Grand Teton
Historic Resource Study
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Nestled in the southern end of a mountain-girthed valley known as Jackson Hole was the town of Jackson, Wyoming, a small frontier village of 500 people. The Jackson Hole valley included a number of communities, of which the town of Jackson was the oldest and largest. In 1921, citizens had voted it the seat of Teton county, a rural county with a population of about 2,000 people, outnumbered by more than 10,000 cattle. New Year's Eve fell on a Friday in 1926. As darkness cast its blanket over the valley, residents prepared to welcome in the New Year, 1927.

Clubhouse patrons
Dances at the Clubhouse in Jackson were a popular winter activity. The violinist is James H. May of Grovont, the area known as Mormon Row. During the winter, dances would go on all night because it was too dangerous to travel back home through the deep snows and frigid temperatures. Jackson Hole Historical Society and Museum

Popular entertainment revolved around social gatherings during these years. All-night dances, interrupted only by midnight suppers, were most popular. Others joined friends around a "wireless," as radios were commonly known, to listen to their favorite programs. Avid card players attended parties, perhaps to play poker or "500," a popular variation of rummy. Though these were the years of Prohibition, bootleg whiskey and beer could readily be found in Jackson Hole. Celebrating the New Year with a potent toast would not be frowned on by some residents. Many ranchers and their helpers planned an early bedtime; livestock still had to be fed on New Year's Day. Whatever their plans, the citizens of Jackson Hole could not predict the events that would make 1927 a memorable year.

The Jackson's Hole Courier, a small weekly paper, had served the community since 1909. (The newspaper also reflected the valley's original name, which was soon shortened to Jackson Hole.) The last issue of 1926 reflected the continuity of life in the valley. but also hinted at change. [1] The lead article on the front page dealt with water rights and the Jackson Lake Dam. These issues have been a common thread in the fabric of the valley's history since 1907. Titled "Minidoka Decision on Water Reversed," the article reported a higher court's reversal of an earlier decision concerning a lawsuit over property taxes levied on water rights. In 1925, Teton County assessed taxes on water rights and improvements on Jackson Lake owned by two Idaho irrigation companies. Predictably, they sued the county. The higher court ruled that because the water rights were tied to lands in Idaho, the county could not levy taxes. This was bad news for a revenue-poor county and an economically depressed community.

Grand Tetons, bridge in foreground
In 1927, the Bureau of Public Roads built a bridge over the Snake River near Menor's Ferry, making the ferry obsolete. Jackson Hole Historical Society and Museum

Community news fed the gossip mills at New Year's Eve parties. Billy Grant, the owner and postmaster of a grocery at the Moose Post Office, had purchased Joe Jones's grocery in Jackson. The paper announced the return of the valley's best-known athlete, Mike Yokel. Surprisingly, he was not a rodeo cowboy but a wrestler. Picking up an article from a Salt Lake City newspaper, the Courier reported Yokel's return from Australia, where he had completed a successful nine-month tour. A world-class middleweight, he had won 11 of 13 matches, competing before the largest crowds to attend a match in Australian history.

Mike Yokel
Jackson Hole's best-known athlete in 1926 was wrestler Mike Yokel. Mike would eventually be employed as a land-buying agent for Rockefeller's Snake River Land Company. Jackson Hole Historical Society and Museum

Weather and the condition of Teton Pass dominated conversations at New Year's Eve parties. Because of severe winters, weather preoccupied valley residents. In December 1926, arctic temperatures froze the water pipes in the courthouse and killed houseplants in homes. Teton Pass served as the valley's main link with the outside world. Mail and most supplies arrived via this route. Situated at the south end of the Teton Range, winter snows made travel over the pass unpredictable and dangerous. "How's the Pass?" was the question on everyone's lips.

Winter was hard on wildlife too. The Courier reported a grim discovery on the Snake River near Pacific Creek. Dick Ohl, a U.S. Forest Service ranger, and Fred Deyo, a state game warden, had discovered and removed the carcasses of 46 elk from the river. They surmised that the elk had broken through a thin layer office and, unable to climb the banks, drowned in the icy waters. Ever since vigilantes had driven tuskers (poachers who killed elk solely for their eyeteeth) out of the valley around 1900, local residents had maintained a strong proprietary interest in the Jackson Hole elk herd.

