History of Jackson Hole, Wyoming

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Home > Wyoming > Jackson Hole > History    [ bookmark this page ]

Page Title: History of Jackson Hole, Wyoming
Page Synopsis: History of Jackson Hole, Wyoming

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The Background & History of Jackson Hole

Jackson Hole was named by the fur trappers and mountain men who inhabited this area in the early 1800's. A "hole" was the name for a high valley amid mountain ranges, and the valley here was trapper Davey Jackson's territory, hence it was originally named Jackson's Hole, and then later shortened to Jackson Hole. The town is called Jackson, while Jackson Hole is the name of the entire valley beginning at the south entrance of Yellowstone and running 60 miles south through Grand Teton National Park.

Before the Fur Trade Era
Prior to the 1800's the only inhabitants of this valley were the Shoshone, Crow, Blackfoot, and Gros Ventre Indian tribes who moved into the valley during the warmer months but did not stay year round. Indians were the first visitors, although their purpose of hunting was serious business.

Mountain Men and the Fur Trade Era
During the 1800's, Jackson Hole was often visited by fur-trapping mountain men. The first was John Colter, who came through in 1807 after branching off from the famous Lewis and Clark Expedition. His tales of spending time in Yellowstone, with vivid descriptions of bubbling mud pots and steaming geysers, led people to nickname the area "Colter's Hell". Later, Davey Jackson arrived to trap beaver in the valley that was named after him. French-Canadian trappers named the Grand Teton Mountains around 1920. The distinctive peaks appeared as "Les Trois Tetons" (The Three Breasts). Today these peaks are called The Grand (13,770 feet), The Middle, and The South Teton. For three decades between 1810 and 1840, this area was a crossroads for the six main trapper trails that converged in Jackson's Hole. Mountain men passed through en route to the various rendezvous which were held annually in the summer between 1824 and 1840 at locations surrounding the valley. Rendezvous were held to sell furs to traders from St. Louis and to replenish supplies. These were times for trading stories as well as challenging skill and endurance in contests.

After the Fur Trade Era
By 1845 the Fur Trade Era had ended as the fashion of men's beaver hats back east gave way to silk hats. For the next four decades the valley remained unsettled because of its relative isolation and was visited only by wandering tribes and government expeditions. The most important of these were the Hayden Expeditions between 1871 and 1878. The party's photographer, William Henry Jackson, took the first photographs of the Teton Mountains and his photographs of Yellowstone helped convince the federal government to protect the area as the world's first national park in 1872. Yellowstone was a national park 18 years before Wyoming became a state.

Settlers and Dudes
After the creation of Yellowstone, big-game hunters and the first "dudes" (including foreign royalty, eastern aristocrats and presidents Teddy Roosevelt and Calvin Coolidge) visited the area. Cattle ranching also developed, and by the mid-1880's settlers dotted the valley around villages named Kelly, Wilson, Jackson, and Moran. The historic buildings at Menors Ferry in Moose survive from this era. The townsite of Jackson was laid out in 1897, in a location central to many of the ranches homesteaded in the valley. Some of the buildings surrounding the Town Square were the first stores here, and the streets to the south contain houses that have been here since the early days. In 1920, Jackson elected a major and town council consisting of all women, which was the first all-woman town government in the U.S.!

Modern Times
Grand Teton National Park was created in 1929, and then greatly expanded in 1950 due to the determined efforts of John D. Rockefeller, who bought and then donated a great deal of the land that is under protection today. As the fame of this beautiful area grew, tourism gradually supplanted cattle ranching as the valley's economic base. Early residents built one of the first ski tows in the U.S. in 1939 on Snow King Mountain in town. Jackson Hole Ski Area in Teton Village opened 1965 thanks to the pioneering efforts of Paul McCollister. The area boasted full resort facilities and some of America's best skiing terrain. Then, in 1969, Grand Targhee Ski Resort began operations on the western slope of the Tetons near the small community of Alta, Wyoming. The development of these three areas helped establish Jackson Hole as a world-renowned skiing center, as well as an unrivaled all-season recreational resort area. Jackson is the seat of Teton County and its only incorporated town. While most of the community lives in the Jackson Hole area, a small percentage live in Alta. What is truly unique about Jackson Hole is that it is part of the largest undeveloped natural ecosystem in the temperate zones of the earth. Limited development has preserved the scenic beauty and wild lands which are home to an abundant array of wildlife. In fact, less than 3% of Teton County is privately owned; the other 97% is contained within Grand Teton National Park, the Bridger-Teton National Forest (the largest in the lower 48 states), and the National Elk Refuge.

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