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.

The Battle for Yellowstone: Morality and The Sacred Roots of Environmental Conflict

BK battle for ynp

“What Does Morality and Religion Have to Do with GYE Politics?”

Presented by Dr. Justin Farrell, Yale University.

This is the latest program in our “History of Conservation” series at the Jackson Hole Historical Society & Museum. Dr. Justin Farrell is a Yale professor whose social research examines how communities and the environment are changing in the American West. He is an expert on the cultural and political factors that create community and environmental conflict. As a native Wyomingite, much of his research takes place in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. His research methods have been praised for their cutting-edge blend of in-depth interviewing and observation, with state-of-the-art data analytics and machine learning. His new book is entitled The Battle for Yellowstone: Morality and The Sacred Roots of Environmental Conflict. 

The Economist magazine reviewed it and stated “The most original political book of early 2015 is not formally about politics at all. Instead…Justin Farrell, a young scholar at Yale University, ponders venomous rows that have shaken Yellowstone National Park in recent decades, and why they are so intractable. The rows turn on such questions as wolf re-introduction, bison roaming-rights, and snowmobile access to that lovely corner of the Rocky Mountains.”

Dr. Farrell’s presentation will be held at the Jackson Hole History Museum, 225 N. Cache Street, on Thursday evening, February 18, at 7:00 p.m., and will be followed by a book signing. The program is free to the public. Call 307-733-2414 for more details.


Tourism in Jackson Hole

As early as 1890, Jenny Lake had been the center of recreational activities in the valley. Jenny Lake quickly became the most popular destination in the valley. The lake was centrally located and provided much of the recreational activities that drew visitors to the valley. The area provided access to the Tetons for climbing and hiking, the lake for any number of water sports, nearby Lupine Meadows was ideal for horseback riding, and wildlife viewing.

Forest Service
The Forest Service was created and adopted the policy that forest reserves should be promoted for their commercial and recreational values. They often leased out large tracts of land for mining, lumbering, irrigation and tourism purposes.
In these early years the Forest Service managed the area and issued permits to the various concessioners operating at the Jenny Lake area. By 1926 there were 30,000 visitors coming to the Jackson Hole valley. Almost every one passed through the Jenny Lake area. At this time, there was such a large demand for visitor services that the infrastructure needed to support this was beginning to dominate the lake shore and ruin the natural setting. At this point there were several concessioners offering overnight stays in cabins, a store, gas station, boat house, horses, a dance hall, and even billboards to entice motorists to stop. In 1927 the Forest Service constructed a campground.
The campground served several purposes for those coming to Jenny Lake. It was an excellent base for mountaineering expeditions, locals became regulars after events at the dance hall and tourists who were vacationing.

Grand Teton National Park Visitor Services
In 1929 Grand Teton National Park was established and Jenny Lake was almost at the eastern edge of the park boundary. The south Jenny Lake area had already been heavily developed as a visitor center, the NPS decided to continue these services under their management. The idea was to prevent further development, and to protect the other natural areas in the park from the high visitor density that Jenny Lake had already suffered from.
The Park Service closed many of the concessions and removed many buildings in order to create a designed plan to help interpret the natural setting rather than block it. The guest cabins, store, gas station, and billboards were all removed. The guest cabins were moved north to become part of the Jenny Lake Lodge which was established on the north-eastern shore of the lake. In their place, the Park Service moved in a cabin from a nearby homestead that they had recently acquired with the establishment of the Park.

Fritiof Fryxell
The Lee Manges cabin was moved in 1930 from its original location on the west side of Cottonwood Creek to serve as a museum, store, visitor services center and ranger station. The building was reconstructed to match the standardized Rocky Mountain Rustic architecture that had become synonymous with the National Parks.
Fritiof Fryxell opened the first visitor interpretation exhibits in this building, showcasing his historic and geologic collections. Fryxell had initially set up a table on the entrance road, eager to educate anyone who would stop to see his collection.He operated the museum and became the first official visitor contact in the park. Fryxell lived in the building along with one seasonal employee and worked long hours. He eventually ran the visitor services for the entire area, overseeing several employees.
The museum building would serve as the only visitor center until the expansion of the park in 1950 and the construction of the Colter Bay and Moose visitor services facilities in the 1960s. The homestead cabin still serves the visitors today as a ranger station.

