From 'Fanning the Embers', published 1971, Range Rider Reps, Miles City, Montana
By Valeria Frank
Joe, Clara and Valeria Barley
Joe Barley and prime coyote pelts
Joe Barley was born on March 6, 1886, to Matthew and Gertrude Barley on Sand Creek, where his parents had homesteaded. Now known as the Thurlow Community, it was then a part of Custer County.
A one-room school built for the Barley and neighboring Kennedy children provided early formal education. Later the youngsters crossed the Yellowstone River and went to school in Rosebud.
Joe was needed at home to help provide for the pioneer family. At the age of ten, Joe went herding sheep with his 12 year old brother Matt. They lived in a tent by themselves with the sheep and learned to live off the land. In those early years Joe learned the rudiments of sheep raising; lambing, shearing and docking, by caring for his father's sheep.
Besides protecting the sheep, trapping provided furs and bounty for income. The boys were successful enough to enable their father to pay the taxes with the proceeds of their trapping for several years.
Joe Barley's first employment was shearing sheep for Charles Danforth at the mouth of Bull Creek. His wages always went to his father for the family. Joe became an excellent shot with a rifle at a running target. His brother Matt was a crack shot with a pistol.
One of the earliest memories of Joe Barley was watching the cavalry march by his parent's homestead near Sand Creek. The front of the caravan was out of sight before the end came into view. They were on their way from Ft. Keogh to Ft. Ellis with supplies and ammunition wagons.
In 1907, Joe filed on his own homestead which was to become the headquarters of the Barley Ranch. All his brothers and sisters homesteaded also. Later it was Joe, John and Frank who entered into a partnership in sheep industry known as The Barley Brothers. John died of pneumonia in 1935. Joe and Frank continued operation of the ranch until its sale to Western Cattle Co. in 1960.
The brothers ran sheep on Sand Creek, Louie & Scottie, Sunday Creek, northwest of Miles City.
Joe envisioned and built an effective flood irrigation system. His plan worked so successfully that during the 1930's, Frank Barnum used it to prepare his college thesis. Large meadows on Sand Creek were cleaned of greasewood by using a grub hoe, horse and scraper. Every bend in the creek had a dam and a headgate to force the water onto meadows. Whenever it rained along the upper Sand Creek enough for the creek to run, the lower meadows could be flood irrigated. The first dikes were built using a wheelbarrow and shovel. It was many years before the first power dirt mover was used; a 30 h.p. crawler tractor.
Eventually there was enough money and equipment to build a big storage reservoir to ensure a second crop of alfalfa. The water covered 56 acres. In the winter, large blocks of ice were cut and hauled to the ranch to be stored in a deep cistern which provided year around "ice water" as well as served as a gigantic ice box for food storage.
In 1916, Joe built and operated for some years a garage in Rosebud. The building now serves as the high school gymnasium. John bought the sales yards in Miles City and held an interest until his death in 1935. Frank built shearing pens on the Little Porcupine Creek.
In 1918, the last of the wolves were taken from the ranch. There were 18 grey prairie wolves shot. Six of the skins were selected to be made into a heavy robe which exists today. It is of matching hides, white fur with grey tips.
On Aug. 25, 1930, Joe Barley married Clara Alice Coleman Richardson, a widowed school teacher with two small boys, Willis and James. In December 1932, their only child, Valeria Clara, was born.
Joe proved to have an uncanny ability at finding coyote dens. One of the single largest dens found contained one male, two females, and eighteen pups. They claimed $2 bounty each!
The sheep business proved profitable until World War 11. It was then almost impossible to hire the needed help. At one time there were 13 sheep wagons being used in the operation of the Barley Ranch. Al Drescher, Rosebud carpenter, was kept busy all one winter building sheep wagons for the Barley's.
Then cattle became the' mainstay. Lands were traded, bought and sold until there was one block extending for miles along Sand Creek.
During the 1920's Joe became very ill. The only food he would touch was oranges. Knowing he was seriously ill, as soon as he felt could make the journey, he boarded the train for Rochester. The diagnosis was appendicitis. After the operation, the doctors told him the appendix had ruptured and healed itself, and that not eating had certainly saved his life.
The only other confinement Joe Barley had during his working years was due to tick fever. He became sick at the sheep camp, prior to 1930, and walked the 12 miles to the home ranch. Fever forced him to drink from polluted water holes along the way. He lost nearly all his body hair. Several times during later years, there were reoccurrences of the fever. Some doctors said his was a most unusual case to have the disease a second and third time.
Life was never easy for the early day stockman. The success of the Barley Ranch was certainly due to much hard work and perseverance.
After retiring and selling the ranch and stock, Mr. Barley lived with his youngest brother, Martin, on the home ranch that their father, Matthew Barley, had established. Joe was a frequent visitor at the Ingham Hotel in Miles City, especially during the coldest part of winter. He always returned to the prairie life he loved.
Joe Barley passed away on June 25, 1968, at the age of 82.