Home on the Range


This Saturday, June 11th from 10 am – 3pm, join us at the Mercill Archaeology Center for “Home on the Range” at 105 Mercill Ave.

Free to the public, all ages welcome!

Learn what life was like for a Jackson Hole Homesteader!

  • Storytelling
  • Candle making
  • Butter Churning
  • Quiltmaking
  • Log cabin building
  • Wander through a General Store

Be sure to watch on April 17th

Join us on Main Street Wyoming April 17 at 6:30 as we explore two impactful architectural projects – one that was built and one that was not – in the Tetons. Gilbert Stanley Underwood and Mies van der Rohe brought bold ideas of modernism and International Style architecture to Wyoming and changed the way people considered the relationship between architecture and the environment.

» See promotional video

A Brief History of Jackson Hole


The Tetons rising from the sage plains of the valley. Photo by Samantha Ford

The Tetons rising from the sage plains of the valley. Photo by Samantha Ford

“Over these seemingly changeless mountains, in endless succession, move the ephemeral colors of dawn and sunset and of noon and night, the shadows and sunlight, the garlands of clouds with which storms adorn the peaks, the misty rain-curtains of afternoon showers.” -Fritiof Fryxell, The Tetons: Interpretations of a Mountain Landscape, 1966

The Teton Range is one of the youngest mountain ranges in the country, yet it contains some of the oldest rocks. Due to geologic forces, the valley floor is sinking, causing the Tetons to rise slightly. This movement results in the distinctive look of the mountains which appear to be erupting directly up from the flat valley floor. Several periods of glaciation shaped the more prominent topographic features of the valley. Although the last glacial event ended around 12,000 years ago, clues can still be seen in the landscape today. Large continental glaciers covered the valley floor, while mountain glaciers extended down through the Teton canyons to carve out lakes such as Phelps, Bradley, Taggart, Jenny and Leigh, at the base of the mountains. Timbered Island, the Potholes and the vast sage flats are all evidence of glacial activity. Most of the valley is covered with plains of sagebrush, the result of a wide glacial river that washed away sand and silt to leave behind larger river stone cobbles. These cobbles are of mixed geologic origin and come from the several mountain ranges surrounding the Jackson Hole valley.



Click on the image above for a full view. Visual courtesy of the archaeology collection of the Jackson Hole Historical Society and Museum.

After the last major continental glacier receded, humans began to move into the valley. The earliest documented evidence of people in Jackson Hole are Folsom projectile points from the Paleoindian Period which date to about 11,000 years ago. Over the next several thousand years, many different indigenous groups would establish both campsites and transportation routes throughout the valley. These groups include but were not limited to: The Mountain Shoshone (also called Sheep-Eaters), Eastern or Plains Shoshone, Crow, Bannock, Blackfoot, Northern Arapaho, Gros Ventre and Nez Perce. Traces of their camps and transportation routes are still visible in the numerous archaeological sites on both the valley floor and in the high Tetons. These sites suggest that these groups used the valley seasonally, arriving in mid-May and following snowmelt into the mountains in late fall. They made good use of a wide range of the region’s abundant food sources, following herds of elk, bison or bighorn sheep. Berries, tubers, roots and nuts – especially pine nuts from the white bark pine tree – were also part of their diet. Archaeological evidence suggests and oral histories from the Shoshone confirm, that pine nuts would have been an important staple. Large family groups would have taken communal gathering trips into the mountains to collect and process this exceptionally nutritious form of fat and protein.

As technologies advanced in food processing and hunting, these seasonal populations expanded, as evidenced by the increased number of archaeological sites dating from later periods. Obsidian, a form of volcanic glass, became a popular material for all manner of tools. Because of its incredibly sharp nature and easy flaking properties, obsidian was an important resource, readily available locally, for producing spear points.


Atlatl: an ancient hunting tool used by Paleoindian and Archaic Period peoples. Courtesy of Alberta Culture and Tourism, Historic Resources Branch.

Soon the bow and arrow would replace the atlatl, an early form of throwing spear, as the primary hunting weapon. The sinew-backed bow, made from the horns of Rocky Mountain bighorn rams, is characteristic of the Shoshone and Crow Indians who used this area. Traded as far away as the Upper Missouri River valley, these incredibly powerful bows were recognized as the most powerful hunting weapon in North America prior to the introduction of European fire arms.


