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Nobles, John (c. 1880s-c. 1940s)

Map of the Coachella Valley
Image Ownership: Public Domain

John Nobles was a black pioneer who mysteriously came to own a large swath of land in the 1930s in the Coachella Valley, California. This happened at a time when the sale of land to blacks was prohibited by land deed restrictions.

The story of Nobles’ life, where he was from and why he came to Indio, California, has been lost, disappearing with family members and friends who have died or moved away. What documented history that has been found indicates he was considered an Indio pioneer who helped fellow black Americans settle in the area. He owned a ranch at a time when it was unheard of for blacks to own land, then he sold or rented parts of his property to other blacks so they could build homes and establish roots in the area.

The present site of the Coachella Valley Historic Museum was the former home of  Dr. Reynaldo Carreon, the area’s first doctor who opened a hospital in 1933. In the late 1930s the Carreon ranch was given to John Nobles and his wife Miranda. Thus began the creation of the John Nobles Ranch neighborhood. Along with white families, many blacks came to the Coachella Valley from Texas and Oklahoma during the Dust Bowl years.

Nobles apparently became the first black landholder in the valley. He grew cotton, peanuts and lettuce, and raised chickens, hogs and pigeons. Over the years, Nobles’ ranch evolved into a neighborhood with dozens of homes, apartments, three churches and a few stores. When John Nobles died in the late 1940s the ranch was left to his granddaughter who sold it a few years later. By the 1960s, homes and businesses began filling in the land between central Indio and the John Nobles Ranch. In 1988 an expansion of what was then the Indio Fashion Mall was approved and the city began efforts to purchase the homes of the “neighborhood.” The plan was met by so much opposition from black landowners that a lawsuit was filed against the city with the help of the local NAACP. In 1993 a settlement with the city was reached that provided replacement housing for homeowners and relocation benefits for renters.

In 1994 Date Avenue in the area was renamed John Nobles Avenue in memory of the Indio pioneer. In 2007, a mural of Nobles and his wife Miranda was painted on a water tower at Dr. Carreon Park. It hovers over the Desert Gardens neighborhood that was once the John Nobles Ranch.

Sources:
Xochiti Pena, “Black pioneer's legacy faded, but not forgotten,” Desert Sun, February 25, 2011; Xochiti Pena, “Neighborhood faces extinction,” Desert Sun, September 13, 2010.

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Independent Historian

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