Explore Palm Springs: Oliver S. McKinney

Built a rig to tap into desert's aquifer system.

Renee Brown History 0 Comments


Oliver S. McKinney found a way to tap into the water source that helped the Greater Palm Springs area flourish.

Born and raised in Canyon City, Colo, McKinney fought in Cuba under Teddy Roosevelt as a Rough Rider during the Spanish American War. He relocated to San Jacinto, Calif., where he met his wife, Rose.

He and his family established a homestead on 160 acres in lower Little Morongo Canyon, living under a canvas until their house was finished. McKinney constructed an apparatus that made it possible for him to dig a well to supply water to his ranch. Eventually word spread that the steam-operated rig he built could dig down deep and tap into the water layered in the deep aquifers running throughout much of the desert floor. 

The family moved to Palm Springs after McKinney was guaranteed work by rancher Raymond Cree, who was also Riverside Superintendent of Schools. Cree may have had another motive. McKinney's five children brought the number of students up to the minimum necessary to establish the Palm Springs Community School run by Riverside County. 

McKinney established the Desert Nursery, and transplanted many giant Arizona Saguaro cacti which he shipped to places throughout the United States. He also was able to transplant native palm trees long before the present heavy equipment was developed.

McKinney died on Sunday, June 24, 1956, in the Covina Hospital after a two-year bout with cancer.

There is a multitude of ways to learn more about Palm Springs, which turned 81 in 2019.

One of the more intriguing methods is by exploring the city’s history.

The Palm Springs Historical Society is located at 221 S. Palm Canyon Drive. Visit www.pshistoricalsociety.org for more information.

Leave a Reply