Life on the Swett Ranch Homestead
Imagine a time before electricity when your house is a cabin in the woods; it is heated with wood; lamps are powered by coal oil; your water comes from the creek on your property; your bathroom is an outhouse across the yard; your mode of transportation is horse and wagon. Now imagine that the closest town for supplies is forty miles away, a mere two day journey both ways. Today that would be like driving from Los Angeles to Dallas and back. Your closest neighbor lives about a mile away? How would you survive in an isolated area such as this? What would you do for food, for clothing, for income, for entertainment? The Swett Ranch is one such example of what happened in these exact situations. It is a capsule of frontier life projected into modern times.
Swett Ranch was mostly self-sufficient: Oscar and Emma grew most of the things they needed, used the resources around them for others, and traded for the items that they could not provide for themselves. They operated the ranch by horse and manpower for nearly 60 years, long after trucks and tractors were available. Oscar cut timber, ran a sawmill, and constructed the cabins, outbuildings, and fences on the property from native logs or lumber. He would sell lumber in Vernal. In the blacksmith shop he built and repaired the metal items needed on the ranch. Oscar also built toys and sleds for his children.
Emma’s role in establishing a successful homestead cannot be minimalized. Daily she cared for the milk cow, pigs and chickens, cooked, canned, gardened, kept house, hauled water, washed clothes, sewed, and mothered the children. She was often responsible for running the ranch alone for days at a time, while Oscar was away hauling timber or tending stock. Emma grew potatoes, carrots, cabbage, and beans in the garden; wheat for chickens and oats for horses, made jam from wild berries (elderberries, chokecherries, and serviceberries), and canned fruit purchased from town. Laundry was done with a bucket and scrub board. Emma made the children’s clothes while they were young. Cotton flour sacks were used to make dresses and shirts. Wool was used to knit stockings, which were used as mittens in the winter.
Beef production was the primary concern of the ranch. At its peak, the ranch was stocked with 200 head of cattle. National Forest land surrounding the ranch served as a summer range. Winter range was north of the ranch, down on the Green River. Harsh winters forced cattle onto feedlots in December while mild winters allowed them to stay on the range until March. Cattle were fed hay from natural grass that was irrigated. The Swetts raised chickens, hogs, and sheep for food and also ate deer and elk. Since cattle was their main cash crop, they did not eat beef.