Grand Teton
Historic Resource Study
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The Communities of Jackson Hole (continued)

The automobile and the growth of tourism changed Jackson from a frontier community to a modern town. Like other American communities, the dogma of progress conflicted with the urge to preserve the familiar or "keep things the way they are." In 1931; for example; Fred Lovejoy constructed a log building, a "real frontier cabin" more compatible with the image the town sought to cultivate. In reality, frame and brick buildings dominated the town. One year later, Bruce Porter installed a neon sign at the Jackson Drug, the first in the valley. In September 1941, Jess and John Wort opened a new hotel, described as Jackson's first frilly modern hotel. The Wort has since become a local landmark. [23]

By the early 1920s, Jackson had consolidated its position as the economic and social center of the valley. After the creation of Teton County and the resolution of prolonged litigation over its establishment, Jackson became the new county seat by a surprisingly close vote. As the county seat, Jackson became the political center of Jackson Hole. [24]

Wilson General Store
False-front buildings, such as the Wilson General Store, were a common architectural style in Jackson Hole. Jackson Hole Historical Society and Museum

One community that might have rivaled Jackson was Wilson. Named for pioneer Uncle Nick Wilson and his family Wilson straddled the eastern end of the Teton Pass road at Fish Creek. The village had its beginning when Nick Wilson homesteaded at the eastern base of Teton Pass in 1889. The Wilsons were in a good position to provide food and lodging to travelers, situated on the main route into Jackson Hole. Wilson and his son-in-law Abe Ward built a hotel, store, and saloon in 1898. Further, the Postal Service established the Wilson Post Office on January 10, 1898. Matilda Wilson served as the first postmaster until 1899; her husband, Nick Wilson, worked as postmaster from 1899 through 1902. The first school in Wilson was held in one room of the Nick Wilson residence in 1898. By 1900, residents had formed a school district. The January 28, 1909, issue of the Courier listed several businesses at or near Wilson: the Wilson Hotel; a feed and livery; Roy B. Anderson, General Merchandise—Clothing and Groceries; and three sawmills, the Johnson Brothers Lumber, Kaufman and Barker, and Schofield and Van Winkle. The Courier published a Wilson news column. Nevertheless, Walt Callahan, as a boy in 1917, recalled Wilson as "just a wide place in the road." By 1918, Robert Lundy operated a store, which became an important institution in the community. In 1925, Wilson consisted of a general store, a garage, a blacksmith shop, and a livery stable and had a population of 50 people.

Wilson never competed seriously with Jackson, even though it had more direct access to supply and communication links with Idaho. Because of its location, Wilson was not conveniently situated as a commercial center for homesteaders; most lived east of the Snake River. The river posed another problem as Wilson was and remains vulnerable to flooding. The flood of 1915 and the Kelly flood of 1927 inundated the village. Finally Wilson residents did not seem to promote their community as aggressively as the citizens of Jackson, who secured a newspaper and a bank, and incorporated in 1914. [25]

One man was most responsible for the emergence of Moran—Ben D. Sheffield. In 1903, Sheffield bought the property of two homesteaders—Frank Lovell and Ed "Cap" Smith—and built the headquarters for a hunting and outfitting business at the outlet of Jackson Lake. In creating the Teton Lodge Resort, Sheffield and his wife had formed a partnership with Marion Lambert, a wealthy Easterner. Situated in a prime location, Moran captured the business of travelers to Yellowstone, Jackson, Ashton, or Lander. Moran also became the first "tourist town" in Jackson Hole, in that catering to travelers and hunters formed the economic foundation of the village.

Kent's Korner store
Kent's Korner store in Kelly. Jackson Hole Historical Society and Museum

Prior to Sheffield's arrival, Cap and Clara Smith had constructed the large log hotel described in previous chapters. The hotel probably burned sometime after November 1900. Near the Smith Hotel, C. J. and Maria Allen homesteaded land west of Oxbow Bend in 1897. After the Smith Hotel burned, the Allens built the Elkhorn Hotel. The log hotel included a dining room, saloon, and livery stable. Nearby W. C. Deloney opened a general store. Either Frank Lovell or Sheffield built a toll bridge at Moran, which became an important transportation link in the valley. Moran had received its name when Maria Allen opened the post office in 1902. In 1907, Sheffield took over the Moran Post Office, which he operated until 1919. Moran became the valley's only government town during the construction of the Jackson Lake Dam from 1910 to 1916. The Reclamation Service built an entire camp replete with barracks, mess hail, a commissary offices, warehouses, and a hospital in the flats north of Sheffield's. [26]