Harrison Crandall
Harrison Crandall had originally homesteaded on the northern end of Jenny Lake. When the Park was established, he too, sold his property to the NPS. Rather than move from the area like Manges, Crandall wanted to take advantage of the newly official visitor services on the south shore of Jenny Lake.
He was a talented photographer and painter, and maintained a studio on his homestead. He moved this studio to the Jenny Lake complex and opened his doors to the thousands of visitors that passed through the area. The building was also rebuilt at this time to match the museum in the “Rustic style” architecture.
His paintings and photos quickly became a draw to the area in their own right, depicting wild and natural areas that most visitors would never see. He became known as the “Park Photographer and Resident Artist” and nationally known for his work. He operated his studio for the next two decades, becoming an integral part of the interpretation services. He became so successful that he opened a second studio in Moran.
Crandall became the park’s first unofficial publicist. Many visitors felt their stay was not complete unless they were going home with a print or card from Crandall’s studio. Along with Fryxell operating the first interpretation exhibits, Crandall sold the first souvenirs.
The Crandall Studio would showcase incredible landscape and wildlife photography and art until 1958. It was then converted into a general store for the convenience of the campers and visitors. Today it serves as the area’s visitor center.

Also see: Homesteading, Cattle Ranching, Dude Ranching, and Snake River Land Company

Text by Samantha Ford, Director of Historical Research and Outreach



Dude Ranching in Jackson Hole

Beef was the valley’s most important export, and dudes were the most important import. The first dude ranches established in the valley were the JY (1908) by Louis Joy and Struthers Burt, the Bar BC (1912) and the White Grass (1913) by Harold Hammond and George Bispham. While the JY was the oldest and largest, the Bar BC quickly became the most well-known and profitable. The Bar BC is also responsible for establishing the dude ranch as a business in Jackson Hole. It directly lead to the creation of 12 other dude ranches, all tracing their origin to staying at the Bar BC. There were several others who stayed at the Bar BC and established private residences in the area. Maud Noble was one of these individuals.
Struthers Burt is quoted as saying the period of 1919-1929 was the “golden age of dude ranching.” Dude ranches reached their height during this time, with the most amount of visitors, activities offered and profit made off of wealthy easterners looking to live like a cowboy. In the summer of 1925, during the height of the “golden age,” there were 400 residents in the town of Jackson and over 600 dudes in the valley.

Unlike their operational ranch counterparts, most dude ranches sprung up on the west side of the Snake River, where access to water was not a concern. Some would raise 5-10 cattle in order to call themselves a “cattle ranch” in order to better advertise the rustic authenticity of their location. The west side of the Snake also provided better access to the mountains, lakes and streams that were considered to be the most scenic areas in the valley.
Stunning views, abundant wildlife and stories of Indians, trappers and the wild frontier captured the imaginations of the wealthy living in crowded post-industrial eastern cities. Romanticized ideas about cowboys fighting Indians and living off the land while following vast herds of cattle on the open plains were forefront in their thoughts. The advertising for dude ranches did nothing to dispel this myths, and as is the case for Jackson Hole, created the idea of “the last of the old west.” Wealthy individuals would travel via railroad to Victor, Driggs and St. Anthony, Idaho and be carried over the passes in wagons. Upon arrival at their dude ranch they would receive room, board and a horse for a single fee, charged monthly. This became known as the American Plan and was standard for all dude ranches.

