Max Kegley, Desert Rat

Max Kegley was a “Desert Rat”... which by definition is “one who habitually and of his own free will frequents the desert.” He was also an extraordinary photojournalist. His curiosity and passion for the state and citizens of Arizona knew no bounds.

Not much is known today about Max Kegley, but his published photographic essays. Loot of a Desert Rat and Rodeo, The Sport of the Cow Country, are important works. More than the sum of their parts, these books help us understand our heritage.

I admire this man and his work and feel it most appropriate to let his words tell the first part of his story. His photographic essays can tell you the rest.

"Arizona became my adopted state in November of 1926 when having foresaken the chill of a snowbound country, I stepped off the train into a land of sunshine. Palm trees silhouetted an early dawn and a mocking bird’s cheery song sounded a royal welcome. I felt sure that I had found a spot that I should enjoy always, and a decade has confirmed that belief.”
“Being a lover of out-of-doors, I have taken full advantage of my opportunity to be with nature. (A borrowed camera, and later my own photographic equipment, have added to my enjoyment of her wonders.)”
“It is my hope that this work may influence others to leave the beaten paths and to seek the beauty found by the by-ways that wind through this picturesque state.”
Kegley’s portrayal of Arizona and her people is straight forward and informed. Cowboys. Indians. Rodeo. The Round-up. Sheep Drives. Desert Life. Cacti and the wonders of Arizona’s landscape. Not much escaped his curiosity or eye.

The photos and captions below are from his book Rodeo, The Sport of Cow Country.

"Cowboy "trappings", hats, boots, chaps and other accessories, are a cowboy's greatest extravagance. Fifty bucks is not too much for a pair of boots he likes, but he usually rolls his own cigarettes."

"Celebrities of Rodeo. Left to right: Fritz Traun, World's Champion, 1940, Paul Carney, World's Champion, 1939, and Burel Mulkey, World's Champion, 1938. They are great pals. With no rodeo scheduled for a few weeks, they were at Paul Carney's place roping calves and matching their ponies for side bets."

"If the Judges were looking at this second, G.W. Cox would score well - his spurs are deep in the bronc's shoulders."

"Fritz Traun stopped at the soft drink stand back of the chutes. He is seriously studying the program and not much aware of this feminine admirer."

Arizona Highways selected some of Kegley’s cacti photographs to use when they first decided to reproduce color photographs. Loot of a Desert Rat was self-published in 1938. Rodeo, The Sport of the Cow Country was published by Hastings House in 1942. His work can be found on many postcards depicting the Southwest.

Portrait of Max Kegley: Frank Coffin
All other photography: Max Kegley
Max Kegley quotes from Loot of a Desert Rat


  1. This is a fine blog. I enjoyed reading it and looking at these great photographs.

  2. Mr. Davis, pleease send me your email address. I am an Arizona historian looking for some Max Kegley photos to use in a scholarly article. Thank you.
    Mona McCroskey