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Setting the Stage

By the mid-1840s, the phrase "manifest destiny" had been coined to describe the notion that Americans must expand throughout the North American continent. During that decade, some quarter-million Americans trekked to Oregon and California. The West became a symbol of prosperity, adventure, and independence. In 1862 Congress passed the Homestead Act, which provided western land to people with the ambition to move and build new lives. By 1900, approximately 400,000 families had claimed land under the provisions of the Act.

Desert areas in California, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, and Arizona were among the last places homesteaders settled. Those who chose the marginal lands of these desert areas lived an "old-fashioned" lifestyle while many of the previously settled places were becoming urbanized. Over time, however, hard work and determination turned some small desert farms into large, successful ranches. From 1917 unti1 1969, homesteader Bill Keys lived on one such ranch in the Mojave Desert near Twentynine Palms, California. Keys and his family are particularly representative of the hard work and ingenuity it took to settle and prosper in the Mojave Desert. The family's home, known as Keys Ranch, today is located within the boundaries of Joshua Tree National Park.

 

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