Columns in the Courier mirrored the valley's composition of small, distinct communities, isolated from each other. "Jackson Happenings," "Wilson News," and "Spread Creek" reported the social news of these communities. The tone of the December 30, 1926, edition reassured readers that life would continue much as before. But, in spite of its isolation, Jackson Hole had always been influenced by national events. Calvin Coolidge was president of the United States. Known as Silent Cal, his most important decision in 1927 may have been his announcement, "I do not choose to run for president in 1928."

More inspirational were the accomplishments of Babe Ruth and Charles Lindbergh. Ruth, the "Sultan of Swat," had set a new standard for baseball by belting 60 home runs, securing him a niche in the pantheon of American heroes. Charles A. Lindbergh reduced human perceptions of distance by completing the first successful transatlantic flight from New York to Paris, a singular feat that catapulted him to fame. These individual heroics overshadowed the ominous failure of diplomats to limit naval armaments at Geneva, Switzerland, in 1927. But then diplomats, like politicians, were not the heroes of the day.

Americans venerated businessmen as much as they did popular sports figures. Henry Ford epitomized the genius and success of American industry. His mass-assembly techniques produced Model T Fords so efficiently that the average American could afford an automobile, revolutionizing American life. In 1927-1928, Ford introduced the Model A, replacing the old Tin Lizzie. Other technological milestones caused profound changes in entertainment. The first talking picture, The Jazz Singer, made silent movies obsolete, but 20 years would pass before Americans would feel the impact of the first long-range transmission of television signals.

Perhaps no decade has left more enduring images than those of the "roaring" 1920s: bathtub gin, flappers, F. Scott Fitzgerald. Americans moved to the cities in unprecedented numbers, bought more on credit, consumed more material goods, and generally experienced greater prosperity in the 1920s. But American farmers did not share these good times. World War I had dramatically increased the world's demand for American foodstuffs. Farmers and ranchers purchased additional equipment and land, often on borrowed money, to increase production. But after the end of the war, demand dropped, and the government ended wartime price supports. Prices plummeted, spelling disaster for American agriculture.

In 1925, a massive slide dammed the Gros Ventre River, creating Lower Slide Lake. Two years later, the water breached the natural dam, wiping out the town of Kelly. Jackson Hole Historical Society and Museum

Because cattle ranching dominated the economy of Jackson Hole, virtually everyone in the valley felt the pinch. In 1925, a large group of ranchers and farmers circulated and endorsed a petition supporting the creation of a "recreation area" in Jackson Hole. The petition stated, "We have tried ranching, stock-raising, and from our experience have become of the firm belief that this region will find its highest use as a playground." Ninety-seven landowners expressed their willingness to sell more than 27,000 acres "at what we consider a fair price" to incorporate into such a preserve or recreation area. [2]

The petition came to be known as the "Jackson Hole Plan," which called for the creation of a preserve to maintain the scenic and western character of the valley. Supporters hoped to secure the financial support of a wealthy philanthropist, who could buy up private parcels and donate them to a preserve. Conceived by local citizens, the Jackson Hole Plan was endorsed by Horace Albright, the superintendent of Yellowstone National Park. Albright had advocated adding the Teton Range to the National Park System since his first visit to Jackson Hole in 1916.

In 1926, Albright accompanied John D. Rockefeller Jr., and his wife on a tour of the valley. The Rockefellers expressed dismay at the extent of commercial developments that marred the landscape. During the visit, Albright explained the Jackson Hole Plan. As a result, Rockefeller decided to finance the purchasing of land. In the pivotal year of 1927, his agents formed the Snake River Land Company to carry out the program. The company purchased more than 35,000 acres, of which 32,419 were eventually incorporated into Grand Teton National Park. This donation to the public domain altered the history of this valley forever. [3]

Kelly Mercantile Store
The Kelly Mercantile Store was obliterated in the flood of 1927. Kelly once was one of the largest communities in Jackson Hole and, a few years prior to the great flood, lost the election to become the county seat by just a few votes. Jackson Hole Historical Society and Museum

