Located in the northeastern portion of the valley, the Elk post office was created to service the families living in the Buffalo Fork and Spread Creek areas. The post office first opened on the Cunningham Ranch in 1899. In rural Jackson Hole, “communities” were loosely based around which post office was closest, or the easiest to access. Other communities, like Mormon Row, Moran, and Kelly grew up into small town sites with measurable populations. Areas like Elk, however, were a collection of ranches located miles apart from any central gathering space. In order to give residents of these isolated areas reason to gather, they built post offices for communication and school houses for gathering. For many residents in Jackson Hole, attending school was a feat best accomplished in winter when families would separate, the mother and children moving away to live near schools in Kelly or Jackson. The fathers would remain on the ranch, caring for the horses and livestock.
For those left behind, if school was not in session, or inaccessible due to early winter snows, gatherings were essential for survival during the long dark months. Many families would bundle up their children and food supplies and attend days-long dances that often went on well into the small hours of the morning. It was too difficult and dangerous to attempt the journey home after nightfall, so the gatherings would feature midnight dinners and all-night dancing so partygoers could return home in the morning light. Children were often tucked away into cubbies that lined the walls or lined up under tables. Despite living many miles apart from each other, these events were essential for the survival and continued cooperation of the community.
By 1968, the population of Jackson Hole had grown, roads had been built and mail was more easily transported from the larger post offices. As a result, the Elk post office closed. The remaining residents in the area, the Triangle X and Moose Head dude ranches, could now easily obtain their mail from Jackson. The old post office building still resides on the Moose Head ranch, a small reminder of the valley’s humble beginnings.
Text by Samantha Ford, Director of Historical Research and Outreach