There was a large campaign set up by the railroad companies, specifically the Union Pacific, to entice travelers to experience the western lifestyle. Tourists would find the ranch of their choice in a guidebook that the UP published, and travel via railroad to experience the disappearing lifestyle of the “Old West Cowboy.” The minimum reservation accepted at most dude ranches was two weeks. Some even stayed up to a month or more. Tourists were encouraged to leave the family car at home, and leave the hassle of cross-country travel to the railroads. This benefitted the dude ranches as well, because it meant their visitors would stay much longer due to the time spent traveling. For about a decade the dude ranches and railroads shared a profitable partnership as World War I ended and the idea of a vacation became welcome.

Dude Definition/Activities
Unlike the wranglers and ranch hands who took care of ranch management and chores, the dudes were simply glorified tourists “playing cowboy.” The term dude began in a derogatory sense, but later was claimed proudly and encouraged by guests and ranch owners alike. They would have the option of going on week-long hunting, fishing or pack trips to see what the life of the cowboy was like. Activities around the ranch included swimming, fishing and camping. In the early years hiking and mountaineering were not yet recreational activities, but they were soon added to the list.

World War I
Even before the United States was involved in World War I, international travel was dangerous. Americans still wanted to go on vacations and began to look within the borders of their own country. They then discovered the west and the dude ranch. The combination of the war ending and beef prices dropping meant that there were many new ranches opening their doors to dudes. Some were small, capable of hosting up to 10 dudes and others like the JY and Bar BC could host upwards of 60-65 dudes. There was a wide variety of locations, activities and amenities offered for any vacation budget.

“Roughing it in comfort”
Many dude ranches advertised the comforts they provided and drew a strong line between “comfort” and “luxury.” A comfort was considered a furnished log cabin with beds, a private outhouse and hot water supplied in a tub every morning. Luxuries were plumbing and electricity. Other comforts were fresh vegetables and dairy. Due to the harsh climate and small growing season, being able to provide your guests with fresh food was no small feat. Men like John Moulton saw a profitable venture in supplying the area dude ranches with these items. Moulton managed a dairy operation in order to sell his butter and cream to dude ranches. The earliest meals at the Bar BC were entirely canned, and mostly meat-based. Being able to add a vegetable garden was a considerable advantage over the competition. Some dude ranches began offering automobile tours of Yellowstone for an extra fee.

There was one big difference between dude ranches and other “guest” ranches in the valley. While the dude ranches competed between themselves for business, they banded together in opposition to the other more commercial developments popping up in the valley. The “guest ranch” was becoming a popular venture for individuals who were not interested in “roughing it” in any form. These were walk-in, nightly guests who stayed in small clusters of “cottage cabins” designed for automobile tourists. These auto camps would bill themselves as “rustic ranches” but retain none of the authenticity or integrity of a true ranch. As far as the owners of the dude ranches were concerned, these camps would ruin the valley.
True dude ranches refused walk-in guests and had strict policies for making reservations. The minimum stay was around two weeks, but most stayed for a month or more. The only way to obtain a reservation was to send in references. The policy differed from ranch to ranch, some required references from past dudes and others wanted written descriptions of character and interest. More often than not, if an individual did not know previous dudes or wasn’t from the same city-suburb area, the request would be refused.
The strict policies were in place to ensure a suitable “ranch family” atmosphere could be created. Families would come to the dude ranches for weeks and live in close quarters, often sharing day and week-long activities. The owners of the ranches wanted to be sure of the “amenable character” of their guests in order to have a smooth summer. Those who were invited to come and then proved themselves to be less than amicable were asked to leave.

Black Tuesday in October of 1929 would effectively bring the golden age of dude ranching to an end. The stock market crash bankrupted many ranches. They were unable to pay large debts or property taxes. The overhead costs of running a dude ranch proved to be too much for many during this period. Some hung on and made small changes such as raising prices and hosting less guests. Others closed the ranches for a few summers in hopes of returning, and many did. A third option was to sell the property and hope to receive a decent amount for it with the plunging land values. One such entity that was less affected by the Depression than most was the Snake River Land Company, secretly backed by John D. Rockefeller. Rockefeller took advantage of the financially struggling homesteaders and ranchers alike during this period and many were willing to sell for any price. Many who did sell to the SRLC continued to operate their ranches on leases, relieved of the pressure of property taxes. Some ranches were able to open during this period as well.

