Elk Ranch (Landscapes of Loss)

#1 Corrals

Elk Ranch: Corrals


The original corrals at the Elk Ranch were constructed in the 1920s, and were continually modified to meet changing needs until the 1970s. There were once two set of these corrals, as well as the L shape barn/sheds to which they were attached. Today, only this set remains. These particular corrals were last used by the Mead family for their cattle ranch in 2000. They have been unused and almost unchanged since that point. Also present are the original chute and cattle squeeze.

The Elk Ranch was the most successful cattle ranch in the valley, originally owned by Josiah “Si” Ferrin who quickly earned the nickname “the cattle baron of Jackson Hole.” Ferrin purchased the ranch from D.E. Skinner in 1920; Skinner had purchased the property from the original homesteader, Otto Kusche who first filed on the land in 1909. Under Ferrin, the ranch would expand from Kusche’s original 160-acre filing to more than 3,600 acres by 1928. Ferrin ran over 2,000 head of cattle on the ranch and had several successful businesses on the side including a saw mill, freight and timber hauling business, and a lucrative contract to provide beef for the dam workers at Moran. The saw mill, run by Ferrin’s son Leonard, provided the Menor’s Ferry bridge with timber in 1927. Despite having a successful cattle operation, Ferrin was not immune to the agricultural depression in the 1920s. He became involved in the efforts to relieve ranchers of financial pressure and sold his property to the Snake River Land Company in 1929. Under Rockefeller, operations at the Elk Ranch continued and the Ferrin family took their saw mill and moved into Jackson.


#2  Implement Shed Interior

Elk Ranch: Implement Shed Interior



The implement shed was constructed in 1940 by the Jackson Hole Preserve, Inc. (formerly the Snake River Land Company). This wood frame building originally had an ell that would have made it L-shaped, but this was removed in 1959. The sliding door that covered this opening is missing. The shed was built during a period of expansion of the Elk Ranch under John D. Rockefeller Jr.’s management. He was providing the ranch with much-needed upgrades, which included the Uhl Reservoir. The reservoir is fed by Spread Creek and provided the ranch with an exceedingly valuable resource. Special note was taken in the next few years that despite having a drought, the reservoir had enough water to continue to irrigate the hay fields. This was important – the fields were supplying both the Elk Refuge in Jackson and Rockefeller’s planned Jackson Hole Wildlife Park near Moran, as well cattle and horses that wintered at the ranch.

Due to its advantageous location, excellent soil and water sources, the Elk Ranch was allowed to continue operations after its purchase by the Snake River Land Company. The ranch wasn’t considered to be in a prime natural area, or blocking mountain views so it was allowed to stay. An additional reason it was allowed to continue was the fact that the land had already been changed considerable due to the continued ranching activities and irrigation. The State of Wyoming required landowners with water rights to continue to use them or they were considered forfeited. Rockefeller recognized the ranch as a highly valuable economic resource for both the valley and the state and worked to keep it functional.


#3: Bunk House Roof


Elk Ranch: Bunk House Roof


These wooden shingles are located on the bunkhouse which was moved to the property in 1940. The building was brought in with a few other buildings meant to provide housing for ranch hands. By this time, the Snake River Land Company had become the Jackson Hole Preserve, Inc. which continued to run the Elk Ranch as an active cattle ranch. This property has the distinction of being one of the only properties in the Snake River Land Company’s purchasing plan that was kept intact and operational. Most others were removed or moved entirely in order to restore the landscape back to its natural condition.

Rockefeller had two agendas for purchasing the homesteads and ranches in the valley. One was to restore important natural areas and the other was to prevent commercial development. A primary, but often forgotten role was to “preserve the ‘Old West’ character of the valley.” This included keeping the Elk Ranch operational so that visitors might see the activities that had become synonymous with the West. Serious discussions were had about building a dude ranch on the bench above the Elk Ranch in order for visitors to get a first-hand view of cattle ranching. Action was never taken on these plans, and so the dude ranch was never built. Rockefeller ensured that the Elk Ranch could continue to operate by making it highly valuable in the services it provided. Not only did it supply hay to the National Elk Refuge, but beef and dairy products to the various lodges in the valley. Horses from area dude ranches were also wintered on the ranch.


