Barnes legacy honored in museum

Published 8:37 pm Monday, August 17, 2009

Though he died in the 1970s, Dempsey Earl Barnes still is making an impact on regional wildlife, and thus has been honored with a display in a North Carolina museum.

Barnes, a soldier in the U.S. Army during World War I, was among the first game wardens appointed in North Carolina. Upon his discharge from the Army, he had married a schoolteacher and set up a family farm adjacent to the Great Dismal Swamp Wildlife Preserve in Corapeake, N.C. In 1935, Barnes was appointed as a Gates County game warden by the North Carolina Fish and Wildlife Service.

However, it was an uphill battle at the time. In the midst of the Great Depression, many people were turning to illegal hunting, fishing and trapping for income and food, and resented being told what to do with their own land by the federal government — and many in the legal system sympathized.

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“At that time, it was not a very popular job,” son Cliff Barnes, who lives in Franklin, said. “People at that time, if they owned the property, they felt like the state regulations and federal regulations were an invasion of their rights.”

The elder Barnes had quite a few dust-ups with well-respected men in the community, his son said. But, it was all worth it to his father.

“People like my father went through some difficult periods that I feel like helped preserve wildlife as we know it today. He was very dedicated to the land and resources of land.”

The younger Barnes remembered his father as an “easy person to know,” but a strict disciplinarian for people who disregarded the law.

“He went by the law in everything he did,” Barnes said. “He was very dedicated to what he did as far as looking after wildlife. That was what he felt was his responsibility.”

Even so, the elder Barnes always remained respectful of those he had to arrest, said another son, Vincent Barnes, of Suffolk.

“He wasn’t one to bring home his troubles,” Vincent Barnes said.

By the time Barnes retired from that position 25 years later, the tide of public sentiment had turned toward protecting the land and its resources — and many in the community attributed that to Dempsey Barnes.

“They realized the wildlife had to be protected in order to maintain the bounty that we have today,” Barnes said. “My daddy retired with a lot of respect from his peers as to the way he conducted his job and the ethics he used in doing the job.”

Recently, Barnes’s career as a game warden was honored with a display in the Whalehead Club Wildlife Museum in Corolla, N.C. Barnes’s three sons, including Thomas Barnes, of Corapeake, N.C., donated the display to the museum as a tribute to their father.

The museum is located at 1100 Club Road, Corolla, N.C. It is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.