By the late 1920s, Sheffield's Teton Lodge consisted of a large central lodge surrounded by log guest cottages, capable of accommodating 125 guests. The Sheffields sold out to the Snake River Land Company in 1929. This company turned the complex over to the Teton Investment Company, which operated the lodge. The main lodge burned in 1935. A 1946 site map shows an extensive complex consisting of 113 structures. In the 1950s, the Grand Teton Lodge Company and the National Park Service phased out the operation, and the buildings were removed by 1959. Many cabins were moved to Colter Bay. [27]

The town of Kelly developed later than Moran or Wilson, but emerged as a bustling community that appeared for a time to rival Jackson politically and commercially. Prior to its designation as a post office, settlers referred to the Kelly area as the "Bridge." Around the turn of the century, local residents had constructed a timber bridge across the Gros Ventre River which became an important crossing. By 1909, a school had also been built in the vicinity. Norman Smith's wife and children spent three winters at Kelly so his youngsters could attend school, while he remained at his homestead at Blacktail Butte. In April 1914, the Courier reported that the Smith family had returned to their homestead after spending the winter at the "Bridge." The following September, local farmers and ranchers had built four new houses on the W. J. Kelly property, so their children could also attend school. In addition, a new school was being built in the emerging town. [28]

wagon team
In 1917, Milton Kneedy hauled flour mill equipment over Teton Pass, and installed it in his mill in Kelly. However, the flour mill was not a success, and the mill house burned in 1921. The man holding the reins in this photograph is Gerrit Hardeman; John Kneedy is standing next to the wagon. Jackson Hole Historical Society and Museum

By 1914, several entrepreneurs had located businesses in the Kelly area. Among them were the Grovont Mercantile, the Riverside Hotel, and a blacksmith shop. In October, the Postal Service authorized a post office at Kelly. Ben F. Goe was the first postmaster. For a time, the community had a sawmill until it was purchased and the machinery removed in 1918. By 1921, pioneer Albert Nelson owned a feed stable and livery service at Kelly. At one time, the community also possessed a dance hall, which burned at an unknown date. [29]

Milton K. Kneedy constructed the most unique business in Jackson Hole in 1917-1919, a flour mill. A miller by trade, Kneedy determined to open a flour mill after testing wheat grown in Jackson Hole for suitability as flour. In March 1917, Kneedy purchased a 20-barrel-capacity flour mill, manufactured by the Midget Marvel Milling Company, along with a gristmill for producing livestock feed. In the fall, surveyor Otho Williams staked out a site for the mill; but the Kneedy Flour Mill did not produce flour until July 1919. In October, 1921, fire destroyed Kneedy's mill, as well as tons of flour and wheat, ending Jackson Hole's experiment in flour production. [30]

Kelly competed with Jackson for designation as the seat of Teton County in 1921. Unexpectedly proponents of Kelly garnered considerable support throughout the valley. Editorials in the Jackson's Hole Courier reveal a split in the community, characterized by a surprising level of acrimony. The editor of the Courier was caught in the middle as a booster of both valley and town. As the June election approached, rhetoric heated up in editorials and letters to the editor. Introducing more controversy a small but influential minority opposed the creation of Teton County. In May voters approved a county road bond by a vote of 326 to 26. However, 16 of the negative votes came from the Kelly district. A Courier editorial jabbed Kelly residents: "In view of the fact that Kelly is representing herself to be an up-to-date little village, and is bidding for the county seat, we are both surprised and disappointed at the 45-16 Kelly vote." Then, just prior to the election, the local newspaper published an editorial titled "Twelve Reasons Why County Seat Should be at Jackson," presenting both cogent and specious arguments for locating the seat in Jackson. Support for the creation of Teton County won by an overwhelming majority, but the county seat vote was surprisingly close. Jackson beat Kelly by 424 to 402. The vote indicated a distinct split among valley residents and some resentment toward the town of Jackson. The Kelly Wilson, and Teton precincts formed a substantial anti-Jackson block. The solid Jackson and Cheney vote, as well as the split vote at Elk, made the difference. Adding to the confusion and controversy 19 Alpine residents cast votes, even though this district was not part of the new county. Opponents in the Kelly area filed suit, seeking to block the creation of a new county, and the issue was only resolved in 1923 with new state legislation and a state supreme court decision affirming the creation of Teton County. [31]

