Grand Teton
Historic Resource Study
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Conservationists (continued)
fire lookout tower
Spaulding Bay fire lookout, built c. 1940. Fire suppression was a goal of early wilderness management. However, the fuels build-up that this suppression created would have a devastating effect by the 1980s, when fires raged out of control throughout northwest Wyoming. Grand Teton National Park.

The Reclamation Service followed the Forest Service into Jackson Hole. Through the Reclamation Act of 1902, the federal government became involved in water development projects in the West. Reclamation Service surveyors entered Jackson Hole in the fall of 1902 seeking suitable sites for water storage. They evaluated Jackson Lake and other large lakes. Engineers returned and completed a temporary log crib dam at the outlet of Jackson Lake by 1907. After this dam failed in 1910, the Service launched an even larger project, building the present concrete dam over the winter in 1910-1911. By 1916, the concrete structure had been built up and an earthen dike extended to the north. The dam and dike raised the water level of Jackson Lake 39 feet, impounding 847,000 acre feet of water. The dam was part of the Minidoka Project, a large-scale water reclamation program designed to irrigate arid lands in Idaho. As documented in a previous chapter, the construction of the dam influenced the history of Jackson Hole in several ways, but most important, it remains the largest water reclamation project in the valley's history and left a profound environmental impact. [20]

Elk generated the first local support for conservation. When homesteaders arrived in Jackson Hole in the 1880s, an estimated 25,000 animals comprised the Jackson Hole elk herd. Whether or not the first pioneers adopted a conservation ethic toward the herd is questionable, for sources suggest a wasteful attitude toward wildlife. Mrs. Mae Tuttle, the former Mary White, recalled anything but a conservationist's ethic: "There was so much game wasted in those days . . . it makes me shudder to think of the times we have shot down a fat elk and taken only the hams and the loins and left the rest to the coyotes." She also recalled an occasion when settlers gathered along the Snake River to participate in a fishing contest sponsored by a manufacturer of fishing line. "Do you remember Mr. White caught two gunnysacks full of trout? . . . Most of the fish were wasted though everybody ate all they could." [21] Further, as settlers preempted lands that made up elk migratory routes and winter range, conflicts developed. As a result, elk raided haystacks during the winter. Ranchers tried different tricks to frighten off the elk, but offenders were sometimes shot, albeit as a last resort.

The Wyoming territorial government implemented game protection laws as early as 1869, but there was little effective enforcement. Despite a law prohibiting the killing of game animals for anything except food, "game hogs" and hide hunters raped the territory. Laws protecting wildlife were enacted by the state of Wyoming after 1900, but again with little effect. The state appointed a state game warden in 1899 to enforce hunting laws. [22]

The first well-known effort to enforce hunting laws provoked the so-called "Indian Scare of 1895." The incident resulted from a long-simmering dispute over Native American hunting rights in Wyoming. The Fort Bridger Treaty of 1868 guaranteed members of the Shoshone and Bannock tribes hunting rights on public lands in Wyoming, rights exercised by the tribes. Settlers perceived that the Indians threatened their livelihood, for by 1895, "perhaps two dozen families . . . had come to depend on guiding for their support." Moreover, elk was a mainstay in the diet of most homesteaders. Not only did settlers resent Indians hunting in violation of state laws, but rumors circulated that they slaughtered elk for their hides. During the summer of 1895, Constable William Manning led several posses after hunting parties from Fort Hall, Idaho. On July 11, a posse arrested a group of Bannocks, including women and children, at Battle Mountain in the Hoback Canyon. Accounts of what happened next are unclear, but the Indians may have panicked in fear of being massacred, and broke for the forest. Manning's posse killed one Bannock and wounded one other.

Panic swept through the valley as settlers forted up at the ranches of Pierce Cunningham, R. E. Miller, and Erv Wilson. Alarming reports reached the outside world of massacred settlers in Jackson Hole. All were false. The only casualties were Sylvester Wilson, who died of a heart attack, a calf killed during the night, mistaken for a warrior bent on retaliation, and "Old Capt. Smith," who was wounded. Mae Tuttle "always believed that the idiot shot himself." The incident precipitated a case that went to the Supreme Court. John H. Ward vs. Race Horse affirmed the rights of states to regulate hunting and wildlife, which proved to be a landmark case. Economic self-interest, fueled by racial animosity, motivated the settlers' actions. [23]