“Here we found a few Snake Indians comprising six men, seven women and eight or ten children, who were the only inhabitants of the lonely and secluded spot. They were all neatly clothed in dressed deer and sheep skins of the best quality and seemed to be perfectly contended and happy.” – Osborne Russell, Journal of a Trapper 1832

In the early 19th century, fur trappers eager to exploit one of the valley’s most valuable resources, beaver furs and other pelts, found their way into the remote valley of Jackson Hole. While the major centers of the fur trade were outside Jackson Hole, many significant routes passed directly through the valley. Towering over the Snake River and low valley, the Teton Range became an unmistakable landmark. According to one tradition the Tetons got their name from French fur trappers who noted their resemblance to large breasts. However, according to at least one Crow historian, the name derives from the Crow or Apsaalooke word for the mountains which sounds very similar to the French pronunciation of “Teton,” and translates as “pointed and jagged.”

The stone reportedly carved by John Colter in 1808. Discovered in 1933, many claim this stone proves that Colter was the first Anglo-American to see what would become Yellowstone National Park.

The stone reportedly carved by John Colter in 1808.

John Colter, hunter and guide for the Lewis and Clark Expedition (1804-1806), is long thought to be the first Anglo-American to enter Jackson Hole. It is thought that his travels took him through the region of what is now Yellowstone National Park and probably along the shoreline of Jackson Lake during the winter of 1807-1808, however his route is disputed today. In 1933, farmers in Idaho unearthed a stone resembling a human face with the words “John Colter 1808” carved into it. Some believe this carved stone serves as evidence that proves Colter’s route through Yellowstone and Jackson Hole. Others believe the stone is a hoax.

Over the next four decades after the Lewis and Clark expedition, the fur trade continued to operate in the Rocky Mountain West. It would decline sharply after the early 1830s as beaver were virtually exterminated at this time. The disappearance of the beaver drastically changed the configuration of high country waterways, lakes and ponds. Originally sought after for men’s fur hats and other fashionable articles of clothing, beaver fur fell out of favor and only the changing tide of Eastern fashion prevented it from disappearing altogether. By 1840, the fur trade was considered to have ended. Many of the fur trappers found new work as guides for research expeditions through the Rocky Mountains. These men had spent years in this rugged country, and knew it well.


“I defy the annals of chivalry to furnish the record of a life more wild and perilous than that of a Rocky Mountain Trapper” -Francis Parkman

Jackson Hole resident with furs. Collection of the Jackson Hole Historical Society & Museum

Jackson Hole resident with furs. Collection of the Jackson Hole Historical Society & Museum

Mountain men like David Jackson (for whom the valley is named), Jedidiah Smith, Jim Bridger and William Sublette would become synonymous with this rugged and isolated lifestyle. Wilson Price Hunt, in the employ of John Jacob Astor’s Pacific Fur Company, led a group of trappers up Wyoming’s Wind River in 1811 and over what is now called Union Pass, crossing the Continental Divide and then heading down the Hoback River to its confluence with the Snake. The sight of the three most prominent peaks of the Teton Range cheered the company on:

“Here one of the guides paused, and, after considering the vast landscape attentively, pointed to three mountain peaks glistening with snow, which rose, he said above a fork of the Columbia River. They were hailed by travelers with that joy which a beacon on a seashore is hailed by mariners after a long and dangerous voyage.” –Wilson Price Hunt, Overland Astorian, 1811.

While often portrayed as romantic figures, glorified for their skills in surviving in harsh and unforgiving terrain, in reality this occupation was extremely hazardous, and scarcely ever yielded a decent living. Trappers working alone or with a small group of partners were subject to attacks by hostile Indians, grizzly bears and other wild animals, often in arduous and dangerous conditions. Trapping took place in the fall and in the early spring when beaver pelts were at their most luxurious and desirable in the long cold months of winter. Often alone for months at a time, they would come together in the summers to sell their furs at outposts of some of the region’s major fur companies at trade gatherings called “rendezvous.” The rendezvous tradition of trading and selling furs was started in 1825 by General William Ashley’s men of the Rocky Mountain Fur Company – many were held in Wyoming’s Green River country, near Lander, WY, along the Utah and Idaho border, and Pierre’s Hole in Idaho.


