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It Happened Here: Antelope Island, Utah - American Cowboy | Western Lifestyle - Travel - People

It Happened Here: Antelope Island, Utah

Utah's ranching heritage is preserved on the Great Salt Lake's largest island.
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Credit: Simple Insomnia

Credit: Simple Insomnia

In 1845, Kit Carson and John C. Fremont were the first non-natives to visit what is known today as Antelope Island State Park. This Great Salt Lake island is home to the Fielding Garr Ranch, where an 1848 homestead is not only the state’s oldest Anglo-American building that is still on its original foundation, but is also the oldest building that was lived in continuously for the longest amount of time. 

One year after Mormon pioneers reached the Salt Lake Valley in 1847, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints sent Fielding Garr—a widower with eight children in tow—to run a cattle and sheep operation on the more than 28,000 acres that make up the largest island on the Great Salt Lake (though, the island does become a peninsula when water levels are extremely low). Located near Salt Lake City, the island was home to numerous pronghorn, for which it was named and, at one point in its ranching history, sustained as many as 10,000 sheep.

The Garr home was built in 1848, near fresh-water springs that have hydrated people and wildlife alike for more than 1,000 years. Housing the family into the 1870s, the home was then acquired by John Dooly, Sr., who created the Island Improvement Company in 1884, which managed the island until the state of Utah completed its purchase of the land in 1981, also the final year the Garr home was inhabited. 

In addition to managing cattle and sheep, Dooly, recognizing the extreme extermination of bison across the American West, imported a herd of 12 in 1893, when there were fewer than 1,000 bison left in all of North America. Since then, the island’s herd has grown to around 600 head, and is one of the oldest publicly owned bison herds in the United States. The herd is also recognized as a heritage breed, with desirable traits important to maintaining foundation stock.

Pronghorn and bighorn sheep were reintroduced to the island in the ’90s to restore the populations of the island’s original wildlife, which include mule deer, coyote, and numerous species of birds and waterfowl that, for a few years, even included a pink flamingo that had escaped from a nearby zoo.

The park is open to the public year-round and is easily accessible from the Salt Lake area. Trails are horse-friendly and there are beaches, marinas, and old mines the public can visit, as well. The state maintains the Fielding Garr Ranch as a demonstrational ranch, and every October, it hosts a bison roundup that consistently makes Utah’s bucket list of things to do.

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