Contemporary sources demonstrate that state hunting laws were not applied uniformly, nor enforced in some cases. In 1897, Col. S. B. M. Young, the acting superintendent of Yellowstone, complained to the Secretary of the Interior about the slaughter of elk in Jackson Hole. Young considered state protection inadequate and recommended extending the authority of the military into Jackson Hole to protect the elk herd. A. A. Anderson reached similar conclusions. He recalled the occasion when he caught a young man red-handed for killing deer out of season. Though young, the poacher was no fool. He requested a trial by his peers and, after deliberating, a six-man jury concluded that, "he did it, but we won't find him guilty this time." [24]

In 1902, Outdoor Life published letters critical of lax wildlife protection in Wyoming and, in particular, Jackson Hole. A letter from William L. Simpson of Lander, Wyoming, appeared in the January issue, titled "Game Conditions in Wyoming." Simpson witnessed incidents in the fall of 1901 that left him "unutterably surprised at the conditions confronting the wild game of the state. . . . At Jackson's Lake, I personally observed elk teeth trafficked in violation of the law, and in the presence of a deputy game warden." He complained that game protection was a farce in western Wyoming and laid the blame on unqualified wardens directed by Albert Nelson, the Wyoming state game warden at the time. In December of that year, the magazine published a letter written by Harvey H. Glidden, the owner of the Elka Ranch in Jackson Hole. Glidden leveled serious allegations against forest rangers, game wardens, and justices of the peace, accusing them of incompetence, corruption, and violating game laws. Holding these positions were prominent citizens, among them Pierce Cunningham, Webster LaPlante, Albert Nelson, and D. C. Nowlin. He singled out Capt. Edward Smith as a notorious poacher and illegal trader in trophies, whose violations wardens ignored. "It is commonly known Old Cap shed more elks' blood than would float any house and barn in the valley if all were put in a tank." Referring to Constable Manning as "Old Hungry Bill," Glidden perceived that "...bumptious Bill has been sucking the public teat for many seasons past, giving nothing but evil for the good money he has received..." As a result of lax enforcement and tusking, Glidden wrote that "elk teeth are the coin of the realm, all over Jackson's Valley and vicinity, for the purchase of supplies of all kinds, particularly whiskey." [25]

The venom in Glidden's letter casts suspicion on his objectivity. His allegations are difficult to reconcile with the good reputations of Cunningham and Nelson. Perhaps personal or political feuds, forgotten today, motivated Glidden. He did express hope that the elections in 1902 would bring change. Taken alone, the letter should be ignored; yet taken in context with the observations of Mae Tuttle, William L. Simpson, A. A. Anderson, and Col. Young, it cannot be ignored. Together, they indicate that typical frontier attitudes prevailed in the valley.

By 1902, tuskers were entrenched in Jackson Hole and had slaughtered elk for about five years. About 1906, a group of more than 20 conservation-minded citizens formed a vigilance committee to oust tuskers from the valley. At a meeting in the town of Jackson, Otho Williams warned that anyone not willing to hold the end of a rope should leave. They elected three representatives to deliver fair warning to William Binkley and Charles Purdy, both notorious tuskers, and their henchmen. William Seebohm, Bill Menor, and Charles Harvey confronted Binkley at his ranch (today part of the Teton Valley Ranch) and passed on the message to clear out, if he and his partners valued their lives. The tuskers heeded the warning. This extra-legal act marked the beginning of change. [26]

The winter of 1908-1909 marked a turning point, when human impacts on wildlife habitat wreaked havoc on the Jackson Hole elk. After 1900, more settlers entered the valley, preempting the elks' winter range or blocking migratory routes. Exterminating natural predators such as the wolf eliminated one form of population control, aggravating the problem. In 1908-1909, several factors combined to cause a massive die-off: the elk population had increased, the winter was especially severe, and much winter range had been settled. Some ranchers donated hay once the extent of the disaster became apparent, but several thousand elk perished. Appalled at the disaster, local settlers clamored for action on the part of the state and even the federal government.

Stephen Leek, in particular, led the effort to save the elk herd from future disasters. He took glass-plate photographs of starving and dead elk, which he used for lectures, articles, and tours to publicize the dilemma. In 1909, the state of Wyoming allocated $5,000 for winter feed, and Congress followed by providing $20,000 in 1911. Yet, without adequate winter range, a healthy elk herd appeared remote. Congress acted again in 1912, authorizing the creation of a national elk refuge. The government carved the nucleus of the refuge out of 1,000 acres of public land and 1,760 acres of purchased private land in the Flat Creek area north of the village of Jackson. R. E. Miller sold his ranch in 1914, a key acquisition in the new reserve, and Guy Germann followed in 1916, selling 250 acres. The Izaak Walton League donated purchased lands and, later, John D. Rockefeller Jr. added parcels. Today. the National Elk Refuge comprises over 24,000 acres.