During the period of 1840 after the end of the fur-trapping era, until 1860 there is little documented use of the valley. The next group to enter Jackson Hole came under Captain W.F. Raynolds’ military mapping expedition, guided by veteran mountain man Jim Bridger. The reports of the beautiful and wild natural resources in western Wyoming during the fur-trapping era had not gone unnoticed by the U.S. Government.

“The objects of this exploration are to ascertain, as far as practicable, everything relating to the numbers, habits and disposition of the Indians inhabiting the country, its agricultural and mineralogical resources, its climate and the influences that govern it, the navigability of its streams, its topographical features, and the facilities or obstacles which the latter present to the construction of rail or common roads, either to meet the wants of military operations or those of emigration through, or settlement in, the country.” –War Department, Office Explorations and Surveys, 1859.

The next wave of visitors to the valley would be in the form of Government survey parties sent to evaluate the natural resources for their potential economic value. Several expeditions would trace routes through Jackson Hole until the U.S. Geologic Survey was founded in 1879. The “age of discovery” in America is considered to have ended at this point.


Mining operation in Jackson Hole. Collection of the Jackson Hole Historical Society & Museum

Mining operation in Jackson Hole. Collection of the Jackson Hole Historical Society & Museum

It was during the time of exploration in the valley that news also spread east about the wealth of resources in the west, namely precious metals. Prospectors and miners began their journeys west on the heels of the explorers and scientists. Several prospecting attempts were made in Jackson Hole, however many ended up fruitless. Minor traces of gold led to conflicting reports about the mining success in the valley and nearby regions. In 1870 there was a modest rush in the Wind River Range due to false reports. Few mining operations in Jackson Hole were successful, however the locations of the claims were closely guarded. Conflicting reports remain as to the total success of mining in the valley. The Whetstone Mining Company was founded on Whetstone Creek in the Teton Wilderness in 1889. The company built cabins, sluices, a sawmill and even a ferry. By 1897, the operation was shut down. Prospectors never found any fortunes in the valley, where small traces of gold were located, Jackson Hole was no match for the success of California and other areas of the west.


A homestead near Moran. Collection of the Jackson Hole Historical Society & Museum

A homestead near Moran. Collection of the Jackson Hole Historical Society & Museum

“When we were little kids and lived in those old log houses the wind howled right through those cracks! It blew so hard that our folks would have to keep an eye out to bring us back across the room where we’d been playing!” –Clark Moulton, Legacy of the Tetons

Despite the misfortune of the prospectors, the valley began to be settled by permanent residents around 1884. The first two Anglo-Americans to take up fulltime residence in the valley were John Carnes and John Holland. They filed for adjacent homesteads on the south end of today’s National Elk Refuge. Over the next decade, the homesteader population rose from 23 to 639 by 1900. By 1920, these numbers would more than double to 1,381 residents. These numbers only account for those living legally on the land, and those who participated in the government census. Homesteading was possible in the west through a series of Homestead Acts designed to encourage settlement through free land acquisition. The U.S. Government would grant 160-acre plots to those who qualified for the application process and paid a small fee of $10-15. A homesteader was an individual 21 years or older, the head of a household and someone who had never taken up arms against the United States government (the Civil War was in its first year when the Act was signed – the war ended in 1865.) Even women were allowed to file for a patent, providing she was single.

Cattle on the Jackson Town Square. Collection of the Jackson Hole Historical Society & Museum

Cattle on the Jackson Town Square. Collection of the Jackson Hole Historical Society & Museum

Homesteading in Jackson Hole was a careful balance of surviving the harsh winters, short growing season and unexpected, violent weather patterns. Droughts, mid-summer hail storms and even the wildlife posed serious threats to the livelihoods of homesteaders who tried to raise cattle or hay. For many in Jackson Hole, 160 acres was simply not enough land to raise both cattle and the amount of hay needed to keep livestock and horses through the winter. Many were able to file for adjacent tracts through another Homestead Act, and others bought out neighbors who found the conditions too challenging. The many who persevered took great pride in their ranching operations, knowing they were solely responsible for their success. Some took creative routes to supplement their income, taking jobs with the Forest Service, or the Reclamation Service reconstructing the Jackson Lake Dam. Women ran the local post office, or taught at the small community schools to help make ends meet. Many ranchers found a new source of income in the increasing number of tourists traveling through the valley to see Yellowstone National Park. By offering a bed and food to the weary travelers, the ranchers began to rely less on cattle and haying operations.


