Posted by: ushistoryfiles | May 2, 2009

Bill Keys shoots Worth Bagley

In Joshua Tree National Park there is an interesting marker along the trail out to the Wall Street Stamp Mill.


On May 11, 1943 a rancher and miner named Bill Keys shot and killed his neighbor Worth Bagley.  Both characters are shrouded in a bit of mystery.  Keys was from either Nebraska or Russia depending upon the account you read.  He moved into the area in 1910 or so.  Bagley moved into the area in 1938 and was an ex-law enforcement officer who might have been mentally unstable.  He developed a reputation of being a bit of a loose cannon.  A dispute developed between the two (either over water or a roadway that passed near Bagley’s property, depending upon the version you read).  Allegedly, Bagley appraoched Keys with a revolver one day.  Keys reached for his rifle and waited for Bagley to fire the first shot.  Bagley did and missed and Keys shot him.  Keys turned himself in and was sentenced to 10 years.  He served 5 1/2 of them and was realeased from prison moving back to the Desert Queen Ranch.  Keys passed away in 1963.



  1. Bill Keys moved from Russia to Nebraska. He shot Worth Bagley in a dispute over a road that crossed over a corner of Bagley’s property. The road had been there long before Bagley bought his property and used frequently by Keys. Keys, going to check on his cattle and fix a pump used in watering his cattle, saw a sign in the road warning Keys to stay off of Bagley’s property. Bagley shot at Keys when Keys got out to look at the sign, but missed. Keys retrieved his rifle from the car and killed Bagley with 3 shots fired. Bill Keys died in 1969, not 1963.

    • Yes, Frances passed away in 1963, Bill in 1969. I confused the two. As for his birthplace, he did tell people in latter years that he was born in Russua, but since Art Kidwell in Ambush: The Story of Bill Keys put it this way, “His actual birthplace is still a matter of speculation”…therefore I declined to state definitively that he was born in Russia.

  2. Thank you for the information! We hiked passed the stone during a recent visit to the park and were curious. Do you happen to have any information on who placed it there?

    • The information I have is that Keys himself put the marker up shortly he was released from prison.

  3. […] mines.  Bill Keys would get into a dispute with a fellow named Worth Bagley which I posted about here.  Keys also built the Desert Queen Ranch which I have not been to despite 2 more visits to Joshua […]

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