JY Ranch - Countdown: 16 Days

August 09, 2012 Posted by: KG

In the late 1920's when John D. Rockefeller Jr.'s Snake River Land Company was purchasing land in the Jackson Hole valley, they came across a dude ranch called the JY Ranch. Although many of the land properties they acquired were spectacular, there was something special about the JY Ranch in particular.

Approximate view from the main lodge of JY Ranch (Photo Credit: D. Lehle)
Approximate view from the main lodge of JY Ranch
Photo Credit: D. Lehle

The JY Ranch was originally homesteaded by David Spalding, who later relinquished rights to Louis Joy and Struthers Burt around 1907. Transactions such as these were common given the isolation, long winters, and hard work that homesteading in Jackson Hole required. Joy and Burt renamed the homestead the JY Ranch and operated it as Jackson Hole's first true dude ranch. "Dudes" were tourists who came to this area to have a "Wild West" experience. JY was one of several ranches in the area to capitalize on this new form of ranching. They provided not only meals and lodging for guests, but also motor trips to Yellowstone, horseback riding, fishing, sightseeing, and even climbing, a newly emerging recreational sport. [1]

In 1932 the Snake River Land Company bought the JY, along with some thirty-eight buildings on the property including a main lodge, various guest cabins, and outbuildings. Situated on the southern end of scenic Phelps Lake, the JY became the private family retreat for the Rockefellers. Of all the properties that were purchased by Rockefeller's company, this was the one place that struck a chord with him and his family.

Sunrise at Phelps Lake (Photo Credit: D. Lehle)
Sunrise at Phelps Lake
Photo Credit: D. Lehle

Long after the rest of the 35,000 acres had been donated to the Park Service to enlarge Grand Teton National Park, the Rockefeller family held on to the JY Ranch. The JY was operated as their own private dude ranch, eschewing many modern conveniences for the adventures of horseback riding, sleeping in rustic cabins, and swimming in chilly Phelps Lake. Electricity was not even installed until the 1960's, and there was only ever one telephone on the ranch! Several generations of Rockefellers spent their summers here in the Tetons, and their compound was known for having much activity around it. They even had many notable guests including dignitaries and even presidents.

Phelps Lake into Death Canyon (Photo Credit:D. Lehle)
Phelps Lake into Death Canyon
Photo Credit: D. Lehle

The Rockefeller family undoubtedly has many fond memories of the JY, but something did not seem right about keeping the best of the Tetons to themselves. It would take until the next generation to make the gift of land complete …


Sources: Daugherty, John. A Place Called Jackson Hole: The historic resource study of Grand Teton National Park. Grand Teton National Park. 1999.

Last updated: August 13, 2012

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