Dudes Branding a Horse. Collection of the Jackson Hole Historical Society and Museum

Dudes Branding a Horse. Collection of the Jackson Hole Historical Society and Museum

“Dude ranches boasted a classless society full of class, where the swagger of Western horsemen blended on equal terms with the swagger of adventurous, anti-conventional Eastern aristocracy. Everyone—ranchers, Jackson storekeepers, hired hands, dudes—were caught up in this society, involved in the intense feuds and friendships, the bitter causes (park extension and related problems), took sides, cheated on each other selling horses and playing poker, loved, hated, even married each other.”  – Nathaniel Burt, A Classless Society: Dude Ranching in the Tetons 1908-1955

The overnight travels of early tourists quickly evolved into stays lasting weeks at a time. Dude ranching was a natural progression in Jackson Hole from cattle ranching. For many, wrangling dudes brought in more income and relieved the economic pressures which too often resulted from the unreliable weather. Many dude ranches continued to run cattle in an effort to bring in more visitors with the lure of staying on and participating in the life of a genuine “working cattle ranch.” Dudes would arrive in late spring, and stay throughout the summer, departing in early fall when the ranches closed for winter. Several dude ranches would also host big game hunters during the late fall months. With the picturesque mountains, sage brush plains and winding rivers ideal for fishing, Jackson Hole became a sought-after vacation destination. From 1908 when the first dude operation in Jackson Hole opened at the JY Ranch, until 1929 and the Great Depression, the “golden age” of dude ranching was at its peak in the valley. Hundreds of dudes would visit the valley in the summer months, often out-populating those who lived in the town of Jackson year-round.


“[The tourists] often ask, ‘Where’s Slippery Lake?’ So we’d show them how to get on up to Slide Lake. They’ll say, ‘How long have you lived here?’ We’ll answer, ‘Quite a while, our grandparents homesteaded. The Tetons were just little fellows when we come in. We watched ‘em grow up!’” –Clark Moulton, Legacy of the Tetons

After the Depression and two world wars, vacations were changing in American society. With the advent of affordable family automobiles, railroads were quickly falling out of favor as the primary transportation routes across the country. Now families could drive themselves, at their own pace. A movement after World War II to “rediscover America” prompted many to abandon the two-to-three-week long vacations in one place in favor of road trips. Families could now see as many sites as they wanted, traveling in the comfort of their own vehicles. While dude ranching declined during this era, tourism boomed in Jackson Hole. Motels became the new wave of the future, and the town of Jackson saw an increase in overnight visitors.

The allure of the Tetons continues to draw people to the valley today. The valley’s recreational opportunities and abundant wildlife are rivaled by few other places in the country. Several dude ranches still operate, continuing to host guests from out of state, and around the globe. Others prefer to camp, or stay at one of many upscale hotels. While the valley looks different today than it did to its original inhabitants, or to the homesteaders, the history and heritage of these groups is not lost.

Tetons rising above the valley floor. Photo by Samantha Ford

Tetons rising above the valley floor. Photo by Samantha Ford



Click on the image above for a timeline of archaeological history in Jackson Hole.

Click on the image above for a timeline of archaeological history in Jackson Hole.


Click on the photo above to be taken directly to the Historical Atlas.

For more information on the Motels and tourism in Jackson, please follow this link:

Text by Samantha Ford, Director of Historical Research and Outreach

Linn Ranch Archaeology Camp: May 2 – 8, 2016

Have you ever wanted to work on a real archaeological excavation? Now’s your chance!


