Barker Ranch (Death Valley National Park)

Barker Ranch

 

In the late 1930s Bluch and Helen Thomason, a retired couple from Los Angeles desired the opportunity to cut ties with urban civilization, and relocate to the desert. By placing a few mining claims up Goler Wash in the Panamint Mountain, the couple was able to build a home on their claim. It is highly speculated that the mining activities surrounding the Thomason’s had little to do with mining, but was rather a way for them to obtain land to live on, doing only the required annual assay work.  The Thomason’s built a small cabin, along with several out buildings. Electricity was supplied by a windmill, and generator; while water was pumped in from a nearby spring.

After Bluch’s death in the mid 1950s, the ranch was sold to James and Arlene Barker. The Barkers had relocated to Los Angeles from Oklahoma, their purchase of the Barker Ranch was for recreational use. To accommodate the size of their family, they built onto the main cabin, and installed additional out buildings.  The Barkers also leased Indian Ranch, which is located several miles north of Ballarat in Panamint Valley.

Despite the ranch’s peaceful past, Barker Ranch is most well known for the “family” that moved in, in 1968. Charles Manson, and his merry band of followers descended upon Myers Ranch (located a quarter of a mile above Barker Ranch), and later the Barker Ranch after having learned of the ranches from Catherine “Cappy” Gillies; one of the Manson Girls. While many report that Arlene Barker was the grandmother of Gillies, this is not true. Gillies’s grandmother was Barbara Myers, the owner of the Myers Ranch. Arlene Baker, would later allow the Manson “family” to stay at her ranch, in exchange for a Beach Boy’s gold record, which was given to Manson by Brian Wilson.

Barker Ranch - Barker Ranch main house after the fire - little remains except for stone walls and concrete slabs.

Barker Ranch – Barker Ranch main house after the fire – little remains except for stone walls and concrete slabs.

 

Barker Ranch - Barker Ranch main house after the fire - little remains except for stone walls and concrete slabs.

Barker Ranch – Barker Ranch main house after the fire – little remains except for stone walls and concrete slabs.

 

Barker Ranch - Barker Ranch main house after the fire - little remains except for stone walls and concrete slabs.

Barker Ranch – Barker Ranch main house after the fire – little remains except for stone walls and concrete slabs.

 

Barker Ranch - Charles Manson was found hiding in a cabinet directly beside this shower basin.

Barker Ranch – Charles Manson was found hiding in a cabinet directly beside this shower basin.

 

It was here that the Tate-Labianca murders were masterminded, and it also where Charles Manson and his “family” were arrested on October 12th, 1969.  Interesting enough, the arrest wasn’t on suspicion of murder, but rather for setting a National Park Service tractor on fire in Racetrack Valley as well as suspected automobile theft. Manson almost escaped arrest on that day; the Park Service, Inyo County Sheriff Departments, and California Highway Patrol thought that they had rounded everyone up, but Manson was hidden away in a small cabinet in the Barker Ranch bathroom.  One of the officers returned to the house to use the restroom when he noticed a tuft of hair sticking out of the cabinet.  He ordered Manson out of the cabinet.

Charles Manson arriving for court in Independence, CA

Charles Manson arriving for court in Independence, CA

 

 

Manson and his “family” were marched down Goler Wash, where they were hauled off to jail in Independence, CA. It wasn’t long after that the pieces came together, pointing the Tate-Labianca murders at Manson and his followers.

In May of 2008, the police returned to Barker Ranch, after being lead to believe that up to four bodies may be buried behind the ranch. The team spent the better part of a week digging, and sifting through the dirt for any evidence, only to come up empty-handed.

One year later, May 2009, a fire burned down the main structure at the Barker Ranch.  The National Park Service learned of the burning via an internet message board. It is speculated that it burned sometime between May 3rd – May 5th, the cause of the fire has never been made known.

Today the stone walls are all that are left of the main Barker Ranch building, the layout can still be made out due to recognizable characteristics such as the sink, tub, fireplace, and concrete sitting area. The most significant still standing relic is a nice sized one room wooden structure, the construction date is unknown. Other small out buildings on the ranch are in a state of disarray.

The Myers Ranch, a quarter of a mile up the road remains private property.

Barker Ranch - The remaining one room, wooden structure.

Barker Ranch – The remaining one room, wooden structure.

 

Barker Ranch - Random out buildings / coops around the ranch.

Barker Ranch – Random out buildings / coops around the ranch.

 

 

About the author

Jim Mattern

Jim is a scapegoat for the NPS, an author, adventurer, photographer, radio personality, guide, and location scout. His interests lie in Native American and cultural sites, ghost towns, mines, and natural wonders in the American Deserts.

17 Comments

  • That should more properly be Myers (or Myers’ if you prefer but Barker Ranch is not Barker’s Ranch) Ranch if the owner’s name is Myers. Myer’s would be correct if the owner’s name was Myer.

  • What does the sign say out at the gate in the first picture? I can read most of it, but some I’m guessing at.

  • It’s too bad it came to such an ignoble end. It looks like a beautiful place, I could see living there..

  • I visited the ranch May 3rd,1991.
    The sign back then said trespassers will be shot.
    Still remember a cow skull with a candle on it over the fireplace.
    A pentagram was drawn on the wall above it.The house was still intact with the kitchen having pots and pans still. Started getting creeped out after a awhile and wanted to get the hell out. The school bus was full of old clothes too.Glad we got to see a piece of history before it was burned down.Always wanted to go back though.Still might try.

    • Yep, I saw that same sign too. Off on the hill to the left of the main gate… overlooking the ranch. I know exactly what you’re talking about.

  • Headed there in two weeks…can’t wait! How bad was the road last time you went? Would any hi-cleraance 4×4 be ok?

  • I visited Barker Ranch in 1986, driving a four cylinder Isuzu Trooper up from the floor of Death Valley and out Golar Wash. Probably my first serious 4WD excursion. I picked up a large (cow, burrow?) vertebra at the ranch that still creeps out my wife. If you want to read an interesting book check out Desert Shadows: A True Story of the Charles Manson Family in Death Valley by the man who was the Superintendent of Death Valley National Monument at the time Charles Manson was running around there.

    • I drove up it in a Chrysler LeBaron. I kid you not. 30 years ago & still one of THE great memories I have of me & my father together. Good times.

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