The establishment of the elk refuge represented a significant achievement for conservation, and it owed its existence to the support of local citizens. The elk brought many pioneers such as Leek and Miller into the conservationist camp. Even more important, most citizens supported the government buy-out of homesteads for the refuge, signaling a dramatic change in beliefs. It was now acceptable for government to reserve public land in the name of resource conservation. [27]

The stage was set for the entry of the National Park Service. In 1929, an act of Congress created Grand Teton National Park. In 1943, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued a proclamation through the Antiquities Act of 1906 establishing the Jackson Hole National Monument. In 1950, Congress enacted new legislation merging the park and monument. These are simple facts that fail to illuminate a struggle that spanned 50 years. Contrast this with the time span taken to create Yellowstone, a mere two years from idea to establishment. The story of Grand Teton National Park is the story of strong personalities, often pitted against each other—John D. Rockefeller Jr., Bill Simpson, Struthers Burt, Robert E. Miller, Harold Fabian, Clifford Hansen, Dick Winger, A. W. Gabbey, and Horace Albright. Further, the history of this park is the story of conflicts between institutions and ideologies. Conflicts occurred, or were perceived, between utilitarian conservationists and preservationists, the Forest Service and the National Park Service, national interests and state and local concerns, the wealthy and the common man, East and West. [28]

The effort began with the creation of a new bureau—the National Park Service. During the summer of 1916, Stephen T. Mather, the future director of the new bureau, conducted a promotional tour of Yellowstone in support of the pending legislation. During this trip, Mather and his assistant, Horace Albright, drove a party to Jackson Hole. Awestruck by the mountain scenery. Mather and Albright determined that the Teton Range and Jackson Hole should become part of the park system. On August 25, 1916, Congress approved the enabling legislation to create the National Park Service. [29]

The idea of a national park in Jackson Hole was not new. In 1897, Colonel S. B. M. Young proposed extending the authority of the military to cover the migratory routes of elk in Jackson Hole. This proposal did not include the mountains. A year later, Charles D. Walcott, head of the U. S. Geological Survey, made a similar proposal, except that the Teton Range should be included to protect them. In addition, he suggested the creation of a "Teton National Park." Neither the Interior Department nor Congress acted on either suggestion. This changed when Albright and Mather established the new bureau. [30]

Albright and Mather affirmed their commitment to adding the Teton Range in 1917, when Albright prepared the first annual report to Secretary of the Interior Lane. Adding part of the Tetons, Jackson Lake, and the headwaters of the Yellowstone River to Yellowstone National Park was one of seven "urgent needs facing the Park Service." Later in the year, Albright wrote a draft document proposing policy objectives for the new organization. He distributed the draft for comments, then submitted a final to Mather for approval. Mather supported it, and Secretary Lane signed it as a letter to Mather on May 13, 1918. Albright described it as "a landmark for those early years and became our basic creed." Regarding expansion of the park system, "you should study existing national parks with the idea of improving them by the addition of adjacent areas. . . . The addition of the Teton Mountains to the Yellowstone National Park, for instance, will supply Yellowstone's greatest need, which is an uplift of glacier-bearing peaks." Working with the Wyoming congressional delegation, Mather and Albright drew up a bill to expand the boundaries of Yellowstone into the Teton country. Wyoming Congressman Frank Mondell introduced H.R. 116651 in April 1918. To protect the extension area pending legislation, President Woodrow Wilson issued a proclamation prohibiting any sort of entry or disposal of public land without Park Service approval. [31]

Mondell introduced a revised bill in the House of Representatives in February 1919. The House approved the bill unanimously, but in the Senate, John Nugent of Idaho killed it, responding to pressure from Idaho sheep ranchers, who feared losing grazing permits. As historian Bob Righter noted, "an opportunity had been lost. Never again would park extension be so non-controversial." This failure allowed opposition in Jackson Hole time to organize against the Yellowstone extension. Four groups in particular opposed the extension—local Forest Service employees, ranchers, dude ranchers, and Jackson business men. [32]

