Old West Saviors

The Hand Saw Man

Gary Barker makes his mark saving a Dakota Territory homestead cabin.


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Gary Barker could tell you how old log cabins fall apart. He had spent a decade as a YMCA camp caretaker in Minnesota, using best guesses, luck and determination to keep the buildings in working order.

But in 2002, a friend told him about a Clearwater County Historical Society workshop that taught people how to restore log cabins from the 1800s. Barker jumped at the opportunity to participate.

“We learned on a one-room school building from the 1880s,” he says. “It was in really bad shape, and most people would have walked away from it. But I learned everything is possible.”

Realizing that log cabin restoration rang his bells, he went back to YMCA Camp Warren with new skills and vigor to get those cabins in shape.

When he moved to Bismarck, he got an offer to restore an old cabin in North Dakota. He realized lots of opportunities were all around him: “You can see everything here on this flat prairie,” he remembers thinking. “Those cabins really stand out. I want to restore them all.” 

One cabin that caught his eye was at the Dakota Territorial Museum in Yankton, South Dakota. “The Hovden cabin...

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