New Venture for Linn Canyon Ranch and JHHSM:

Staff archaeologists Rebecca Sgouros and Matt Stirn have been excavating a 10,000 year old prehistoric campsite on Linn Canyon Ranch since 2014. The ranch, which is a family owned business, serves as a base for horseback riding and backcountry adventures in the Teton Valley and Range. This archaeological site is a community project and students from Jackson Hole Middle School and the Teton Literacy Center’s Summer Archaeology Camp have participated throughout the research. Thanks to the great success of these educational programs, the Linns, Matt, and Rebecca have decided to combine their skills and offer a week long Archaeology Camp available to all ages– the perfect combination of traditional Western vacation and historical exploration!

20141023_124934IMG_1211Participate in Local Archaeology, Learn the History of the Past

Archaeologists Matt and Rebecca will teach you about the rich cultural history of the area, the basics of archaeological excavation, and the importance of archaeological study. In addition to excavation, hands-on activities like making and throwing atlatls, learning to flint knap, making pottery and carving soapstone; field trips to learn about local edible and stone resources; and evening lectures on archaeological research in the High Tetons will round out the week. This camp is available to all ages (children under 12 must be accompanied by an adult) and is designed as a 7-day program. While single or multi-day participation can be accommodated, we strongly encourage you to sign up for the entire week.

Lunch, lemonade, and cookie breaks are included in the camp. Gourmet breakfasts and dinners are also offered at supplemental cost. A detailed schedule of the week and packing list will be available by mid-April.

DSCF1142Preserving Archaeology through Education:

The artifacts from this site have been collected from the surface or through professional excavation. They are the property of the Linn Family and are never sold. The artifacts remain on the ranch so that they can be preserved and used to teach students and visitors about the area’s rich cultural history. Thanks to the entire Linn Family for their generosity in sharing their ranch and this amazing archaeological site with the community. If it was not for their interest in cultural preservation and desire to study their site slowly and scientifically, this unique opportunity would not exist.

mattsphone 860“WOW! How do I sign up?”

There is a maximum of 18 spaces available per day. The cost per day (includes lunch and participation in all activities) is: $120. Spots are available on a first-come first-serve basis and can be secured by a 25% non-refundable deposit. The remaining balance is due at the start of the session. Checks can be made payable to: Linn Canyon Ranch. For more information (including the complete information packet) please visit www.jacksonholehistory.org. To reserve your spot please contact Rebecca at 307-733-2414 or Rebecca@jacksonholehistory.org.

Looking for someplace idyllic to stay while participating in the project of your dreams?

Available lodging on the ranch includes a beautiful cabin and two luxury “glamping” tents (please contact Linn Canyon Ranch for reservations). A list of local campgrounds, motels, and inns is also available.

» Download Info Packet [PDF]

Biomolecules & Folklore

Tuesday, March 22, 6-8pm, “Biomolecules and Folklore: Understanding Traditional Plant Use in the Tetons through Archaeology and Ethnography,” Teton County Library, 125 Virginian Lane, Jackson.


The Teton Plant Society is offering a presentation by Matt Stirn, Rebecca Sgouros, and Dr. Sharon Kahin of the Jackson Hole Historical Society and Museum. The ancient Tetons were a wealth of plant and animal biomoloculesresources for the Native American tribes who frequented the area. Wild edibles covered the valley floor of Jackson Hole and continued up into the Tetons above tree line.  While some exciting research has been conducted on the historical use of plants in the Jackson Hole region, much remains to be explored. During recent years, archaeologists and ethnographers have worked together to identify culturally significant plant species throughout the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. The talk will begin by looking at research currently being conducted in the Teton and Wind River Ranges, and will explore how archaeologists use tactics such as archaeobotany, biomolecular residue analysis, and satellite imagery to uncover clues about past plant use. The presentation will also include new information gathered on the traditional use of both edible and medicinal plants in the Jackson Hole and the Greater Yellowstone Region learned from recent oral histories conducted with both Shoshone and Crow elders and healers.


Free and open to the public. Co-sponsored by the Teton Plant Society and the Teton County Library.

History Day gets a bit wild


Carin Larkin, right, a Jackson Hole High School English teacher, goes over a student’s presentation with Rebecca Sgouros, of the Jackson Hole Historical Society and Museum.

Carin Larkin, right, a Jackson Hole High School English teacher, goes over a student’s presentation with Rebecca Sgouros, of the Jackson Hole Historical Society and Museum.

