Barker Ranch

Thomason/Barker Ranch is a five-acre property within Death Valley National Park. This historic site is located off of Goler Wash in the southern Panamint Range in the southwestern portion of the park. Barker Ranch is commonly referenced as being the location that mass murderer Charles Manson was arrested after the Tate – La Bianca killings in 1969.

This image, taken circa 1940, shows the main residence, workshop, retaining walls, and ornamental vegetation. Note the windmill located behind the workshop. View north (DEVA collection) - NPS
This image, taken circa 1940, shows the main residence, workshop, retaining walls, and ornamental vegetation. Note the windmill located behind the workshop. View north (DEVA collection) – NPS

Thomason Era (1937 – 1956)

In 1937, Blouch Thomason, a retired Los Angeles County detective, recorded three quartz lode mining claims named
“Tommy Group,” “Tommy Group No. 2,” and “Tommy Group No. 3” and a mill site located. The original structures consisting of three tent shelters is built in 1939.

In 1940, major improvements are made to the land. Thomason built the main ranch house, windmill, workshop, chicken coop, corral, fences, entry road, fences, water conveyance system, and planted ornamental and fruit-bearing vegetation. He also built a single rock building for “shop and storage” at the ranch. Later, a guestroom and garage are added to the shop. The Thomas ranch is inhabited full time by Blouch and Helen Thomason. They ceased mining operations due to poor yield

In 1950, Blouch passes away while visiting relatives in the Trinity Alps. Following his death, Helen moves away from the ranch, but still maintained the property as a vacation retreat.

Barker Era ( 1956 – 1971 )

James and Arlene Barker, from Oklahoma, purchased the Thomason Ranch, in 1955. In 1956, the Barkers recorded the “Chespa Mill Site” with the Inyo County Recorder’s Office. The Barkers built a 5,000 gallon water reservoir ( swimming pool ) and a 14 foot by 20 foot bunkhouse, sometime during 1957.

In 1968, Arlene Barker gave Charles Manson permission to occupy the Ranch in exchange for a Beach Boys Gold Album. After Manson’s arrest, the Barkers continued to maintain the property. In 1971, the Barkers ceased filing mining reports with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) on the family’s mining activity. The land (and improvements) then reverted to government control. In 1976, the ranch became part of the California Desert Conservation Area.

In 1994, Barker Ranch is incorporated into Death Valley National Park.

Manson Era ( 1968 – 1969 )

Barker Ranch - The building complex was heavily vegetated with trees, with a sparsely planted understory. Note the Manson bus in the left hand side of the image. View northwest, 1969 (DEVA collection). - NPS
Barker Ranch – The building complex was heavily vegetated with trees, with a sparsely planted understory. Note the Manson bus in the left hand side of the image. View northwest, 1969 (DEVA collection). – NPS

The Thomason / Barker Ranch history was stained forever, in October 1968, when Charles Manson obtained permission from Arlene Barker to occupy the ranch. Paul Watkins, a Manson Family Member, stated the Mason agreed to watch over the place in exchange for maintenance and work on the Ranch. Manson and his band of opted to stay and Barker Ranch over the Myers Ranch which is located about .5 miles away. A total of 19 Manson followers performed a phased relocation to the property over time. Manson family members are known to drive to Los Angeles or Las Vegas to bring in supplies.

On October 10 and 12, 1969, CHP officer Jim Pursell and the INYO Sheriffs Department along with California Highway Patrol and NPS Rangers raided Barker Ranch. Actually, they raided the area around Barker Ranch. A raid is executed in search of vandals of earth moving equipment which repaired damage to the playa in Racetrack Valley. Over the coarse to several days, the task forced hunted down Family members who were scattered about the area. The diminutive Manson is arrested when found hiding under the sink in the bathroom at Barker Ranch.

To this day, Barker Ranch is the subject of investigation into the crimes of Charles Manson.

Barker Ranch Map

NPS

Barker Ranch was built by “recreational ranchers” who moved to the desert to enjoy the solitude and simplicity of living far from civilization. Bluch and Helen Thomason moved into the area the the late 1930s to try their hand at gold mining. Around 1940, the constructed a small stone cabin and outbuilding, with electricity. provided by a wind mill and generator, and drinking water from a nearby spring

In 1955, the ranch was sold to Jim and Arlene Barker, who moved to the desert from Oklahoma. To accommodate their family gatherings, the Barkers enlarged the house and constructed more building.

The ranch became infamous when Charles Manson and members of the “Manson Family” were captured at the site. Family members attracted the attention of local law enforcement when they were suspected to burning a piece of road maintenance equipment. Detectives later discovered that the vandalism suspects were responsible for a series of murders in the Los Angeles Area.

Barker Ranch became part of Death Valley National Park in 1994. Tragically, the main house and workshop were destroyed by an accidental fire in May 2009.

National Park Service – Barker Ranch

Sources

3 Replies to “Barker Ranch”

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