On July 10, 1919, Horace Albright assumed his duties as the new superintendent of Yellowstone National Park. Not only did he guide activities in Yellowstone for a decade, but being near Jackson Hole allowed him the opportunity to promote the park idea. At first, this advantage backfired. On August 25, 1919, Albright traveled to Jackson Hole with Governor Robert Carey of Wyoming to participate in a meeting with local residents about the proposed Yellowstone extension. Albright made "a serious tactical mistake in not carefully checking the attitudes of the citizens before going to the meeting." [33] Persuaded by Governor Carey and dude rancher Howard Eaton, Albright entered the meeting blissfully ignorant. He believed that he could gain support for the park by proposing to build modern roads, a ploy that had worked elsewhere. He was wrong, later recalling that it was "about the most disagreeable evening of my life." [34]

In a meeting packed with opponents, Albright was argued and shouted down. Ranchers opposed any extension because it would reduce grazing allotments. Dude ranchers, notably Burt and Carncross of the Bar BC, opposed the plan because they did not want improved roads and hotels. Further, they expressed the general resentment against monopolies exercised by concessioners in Yellowstone, and against the regulations imposed by the army, which had administered the park. Jackson Hole residents also vented their dislike of railroads, which puzzled Albright, but which reflected that era's widespread backlash against the railroad companies. Worst of all, "the cattlemen succeeded in winning Governor Carey over to their side of the case." A supporter of the expansion when he entered the meeting room, the governor wrote Albright later that he opposed any extension at all, although he left the door open for further discussions. [35]

Other events in 1919 proved timely for park supporters. During that year, a plan surfaced to construct a dam at the outlet of Jenny Lake. Damming the flow of Cottonwood Creek would have raised the water level of Jenny Lake 20 feet and Leigh Lake ten feet. Many Jackson Hole residents were appalled at the proposal, particularly dude ranchers. Opponents of the project objected to the commercial spoilation of the pristine mountain lakes. The Jackson Lake Dam had left a monumental eyesore along the shores of the lake because the Reclamation Service failed to cut down trees in the inundated area. As a result, the water flooded several thousand acres of forest, killing the trees. The dead and fallen trees made an unsightly mess. Struthers Burt called Jackson Lake "an example so good that it is constantly being used as an object-lesson by the enemies of stupid spoilation."

In addition to spoiled scenery, the dam aroused opposition for other reasons. In 1921, the Courier published an editorial titled "Remember Jacksons Lake," which specified reasons for opposing dams on Jenny Lake and other lakes in the valley. Also, "using the Snake River for a ditch," benefitted only Idaho farmers and damaged property in Jackson Hole. The editorial recalled the 1917 flood that washed out the approaches to the Snake River bridge. Local residents blamed the Reclamation Service for releasing too much water in this incident. [36]

While the Forest Service acquiesced to the proposed dam on Jenny Lake and approved dams at the outlet of Emma Matilda and Two Ocean Lakes, the National Park Service blocked the projects. Based on correspondence and reports, historian Robert Righter characterized the Park Service as "downright pugnacious" on the issue. Horace Albright, using the veto power granted by the 1918 executive order, provided the spine. The Park Service stand against dams in Jackson Hole was an important turning point. Opponents of the projects, contrasting the position taken by the Forest Service with the Park Service, came to view, albeit over time, a national park in Jackson Hole favorably. Valley residents such as Joe Jones, among the first to support the park, and Struthers Burt began to correspond with Albright. Thus began an alliance between Albright and important local figures. [37]

Meanwhile, Albright lobbied hard for an extension of Yellowstone's boundaries into Jackson Hole. He corresponded with people having political influence, as well as with renowned authors. Whenever possible, he brought influential visitors to Jackson Hole to promote his vision for a park. Albright made a special effort to get to know people in Jackson Hole, seeking allies and taking the measure of opponents. Homesteader and Jackson businessman Joe Jones gave Albright important information in these years. At the 1919 meeting it became apparent that Struthers Burt could be an articulate and formidable opponent of extension. Albright believed Burt's and Carncross's motives were based on self-interest—they wanted to keep the public out of Jackson Hole to protect the wilderness setting of their dude ranch. But the dude ranchers and Park Service found common interests in protecting the valley from commercialization. By 1920, Burt and Albright were exchanging letters and, on September 26 of that year, Albright visited Burt at the Bar BC. [38]

National Park Service and local interests merged at the well known meeting at Maud Noble's cabin on July 26, 1923. Albright was invited to the meeting. Present were Joe Jones, Dick Winger, Struthers Burt, Jack Eynon, Horace Carncross, and Maud Noble. The group considered ways to preserve the valley from commercial exploitation. They devised what has come to be known as the Jackson Hole Plan. Although the plan varied somewhat, depending on the source of information, the group decided to do two things. First, seek private funds to purchase private lands in Jackson Hole. To that end, the group decided to raise travel money to send a small delegation east to solicit funds. Second, create a reserve or recreation area that would preserve the "Old West" character of the valley, or "a museum on the hoof."

