market -- and if three or four families had enough for a truck load, then a livestock truck would come pick them up and take them in. They were all tagged.

RDT: You were the secretary, you must have been there when Ted Smith's wife, Rubye, came along.

LTG: She wasn't there very long.

RDT: No, she wasn't. Did she do the same thing as you?

JG: You might as well tell the truth.

LTG: She was a waitress. She worked in the dining room, and she did the cabins -- that's all she did and she wasn't there very long. I was there when she came and I was there when she left. She had taught or had credentials, I believe, in Oklahoma or Texas, but California would not accept her credentials.

RDT: Eventually she went to work.

LTG: She went to school in San Bernardino. I don't know of any black teacher that came here to teach. Mary Ann Forbus came from Oklahoma, was an accredited teacher, had taught for several years, and she had to go back to school to be able to teach. In fact, she got so fed up with the rigamarole that they ran through here, that she started teaching in San Bernardino. And that was well before Rubye came.

[To Jim] Who was the fellow that you did special at the base, that lived right behind us, behind Thomas and Charles? She came here from New York, upstate New York. They wouldn't accept her credentials. She went back to school. Finally Oro Grande School District hired her.

Well, they finally did hire Rubye. I don't know whether she started in Oro Grande. But Harvey Irwin came out, because he was superintendent of schools at that time. He had been one of my eighth grade teachers, and he talked to my father, and my father told him, "I don't do your accreditation. If she has the credentials and you can qualify her credentials, then why don't you hire her?" Well, ah, there were lots of excuses. When the teacher Marian Lawyer from Oro Grande went back, got her Masters, got her Ph.D., they told her, "Well, we can't afford you."

So, what are you giving your children. Now that is an instance of three black teachers that I know, I mean good teachers, qualified teachers, that got the runaround. One of them said "I won't fight you anymore, it's not worth it, you're not offering me that much." And they moved to San Bernardino. There were a lot of functions held at Murray's because they had the amenities. They had the juke box, the dining hall, lodging, tables with space for everyone without using the adjoining room, those who wanted to swim could swim, horseback riding; I don't even know if he ever charged for horseback riding.

RDT: Somebody would come over for dinner, it was like a cafe.

LTG: Commercial, yes.

RDT: Mr Keyes did everything. How many could he cook for?

LTG: I don't know. The pots were big. He had to feed the family and the hands. Everybody ate the same food.

RDT: The children were still there when you were there? Lela was still taking care of the little kids?

LTG: No, that had passed.


RDT: [Showing Mr. and Mrs. Griner a 1947 Ebony Magazine story about the children then staying at the ranch] This is the ‘47 story here.

LTG: In ‘47?

RDT: Well we don't have to dwell on that. They must not have been a very big part of the operation.

LTG: I can't.... The back part of the house, there were children recuperating.

RDT: The main focus of the Ebony Magazine story was that after Franklin Roosevelt died, a white woman was walking around and stumbled onto the Murray ranch and she was impressed that these white and black kids were all there together, sleeping. She was a writer for a progressive magazine, a communist magazine.

LTG: There were some communist people there, that I know. They were trying to induct anybody they could.

RDT: She wrote about that in the Progressive Weekly, and that was picked up in the Negro Digest, and that is how whites began to come. Do you remember that at all?

LGT: All people came, but primarily whites. Ramon and I were there every weekend. But you can stage anything.

RDT: You were there. By the way, is there anybody else around that you know of that was intimate with Mrs. Murray?

LGT: No, but, Paul Weaver -- he is recovering from a stroke -- he was there quite frequently, because his folks, the Warrens, had 160 acres east of Central Road. In fact, the fellow that sat next to me [at the history 2002 meeting at the Lewis Center], John Elliot, they bought their property from Paul's grandparents.

Sapp had a mine, on the corner of Johnson and Central -- it would be the northeast corner -- he was mining in there for awhile. There were two or three generations of Sapps that mined there. They've all moved back to the San Bernardino area. The only other mine was.... Well, Bullet died in Captain Bright's well, but Lee Johnson -- the two claims that Lee Johnson had one on Bell Mountain and one across the freeway -- they were silver claims.

RDT: Did you know Captain Bright?

LTG: No, I knew C. C. Cook.

RDT: Where was the Bright house located.

LTG: On the corner of Central and Quarry Road. Central dead ends at Quarry.

RDT: I went looking for it. Ted Smith thought there was a slab out there.

JG: There is a slab out there.

LTG: I don't think so.

JG: You can tell where it was.

LTG: Well, it was on that knoll. And the garage was built back underneath the hill.

