The Fielding Garr Ranch - Antelope Island State Park
Information Courtesy Of Utah State Parks - Back to Utah Historical Sites
The Garr Ranch is located at Garr Springs, one of the strongest and most consistent of the 40 springs on Antelope Island. Both indigenous people and wildlife used this water source long before Fielding Garr built the ranch. Even today, bison and deer can by seen at the springs. Archaeological findings have shown that there has been human activity at the springs for at least 1,000 years.
The first permanent structure at this site was a small log cabin built in 1848 by Fielding Garr. Garr had been assigned by the Mormon Church to establish a ranch on the island as a stronghold for managing the church tithing herds. Within two years, Garr had expanded the ranch compound to include the adobe ranch house and stone corrals. The ranch was continually inhabited from that time until 1981.
The Mormon Church operated the ranch until the mid-1870s. During the era, ranching operations encompassed the entire island. The church herds supported the Perpetual Emigration Fund, which assisted Mormon Church members from Europe in making the trek across the Great Plains. In 1869, the railroad came to Utah, and with it came the first federal surveys of the land. Because the only improvements on the island were around the ranch itself, the Federal Government opened the rest of the island to homesteading. By the turn of the century, most of the homesteaders had failed to prove their claims. John Dooly Sr., and enterprising businessman and rancher, purchased the entire island at a price of one million dollars, and it became the home of his Island Improvement Company. Under Dooly's management, twelve bison were introduced to the island at a time when the bison population in North America numbered less than 1,000 head. While some philanthropists may have been working to prevent the extinction of the species, we think John Dooly was working to profit by raising the rare species for commercial hunting opportunity.
The ranching operation continued uninterrupted through several owners. Just after the turn of the century, the focus of the ranch turned to sheep. Under the direction of John Dooly Jr., the sheep operation expanded to more than 10,000 sheep to become one of the largest and most industrialized ranching efforts in the western United States. When sheep ranching became unprofitable in the 1950s due to failing wool market, the operation turned again to cattle. The island ranch continued to function as part of the largest commercial cattle operations in the state until the island became a state park in 1981.
When you visit the ranch, watch for evidence of these many changes over the 150 years of history. Bring a lunch and stay a while and explore the old buildings and enjoy the beautiful park the sits to the south of the ranch.