Further, the federal government withdrew remaining public lands from settlement in 1927. In April, President Coolidge issued an executive order closing 1,280 acres to public entry. This land was to be added to the elk refuge. The following July, Coolidge issued Executive Order 4685, withdrawing a whopping 23,000 acres from public entry. Ostensibly to protect elk range, Executive Order 4685 was prompted by a request from Snake River Land Company officials, who sought to prevent rampant land speculation once the company began purchasing land. Other executive orders followed, closing remaining public lands to settlement. For all practical purposes, the frontier in Jackson Hole ended with the closure of the public domain to homesteading in 1927. [4]

Concurrently, concerns and disagreements over the health, age distribution, and population of the Jackson Hole elk herd developed. The Elk Commission, a special subcommittee of the President's Commission on Outdoor Recreation, advised the federal Biological Survey to prepare "a comprehensive study of the life history of the elk." In 1927, the bureau appointed a young biologist named Olaus Murie to complete the project. He conducted research for years and eventually published his classic study, The Elk of North America, in 1951. By then, Murie had left government service to become co-director of the Wilderness Society. He and his wife, Mardy, continued to reside in Jackson Hole. [5]

In 1925, the most spectacular natural event in the valley's recorded history occurred when a massive block of sedimentary rock sloughed off the north side of Sheep Mountain and blocked the Gros Ventre River, creating Lower Slide Lake. On May 18, 1927, the river breached the natural dam created by the slide. A torrent of water poured down the valley towards the nearby village of Kelly, destroying property and ranches along the Gros Ventre and Snake Rivers. The flood killed six people and caused damage in excess of $100,000. With the exception of the Episcopal Church and rectory and local school, the flood obliterated Kelly; gone were the hotel, mercantile store, automobile garage, blacksmith shop, livery stable, and homes. [6]

Despite this calamity, people recovered, and most judged 1927 a good year. Tourism continued to expand in Jackson Hole. Dude ranches proliferated, and most were booked full. More facilities were built to cater to automobile travelers. At Taggart Creek, Chester Goss bought 115 acres from Jim Manges and constructed tourist cabins, a store, a baseball diamond, and a large rodeo ground complete with race track, grandstands, and refreshment kiosks. Goss and his partners named it the Elbo Ranch and erected a conspicuous sign proudly proclaiming it "the home of the Hollywood Cowboy." [7] During this period, the Bureau of Public Roads launched road construction projects in Jackson Hole to accommodate increasing car traffic. They built a road from Jackson to Menor's Ferry in 1926. Over the winter, they constructed a steel truss bridge at the ferry. which rendered it obsolete. Maud Noble, the owner of the ferry, abandoned it in 1927.

A few perceived increasing reliance on tourism as a Faustian bargain for Jackson Hole. To Horace Albright, Struthers Burt wrote, "This speedway down here, the El-Bo [sic] Ranch and the south end of Timber Island, not to mention Jenny's Lake, has about sickened me with this neck of the woods." [8] Another dude rancher, Joe Clark of the Double Diamond, complained to National Park Service Director Stephen Mather:

As you are doubtless aware, there has been a great change in the last four or five years. I remember one evening this summer, standing on the bluff above the Snake River at Menor's Ferry at sundown and looking westward toward the Teton peaks. It was impossible to see anything except the very tops of the mountains by reason of the immense cloud of dust raised by a continuous procession of tourist automobiles going along the new road from the ferry up toward the park. [9]

Pressure from tourist developments, increasing numbers of people, and the increasing diversity of recreational demands still constitute an escalating threat to the wilderness and western character of the Teton country.

Menor's Ferry
The Sutton family truck being transported across the Snake River by Menor's Ferry. Before it was "moored to rest at last" the ferry was the only reliable crossing over the Snake River between Wilson and Moran. Jackson Hole Historical Society and Museum

More than any other event, the beaching of Bill Menor's Ferry in 1927 symbolized the passing of an era in Jackson Hole. Resident Ruth Patterson captured the importance of this event in a poem titled "Passing of the Ferry."

The old landmarks are vanishing,
One by one they are passing out.
The tourist with his modern ways
Has brought this change about . . .

Many things are changing fast;
Even the Faithful Menor's Ferry
Has been moored to rest at last. [10]

On New Year's Eve 1926, life went on as people prepared to celebrate the beginning of the year, which altered irrevocably the future of this valley. No one could know that 1927 would be so momentous. Only by looking back does it become apparent.

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Last Updated: 24-Jul-2004