The history of Jackson Hole and the Grand Teton area is a fascinating adventure containing Native American tribes, fur trappers, enterprising businessmen, caring preservationists and die-hard nature lovers.
- Undated History
For more than 10,000 years, visitors have come to this valley. Many Native American tribes make it their home during the summer months, tribes such as the Blackfeet and Crow.
John Colter is the first white man to settle in the valley.
This area became a crossroads for six main trapper trails that converged here, and was to remain a fur trading crossroads for three decades.
David Jackson answered an advertisement in the St. Louis Enquirer and signed on with William Ashley’s fur company to be employed as a hunter and earn $200 a year.
Enterprising “Davey” Jackson and fur trappers, Smith and Sublette, bought out Ashley’s fur company. During this period, traders held an annual summer rendezvous where they sold furs or traded them with large companies, like Astoria Fur Company and the Hudson Bay Company.
A low-lying valley that was surrounded by mountains was called a “hole.” Many of these areas were named for the well-known men who lived and worked in the region. Sublette named the valley “Jackson’s Hole” for his fur-trapping partner, Davey Jackson.
The fur trade ended. Beaver hats went out of fashion in favor of silk hats in the Eastern U.S., which destroyed the trappers’ market. For the following forty years, Jackson Hole was unpopulated and only visited by government expeditions and wandering tribes.
The Hayden expedition came to Jackson Hole, and William Henry Jackson (the expedition photographer), used his pictures of Yellowstone to convince the government to designate it as the nation’s first national park.
John and Millie Carnes along with a man named John Holland moved to Jackson Hole and were the first unofficial citizens of the area.
By the mid-1890s, people were returning to the valley and were settling around villages called Kelly, Moran and Wilson. (A number of historic buildings at Menor’s Ferry survive from this time period.) The town site of Jackson was laid out in 1897 in a central location to many of the ranches in the valley.
The federal government purchased the over 24,000 acres north of the town of Jackson, and this is now known as the National Elk Refuge. The object was to keep the herd from starving in winter but also was meant to preserve the ranching lifestyle in the area.
Big game hunting started to make this valley famous. Ranchers ran “dude ranches” and would take in guests and offer guide services. Tourism began to replace cattle ranching as Jackson Hole’s economic base. The eastern half of the Teton Range, and five of the six glacial lakes, were designated as a National Park in 1929.
President Roosevelt created a National Monument (The Jackson Hole National Monument), which included that land on the valley floor that remained in the public domain, and roughly 32,000 acres donated by the Rockefeller Family under John D. Rockefeller.
President Truman combined the Jackson Hole National Monument Lands and Grand Teton National Park (the original park) into the “new” Grand Teton National Park as we know it today.
Henry Fonda and Maureen O’Hara came to Jackson Hole to make the movie “Spencer’s Mountain,” and some 200 locals appeared as extras. St. John’s Episcopal Church was the setting for some of the scenes.
Today, Jackson Hole is a playground year round for all outdoor enthusiasts. Summer hiking, mountain biking, rock climbing and kayaking are some of the fun recreation adventures visitors enjoy. Winter offers the vacationer lots of skiing, snowboarding and much, much more. The culture of Jackson Hole is a unique blend and one that combines a western heritage with a popular vacation destination resort.
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