Most dude ranches rode out the Depression, but many more disappeared. After the end of World War II, the dude ranch began to experience a decline like it had never seen before. Automobiles were changing the landscape of America and thus the idea of vacations. Americans were no longer interested in traveling by train for days to arrive in a single location and remain there for several weeks. They wanted to travel in their family vehicle, seeing as many sights as possible along the way. The railroads continued to advertise the benefits of easy travel and dude ranch destinations, but they too would not recover.
Americans no longer had any interest in “roughing it” and as a result many dude ranches installed electricity and made plumbed bathroom additions to their sleeping cabins. The idea of a vacation centered on vigorous exercise was waning, changing the way dude ranches were run. Bars, pool halls and casinos were added to ranches. A much larger indoor presence was being focused on. Game rooms were installed in empty hay lofts, no longer servicing the saddle horses that were missing from their stables below. Pack trips shrunk to an hour or so, with a larger emphasis on motorized sight-seeing. With the expansion of Grand Teton National Park, many dude ranches sold their land to the NPS. Some remained with a lease or a life estate agreement. Others sold and moved away from the area. The White Grass and the Bar BC would hold out until 1985 and 1986 respectively.

Also see: Homesteading, Cattle Ranching, Tourism, and Snake River Land Company

Text by Samantha Ford, Director of Historical Research and Outreach



Cattle Ranching in Jackson Hole

As early as 1884 cattle ranching began in the valley. As the homesteaders quickly discovered, their location wasn’t well suited for cultivating large surpluses of grain to sell. Once again, geography plays an important role. Most western cattle ranches were made up of thousands of acres of grazing. These were where the cowboys worked, often being away for weeks at a time to oversee the herds.
In Jackson Hole, this imagery was romanticized, as the valley began to bill itself as the “last of the old west.” When in truth, it was one of the last places in the old west to be settled. The geography that prevented homestead development in the valley also prevented cattle ranching from being as widespread as it was in the rest of the west. Here in the valley ranching operations were very small, often 10-20 cows per homestead. They were confined by the homestead acts, to one application for each act. If an individual was fortunate enough to have adjacent tracts available that fell under one of the other acts there was a chance to expand your land. Most made due with 160 acres, but adding an additional 160 under the Desert Land Act was also a common occurrence.
Jackson Hole winters were long and hard. This meant the ranchers had to provide shelter and winter feed for their cattle. This also included sheltering and feeding the horses that helped to plow the fields. Resources were often spread thin, and it was a yearly struggle to prepare for the winter months. It was incredibly hard work, but many were successful in that their modest ranches were also manageable. The smaller herds meant that it cost less to maintain and some were even able to sell surplus grain to the markets in Idaho. Others who weren’t able to accomplish this had to find the cash to purchase hay to survive the winter.

Fish Creek Wolf Association
Formed to remove a perceived threat of wolves on livestock and game animals. The association hired men to hunt wolves and offered rewards for each wolf killed. $62 for females, $52 for males and $22 for pups. By 1930, the wolves were removed from the valley. This was just three years after Olaus Murie arrived in town in 1927 to begin looking into the Elk problem.

Intended to keep animals in and out, there were a few different types used by homesteaders and ranchers.
Buck-Rail: The original type of fencing constructed in the valley due to the abundance of lodgepole pine as a building material. In the early years before 1900, building supplies were sparse. The mountain passes were still primitive at best, and extremely dangerous to traverse. It would take almost 20 years before a reliable route was constructed and widened for wagons. As a result, the buck-rail fence was the best solution to fencing. Not because of the difficulty to drive fence posts into the ground, but simply because other, better materials weren’t available in the vast quantities required. Miles of fencing was included on many homestead applications.
Barbed Wire: In 1900, this material became available in the valley mostly in thanks to Charles “Pap” Deloney who had begun operating a mercantile near the newly named Jackson Post Office. He began providing the valley with valuable supplies, many of which were previously prohibitively expensive.
The barbed wire fence was much easier to construct, driving post holes into the ground every couple feet and stringing the wire between them. The new easy fencing would prove to be troublesome in the beginning. Wildlife attempting to cross these man-made boundaries would often become tangled and injured. The ranchers recognized the need for the wildlife to be able to pass safely and made some adjustments.
Post & Wire: This fence can be seen today at the Elk Ranch. The same style and design as the barbed wire, the post and wire included some improvements. A wooden top rail was added, to allow wildlife to pass over the fence smoothly. The lowest wire is raised and often un-barbed to allow smaller ungulates and mammals to pass under the fencing without being caught.

