In 1936 Arthur Rothstein drove over Teton Pass into Jackson Hole, assigned by the federal Farm Security Administration to photograph the rural landscape during the Great Depression. He paused near a barn at the Bar Y Ranch and got out his medium-format camera.

Rothstein composed a photograph titled “Farm near Jackson, Wyoming.” The picture is part of an historic collection of Depression-era images made by a team of now-famous documentary photographers.

It’s uncertain when exactly James Boyle built the barn at the Bar Y Ranch that is Rothstein’s centerpiece. Boyle’s grandson, Jim Brown, believes he built the barn in the 1920s. It remains a landmark along busy Wyoming Highway 22, a reminder of quieter days in Teton County and its ranching heritage.

The FSA hired Rothstein, along with Walker Evans, Dorothea Lange, Russell Lee, Marion Post Wolcott, Gordon Parks, Carl Mydans and others, to display and even promote government relief efforts across the Dust Bowl and elsewhere.

“Bureaucrats hoped the FSA photos would show Americans broken by poverty only to be restored to their jobs and homes by New Deal relief checks,” Tom Anderson wrote on a history blog. “Instead they saw undaunted courage, fierce optimism, and a determined individualism even in the face of economic ruin. Many Americans were too proud to accept government help.”

Aside from the addition of a grove of trees, little has changed at the Bar Y Ranch barn site in 86 years. But nearby Highway 22 has become a busy byway in transformed Jackson Hole. (Angus M. Thuermer, Jr./WyoFile)

Jim Brown and Diana Karns Brown operated the Bar Y cattle ranch for almost 40 years, Connie Owen wrote in her Circling the Square column in the Jackson Hole News&Guide in 2020. The couple “described it as the best time,” the column reads.

“Jim’s mother always told them there was no future in ranching in Jackson Hole, but they managed to keep the ranch together until their three kids were grown,” Owen wrote. “They sold the ranch in 1988.”

The Brown family kept the barn property, where Jim and Diana live today.

Rothstein, who lived from 1915-1985, was a New York City resident with top-notch technical photography skills and an eye for elegance, simplicity and humanity. His photographs often revealed his subjects’ unflinching dignity.

Rothstein’s photograph of Art Coble’s farm in Cimarron County, Oklahoma — Coble and two sons walking past an outbuilding during a dust storm — became his most famous image.

The photographer appears to have traveled out of Jackson Hole over Togwotee Pass. He photographed everywhere from Dubois to Natrona County, Gillette, Medicine Bow and Laramie, with some of the images made during a return trip in 1940.

More FSA photographs are available through The Library of Congress.

Angus M. Thuermer Jr.

Angus M. Thuermer Jr. is the natural resources reporter for WyoFile. He is a veteran Wyoming reporter and editor with more than 35 years experience in Wyoming. Contact him at angus@wyofile.com or (307)...

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  1. Excellent! Thank you for researching and posting this. The FSA photographs of Wyoming during the Depression remain important resources themselves as documents that give us a glimpse into the lifeways and social changes underway during those transformative years. A close look at this modest barn and the people who built and used it can tell us a lot about our past and how we are connected to it today. In particular this is a reminder of the once prevalent practice of small-scale agriculture in Teton County’s history.

  2. Nice reminder of a time long past, when real people experienced real suffering, just as many do today. I’m a bit puzzled why someone hasn’t done a book on the Depression-era photos taken in our state. But then, it’s part of the old Wyoming historical joke, right? We blast the feds but ignore the good work done to keep people going. We had CCC camps like Guernsey State Park and artist and writers’ projects that produced interviews with old-timers long gone but whose testimony of their day luckily sits in dusty archive cabinets. Time’s a wastin’, Snuffy.