Kelly survived political and legal defeat and, by 1926, had a population of 50 people, stores, a hotel, a garage, a blacksmith shop, a livery stable, telephone service, and daily mail delivery to the post office. A school and Episcopal Church were also located in the village. The town even had taxi service, provided by Walt Spicer who owned the garage. A year later, there would no longer be a village of Kelly. [32]

Kelly's death began on June 23, 1925, when a section of the north slope of Sheep Mountain slid into the canyon, damming the Gros Ventre River. An estimated 50,000,000 cubic yards of sandstone sheared off an underlying layer of shale, creating a dam 225 feet high and one-half mile wide. An unusual amount of precipitation may have caused the slide. Waters of the Gros Ventre backed up and flooded several homesteads and the Horsetail Creek Ranger Station. On July 9, the Courier reported water seeping through the dam; and by July 16 the water level was five feet below the dam. Engineers inspected the dam and declared it safe.

Two years later, the Gros Ventre River ran full, fed by snowmelt and heavy rains. On the night of May 17, 1927, water spilled over the dam. Charles Dibble, a U.S. Forest Service ranger, warned people in the area, but no one seemed unduly alarmed. By 1:00 A.M., one bridge was gone. The next morning, the river had filled its channel. Dibble and several Kelly residents were knocking driftwood away from the village bridge when they saw heavier debris and a hayrack sweeping towards it. Becoming suspicious, Dibble and another man drove up the Gros Ventre Road to check the dam. Upstream from Kelly they encountered a wall of water roaring down the canyon. Dibble raced his Model T to a nearby house and asked the woman to raise the alarm downriver over the telephone. Speeding to Kelly he warned the residents, most of whom evacuated the town and school. The Kneedy family did not believe Dibble, and all three drowned in the flood. The torrent of water started with a surge five to six feet high, followed by a wall as much as 50 feet high that swept boulders, trees, and buildings before it. Witnesses described the sound as a "terrific unexplainable roar and grinding of hissing and swishing water." The flood spread out in the Gros Ventre bottomlands, wiping out homesteads and the steel-truss Gros Ventre bridge. Wilson was flooded, and the approaches to the Wilson bridge washed out. Nine hours after demolishing Kelly the high water surged past Hoback Junction into the Snake River Canyon.

The Kelly flood was Jackson Hole's greatest natural disaster; six people died in the flood; nearly 40 families lost their homes; state and county officials estimated property damage to be around $500,000. The village never recovered from the catastrophe. Only the school, church, and rectory survived the flood. Ray C. and Anna Kent bought up land in Kelly and eventually subdivided their property. By 1943, there were 14 residential lots. Kelly has evolved into a residential community comprised of year-round and seasonal homes. [33]

Other communities in Jackson Hole remained nothing more than post offices and sometimes schools, created to serve ranchers and homesteaders in a given locality. On occasion, postmasters operated a store or boarding house out of their residences.

South Park enjoys the distinction of having the first school in Jackson Hole. Sylvester Wilson allowed a room of his homestead cabin to be used as a classroom, and pioneers built the first schoolhouse on Ervin Wilson's property in 1896. The South Park Post Office was established on November 17, 1899, at the Francis M. Estes ranch, only to be discontinued on September 14, 1901. The Cheney Post Office replaced South Park on April 2, 1902, at the Selar Cheney Ranch. The Postal Service closed Cheney in 1917. [34]

