The first school class in Jackson Hole, outside Sylvester Wilson's cabin. Teacher on far right is Henry Johnson, the first schoolteacher in the valley.

The first school class in Jackson Hole, outside Sylvester Wilson’s cabin. Taught by Henry Johnson, the first schoolteacher in the valley.

After the first winter of 1889 was over, while Nick Wilson was scouting for a homestead location, the women in the Wilson party were becoming unsure of their new home. In such a newly-settled, and isolated area, there were no schools. The women banded together and told their husbands they were not going to live anywhere their children could not get an education. Sylvester convinced his wife Mary that he would build a school as soon as the cattle were ready to go to market and to give him time. Sylvester also promised to bring back a schoolteacher when he returned from selling his cattle. Mary agreed to wait it out, and considered it a temporary situation where the children would be without formal schooling. Either they’d move back to Idaho, or Sylvester would bring the school to them. Matilda Wilson, Nick’s wife, was less convinced. In the fall of 1890, Nick and his family moved back to Sugar City, Idaho to be nearer schools and so Matilda could have a baby in a more comfortable setting.

In 1892, more families had moved into the valley and brought more children. For the extended Wilson family, there would be many more children. After two years, Sylvester’s cattle were ready to be sold at market, where he kept his promise to Mary. In 1892, Henry Johnson became Jackson Hole’s first schoolteacher. School in South Park was held for 15 students in a room in Sylvester’s cabin, and the school term lasted for six months. A year later in 1893, Mr. Johnson returned for a second term of six months and taught 25 students. This same year, a neighbor by the name of Stephen Leek built the valley’s first sawmill. This was a great boon for the families of South Park, as it meant lumber was more readily available. Sylvester Wilson built a second four-room house, with one large room for entertaining. This large room would become the second location of the “school.” Upon hearing of the improvements in South Park, Nick Wilson moved his family back to the area and his children nearly doubled the school’s population.

Jackson Hole "schoolbus."

Jackson Hole “school bus.” Smoke from a small wood stove can be seen exhausting from the front of the wagon.

It soon became clear that the South Park community needed a designated school and school teacher, rather than a six-month contract. Sylvester Wilson had always been a supporter of education and bolstering the needs of his neighbors. He personally applied for a school district, and rallied his neighbors to begin cutting logs in 1895 for a schoolhouse.  Ervin Wilson donated a portion of his land for the construction of the building. The project was halted due to the Indian Scare of 1895, an event that outlines how grandiose stories of outlaws and Indian massacres could circulate with little evidence. Much like the outlandish tales of bandits and outlaws that once called Jackson Hole home, the Indian Scare of 1895 was caught up by state and national newspapers that began publishing stories of a massacre in Jackson’s Hole. They claimed no white individual had survived. Quite the contrary, most of the homesteaders were holed up at home, fearful, but no such incident came to pass. The residents of South Park abandoned their homes and banded together in a small fort, but their fears would be unfounded. Construction resumed on the schoolhouse in 1896, and the South Park residents had to hurry to finish the harvest due to lost time from the Scare.

South Park residents standing in front of the newly built school.

South Park residents standing in front of the newly built school.

Tragically, on the day they were set to return home after the Scare was deemed over, Sylvester was stricken by a heart attack and died. The entire community felt the loss of one of their most integral members. Despite his loss, the residents of South Park banded together complete Jackson Hole’s first schoolhouse in his honor. They were awarded an official Uinta County School District #37 and they were given a teacher: Miss Clark. Miss Clark taught over 30 students in three-month terms. The terms were shortened so that the children could be at home to help with the spring and fall ranch chores. One of the terms was often in winter, when the children had little else to do. Their transportation was via skis, or a covered wagon mounted on sleigh runners that the locals called the “school bus.”

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