Murray's Ranch:
Apple Valley's African-American Dude Ranch
Page 11


Nolie finally found an African-American buyer for his ranch in 1955. Pearl Bailey and her husband Louis Bellson stopped by Murray's one day for a brief stay and they fell in love with California. They wanted to buy a small place, but Nolie managed to convince them to purchase the ranch, even though it was somewhat run down and was not what the Bellsons had in mind.

Picture of Pearl Bailey

Pearl explains how it all came about in one of her auto biographies, The Raw Pearl. She said she had finished a five-month show in New York, and she and Louis felt they needed a vacation. They took a trip, a driving tour with no particular destination in mind; and when they reached Kingman, Arizona, they had to choose whether to go to Las Vegas or California. They opted for California, and wended their way through the desert to Victorville, where they decided to stay overnight at Murray's Ranch:

When we got to Victorville, I asked at the Texaco station whether there was a place called Murray's Dude Ranch around Apple Valley. I remembered it from USO days. Well, everyone knew and loved Mr. Murray, so the man gave us directions and off we went.

When we finished following those directions we were sitting on top of a hill. There was one family up there. We began all over. It was hot and we were hungry. We were about to give up and return to what we called civilization when the place l oomed into sight. There under a tree sat this wonderful man, Mr. Murray, that we were to grow to love as a friend and to cry for at his ending.

The Bellsons only planned on staying one day, but their visit stretched to three, and they then determined that California was the place for them. The only other boarders at Murray's at the time were two musicians, who said the "Boss," which is what everyone called Nolie, wanted the Bellsons to buy the ranch. Pearl and Louis first drove around looking for a small place to buy, but when they returned Nolie approached them and said that he was getting ready to retire, and he wanted to sell 35 of his 40 acres, keeping just five acres "to die on."

After some negotiating, the Bellsons agreed to buy the ranch. The next day, Pearl recalled, Nolie walked up the slope to his huge swimming pool, "and he wept," and when they went to the bank, she thought even the people there wept a bit when the paper was signed. "Mr. Murray was an institution," she said.

Photo of Louis Bellson

Nolie no doubt thought he had found the perfect buyer when he sold the ranch to Pearl Bailey, because she professed an affinity for children and a desire to work with them. In a 1956 newspaper interview, Pearl elaborated on her motivations for buying the ranch. She told of how she remembered the Murrays and their ranch from a 1943 USO tour, and the complete relaxation there, away from telephones and the big cities. She also talked about her ambition to be a teacher:

When I get a chance I'm determined to go back to school, win my diploma and be able to teach children. But in the meantime I'm hoping eventually to make this ranch into a great big nursery for children.

So Nolie believed he had found someone who would continue providing a home for black children, where they could grow up in a wholesome and loving environment. However, Pearl never did carry out her plan to accommodate youngsters at the ranch.

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