Elk was one of the earliest post offices in the valley created to serve homesteaders in the Buffalo Fork-Spread Creek area. In the early years, the post office moved from ranch to ranch, with each change in postmasters causing confusion over its location. It first opened at the Pierce Cunningham ranch; Maggie Cunningham was the first postmaster. After Maggie Cunningham gave up the post office in 1899, the Wolffs took it over for 13 years. Ada Seaton was postmaster for less than a year, followed by Lizzie Allen. The post office was located at the Elk Ranch from 1913 to 1916. The postmasters shifted regularly over the next 16 years: Gertrude Steingraher, 1916-1918; Grace L. Brown, 1918-1922; Joe Chapline, 1922-1927; Charlton Chapline, 1927-1928; Juanita Hogan, 1928-1930 at the Hogan Fox Farm (the existing Buffalo Dorm); Viola Budge, 1928-1930; and Carrie Eldridge, 1930-1932. On October 5, 1932, Eva Topping took over the post office. For more than 30 years; the Elk Post Office was situated at the Moosehead Ranch, until it closed in 1968. Joe Chapline operated or leased the Elk Store, a small general store during the 1920s. [35]

Grovont Post Office
The Grovont Post Office was located at different farms along Mormon Row over the period of its existence. At the time of this photograph, it was located in the Chambers home. Jackson Hole Historical Society and Museum

Another early community was Grovont, which served homesteaders in the flats east of Blacktail Butte. Grovont, a corruption of the French word Gros Ventre, was misspelled deliberately because the Postal Service liked post office names to be one word and easy to spell. Thus, they spelled Grovont as it was pronounced in French. Pioneer James Budge opened the post office at his homestead in 1899. His neighbor and close friend, James I. May, became postmaster in 1901. For the next 40 years, the Grovont Post Office shifted from settler to settler in the Mormon Row area, as it has been referred to since the 1920s. Mary A. Budge served the longest, from 1903-1908 and 1934-1941, when the post office closed. When the Mays managed the post office, they served meals and rented rooms to travelers. As more homesteaders, many of them Mormons, preempted land east of Blacktail Butte, the need arose for a church and school. In the summer of 1917, local residents constructed a frame Latter Day Saints meeting house on one acre of land sold by Thomas and Bertha Perry. School was held in the basement of the church that year. By 1922, a separate school had been built on acreage south of the Grovont Church. Both the school and the church were removed in the 1970s. The church was moved to the Teton Village road north of Wilson, where it houses a pizza parlor today. [36]

Teton was a small post office created in 1906 to serve settlers on the west side of the Snake River north of Wilson. It was situated first on the Kaufman homestead, then the Lower Bar BC, and finally the JY from 1914, until it closed in 1925. During the 1920s, local residents supported a local school. [37]

On the east side of the Snake River was the community of Zenith. Designated a post office in 1902 on the Harry Smith ranch, it served homesteaders north of the Gros Ventre River and east of the Snake River. Mail carriers made deliveries two to three times a week. In the Wyoming State Archives, there is a black-and-white photograph of a group of children and a young woman. The label identifies them as the class at "Zenith School, 1902." By 1900, Zenith was one of several school districts in the valley; in the 1920s, the school was located on the Waterman Ranch.

Other post offices existed, most of them forgotten today. Antler lasted less than one year from March to December 1899. Located either at the site of old Moran or Whiteman's Lakeview Ranch, Cora Heigho served as postmaster of this obscure post office. The Brooks Post Office, 1905-1912, provided mail service to ranchers far up the Gros Ventre. Slide, 1916-1920, was located at Lower Slide Lake. Later post offices were associated more with tourism than ranching. The Hoback Post Office, described as a "resort," received and sent out mail once a week. It opened in 1921 and provided service until 1943. [38] The Postal Service established the Moose Post Office in April 1923 at William Grant's store, situated in the Huckleberry Springs area along the Moose Wilson Road. The post office was moved to the local school near Menor's Ferry in 1929. At that time, Menor's Ferry became known as Moose. [39] The Moose area served a few homesteaders, dude ranchers such as the Estes, and others who catered to tourists, such as Maud Noble and the Dornans. At the end of 1923, Al Young relocated a sawmill in a marshy area near Moose, known as Sawmill Ponds today where he produced lumber for developments in the area. In 1925, Moose area residents held a meeting to establish a school. Buster Estes served as treasurer for a fundraising drive. They built a small log school in the sagebrush flats west of the ferry in 1925. In the same year, the Episcopal Church constructed the Chapel of the Transfiguration just west of the Menor cabin. Church dignitaries dedicated the chapel on July 26. After the Snake River Land Company bought Maud Noble's property, they leased the store for use as the post office and for commercial purposes. [40]

The Jenny Lake Post Office was established specifically to serve tourists. It opened in 1926 and operated during the summers only when visitors were present and facilities open. Housed first in a building owned by Homer Richards, it was moved to the Jenny Lake Store on the J. D. Kimmel property. [41]

Economically agriculture and tourism formed the economic pillars of Jackson Hole and shaped the character of its communities. The valley never experienced large-scale consumptive industries like logging and mining. Commercial timber cutting in Jackson Hole remained a small-time activity, dominated by local mill operators who produced lumber for local use. Successful mining would have created entirely different communities as well as severe impacts on the environment.

