Grand Teton
Historic Resource Study
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Tourism is a state of mind. The pleasure trip is an act of being in the world tied to pleasurable sensations. It offers necessary relaxation from everyday routines and escape from the common place.

—John A. Jakle, The Tourist

tourists having a picnic
Tourists, enroute to Yellowstone, break for lunch. Their horses graze nearby. National Park Service

The Jackson's Hole Courier, on July 8, 1920, reported that five to 15 tourist cars per day churned up dust as they passed through the small cow town of Jackson. No fewer than five bands of "gypsies" or "tin-can" tourists had been seen camped along the route to Yellowstone. Jackson Hole, the Courier predicted, could expect ever-increasing tourism in the future. [1] Like the rest of the nation, the valley was witnessing a revolution brought on by the automobile. This revolution would transform Jackson and the valley from an agricultural community dependent on cattle ranching to an economy centered around tourism.

In the nineteenth century, nature—whether wilderness, rural settings, or natural "curiosities"—prompted people to travel. One region of the United States, the American West, attracted more attention than any other for several reasons. First, the West possessed a special scenic appeal of contrast and scale. Deserts spread before shimmering snow-capped mountains offered vivid contrasts. As for scale, western landscapes dwarfed those known to most visitors, from jagged alpine peaks thrust into the sky to prairies rolling endlessly into the horizon. Second, romantic characters peopled the West. The cowboy symbolized the western frontier and became for many the stereotype of a westerner. Native Americans added a romantic appeal of their own to the West. Third, domestic animals and wildlife populated the Western landscape, adding another distinct element. Many traveled west primarily to hunt and fish, lured by the stories of abundant game. Set in the heart of the Rocky Mountains, Jackson Hole and the Teton Range attracted tourists. [2]

The antecedents of tourism date from the era of the fur trapper, when travelers made their way west primarily in search of wilderness and its inhabitants. Europeans such as William Drummond Stewart and Prince Maximilian were the most prominent examples. Touring the West with Stewart and the prince were two talented artists, Alfred Jacob Miller and Karl Bodmer, who left invaluable records of the landscape, wildlife, and Native Americans.

Smith Hotel
Smith Hotel at Moran/Oxbow Bend, c. 1900. As the number of travelers through the valley increased, people such as Edward "Cap" Smith built hotels to accommodate them. Collection of the Jackson Hole Historical Society and Museum

In the late nineteenth century, westerners began guiding wealthy Easterners and Europeans into the Jackson Hole region. Beaver Dick Leigh, an itinerant trapper, was one of the well-known guides. William A. Baillie-Grohman wrote an early account of a tour into Jackson Hole. Hearing stories about the area, he determined to visit it, having "Teton Basin [Jackson Hole] on the brain." Following the course of the Gros Ventre River, his guides led him to a site along the Snake River that "without exception was the most strikingly beautiful camp of my various trips." His small group gloried at the scene—the Grand Teton and other peaks in the distance, the tree-lined river before them. Baillie-Grohman considered it "the most striking landscape the eye of a painter ever dreamt of." Even two "unimpressionable western characters" admired the scene. [3] However, "young Henry—a hopelessly matter-of-fact being—turned sublimity into ridicule, by his 'Darn the mountains! Look at those beaver dams yonder.'" Like other travelers, Baillie-Grohman found that many western frontiersmen, caught up in making a living, failed to appreciate the grandeur of landscape about them. The chagrined nobleman concluded that if young Henry were conducted into Olympus, "the only feeling that would move him would be expressed in a terse 'Doggarn it, if I ain't forgotten the traps and pison'." [4]

Early tourist facilities ranged from tents to simple log cabins, which made turn-of-the-century trips to a national park an adventure. This photo is by Ben Sheffield, who was an early guide and lodging camp owner. Grand Teton National Park

In 1883, the Teton country received considerable publicity when President Chester A. Arthur made an extended tour of northwestern Wyoming. Accompanied by friends in politics and the military, a large entourage consisting of 75 cavalrymen, 175 pack animals, and packers and guides, trailed down the Gros Ventre into Jackson Hole. At least four camps were made in Jackson Hole as the presidential party made their way to Yellowstone. [5]

A year later, homesteaders arrived in Jackson Hole. In a short time, ranchers and homesteaders took up outfitting and guiding, for dudes provided hard cash in a cash-starved valley. Occasionally, diaries or accounts of hunting trips surface, such as the account of John K. Mitchell and John B. Coleman, that indicate the importance of outfitting. Coleman came west to hunt in the fall of 1905. He hired James S. Simpson of Grovont to guide him. Wyoming laws required out-of-state hunters to hire guides. A $50 license entitled an out-of-state hunter to two deer, two antelope, two elk, and one bighorn sheep. Coleman suffered from an unspecified illness when he arrived, weighing only 138 pounds; "I came out weighing 162 pounds, the most I ever weighed in my life." The environment and outdoor life apparently restored his health, a motive that drew many tourists to the West. [6]

The guide business proved lucrative enough for Ben Sheffield, an outfitter from Livingston, Montana, to build a lodge and camp at Moran. Stephen Leek became one of the valley's first guides. Leek continued to guide into the 1920s, "the only old settler who persists in following a pack horse into the mountains each season." Joe Jones described Leek as "a good man in the hills with a pack outfit, but used to be much inclined to feed his dudes raw meat. In other words he imagined they were out to exemplify the crude lives of the early exployers [sic] and took pains to see they were not disapointed [sic]." In addition to hunting and fishing, a need to confront wilderness and relive the frontier experience lured dudes blinded by romantic notions west. [7]