Georgia Eidemiller and Cyrena Keefe brought history to life last week when they performed their rendition of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show.

“Step up folks and you’ll have a hog killin’ time,” Georgia said in her rendition of a cowboy accent, “from Indians who perform tribal dances and rituals to a wild buffalo chasin’ shootout.”

The two performed at Jackson Hole High School for National History Day, an event that has been hosted at the school since Georgia and Cyrena were babies.

Now ninth-graders, the two actresses feel they have learned a lot about William “Buffalo Bill” Cody while working on a project that is part of the curriculum in their Honors U.S. History class.

Read the full article 


Ranchers v. Bison-Huggers

BK battle for ynp“Ranchers v bison-huggers” is the title of an article describing what The Economist Magazine (2/16/2016) called “The most original political book of early 2105”. The Battle for Yellowstone by Justin Farrell from Yale University is the latest of the Jackson Hole Historical Society’s Voices of the Valley series on conservation in Jackson Hole and the Greater Yellowstone area.  In it, Farrell ponders “venomous rows that have shaken Yellowstone National park in recent decades, and why they are so intractable.” Farrell’s book focuses on wolf re-introduction, bison roaming rights and snowmobile access to what the reviewer rightly calls “that lovely corner of the Rocky Mountains”.

Dr. Farrells talk begins at 7:00 on Thursday, February 18 in the museum’s main gallery on 225 N. Cache and will be followed by a book signing. As part of the museum’s Voices of the Valley series, the program is free and available to all!

Sky Ranch

Sky Ranch was the life-long dream of William Balderston II, who first arrived in Jackson Hole at 15 years old in 1912. The summer between his junior and senior high school years, Bill was working on a survey for the Oregon Short Line Railroad that held a right-of-way between Green River, Wyoming and Yellowstone’s south entrance. He traveled on the infamously dangerous survey road lining Hoback Canyon. After the early death of his father in 1913, Bill scrapped plans for attending West Point in New York. Instead, he found work with the Reclamation Service on the third Jackson Lake Dam project, returning to Jackson Hole in 1914. Known to have amateur photography skills, Bill was given a 8×10 Century View camera with the title “progress photographer.” Taking his job seriously, Bill diligently documented the Jackson Lake Enlargement Project, leaving behind a large collection of photographs. It is thought that Bill constructed the first dark room in the valley at Moran to develop his photographs. Upon the completion of the project in 1915, Bill left the valley and pursued a successful career in civil engineering. His work is significant for the introduction of radios in personal automobiles and radar equipment in airplanes. In 1946, Bill became the Executive Vice President of Philco, retiring in 1957 as President. In 1947 Bill received the Certificate of Merit from President Truman for his contributions to developing airplane radar technology for World War II.

Despite spending several decades away from the valley, Jackson Hole was never far from his mind. Like many, he found the valley to be an inspiring place and vowed to return. He spoke often of his desire to own land there, and to create a private ranch for his family. After hearing the story so many times, his wife Susan, called it his “dream in the sky.” In 1948, the Balderston family traveled back to Jackson Hole as dudes at the White Grass Dude Ranch. The family fell in love with the valley and upon their return in 1952, Bill’s big plans would finally take shape. He began to scout the valley to find land that could serve as his dream ranch. Upon hearing his plans, White Grass owner Frank Galey offered to sell a small piece of the northwest portion of his land to Bill. The property would total 13 acres, nestled among a stand of Douglas Fir with a commanding view of the White Grass meadow and the Gros Ventre Range.

Construction began on Bill’s dream “Sky Ranch” in the fall of 1952 and by the following summer, the family moved in. During the construction process, the Balderstons paid Frank Galey to oversee the process. The two families would maintain a close neighborly relationship over the next several decades. The property was designed by Philadelphia architect John Arnold Bower and the work was completed by local contractor Jack Kranenberg. They constructed a main cabin, two sleeping cabins, a bathhouse and a barn with corrals. Unlike the other architect-designed properties in the valley, this ranch was designed to be a quiet family retreat. There was no need for impressing distinguished guests as the natural environment best accomplished that task. The property was designed specifically with the natural beauty of the valley in mind, the imposing Tetons behind the ranch and the Gros Ventre Range as the view shed.