Federal Government
Despite the decades-long controversy over the establishment of the Grand Teton National Park, the residents of the valley weren’t always so hostile towards the federal government. One of the best ways to earn extra cash was to accept jobs with the Forest Service, Reclamation Service, Biological Survey and later Fish & Wildlife. These were hired positions, but often independently managed. Men would serve the amount of time for the amount of cash they needed. There weren’t any requirements for hours, so many enjoyed the option to pick days when less work was required on the ranch.
They readily accepted these positions as a way to protect their livelihoods and economic interests by helping to protect un-occupied areas. They also wanted to manage the over-hunting and trapping of elk and beaver. The valley on a whole saw the elk as their most important economic interest, as they brought in valuable income from guided hunting trips. This view would eventually contribute to the “elk problem” in the 1920s.

World War I
From 1914 to 1918, the demand for beef steadily raised as supplies were being collected for the war effort. In 1917 the United States joined the war, and there was an even bigger demand to support the US troops overseas. Calf prices started rising, and ranchers were making a good profit on their herds. Ranch sizes were still modest, with 20 cattle being on the higher end for most homesteads. Others like Si Ferrin at the Elk Ranch were able to purchase adjoining parcels to create a very large presence on the land. He was able to sign a lucrative contract to provide beef to the Reclamation Service rebuilding the dam at Moran. This meant war effort or not, he had a steady source of income.

In 1910 there was a homesteading boom in the valley and a lot of the previously public lands used for grazing were now in private ownership. While beef was the valley’s only true economic export, cattle ranching would never achieve the status it did elsewhere in the west. At the end of World War I in 1918, the calf prices dropped considerably. There was no longer such a demand for beef and this combined with the severe drought of 1919 put many ranchers in the red financially.

Also see: Homesteading, Dude Ranching, Tourism, and Snake River Land Company

Text by Samantha Ford, Director of Historical Research and Outreach


Homesteading in Jackson Hole

Land Ownership in the West
*The Acts listed below were the most popular land entries made in the valley, there were several others that were enacted at the time but weren’t as relevant to Jackson Hole.
*Most individuals succeeded in acquiring the deed to their land, although some spent more than five years attempting to “prove up” and satisfy the Bureau of Land Management. Others struggled for a handful of years, eventually filing a “relinquishment,” giving up on their homestead attempt. These were valuable parcels to purchase, being in various states of cultivation and often with some sort of infrastructure (cabins, fencing, barns, etc).
*Once a relinquishment was filed, the land was available to purchase at about $1.25/acre.

Homestead Act 1862: A system of public land management that allowed individuals traveling to the West to acquire land for free. There was a filing fee of $10-15 for each application. 160 acres was the maximum amount of land you could apply for under this act.
Live on land for at least 5 years, no absence being longer than 6 months.
Cultivate a minimum of 10 acres.
Build a structure larger than 12ftx14ft.
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 later ended in 1865.) This even included women, excluding those who were married. Homesteaders were individuals who using legal means to acquire virtually free ownership of their land.
A Squatter was an individual who may or may not have met the requirements to be a homesteader but instead informally settled on a piece of land that did not belong to them. In Jackson Hole, some squatters settled on land that would become open to homesteading in the future.

Desert Land Act 1877: Up to 320 acres of “desert” land. This act was intended to “reclaim, irrigate, and
cultivate arid and semiarid public lands.” As the desert lands were not allowed to be cultivated, many valley residents and cattle ranches filed for second entries to gain additional acreage for grazing. There was no residency requirement and the land was purchased at $1.25/acre.

