The town of Moran is Jackson Hole’s first true tourist town. In 1895, Benjamin Sheffield came to the area near Jackson Lake and knew it would make the perfect location for a hunting lodge. Coming from the hunting tourist industry in Montana, he knew he had found something promising. With Marion Lambert as his financial backer, Sheffield purchased the Cap Smith and Fred Lovell homesteads in 1903 and began settling the area of Moran. It was slow going, as he could only work on his lodge during the summers.
Despite creating the settlement, Sheffield cannot be credited with naming the town of Moran. Charles and Maria Allen homesteaded the area in 1896 and operated the first Post Office on their ranch in 1902. Maria named it “Moran” and the area became commonly known by that name. The Allen ranch was located on Oxbow Bend and they operated the Elk Horn Hotel for several years before selling the property to Sheffield in 1925.
Moran was the northernmost outpost in Jackson Hole to receive supplies, post your mail, or find a comfortable place to sleep before heading north to Yellowstone, or south to Moose, Kelly, and Jackson. For those living in the area around Moran, it was the nearest place to obtain supplies as the trip south was difficult, and usually only undertaken once a year. As the valley grew up and road systems were built, and then maintained and became reliable, the journey south became easier, though still long. For those wishing to participate in the recreational activities of the time, dances were held at Moran and in nearby Elk for those who couldn’t make the trek south for anything but the big events. Equally important, for those wishing to participate in the annual Frontier Days celebrations in Jackson (the yearly rodeo), practice was a necessity. Weekly rodeos were held in Moran, outside Charlie Fesler’s store. They became a big draw for residents in the northern half of the valley to gather together, have fun and blow off steam while showcasing their talents.
Moran was also known as a “military town” due to the presence of the Reclamation Service constructing the dam on Jackson Lake, and the Yellowstone National Park Troops. The U.S. Army was the first government agency to manage the park until creation of the National Park Service in 1916. The park management wouldn’t officially transfer to the National Park Service until 1917. Moran was the northernmost settlement to the south entrance to Yellowstone, and the early troopers who worked at this entrance used Moran as a home base.
The town of Moran was mostly made up of federal government employees or locals who worked for Sheffield and his lodge. The rest were tourists, coming to and from Yellowstone. In the 1950s when the Grand Teton Lodge Company purchased Sheffield’s lodge, they essentially purchased the town of Moran. After the construction of the Jackson Lake Lodge, the ramshackle town was seen as an eyesore for the hotel guests wishing to look out on the wild beauty of Jackson Lake. The town was then moved from the shores of Jackson Lake and the dam further east, just outside the Moran entrance station for Grand Teton National Park. Today, Moran still exists as a small community in the northern half of Jackson Hole. It has a population of 317 people, a post office and a K-5 elementary school.
Text by Samantha Ford, Director of Historical Research and Outreach