Prospectors and geologists have explored Jackson Hole for minerals since the DeLacy expedition of 1863, but always with marginal results at best. The mysterious Mining Ditch, dug in the 1870s, demonstrates serious efforts to extract gold from the Snake River. [42] Prospectors sought gold in the valley well into the 1920s, but found only enough color to cause frustration. A few ventured up the rugged canyons seeking gold or possible paying veins of silver and lead, again with no success. Gold brought Albert Nelson and Billy Bierer to Jackson Hole in 1895, but they soon turned to homesteading. In 1894, Denver's Rocky Mountain News reported that a group of miners from Cripple Creek, Colorado, ventured into Jackson Hole to prospect for gold. Their leader, W. T Sawyer, planned to return with approximately 100 people the next year. Sawyer filed a location notice for placer claims about one-half mile west of the present outlet of Jackson Lake in 1896. [43]

A few settlers panned for gold in the Snake and its tributaries for a living. They included such characters as Uncle Jack Davis and Johnny Counts, along with obscure prospectors such as Munger and John Condit. None of them became rich; Johnny Counts would wash 100 wheelbarrows of dirt per day gleaning about a penny's worth of gold per load. Friends of Uncle Jack Davis found a mere $12 and about an equal value of amalgam in his cabin after his death. Placer mining proved a hard way to earn a living. Samuel and Noble Gregory "rocked" enough flour gold to pay for winter supplies at their respective ranches, but did not try to make a living at it. Holiday Menor had prospected and worked the mines in Montana, but gave up the life in Jackson Hole. [44]

Nevertheless, the gold bug bit speculators periodically. The Teton County records indicate three distinct periods of activity, when both settlers and outsiders filed placer claims along the upper Snake River and its tributaries; 1895-1896, 1902-1905, and 1931-1934. Few secured their claims by proving them up in accordance with the law, and those who claimed to do so may have lied because no one had to verify their testimony. Finally there is no evidence that any of the claims were profitable. A prospector named Red Soper, working Deadman's Bar in 1916, reported good fishing at his claim rather than profitable mining. [45]

Prospectors continued to scout the country. In the first issue of the Courier, the editor wrote "Jackson has great possibilities as a mineral producer" according to miners familiar with the area. Copper bearing ore of 25 percent purity had been found in the Buffalo Fork area, prompting a Chicago company to raise $10,000 to finance a mine. Available evidence indicates that no mine was ever developed. E. C. "Doc" Steele directed the development of numerous placer claims owned by the Jackson Hole Mining Company, a local corporation. Doc Steele gave up the mining operation by 1911. He opened Jackson's first drugstore, then operated a saloon at Moran around 1913. In the Tetons, "high grade galena" had been discovered in the Fox Creek area at the head of Death Canyon and gold and silver ore had been found in the "western" hills. The ruins of a prospector's cabin exist on the Death Canyon Shelf and prospect pits and caves are extant in both Death and Avalanche Canyons. Along the Snake River in the southern end of the valley the Hoffer brothers placer mined gold in paying quantities. [46]

Because of the lack of promising mineral strikes, corporate investments in mining were non-existent, with the possible exception of the Whetstone Mining Company. Captain Harris attempted to establish a large placer mine and mill on Whetstone Creek, a tributary of Pacific Creek. He built a giant sluice box consisting of four-inch planks bored full of pockets by a two-inch auger. As riverine soils washed down the boxes, the heavier gold should have filled the pockets but failed as pebbles, rather than gold, filled the holes. Harris filled his own pockets with stockholders' money and disappeared. Other companies purchased placer claims such as the Tertillata Gold Mining Company and Golden Bar Steam Dredging Company in 1895, but never developed their claims. As late as 1932, a Chicago company set up a gold camp two miles south of the Elk Post Office during the speculation of the 1930s. [47] Like many other western regions, Jackson Hole has its own lost mine. In 1924, the Courier published a report about a prospector named John Hayball, who located a lode mine that produced high-grade gold ore. He interested two Idaho Falls men in the project, but died before revealing the site of the mine. [48]