If well-to-do visitors were willing to pay good money to rough it in the wilderness every fall, why not extend the season and provide a vacation opportunity for families? As noted in the previous chapter, dude ranchers pioneered the modern tourist industry in Jackson Hole. Louis Joy, Struthers Burt, Horace Carncross, and Harold Hammond established the first true dude ranches in Jackson Hole between 1907 and 1919: the JY, the Bar BC, and the White Grass. The dude ranch epitomized an idealized western experience, of which a wilderness setting was the most critical element. [8]

men in front of tents
These men are probably setting up a fishing or hunting camp, given the absence of women and the amount of equipment. Grand Teton National Park

The conservation movement contributed significantly to tourism in the West. Yellowstone National Park was created in 1872, and as conservationists wielded more influence, laws such as the Forest Reserve Act of 1891 were passed, and general public land policy shifted from one of disposal to reservation. As railroads linked the continent, more tourists journeyed west. The Northern Pacific linked Lake Superior with Portland, Oregon, in 1887. The line passed north of Yellowstone, offering access. The Yellowstone tour became a popular vacation for people seeking a western experience. A few made their way to Jackson Hole. Reuben G. Thwaites left an account of a tour through Yellowstone into the Teton country in 1903. Traveling in two wagons, a "hack" and a chuck wagon, Thwaites set out with his family and guides. At the thumb of Yellowstone Lake, they decided to travel to Jackson Lake. "The guides demurred strongly, giving several excuses, one of which was that Jackson Hole had not long before been a resort for outlaws. We won the argument, and started south." They traveled over a very poor road, reaching Jackson Lake on July 12. Unlike Yellowstone, they encountered few travelers in this area. They camped near Sargent's place and rented a rowboat from him the next day, crossing Jackson Lake to the base of Mount Moran. [9]

When Henry Ford began mass production of the Model T in 1909, he launched a new era. In 1900, there were only 8,000 registered cars in the United States, and the machines remained a fad. Cars were unreliable and horrible roads made auto touring an adventure and, at times, a nightmare. They were a novelty in Jackson Hole and had little practical value. In 1902, the Interior Department and army prohibited automobiles in Yellowstone primarily for safety reasons. In 1915, Secretary of the Interior Franklin K. Lane reversed this policy and opened the park to auto traffic, after tests proved that automobiles could negotiate the roads and grades. [10]

In this period, touring became a major element of Americans' love affair with automobiles. By 1910, the number of registered cars in America burgeoned to 458,000 vehicles. Middle-class Americans took to the roads, rejecting traditional vacations offered by railroads, resorts, and hotels. Historian Warren Belasco has described the period of auto touring between 1910 and 1920 as the "anarchist stage." Families rebelled against the regimented schedules of railroads and the rigid formality of traditional hotels. This mode of travel conferred freedom as road "Gypsies" toured wherever their cars could take them and camped along roadsides. Riding over rugged wagon tracks in a car evoked romantic images of stagecoaches and covered wagons. Tourists rode in vehicles that exposed them to the landscape and elements, eating dust. Nevertheless, trains rather than automobiles continued to symbolize the modern age; railroads dominated travel, carrying one billion passengers per year in 1910. [11]

Between the wars, from 1919 to 1941, the automobile changed the landscape of America and behavior of Americans perhaps as no other technological advance in the twentieth century has done. In 1920, 8,000,000 registered cars cruised the United States; by 1930, this number more than doubled to 23,000,000 cars. The patterns of modern tourism were set in this period—"tin can" auto campers evolved into modern tourists. During this era, the automobile replaced the train as the primary mode of transportation. Touring became routine rather than a novelty. As Henry Ford produced cars more cheaply the average American could afford a vehicle. People considered to be of the lower classes began raking vacations. Dramatic improvements transformed the nation's roads in these years. More car owners generated political pressure for better roads, and state and local governments allocated money for road projects. Congress passed the Federal Aid Road Act of 1916, which provided $75,000,000 for highway construction. The Bureau of Public Roads was created in 1918. The Federal Highway Act of 1921 provided for an interstate system of highways. Between 1921 and 1940, the mileage of paved highways in the United States more than quadrupled.

dude ranch
Dude ranchers referred to automobile travelers as "tin can" tourists. Automobile travel drastically changed the way Americans took vacations. The ability to travel independently and stay just one night in a variety of locations created a whole new lodging industry of motor courts and other roadside service facilities. Harrison Crandall photo, Jackson Hole Historical Society and Museum

Along these improved roads and highways, a new landscape emerged. Gas stations, cafes, and cottage camps mushroomed along with the inevitable billboards to advertise them. In the early years, these roadside establishments were owned and operated by individuals rather than corporations. Cottage camps or cabin courts were the predecessors of modern motels, which emerged after 1945. [12] As time passed, increased speeds, more comfortable cars, and a growing sameness of the roadside scene "dulled the travelers awareness." Making time, or "speed and distance became a North American obsession in travel." Faced with limited funds and time, tourists tended to set schedules, cramming as many attractions as possible into vacations. Average miles driven per day increased steadily from 125 miles in 1916 to 400 miles in 1936. Ironically, the car, which symbolized a new freedom, became a prison, and "motoring emerged as a means to get somewhere rather than an end in itself." [13]

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Last Updated: 24-Jul-2004