Timber & Stone Act 1878: Up to 160 acres of land unfit for cultivation but with possible logging and mining interests. Somehomesteaders would file under this act in order to increase their potential return on land investment.  This act was seen as controversial by those who opposed giving valuable forested lands to private ownership. The act was repealed in 1900.

Stock-Raising Homestead Act 1916: Allowed filing for up to 640 acres of land only suitable for grazing.
Some “range” improvements had to be made, but these requirements were unclear.


In 1884, John Holland and John Carnes arrive in the valley with the intent to establish homesteads and become the first permanent residents. They chose the best lands in the valley on the east side of the Elk Refuge. South Park was another area of early settlement. As more homesteaders came to the valley, settlement began to spread north. The majority of the homesteads were located on the east side of the Snake River, where the soil quality was higher and access to water was easier. The homesteading period would last until 1927, when Calvin Coolidge signed several Executive Orders closing more than 23,000 acres to public entry. No one could apply for private ownership on federal land.

They mountain ranges protecting the valley on all sides also prevented earlier settlement. Winters were harsh and closed the valley off for 6 months of every year. Over the border in Idaho, farmers had been aware of the available land in Jackson Hole for several decades. They would often drive cattle over the pass in the summer to use the open areas for grazing. Eventually the lure of open free land in Jackson Hole brought Carnes and Holland over the pass permanently. Their success meant that others quickly followed.

*Numbers are low estimates using census records. These only include those legally residing on the land, those willing to participate and those living in accessible areas.
1890: 23 people reside in the valley
1900: 639
1910: 810
1920: 1,381
*4th of July barbeques were held at Jenny Lake, a central and scenic location. In 1890 when just under 15 people arrived, “Old Man” Atherton (as he was known) announced that people were “too darn numerous” in the valley. He sold his land and moved deep into the Gros Ventre mountains and no one saw him after that.

Good soil was almost useless without a reliable supply of water for irrigation. Those who were fortunate to apply for parcels of land near creeks were often very successful. Others who had the time and ability to dig irrigation ditches would spend months struggling with the back-breaking work. Some ditches extend for miles, and many are still visible on the landscape. The oldest man-made structure in the park is an irrigation ditch.
For those less fortunate without access to water, dry farming was the only option. This meant relying on the natural rainfall to water the fields. The short growing season along with unpredictable weather patterns made this an extremely difficult practice in Jackson Hole.

Weather is unpredictable in the valley, due to its unique geography. Summer thunderstorms carrying hail ruined entire seasons of crops, along with severe droughts (in 1919). Frost was possible on any night of the year. Pest management was also a constant struggle. Ground squirrels one year were solely responsible for the loss of all crops on Mormon Row. Elk would decimate large haystacks left over winter in fields, intended for the livestock. This led to freezing nightly patrols to keep the Elk away, a chore usually delegated to the rancher’s oldest son. They would sleep in the center of the stack, with only a small oil lantern for light. Thankfully there are no accounts of anyone burning down a haystack. Livestock would also trample crops if they weren’t fenced in properly.

Native hay, brome grass, timothy, alfalfa, barley, oats, wheat.
Many also grew large kitchen gardens which included: potatoes, carrots, turnips, lettuce, cabbage, rutabaga, onion, berries, peas, beets and radishes. The women would tend to the gardens, often growing several hundred pounds of potatoes to sell at the markets in Idaho.

Also see: Cattle Ranching, Dude Ranching, Tourism, and Snake River Land Company.

Text by Samantha Ford, Director of Historical Research and Outreach



Snake River Land Company

1915: Stephen Mather and his assistant, Horace Albright first travels to Yellowstone National Park to survey how it was run. On a whim they decided to travel south to look at the Teton Range and Jackson Hole. Both men are awe-struck by what they found, a sparsely settled valley bordered by the rugged Tetons. The valley leaves a distinct impression on Albright, who sees the modest homesteads as the beginning of larger developments. He becomes convinced that an expansion of Yellowstone is the only solution to protect the valley.