In the north end of Jackson Hole, John Graul took up a claim in Webb Canyon in 1914. He painstakingly cut a tunnel into a basalt formation, but what he sought remains a mystery today. W. C. Lawrence, who had an asbestos claim in Berry Canyon, believed Graul sought platinum. Graul built a cabin, a tool shed; and cut a tunnel 193 feet in length. He returned to work the mine each season after the snow melted, until he was killed in a mining accident in Colorado in 1927. [49]

Coal became the only commercially viable resource mined in Jackson Hole. In the highlands east of the valley an exposed coal field exists in the northern and eastern areas. Approximately 60 miles long, and by 9 to 18 miles wide, the field comprises more than 600 square miles of coal-bearing rocks. Because the coal is exposed in many areas, pioneers knew of its existence and attempted to establish mines. In September 1891, a group of settlers gathered to form the Inta Coal and Mining Company to raise capital and develop coal mines in the Gros Ventre valley. Aside from changing the name of the company to the Jackson Hole Coal Mining Company; there is no evidence that the locally inspired firm succeeded. The Reclamation Service developed the first mines in 1914 to provide a fuel source for the Jackson Lake Dam. The mines were located on Lava Creek, a tributary of the Buffalo Fork, and on Pilgrim Creek. In 1917, the service opened the Lava Creek mine to the public.

In 1920, developers reopened the Jake Jackson Coal Mine on Cache Creek. Located closer to Jackson, this coal sold for $12 per ton, less than half the cost of coal from the Lava Creek mine. As local demand for coal for heating and cooking increased during the 1920s and 1930s, other mines were developed. Dick Turpin had dug a tunnel in the Gros Ventre deposit in 1892; but no coal was mined and shipped out until a better road was built in 1924. Entrepreneurs such as John Nocker, Jess Luton, and Claude Shearer developed mines elsewhere such as Granite Creek and Slate Creek in the Hoback drainage, Ditch Creek, and Coal Mine Draw near Spread Creek. Because the cost of exporting coal was prohibitive, the Jackson Hole coal mines served a local market and, as a result, remained small operations. Nocker mined coal into the 1940s. All of the mines are abandoned today. [50]

Oil exploration came to the valley in the 1920s. On April 11, 1929, the Courier reported that two companies, Utah Oil and Midwest Oil, intended to drill two wells in the area during the summer. No subsequent reports indicate that the wells were sunk. Companies have drilled exploratory wells in the area since that time and, stimulated by the energy crisis of the late 1970s, oil exploration has been a significant and sometimes controversial activity in the region. [51]

Overall, the communities in Jackson Hole evolved over time. With the possible exception of Moran, there were no boomtowns similar to those that characterized the miners' frontier. Agriculture, particularly cattle ranching, formed the economic base. Most of the communities consisted of a post office, supplemented perhaps by a school and, less often, a church and store. Nevertheless, residents developed a surprising loyalty to their locality. The country school not only educated the children, but served as a social center for meetings; dances, and important life events such as weddings and funerals.

Of all the communities in Jackson Hole, Jackson emerged as the dominant town. Its location in the southern part of Jackson Hole amidst concentrations of settlers gave the village a significant advantage over other towns. The first post office, the first general store, and the first community building also gave Jackson a significant head start. Later entrepreneurs located the first newspaper and bank in Jackson. Politically, the town moved ahead of its rivals, incorporating in 1914 and becoming the seat of Teton County in 1921. Wilson never competed seriously with Jackson as a commercial center. Kelly developed in conjunction with the homestead boom north of the Gros Ventre River after 1913, but was wiped out in the flood of 1927. Today Kelly is a residential community of year-round and seasonal homes. Moran was the first community to rely primarily on tourism, especially hunters and fishermen; rather than agriculture. Although Ben Sheffield's Moran no longer exists, it set an early course for the valley as tourism surpassed ranching as the primary economic activity.

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Last Updated: 24-Jul-2004