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Murie Ranch Historic District
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Murie Ranch Historic District,

Teton County, WY

The Murie Ranch Historic District is important for its association with Olaus Murie, his brother Adolph Murie, and his wife Margaret (Mardy) Murie, in their contributions to biological science and natural resource management in the nation and in their role as contributors to the conservation movement in the nation. Located in a wooded area on the west side of the Snake River, and looking up at the mountains in the Teton Range, the Murie Ranch consists of a combination of residential buildings which served as the homes of the Murie families, guest cabins dating from the ranch’s earlier days as a dude ranch, and utility structures for power, maintenance, and livestock. For almost two decades the Murie family lived in the town of Jackson, but Olaus’s work and much of the family’s life took them constantly into the woods and plains of the valley. When they finally moved to the ranch, they went to a place they knew and loved from long experience. “This piece of river bottom was my favorite spot years before we ever dreamed of owning it,” Mardy Murie wrote.

Murie Ranch Cabin
Photograph courtesy Murie Center, Grand Teton National Park

During the 1920s and 1930s the Murie brothers achieved national prominence as influential scientists within the federal government, including the National Park Service. Their rigorous biological research at the ranch distinguished them as proponents of an ecological view that emphasized the intricate connections within the whole environment rather than favoring one species over another. Adolph and Olaus Murie carried out important studies of major American mammals such as grizzlies, wolves, elk and coyotes, examining them as part of their ecology rather than as isolated organisms, providing a foundation for their study and management today. Between 1945, when the two families moved to the ranch, and 1980, when the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act was passed they helped shape the future of wildlife conservation. New laws, regulations, policies and Wilderness areas were instituted because of the Muries' work. They also placed strong emphasis on public education to create support for protection of natural areas and were influential in the creation of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

When Mardy Murie carried forward in the conservation effort after Olaus’s death in 1963, she quickly emerged as a significant leader in her own right. It is important to note that even though the Muries began living at the ranch in 1945, the property is illustrative of the cumulative lifetime contributions of Olaus, Adolph, and Mardy Murie from the 1920s on, and is the best remaining site associated with their lives and careers. In 1953 Olaus Murie argued in a famous essay that wilderness should be treated as a national asset, not as a commodity to be bartered, but as a place where people could regain a natural sense of dignity, harmony, tranquility, and individuality. Immediately after Olaus Murie’s death in 1963, Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas, who had visited at the ranch, suggested that the ranch at some point be acquired by the National Park Service and “made into a sort of sanctuary”, which it was, the ranch is now part of the Denali National Park and Preserve.

Murie Ranch
Photograph courtesy Murie Center, Grand Teton National Park

Some of the buildings associated with the Murie’s in the Murie Ranch Historic District include the Olaus Murie Studio, where Olaus painted. It is a one-story log building with a rectangular footprint constructed on a concrete foundation. The Murie Residence, previously the Woodbury House, is a one-story log cabin visually divided into three bays. The Moviewood Cabin served as the main office and cutting room for a documentary, Arctic Dance: the Mardy Murie Story, covering Mardy Murie’s life and her role in the conservation movement. It now serves as the Murie center. The Murie Ranch Historic District was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1998. Previously, just the Murie Residence had been listed in the National Register, listed in 1990. Both were part of the Grand Teton National Park Multiple Property Submission, which covered a number of historic listings in the area. The Murie ranch Historic District was honored again by being designated a National Historic Landmark by the Secretary of Interior on February 17, 2006.