1919: Horace Albright becomes superintendent of Yellowstone National Park, a position he fills until 1929. One of the biggest goals of his career is to federally protect the Jackson Hole valley.

1926: John D. Rockefeller Jr. comes out to Yellowstone to tour the park with Horace Albright. Albright sees this as an opportunity to invite Rockefeller to become involved in an impending plan to save Jackson Hole and the Tetons. Stephen Mather orders Albright to refrain from speaking about the matter, as Rockefeller is intending this trip to be a vacation only. Rather than letting the opportunity slip through his fingers, Albright risks his career and asks Rockefeller if he would like to see the beautiful valley just to the south of Yellowstone. Rockefeller agrees and is astounded by the beautiful views of the Tetons, and the valley below them. Albright passionately explains that they valley is under threat and in need of financial support to stave off future developments. Rockefeller is intrigued and thanks Albright for the tour. Rockefeller returns home thinking about Jackson Hole and the few struggling homesteads dotting the valley.
-Rockefeller was already known for his philanthropy, he had purchased and donated the land that later became Acadia National Park in Maine in 1916.

1927: Rockefeller is on board with Albright’s ideas and establishes the Snake River Land Company to begin purchasing large amounts of land from the valley residents. Rockefeller’s friend and business partner, Vanderbilt Webb, is made the President of the Snake River Land Company.
-Harold Fabian is the attorney contracted to oversee the process, and Fabian becomes the Vice President. Fabian moves to Jackson Hole during the summers to make sure everything is running in order. Rockefeller and Webb remain in New York City and receive regular correspondence about the venture. Rockefeller’s name is kept hidden to keep land appraisals low.
-Robert Miller, a Jackson Hole resident and founder of the Jackson State Bank, is hired as a field agent for the Company. Miller was chosen because he could provide a “familiar face” for the negotiations taking place on the ground.
-Meanwhile valley residents are circulating their own petition to approve the creation of a preserve or recreation area to protect the open lands in the valley. Feeling pressure from dropping beef prices, harsh winters and droughts, many ranches are struggling. They worry that a wealthy investor will purchase the valley for future developments. Ninety-seven ranchers signed the petition, owning over 27,000 acres of land.
-Robert Miller’s contract expires and both Miller and the SRLC decline to renew it. Relations between the two parties have degraded due to different ideas about which properties to purchase. Miller wanted to focus on the east bank of the Snake River, where he held many mortgages on homesteads; Rockefeller was more interested in the west bank and the more scenic corridor of the valley. It is thought that Miller may also have discovered the true purpose of the Company and left because was vehemently opposed to a National Park expansion or other federal control of the valley.
-Calvin Coolidge signs two executive orders removing over 1,280 acres of public land in Jackson Hole from future homestead claims. The era of homesteading is effectively ended in the valley.

1929: On February 26 President Calvin Coolidge signs the executive order after congressional approval to create Grand Teton National Park. The first park boundaries include only the Teton Range and the several lakes at the base of the mountains. Jackson Lake was excluded from the early park. Roads are improved and the first visitor services are created at Jenny Lake, on the site of preexisting Forest Service concessions. This is seen as a success to Albright, who still endeavors to protect the entire valley, not just the Teton Range.

1930: Rockefeller makes his role in the SRLC public, and the backlash is immediate and angry. Valley residents were offended that outsiders had been secretly stepping in and effectively buying the power to decide what would happen to the future of their valley. Many had few financial interests outside of their lands and homesteads, which had already required backbreaking work to obtain from the federal government. The thought that their hard-won lands could so easily be given back to the government infuriated many, even those originally in favor of selling their lands to help preserve the valley.
-Rumors spread wildly, some were blatantly false and others may have been based in some truth. The truth didn’t matter to many, only that they had been lied to and that they had little say in what happened to the land they loved so much. Though clearly not true, some even suggested that Rockefeller and the National Park Service had partnered to illegally purchase the lands in Jackson Hole.

