Joseph L. Barfoot

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Joseph Lindsay Barfoot was a well-respected curator of the Deseret Museum. He was also the fish commissioner of Utah Territory.

He was born on March 29, 1816, within the walls of Warwick Castle, England. He was a lineal descendant of Robert the Bruce, King of Scotland, and heir to the earldom of Crawford.[1] He came to Utah in 1865.

The [Deseret Museum] was in need of a scientist to classify the specimens and relics. Such a man was Joseph L. Barfoot, employed next door at Brigham Young’s residence as night watchman. His position evidently brought him "in close relations with the President, who valued his clear, scientific judgment and spent with him many hours of the watch, attending with great interest his explanations of natural phenomena, and consulting him upon endless questions involving a knowledge of the sciences." John W. Young employed him to classify the ever-growing collection. In 1871, Barfoot became the curator, a position “for which his nature and education admirably adapted him.” He soon became known as Professor Barfoot, retaining this title and his position as curator the rest of his life. . . .[2]
He had a prodigious capacity for work, combing that quality with a vast and inexhaustible scientific knowledge. He was patient, modest, and willing to devote his time and talents free to the public. He gave the museum its reputation as a veritable mine of information.[3]

Professor Barfoot wrote hundreds of short articles on scientific topics for the Church’s Juvenile Instructor. He also wrote “Brief History of the Deseret Museum” in 1880 and “Handbook Guide to the Salt Lake Museum” in 1881.

In addition, Barfoot was a faithful member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He served as a missionary to his native England and was a member of the Salt Lake High Council.[4]

Barfoot died on April 23, 1882. The Deseret News announcement of his death included this tribute:

The death of Professor Joseph L. Barfoot occurred at 4:45 a.m. yesterday in his room on the upper floor of the Museum building. He had been suffering for some time from bronchitis, but no one anticipated that the end was so near. On Saturday he was at his post in the Museum, of which he was curator, as usual, and slept well from nine that night till four a.m. yesterday. At that hour he awoke and was seized with a severe fit of coughing. He requested his wife to summon Dr. H. J. Richards, who soon arrived, but he had become unconscious, and passed away quietly as if falling into a gentle sleep.
During the whole course of his life Brother Barfoot had devoted himself to the attainment of scientific knowledge, which he, by patient research and assiduity, succeeded in accumulating to a remarkable degree. In fact there is scarcely a branch of exact science with which he was not more or less familiar. . . .
Volumes might be written concerning this good and learned man, the story of whose life presents an almost perpetual struggle with poverty. His devotion to the pursuit of truth was heroic, his kindness of heart proverbial, and his integrity to his honest conviction unwavering and unsullied.
In the city cemetery is a block of native granite, rough hewn, except for a scroll on one side. On this carven page appears the inscription: Tribute of friends to the memory of a Natural Nobleman, Joseph L. Barfoot, Scientist, Saint.[5]

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