Danny Ranch

On June 3, 1922 Tony Grace filed on a homestead on the east shores of String Lake, just north of Jenny Lake. His intentions were to create a small, secluded guest ranch after having worked at two of the largest and most successful guest operations in the valley. During his employment at Ben Sheffield’s Teton Lodge and Struthers Burt’s Bar BC Dude Ranch, Grace fell in love with teaching Easterners how to enjoy the West. He had met Albert B. Strange and his family at the Teton Lodge and the two men became fast friends. When Grace moved to the Bar BC, the Stranges followed him. With encouragement and financial backing from Strange, Grace opened his own guest ranch. He named it “Danny,” after Albert Strange’s daughter. Grace preferred to think of his clients as “guests” rather than “dudes,” and treated them as equals. Everyone participated in the ranch chores, and everyone was considered family. Because of Grace’s affable nature, he had no trouble finding volunteers for work. Many guests jumped at the opportunity to be called to work with Grace personally, and operations were handled smoothly. This allowed Grace to have a near-constant presence in ranch activities, and contributed to a pervasive community atmosphere.

Hiking, mountain climbing, pack trips, fishing, swimming were all offered as activities. Many guests stayed for two to three weeks, and arrived by train in Idaho. Grace would transport everyone back to the ranch personally, led in wagons over Teton Pass and over the rough local roads. In a few short years, his ranch grew exponentially. In the first year, he hosted 23 guests. By 1925, the Danny Ranch could rival the Bar BC with 46 guests. In 1928, the ranch held over 54 guests. In just five short years, the Danny Ranch had become one of the most popular ranches in the valley. This was due in part to Tony Grace’s successful winter trips to New York to meet friends of the Stranges to sign them up for the next summer. Word of mouth provided the rest. In 1929, Grand Teton National Park was created and the Danny Ranch found itself right at the eastern border. Talk had been circulating for years about the possibility of expanding Yellowstone to include all of Jackson Hole. With the formation of a new National Park right on their doorstep, Grace became concerned that the talk of expansion was imminent.

Grace’s fears were confirmed when the Snake River Land Company came knocking with offers to buy the ranch. They were particularly interested in Grace’s land being between Jenny and String Lakes and in one of the most beautiful places in the valley. The National Park Service had begun talks to return the lakes back to their natural settings, and eradicate the stores, concessions, gas stations and ranches that had sprung up near the shores. While this goal was ultimately unsuccessful, the business and ranch owners were under considerable pressure to sell and move on. The Danny Ranch’s stellar reputation had begun to work against its success. With the full attention of John D. Rockefeller, Jr. and Vanderbilt Webb, the President of the Snake River Land Company, Grace was pursued almost relentlessly. A series of letters between Snake River Land Company representatives and Grace illustrates the pressure to sell despite having such personal ties to the area.

Tony Grace held out for a year before succumbing to the wishes of the Land Company. Ultimately he felt that expansion of Grand Teton National Park was imminent and that if he did not accept the offer of $24,000 he might get nothing. While the Land Company was only interested in the land, Grace felt a personal connection to the buildings. Tony Grace met with the Turner family of Triangle X, who were also being courted by the Snake River Land Company. In a letter to Harold Fabian in May of 1929, John Turner writes: “…all you people wanted to buy was our land, and we could keep our improvements. Our money is in our buildings. I would not want our buildings on someone else’s property.” This was a sentiment reflected throughout the valley at the time. The Land Company was purchasing parcels of land to preserve, and removing the buildings. The buildings represented the hard work and rights of the homesteaders, who were required to make those improvements to own their land. Initially, Grace declined the offer and wrote about his concerns that the Land Company would use his ranch for tourist accommodations, “It would be a sad sight to me, to come back here and find a lot of signs stuck up on it.” While the Snake River Land Company was only interested in preserving the land, the homesteaders and dude ranchers alike saw more value in the pieces of history they had personally constructed on top of it.

Ultimately both the Turners and Tony Grace sold their ranches. The Triangle X Ranch’s location on the far eastern boundary of the valley allowed the family to continue to lease the ranch. In 2016, the Triangle X and Turner family are celebrating their 90th anniversary. Unfortunately for Grace, his location on valuable and scenic Jenny Lake meant that his lease only extended to June 1, 1931. In the summer of 1930, only 22 guests were at the Danny Ranch. Both the news of the sale and the Great Depression had kept people away. The next summer Tony left the valley for a life in Montana. He would return in 1958 for a gala banquet to celebrate the opening of the Jenny Lake Lodge. The Lodge utilized the old Danny Ranch buildings, and Tony Grace was an honored guest. While it was bittersweet to return to the ranch he had built and loved, his worst fears were never realized. The Lodge was intentionally kept small and exclusive, and the old ranch was still recognizable despite the new use. The Danny Ranch was one of the shortest-lived, but also one of the most successful guest ranches in the valley. Today it remains preserved within the Jenny Lake Lodge, a reminder that compromise and thought for both the past and future can be successful as well.

Text by Samantha Ford, Director of Historical Research and Outreach