Specifically. lands were to be purchased north of the village of Jackson. Rustic log architecture would prevail, and Jackson would be preserved as a frontier town. Ranching would continue in Spring Gulch and in areas south of Jackson. Indigenous wildlife such as antelope would be reintroduced, wildlife range protected, and the wilderness character of the valley protected.

The participants did not support a national park or an extension of Yellowstone's boundaries, "because they wanted the traditional hunting, grazing, and dude-ranching activities to continue." Though the plan fell short of his dream, Albright generally supported it, seeing it as a way to protect the valley from commercialization. Further, this meeting set the course of events that led to the involvement of John D. Rockefeller Jr. Yet a national park seemed best suited to the central aim of the so-called Jackson Hole Plan. Joe Jones had supported a park extension as early as 1909, and Burt seems to have embraced the idea by 1923. In a letter to Albright dated September 11, 1923, Burt wrote exuberantly:

For God's sake let's put this thing over—It is the biggest idea of its kind since the actual inception of Yellowstone itself—a natural history museum on the hoof the only thing of its kind in the world. A park that of itself would finance all the other parks in the country; And a monument to the men who would help it along, with the Grand Teton as their headstone—that's big enough to fire any man's imagination. [39]

During the 1920s, two events occurred that cleared the way for the establishment of Grand Teton National Park. The President's Committee on Outdoor Recreation created the Coordinating Commission on National Parks and Forests to evaluate proposed park extensions and resolve boundary disputes between the Park Service and Forest Service. The Teton Range and Jackson Hole were among a number of areas studied by the commission. In October 1925, they issued a report and recommendations. They recommended the creation of a separate park to include the main portion of the Teton Range, about 100,000 acres, but believed the bulk of the proposed 600,000-acre Yellowstone extension of 1918-1919 should remain national forest. [40]

Two years later, a sub-committee of the Senate Public Lands toured Yellowstone to study the proposed boundary changes. On July 22, 1928, the subcommittee conducted a meeting in the upstairs hall of the Clubhouse in Jackson. Seventy-seven people attended the meeting. A show of hands, save one, favored the park. Pioneer William Manning disapproved of any legislation that would remove land from the tax rolls of Teton County. After being reassured that the park would include only national forest land, he withdrew his objection. That evening at the JY, a small group of opponents approached Senator John B. Kendrick to request another meeting. The senator agreed reluctantly. The small delegation included William C. Deloney, state representative, R. C. Lundy, state senator, and pioneer Stephen Leek. After expressing objections to the park proposal, they conceded it would be established and agreed to support it if an amendment was added to prohibit the construction of new roads and hotels in the new park. [41]

The Coordinating Commission's recommendation and the 1928 hearings provided the momentum for the introduction of a bill to establish Grand Teton National Park. On February 26, 1929, President Calvin Coolidge signed the bill, creating a 96,000-acre park that included the Teton Range and the scenic alpine lakes at the base of the range. Though less than proponents hoped for, it represented a significant victory. [42]

Controversy dogged the new park. Later, a story surfaced that Albright promised that no further extension would be considered if a park bill was approved. In a 1933 letter to Wilford Neilson, Albright denied making such a commitment. "What doubtless happened was that I agreed that there should be no more Yellowstone park extension agitation. . . ." Nevertheless, antagonists have perpetuated this story for years as an example of Horace Albright's perfidy. [43]

Meanwhile, to implement the Jackson Hole Plan, Burt and Albright raised $2,000 to locate a wealthy benefactor. Jack Eynon and Dick Winger traveled east in 1924 to visit well-heeled Jackson Hole dudes. Eynon met with members of the influential Hanna family, who expressed interest in the plan, but in the end offered no help. Although Eynon and Winger "could not have worked harder nor more conscientiously," they failed. Without financial support, the plan appeared dead.

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Last Updated: 24-Jul-2004