The Swett Family Homestead

In the late 1960s, urban sprawl was taking place across America. Yet Oscar and Emma Swett chose to continue their simple life on the homestead they had carved out over fifty years before.

The Swett Homestead was established in Greendale, Utah at a time when few eligible spots for homesteading were left. Oscar Swett and Emma Eliza Oziek were among the last generation of homesteaders in the United States. Living in the mountains near the modern day Flaming Gorge Reservoir, the Swett family led a life of hard work surrounded by rugged beauty. In their lifetime, Oscar and Emma watched dirt trails turn into paved roads, grazing land turn into national forest, and wagon rides turn into Chevy pick-up truck runs.

In 1909, Oscar’s mother filed a homestead claim on 151 acres for him since he was not old enough to do so himself. Oscar filed for another 9 acres in November of 1915 to round it out to the 160 acres that was common at that time. Oscar and Emma were married in 1912 and initially only spent their summers on their new property. As they cleared more land and established a more permanent home, they began to stay on the homestead year round.

All three of the Swett family homes can still be seen today. They were built close together and increased in size to accommodate their growing family. The first home was an abandoned one-room cabin in Mckee Draw that Oscar disassembled and then reassembled at its current location. When their fourth child was born in 1919, Oscar recruited family and friends to help build the two-bedroom log cabin next door. In 1929, Oscar built the five-room house to accommodate himself, Emma, and the six children they then had. This house would later come to be called the “white house” when it was painted all white several years later. Oscar and Emma had nine children total with the last baby, Wilda, coming in 1936 when Emma was forty-four years old.

Every member of the Swett family was expected to work a variety of jobs regardless of their age or gender. The two main sources of income for the family came from selling lumber and cattle. In 1921, Oscar bought a steam-powered saw mill to make the preparation of lumber easier. But before he could put it to good use, the boiler on the mill exploded and killed an elderly man from Manila who had come to show him how to use it. The next year, Oscar bought a water-powered saw mill and was able to collect lumber from trees marked by a Forest Service ranger in the Ashley National Forest. Oscar described this process of collecting lumber, “That was quite an experience. You go up this mountain [south of the homestead] and get you a load of logs on there and start off and there was no stop ‘til you hit the bottom. Just as hard as the team would run. There was places where it would slack a little. But you could never stop.”

As the Ashley National Forest expanded and the Flaming Gorge Dam was built, the Swett’s homesteading way of life came to a close. Land that had once been used for grazing cattle, and forests that had once been used for collecting lumber, were now off limits. On November 29, 1957, neighbor Orson Burton sold his share of the cattle business to Oscar and left the Swetts as the last remaining original settlers of Greendale. In September 1968, after a day of working in the fields and shooting a porcupine that had been gnawing on a post of the house, Oscar Swett passed away in bed. In 1970, Emma sold the ranch. She passed away in May 1972 in Vernal, Utah. The U.S. Forest Service bought the ranch and turned it into a museum that same year.

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