#4: Barn/Shed/Corrals


Elk Ranch: Barn/Shed/Corrals


This structure, sometimes referred to as the “L Shed,” was constructed around 1920 during the Ferrin ownership. There were two of these buildings present, each with their own corral systems. The north elevations of both buildings were open, and attached directly to the corrals. The western ell provided barn space, while the portion stretching towards the east was an open shed. The barn, accessed by a central door, split into north and south portions. The north side was presumably a stable, apparently without separate stalls. The south side was most likely a granary with a feeding trough attached to one wall. It is unknown what the enclosed barn space would have been used for in the building that is no longer present.

Both the Ferrins and the Jackson Hole Preserve, Inc. kept horses here during the winter. After the property was purchased by the Snake River Land Company, the Ferrins continued to winter their horses at the ranch. Josiah “Si” Ferrin is thought to be the first to bring oats and white-faced cattle into the Jackson Hole valley and the State of Wyoming. His ranch was the largest cattle ranch in the valley, eventually amassing more than 3,600 acres for hay and grazing. The cattle were usually trailed up Togwotee Pass to summer pasture in May and brought back to the ranch in October or November. This practice ensured that the largest amount of land could be put towards hay production. It is estimated that it took 25 men and 50 horses almost 25 days to complete the hay harvest each fall.


#5: Barn/Shed Window


Elk Ranch: Barn/Shed Window


This window is located on the “L Shed” at the Elk Ranch. Originally built in 1920, the building was constructed by Josiah “Si” Ferrin and his family. The Ferrins ran the Elk Ranch until 1929 when the Snake River Land Company purchased the property. Si Ferrin had been an active member in the small group of valley residents who were concerned about the expansion of commercial development in the Jackson Hole valley. Specifically, they were concerned that wealthy individuals from out of state would begin buying up homesteads with the intent of creating large subdivisions and profiting off of the high amount of tourist traffic beginning to come through the valley.

Partnering with local rancher Pierce Cunningham, Ferrin wrote and distributed a petition throughout the valley calling for federal acquisition of private ranch lands. The goal was to help those who could no longer support themselves with their ranches and prevent them from selling to buyers with plans for expansion. A total of 97 ranchers signed the petition in 1925 and by 1927 the Snake River Land Company appeared in the valley, purchasing lands from those unable to pay property taxes or looking to move on. Some sold their properties and moved away, others leased their ranches back and continued to work the land, without their previous financial pressures. This worked well for John D. Rockefeller, Jr. who was secretly backing the company. It also meant that water rights remained intact and that certain properties such as the Elk Ranch could continue to be economically successful.


#6: Shop Building Door

Elk Ranch: Shop Building Door


Built in 1920, the shop building is part of the Josiah “Si” Ferrin ownership on the Elk Ranch. Today this building is still in use by the National Park Service for storage purposes. The grassy fields originally cleared and cultivated by many different homesteaders are still visible. The land was purchased by Si Ferrin between 1919 and 1928. They were transferred as a whole to the Snake River Land Company in 1929 and eventually the Grand Teton National Park in 1950. Horses can be seen grazing in these areas today.

When the land was incorporated into the expansion of Grand Teton National Park in 1950, several families held grazing permits within the new park boundaries. Special legislation was passed to allow these permits to continue, despite being on National Park lands. The new leases were only granted to those currently in possession of grazing permits in 1950. They allowed these families to continue to graze their cattle on Park lands “for twenty five years plus the lifetime of a selected heir.” Many of the permits were transferred to the lands on the Elk Ranch and in nearby areas in the Buffalo Valley. This area was considered a better location for these activities because they were less visible to park visitors. Since the area had already been in use as a ranch, it was reasoned that there wouldn’t be any further damage to natural areas elsewhere in the park. As of 2010, only one lease remained for grazing use on Park lands.


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