Despite being away from the valley during the construction, Balderston remained committed to the process. He was aware of the impact his ranch would have on the landscape and wrote detailed instructions to ensure the buildings would remain low to the ground and remain nearly invisible between the trees. Minimal trees were removed and minimal landscaping or grading was performed. These methods were highly unusual for the valley, as lots were cleared and buildings arranged in an open cluster. Each of Balderston’s buildings were designed so that no building could be seen from the interior of another.

Jack Kranenberg, the local contractor hired a skilled crew of Norwegians to construct the log buildings. Kranenberg himself was well known throughout the valley for his skill with log. The buildings were modeled in the Rocky Mountain Rustic style that mirrors early homestead architecture. In the case of Sky Ranch, skilled craftsman were responsible for choosing each log for its shape and size to create a uniform appearance. Each building was designed to unique specifications, with below grade foundations and steeply pitched roofs to allow snow to fall off. Each of the chimneys were constructed with stone sourced from the Gros Ventre slide debris field. Few materials were wasted, the ends of logs were used as flat spherical patio paving, rather than additional stone. The unusual level of care and planning undertaken to construct these buildings is still apparent today in their unused state.

The Balderston family spent every summer on the property starting in 1953 until the termination of the life lease in 2005. Over the years, the property served as additional “over flow” space for the White Grass and in turn, the Balderstons were welcome to take part in the White Grass recreation and entertainment. During the summers the family rented horses that they kept in the barn, situated on the northeast corner of the property. Bill wanted to make sure that this family enjoyed the wild beauty of the valley, and riding lessons were undertaken in the winter to prepare for summer. Camping, hiking, fishing, pack trips, cookouts and the rodeo were mainstays for the family. The ranch served as a connective link between family members and outdoor adventure. As the family grew and grandchildren started visiting the property, they would grow up with an appreciation for nature.

Today, Sky Ranch is almost identical to the appearance it had in 1953 when the Balderston family first moved in. The cabins retain a high degree of integrity, with minimal changes to the original buildings. In 1969 an additional log cabin was constructed from a kit to create more room for the growing family. The property still conveys the same sense of peace in natural beauty that the Balderstons so enjoyed.


1912: William Balderston II first arrives in Jackson Hole to work on a survey project in Hoback Canyon.

1914: Balderston returns to Jackson Hole to work as project photographer on the Jackson Lake Dam Enlargement Project at Moran. He constructs the first known darkroom in the valley.

1915: Balderston departs the valley, but promises to return and to own a ranch.

1948: Keeping a 33-year promise, Balderston returns to Jackson Hole with his family to vacation at the White Grass Dude Ranch.

1952: On a visit to the White Grass, Balderston is approached by ranch owner Frank Galey to purchase a small parcel of land in the ranch’s northwestern corner. Construction begins that fall on Sky Ranch.

1953: The Balderston family spends their first summer at their ranch.

1969: “Sky Bunk” is constructed to create additional space for the growing family.

1982: The Sky Ranch is sold to Grand Teton National Park with a life lease.

2005: The life lease ends and Grand Teton National Park assumes management of the ranch.

Text by Samantha Ford, Director of Historical Research and Outreach

Save Sky Ranch

Pledge your support for preserving Sky Ranch!

Built in 1953, Sky Ranch is a 13-acre vacation property approximately 3 miles west of Moose, Wyoming, in Grand Teton National Park. The property consists of a main cabin, a guest house (shown), bathhouse, bunk house, a barn, and a corral. The recently released Historic Properties
Management Plan for Grand Teton National Park proposes demolishing this National Register-eligible property. We would prefer to see the property used as park housing or a preservation learning lab.

Let’s work to save Sky Ranch!

Ice Bison and Prehistoric Trout Fishing: Resolving Mysteries from the Archaeological Record

In 2015, the JHHSM launched its second season of archaeological research in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Highlights include the results from an ancient diet study, the discovery of preserved bison remains in an alpine glacier, with the potential to illuminate ancient migration patterns, and the extraction of a high-altitude pollen core which will be used to recreate the climate of the Tetons over the past 17,000 years. Please join us for our annual archaeology update, all ages are welcome.