The Barnes Historic Homestead near Thermo, Utah
Passage of the Enlarged Homestead Act of 1909 sent thousands of would-be farmers, many without any background in farming or any other rural pursuit, into the marginal lands of the Great Basin to claim a 320-acre parcel. Two such homesteads were established near Thermo, Utah, in the vicinity of the UNEV pipeline.
One of the homesteads, patented in 1917 by David Barnes, falls partly within the 250-foot-wide UNEV cultural resources survey corridor. The other homestead, also patented in 1917 by William Schaaf, was just outside the survey corridor and was not further investigated. Although inhabited by separate families who built separate houses and farm buildings, today the two abandoned homesteads amount to a single, essentially continuous archaeological site. Fieldwork conducted by WSA in 2009 focused exclusively on the David Barnes homestead. Archival research provided useful information to supplement the minimal excavation data.
The Barnes homestead is located in Beaver County, about 14 miles west of Minersville and about a half mile west of Thermo, an abandoned stop on the Union Pacific Railroad. David Barnes received a patent for a 320-acre parcel under the Enlarged Homestead Act of 1909, a revision of the Homestead Act of 1862 that doubled the acreage available to a claimant. Barnes built a house, barn, and related structures. He planted oats, rye, wheat, and alfalfa on his property, all without irrigation.
Making a living was difficult as indicated in the historical records. At three separate times (1919, 1922, and 1931) Barnes’s parcel was seized by the county for unpaid taxes. He was able to pay them and redeem the property in all cases, but this is a strong indication that he struggled, at least intermittently, to maintain an adequate income. Barnes also worked in a nearby business and on a railroad crew to increase his income. It is possible that he and his family never lived on the homestead after 1930 although family members retained ownership of portions of the property for several more decades.
Most of the homestead patents in the vicinity of Barnes Homestead were granted in the years 1913 to 1928, well after people in the United States had generally come to view homesteading as obsolete and impractical. This belief was an important factor in a widespread concern that the increasing urbanization of the United States was eroding traditional American culture founded in a rural lifestyle based on farming. An important response to this concern was the Back-to-the-Land movement, which advocated moving urban dwellers out of the cities and into the countryside where they could be self-sufficient farmers yet still benefit from the goods and services available in nearby cities. The marginal agricultural lands in the eastern Great Basin could not, however, support the desired rural lifestyles.
Archaeological work at the Barnes Homestead included pre-excavation site and artifact mapping, surface artifact collection, and excavation of identified features.
The artifacts recovered are associated primarily with construction and with food and beverage preparation and consumption. Complete and fragmentary bottles were found in some features, many of them medicine bottles. Other bottles were cosmetic ones, food containers, and soda and beer bottles. Many were machine-made, and some had maker’s marks on them, mostly from the United States. Metal construction tools such as nails, spikes, nuts, bolts, and washers were common as were larger tools such as hammer heads, saw blades, and padlocks.
In terms of chronology, the artifacts suggest that the site was occupied from about 1912 until 1939. Comparing the results of the fieldwork with the results of the archival research, some basic agreement between the two sources of information is evident. The documentary sources indicate that David Barnes first settled on his claim in 1913 and probably lived there at least until 1930, when he is listed in the federal census as living in Nevada. This is consistent with the year range of most datable artifacts at the site. Unfortunately, neither the documentary sources nor archaeological artifacts indicate whether Barnes continued to use the homestead after 1930 or if someone else, whether a family member or an unrelated tenant, took his place. The buildings are visible on a 1952 aerial photograph so it is possible that use continued, although it is not evident from examination of documentary sources or the limited archaeological record.
The archival research showed that David Barnes farmed long enough to fulfill the patent requirements for his homestead claim. Judging by what is known about homesteading in the general area, farming was never a reliable living for anyone without irrigation. Barnes clearly relied on outside work, most notably as a railroad laborer, and by 1930 his work with the railroad was important enough for him to move to Nevada, possibly abandoning his homestead for good.
For further information:
O’Mack, Scott, Alexa M. Smith, Brian R. McKee, Paul Farnsworth, and Brandon M. Gabler
2012 Data Recovery along the UNEV Pipeline—Utah Segment; Davis, Salt Lake, Tooele, Juab, Millard, Beaver, Iron, and Washington Counties, Utah: Volume IV. The Basin’s Edge: Historic Sites at the Margin of Utah’s Western Desert. Utah State Project No. U-11-SQ-1012bfmps(e); WSA Technical Report No. 2011-29. John C. Ravesloot, Scott O’Mack, Michael J. Boley, and Melanie A. Medeiros, general editors. 6 vols. William Self Associates, Tucson, Arizona, and Cedar City, Utah.
Complete references can be viewed in our Additional Information section.