June and Farrar Burn: Washington’s First Early Retirees?

I may not have grown up in Washington (before I moved to Seattle several years back, I had only set foot in the state twice), but today, I consider it my adopted home. In my humble opinion, it’s one of the most beautiful places in the country, and especially in the summertime, there’s no place I’d rather be.

The San Juan Islands, in particular, offer some of the most stunning scenery and plentiful wildlife. Situated between the U.S. mainland and Vancouver Island, B.C., the 400+ islands and rocks of the San Juans are home to the country’s greatest concentration of bald eagles, along with herons, swans, geese, falcons, and owls.  The Salish Sea around the islands is famous for its population of orca whales, and you’re also likely to see seals, sea lions, otters, and purple starfish.  As part of our upcoming travels, I’d love to spend more time exploring this region; it’s one of my favorite places in the state.

San Juan Islands

Photo credit: VisitSanJuans.com

I was thrilled, then, when a friend sent over this cool profile of June and Farrar Burn, two homesteaders who settled on Sentinel Island, a “lovely, lonely dot of 15 acres,” back in 1919. Born in Alabama in 1893, June dreamed “to go on an island and pull the ladder up after us and live, untroubled by anything – that would be heaven.” When she and husband Farrar noticed the distant San Juan Islands on a map, they applied to settle one – eventually becoming the very last homesteaders in the region.

And as if that weren’t adventurous enough already, the couple and their children would go on to travel cross-country several times, including building what was effectively a tiny house on top of a Dodge automobile and driving it across the country, with Farrar earning money by performing self-written camp songs.

The Burns' "Ballad Bungalow"

The Burns’ “Ballad Bungalow”

One line, in particular, from June’s book Living High: An Unconventional Autobiography really resonated with me:

“I wonder why everybody doesn’t do their retiring first while they have the zest for everything, and settle down later on when they don’t feel like doing anything but work anyhow.”

While I may not have an interest today in homesteading an island (I suspect I would perish in the first 8 hours), I still find plenty of inspiration in June and Farrar’s story.

Do you know of any other “before their time” early retirees? I’d love to hear their stories!


  1. Wow neat story. I don’t really have any old stories of people living the FIRE life. How was the book in general?

  2. I LOVE that house! And the San Juans are absolutely gorgeous. I wouldn’t mind retiring out there one day. I’m sure their property is worth a fortune now!

  3. What a neat story!! I can’t say I know of any retiring early before their time stories. The San Juans are definitely on my list to visit as well, which should be a feasible trip to accomplish!

  4. That sounds like it could have been written by any number of FIRE bloggers — but it’s actually from the early 1900s! My mind is officially blown.

  5. Scott and Helen Nearing were early homesteaders in New England beginning in the 1930s, and they were (and still are) incredibly influential to all sorts of ‘back-to-the-land’ folks. Together and separately, they published several classic homesteading books.

    An economist, Scott Nearing was forced into early retirement after being fired from several universities (including the Wharton School) for his then “radical” anti-child labor and anti-war positions.The Nearings ended up in Maine, where they built their own stone house and ate fruits and vegetables from their garden. Scott lived to be 100, and Helen to 91.

    • Great example, Gina! I’ll have to look up the Nearings; sounds like they were pretty ahead of their time. Scott’s firing is especially interesting to me in light of some of the recent commotion with students protesting for professors’ dismissal for various political views; I’m curious to watch how academia does or doesn’t defend their freedom of thought, however radical or offensive.

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