Twentynine Palms Historical Society
29 Palms, California
What is now thought of as just a drive-in theater was once the home and a complex of industries for the William Q. "Bill" Smith family, it provided multiple services to early homesteaders, services that continued for decades.
Bill Smith was a Nebraskan. He had gone to Los Angeles in 1921 and there heard that government land was opening at Twentynine Palms. This desert was an unlikely place for a ranch; there was no deep black soil, no water. But persistence and hard work created an outstanding landmark homestead.
Bill came here in 1923, picked out a quarter-section near Mesquite dry lake, where water was close to the surface. Younger brother Harry came in 1924, filed on land near Bill's. Then Bill did some prospecting in Mexico before returning in 1926, to file on a different place, present Smith Ranch.
In 1930 Bill married a nearby homesteader's daughter, Thelma Mead. Their firstborn, Raymond, became the first non-indian native of Twentynine Palms, and the second, Gayle, the first girl. There followed Nona, Del Dee, Dessie and David. All participated in ranch work and ranch fun; their home was a mecca for those coming for water, for swimming in the reservoir, for showers, ice cream and snacks. Each Smith child had responsibility in family jobs—water delivery, dairy, movie projection, ice cream parlor, snack bar, trailer park management, drive-in theater. Expansion matched a growing population.
Temporary school classes were taught in one of the buildings. The big hall built there by Bill and Clint Underhill (later acquired by Smiths) was used for school gym, skating rink, square dances and dramatic productions.
First homestead days included a lot of cooperation. The Smith well rig was about the first in the area. Bill and Harry drilled a number of wells for others. Adding farm equipment, Bill could trade clearing work (a homestead requirement) for help with his own work.
The "big snow" of January 1949 covered the 29 Palms area for several days.
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