RDT: I couldn't see it from the street.

LTG: No, you'd have to know its location. What happened to that.... It stood for years. The bathroom upstairs was all blue porcelain and enamel, the bathroom downstairs was green, and when Frankie Cook moved to San Bernardino and kind of like abandoned the property, that's when.... She left just before Newt Bass came in, and when Newt Bass started spreading his wings, his.... We thought it was his child until that happened -- his stepson used to party out there, and they set it on fire. Before that they had their parties out there and would break up the bathtubs and toilets. They were all the original enamel, not this melamine stuff you see nowadays. Underneath, on the south side of the property, there was a two-car garage that was built into the hill.

RDT: Now, he was going to divide that up....

LTG: Yes, the streets were named -- I don't know, my father knew the street names.... When you go up, stand on Central at the house location, you can still see where the original plots were.

RDT: He was trying to attract people out there, but he wasn't successful, it appears.

LTG: No, I don't think he ever sold a one.

RDT: Oh, I thought he was going to give them away.

LTG: No, you had to do the same as a homestead, you have to prove it.

RDT: It was his land, he was going to divide it up and give it to people.

LTG: I didn't understand that part. It sounds nice. Nobody wanted to do anything.

RDT: Well, he was pretty far out, it seems like to me.

LTG: Central Road? No, it was at the base of the mountains.

RDT: That was pretty far removed from you folks, a couple of miles.

LTG: Not really. It was right in the middle of the valley.

JG: He's talking about relative distance from homesteads.

LTG: No, it was right down from Weems.

JG: Where was the nearest house?

LTG: Evans.

JG: Okay, where the Freemans live, that would have been the nearest house.

LTG: Where who lived?

JG: Freemans, on Quarry Road.

LTG: Freeman wasn't there then.

JG: Well, I know, but that would have been the property.

RDT: I'm thinking where all the buildings are now. You know, the center of the community is kind of like, Quarry and Dale Evans. So he is sort of by himself, at the edge.

LTG: At the time he was doing that exercise, the rest of the valley was spread far apart.

RDT: Okay. Now you've looked like you wanted to talk about Lena Horne a couple of times and skittered away from it. Did you want to say something?

LTG: She wasn't the friendliest person in the world. She was cordial.

RDT: She had her illegitimate son there?

LTG: I don't know whether he was illegitimate. I know she had a couple of children, but she didn't want them to associate with anybody. We didn't care.

RDT: She left them there?

LTG: No, she was there with them. They didn't stay.

JG: What about Pearl Bailey?

LTG: Pearl Bailey came way after, that was in the '60s.

JG: Did she come to visit before she bought the place?

LTG: I don't remember ever seeing her. But the word was always out that there was only two places to go: you either went to Paris or to Murray's Dude Ranch.

RDT: Do you want to talk about when you married Mr. Griner.

JG: We got married in ‘72. I was born and raised in Michigan. Because of the Korean War I got drafted into the Marine Corps, and got sent to San Diego for boot camp. I went to Korea and came back to San Francisco for assignment there and the whole headquarters annex up in San Francisco moved to the Marine Corps depot at Barstow, California, in May of ‘52, and that's when I came to Barstow.

My recreation on weekends was to go out and --I was a rock-hound -- I liked to get involved; we had a gem and mineral club on the base and I got involved in that. And that's when I got to come up into the Victor Valley. That's before we even met. We didn't know each other then.

My first trip to Apple Valley was probably in 1953. I used to come up here on the weekends and do a little desert surveying -- a little prospecting, for rocks only. I wasn't into gold or silver or anything like that. I used to pick the rocks up, the agate, and take it back to the base, to the club. We had tumblers, polishers and cutters and things of this nature, and we used to make jewelry -- belt buckles and things like that.

RDT: How did you meet Mrs. Griner?

JG: She worked at the base. She was working in civil service.

LTG: I was the base illustrator.

JG: She was in graphic arts and I was the senior enlisted adviser in the materiel division.

LTG: And they moved him into our office. They took a corner of our office and gave it to him, so I saw him every day.

JG: That was on my third assignment at Barstow. I was in the Marine Corps for 27 years so I had a lot of different types of duty assignments in my career. But I really liked the desert and I thought that one day if I ever got out of the Marine Corps I would like to settle in the high desert area, and virtually I did that.

She was a civil service worker and my first wife and I had just divorced. We talked every day for probably a year or so, then I asked her out.

LTG: I wouldn't go. He fixed steaks and he said, "The dog and I ate steak last night." I thought he was kidding. There again, I was the only woman in an all-male office.


HOME link

Home Link