#1: Geraldine’s Cabin
Built in 1913, the same year that Geraldine Lucas filed for her 160-acre homestead parcel, this was Lucas’s primary residence. Geraldine was a fascinating individual who chose to spend her retirement living alone on her ranch in Jackson Hole. She followed two brothers and a sister to the valley after a full career as a music teacher in New York City where she taught upon graduating from Oberlin College in 1898. She had one son, Russell, from an unhappy marriage that ended in divorce. Russell left home and joined the Coast Guard at a young age. Having nothing to tie her to the City, Geraldine decided to move across the country by herself. She spent a year surveying the valley before she decided on the tract of land directly underneath the Grand Teton.
After many winters gazing up at the Grand, Geraldine Lucas began to think of it as “her mountain.” She was aware of the successful expeditions to scale it, many of which departed from her own property. After hearing that a 16-year-old by the name of Paul Petzoldt had successfully made it to the summit and back twice, she called upon Petzoldt, determined to convince him that he should lead her to up to the top of her mountain. In his book Teton Tales, Petzoldt recounts that first conversation with Geraldine, whose eccentricities were now well known: “I had been warned by some of the locals that Geraldine was difficult to get along with and hard to understand, but I found her friendly and her great intelligence stimulating. She had seen the Grand Teton in all its moods and had long had a great desire to reach its summit.” Whether it was because Petzoldt could offer to assist Geraldine in achieving her cherished goal, or whether they were simply well-suited to each other, he never had a difficult time getting along with her. Upon reaching the summit of the Grand on August 2, 1924, Petzoldt pushed 58-year old Geraldine ahead of him so that she could be the first in their party to reach the top. As he remembered, “I don’t think she often broke through her protected personality, but in that moment when she threw her arms around me with a soft sob, I sensed the real Geraldine Lucas, an intelligent, loving woman who had elected for some reason to leave most of society behind.”
#2: Russell’s Cabin
After a two-year marriage and one child, Geraldine left her husband to return home to her family. Most young women in 1887 would not have been allowed to return home after leaving a husband – if they were able to leave at all. About a decade later, her estranged husband filed for divorce and Geraldine was granted sole custody of her son. In another unusual step towards reclaiming her identity, she reclaimed her maiden name, making sure to use it for her son’s surname as well. Despite being close when he was young, Russell’s teenage years brought strife between mother and son. Geraldine wanted him to become educated as she had been – by attending college. He, on the other hand, had other ideas and ran away from home to join the Coast Guard. They later reconciled, but it was clear Geraldine had reared a son as headstrong and independent as she was.
Russell would visit his mother about once a year, although never for more than a week -with a full-time career in the Coast Guard, he rarely had the time off. Despite the strained teenage years, he still cared for his mother. He didn’t, however, care for her isolated home. She built him his own cabin on her property in 1930 in an effort to entice him to stay longer and more often. He never took her up on the offer and the cabin remained empty. He did, however, make sure she was well cared for, regularly sending her money – and even a team of Alaskan malamutes and a sled to allow her greater mobility during the long winter months. When Geraldine died from heart failure on August 12, 1938, Russell returned to the homestead for the last time. Her cremated remains were interred under a large boulder that sits just beneath the Grand Teton, on the land to which she felt she belonged. The boulder is still there today, marked by a plaque that bears her name and the years “1865-1938”; Russell appreciated his mother’s love for her homestead but never shared it.
Having grown up in a homesteading family in frontier Nebraska, Geraldine was well aware of what was needed to live and survive in such a place. She was well suited for the valley and the valley to her. Despite the isolation of Jackson Hole’s winters, Geraldine had a busy social life in the summer. She preferred to visit friends and keep her home as a private retreat. As news traveled of her unconventional life, she quickly became a polarizing figure. Rumors spread that she was a rough, irritable woman who lacked social grace and so lived alone. Those who knew her well held the opposite point of view claiming that, while she was indeed a woman with blunt, forceful opinions on many subjects, she was also well educated. Geraldine had equally vocal views on the people she liked and trusted. Those who understood her eccentricities and knew her to be caring friend, affectionately refered to her as “Aunt Ger.”
Another unusual element to Geraldine’s life in the valley was her methods of transportation. In the winter her son had provided her with a team of Alaskan malamutes and sled. Her sled is on display today at the transportation barn near Menor’s Ferry. During the summer months, she had an even more unusual method of transportation. The garage was built in 1925 to house Geraldine’s 1924 Buick touring car. Cars were extremely rare in the valley in those days as the roads weren’t kept in great shape and most creeks did not have bridges – despite her express desire to be alone and enjoy a quiet retirement, Geraldine certainly made an impression on her neighbors.
From Our Archives:
Geraldine Lucas standing outdoors at Lupine Meadows near her homestead for which patent was issued June 19, 1922
Geraldine Lucas’ cabin near Jenny Lake, to right of large cabin built for her son. In distance is homestead cabin of Naomi Colwell