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The Archaeological Investigation of Gardening at the Historic Railroad Station of Kearsarge, California
AuthorJefferson, Joseph Lee
AdvisorCowie, Sarah E.
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This thesis investigates whether or not track workers living at a railroad station in Inyo County, California, cultivated gardens. Kearsarge, the site chosen for this investigation, was a station on the Carson & Colorado/Southern Pacific Narrow Gauge Railroad from 1883 until 1960. During most of this period it housed a crew of track maintenance workers. Although historical records document the use of gardening to supplement the market purchase of food by railroad workers at some locations, there has been, to date, no archaeological investigation of this practice. Consequently, much remains to be learned about the nature and scope of gardening by railroad workers. Using a portable X-ray fluorescence analyzer to perform a multi-element analysis of soil samples, and measuring organic carbon through loss on ignition, I found evidence consistent with the hypothesis that some track crew members at Kearsarge did keep gardens. Notably, no concrete evidence of gardening at this site was found in historical photographs or modern aerial photographs, or through ground level survey, but only through soil analysis. This result illustrates the value of multi-element soil analysis to historical archaeology. This finding also provides insight into some of the complex ways that track workers at Kearsarge interacted with the global economic network their labor helped to sustain. It suggests that not all of the products needed or wanted by workers and their families were obtained directly by market purchase, although some of them may have come indirectly from the market if, for example, seeds were purchased. It is also possible that some worker families interacted with markets by selling some of what they grew. Because Kearsarge was not abandoned until 1960, future studies might be able to incorporate oral histories that could help shed light on these and other possibilities.