Barker was born on December 12, 1923 in Darrington, Washington, and spent most of his youth on the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota. The U.S. Indian Census Rolls, 1885–1940, list Barker as an official member of the Sioux tribe.
His mother, Matilda (“Tillie”) Valandra (née Matilda Kent Tarleton), was a school teacher; his father, Byron John Barker, was the foreman on the electrical high line through the state of Washington.
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