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Living history: The past comes to life at Antelope Island's Fielding Garr Ranch

By Ray Boren

For the Deseret News

Published: Thursday, May 26 2011 6:16 p.m. MDT

Although history abounds all around Antelope Island, many artifacts have been gathered in a portion of the centrally located barn, in the orientation area and museum.

One of Shelley's favorite rescued items is a rusted, bullet-pocked sign found on the shoreline, which like the buffalo robe now hangs on an inside wall.

"STOP," it says in insistent capital letters. "NO TRESPASSING. THIS MEANS YOU. Island Ranching Co."

The Island Improvement Co., later the Island Ranching Co., owned the island for almost a hundred years, under men like John Dooly Sr., Frederick Meyer, John White, Ernest Bamberger and John Dooly Jr. The ranch raised cattle and sheep — by the 1930s, about 10,000 of the latter, making this "the largest sheep ranch west of the Mississippi," Shelley says.

Sheep and cattle were usually not on the island at the same time, he adds. The company had other ranching operations at Castle Rock, in Echo Canyon; and Skull Valley, to the southwest; plus stockyards in Payson. Sheep were brought to Antelope at lambing and shearing times, cattle for grazing in other seasons. The ranch had an innovative mechanized stage for sheep shearing that was part of the barn.

By the 1970s, ownership had passed to Colorado-based Anschutz Corp. In 1967, the state of Utah bought Antelope Island's northernmost beaches, 2,000 acres, for a state park. It purchased the other 26,240 acres in 1981, giving the general public access the island's wonders.

Well, except for a decade after 1983, when the flooding Great Salt Lake damaged the Davis County Causeway, originally built west of Syracuse in 1969. The seven-mile, two-lane causeway was rebuilt and reopened — thus reviving the park — in 1993. And the east-shore road to Fielding Garr ranch was paved in 1999, making it a more accessible destination.

Today, tour guides and the artifact-packed museum and ranch house all give Fielding Garr Ranch visitors plenty to puzzle over as they explore. Both informational placards and guides pose questions that spark a quest for answers involving visitors young and not so young.

For example:

Can you find the farm machine called the Jayhawk hay stacker in the ranch compound?

On one wall in the orientation museum is a colorful advertisement for a "Jayhawk" hay stacker, manufactured in Kansas, as some folks might guess from its name. In the print, a boy and a girl in rural garb of a century ago watch as two workmen and a bright red contraption lift hay onto a stack.

Shelley points out that an oversized, heavier than usual (and therefore virtually childproof) scrapbook below the ad includes a similar black-and-white photograph taken at Garr Ranch.

So, the historian says, see if you can find the Jayhawk hay stacker somewhere on the ranch property. (A clue: It isn't far away.)

Can you find various materials used to build the ranch over time?

At the ranch, builders used timber and native stone for walls. Then, as in construction of the house, they made adobe brick (often with horse hair mixed in, to give the brick strength and consistency — see if you can espy it in places). Later came concrete and cinder block.

The east-facing front of the historic ranch house, with views toward a spring, a grove of trees, the lake and the Wasatch Mountains, offers excellent samples of the materials.

Can you see them and trace the passage of time at the Fielding Garr Ranch?

The earliest walls, on the south side, were built of adobe, from bricks cured in the open air here on the island. (Schoolchildren sometimes get a chance to make their own bricks near the stable — with varying success.) A kitchen was added to the north, using adobe bricks. A clearly defined but interwoven border separates the two eras. Scrutinize and touch them, Shelley says.

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