1933: United States Senate subcommittee meetings are held to determine the legality behind the purchases that were made by Rockefeller and the Snake River Land Company. Suspicions of illegal behavior are proved unfounded and the purchasing schedule is allowed to resume. The testimony of Robert Miller is telling; he claims that he had no knowledge of the true intentions of the Company or of any National Park Service involvement.

1940: Plagued by bad press, the Snake River Land Company is absorbed and rebranded as the Jackson Hole Preserve, Inc. It is hoped that the new name can soften the image of the company and help to create renewed interest in supporting the protection of the valley from future development. The 35,000 acres that Rockefeller has already purchased have so far been passed over by the National Park Service, continuing to be too controversial to be accepted as a donation. It was at yet unclear what would become of the land; an expansion of Grand Teton or Yellowstone or something else entirely?

1943: After decades of frustration, and a refusal from Congress to accept the lands, Rockefeller serves President Franklin Roosevelt an ultimatum: accept the donation of the lands he has purchased, or they will be sold to the highest bidder. Roosevelt acquiesces and by executive order and the Antiquities Act of 1906, creates the 210,000 acre Jackson Hole National Monument.
-Valley residents and State of Wyoming representatives alike vehemently oppose what they see as the over extension of the federal government in creating the Jackson Hole National Monument. Several measures were undertaken by the State of Wyoming to abolish the monument, concerned that it will be a detriment to both the county and state’s economy. President Roosevelt, however, vetoes the bill that would have dissolved the monument. Incensed, the State of Wyoming files a suit against the President. The presiding judge “declined to comment” on a disagreement between the executive and legislative branches of government.
-As a result of 130,000 acres of Teton National Forest land transferring to National Park Service hands, the Forest Service was also against the newly formed National Monument. With little power to change these events, the Forest Service resorted to questionable actions in vacating their ranger stations, forcibly removing the fixtures and some buildings. These actions resulted in severe damage to several buildings, and the removal of the current Forest Service Supervisor to a different agency.
-The Jackson Hole Preserve, Inc. (formerly the Snake River Land Company) opened the Jackson Hole Wildlife Park in the open flats south of Oxbow Bend. This was an attempt to increase tourist numbers by ensuring they would see wild animals. Prior to the homesteaders settling the valley, the bison herds that once roamed the open spaces had disappeared. This new Wildlife Park offered tourists with a glimpse of animals that had not been seen in the valley in decades. Despite being popular, viewing elk and bison behind fencing was abhorred by valley residents like Olaus Murie. This was not how “wildlife” were meant to be viewed and appreciated. In a happy accident, a few of these captive bison would escape their enclosure and start the wild herds that roam the valley today.

1950: At the close of World War II, there was a movement to rediscover the country. Families were looking for ways to reconnect and move on, and vacations were the perfect opportunity to do so. The Jackson Hole valley was quickly becoming the gateway to Yellowstone National Park. With more visitors than ever before, opponents of the national monument were willing to compromise and leave the controversy behind. It would seem that the economy could be boosted from tourism, and much of the valley’s focus shifted to this purpose. On September 14, the Jackson Hole National Monument and Grand Teton National Park were combined to create a 310,000 acre expanded Grand Teton National Park. The life leases held by homesteaders and all concession licenses were now officially held by the National Park Service.
-The original opponents to the Jackson Hole National Monument had one small piece of success in the expansion of Grand Teton National Park. Included in the legislation for the expansion, a new law was added limiting the President’s power to create national monuments, specifically in Wyoming. To this day, Wyoming is the only state where a President cannot create a national monument (over 5,000 acres) without the approval of Congress.
-The new park expansion also resulted in a decision by several more residents to sell their ranches, this time to Grand Teton National Park. Today, about 100 inholdings with around 950 acres remain on private land.

Also see: Homesteading, Cattle Ranching, Dude Ranching and Tourism

Text by Samantha Ford, Director of Historical Research and Outreach