Grand Teton
Historic Resource Study
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Conservationists (continued)

John D. Rockefeller Jr. entered the picture in this period. In 1924, he brought his three sons west to visit Glacier, Mesa Verde, and Yellowstone National Parks. The Park Service made their travel arrangements. Wanting to mix with the public without undue attention, Rockefeller traveled under his middle name—Davison. Albright and his counterparts at Glacier and Mesa Verde were instructed not to discuss park business with Mr. Davison. Although Albright obeyed, he scheduled a visit to Jackson Lake. He told Rockefeller about "a small hill above Jackson Lake that offered a fine view of the lake and the Teton Range," where Rockefeller enjoyed a picnic amidst the rugged scenery. The site was Lunch Tree Hill.

Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller Jr.
Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller Jr. on a boat ride on Jenny Lake, 1931. The Rockefellers were so moved by the beauty of the valley that they provided the financial support for a plan to buy up private lands and donate them to the National Park Service. Jackson Hole Historical Society and Museum

In 1926, the Rockefeller family returned to Yellowstone for a 12-day vacation. The party included John D., Mrs. Abby Rockefeller, and sons Laurence, Winthrop, and David. Albright arranged their lodging and itinerary. Unrestricted this time, Albright conducted the family through Yellowstone and Jackson Hole. They arrived at the Jackson Lake Lodge (Amoretti Inn) about noon. They hiked up Lunch Tree Hill near the lodge and ate box lunches on the summit, watching evening descend over the mountains.

The next day, the Rockefeller party drove down the road from Moran to Jenny Lake. Rockefeller asked why telephone lines were placed west of the road, detracting from the view of the Teton Range. Never one to lose an opportunity, Albright explained that the Forest Service built the line, despite his suggestion that the lines be placed east of the road. Near Jenny Lake they passed a "wobegone-looking old dancehall, some dilapidated cabins, a burned-out gasoline station, a few big billboards" and other eyesores such as a "bootleg joint." Albright recalled that Mrs. Rockefeller grew increasingly upset. Both Mr. and Mrs. Rockefeller expressed dismay over the unsightly commercial developments in this area and asked if there was some way to stop them. Albright explained that virtually all buildings were on private property, thus would have to be bought out. Somewhere enroute to the JY, Rockefeller asked Albright to submit a map and list of the offending properties, as well as estimated costs to buy them. Elated, Albright promised to do so.

The group stopped at the Bar BC to visit the Burts, then drove on to the JY, owned by Henry Stewart. After lunch, they returned to Yellowstone via an old wagon road that took them past Menor's Ferry and the Bar BC. At "a high point along this bluff from which one can view the entire valley in all directions," the entourage stopped to enjoy the scenery. "As we stood on this little 'rise' and absorbed the beauty of the scene spread before us, I told Mr. and Mrs. Rockefeller of the meeting at Miss Noble's cabin three years earlier and the plan to protect and preserve for the future this sublime valley." Neither offered any response nor did Albright pursue the subject any further.

The location of this high point has been a source of debate, because some historic significance has been attached to Albright's disclosure of the Jackson Hole Plan. First, the site has been confused with Lunch Tree Hill, which it was not. Second, Albright's recollections do not provide a precise site. In his 1933 letter to Neilson, written closest in time to the 1926 trip, Albright described their route as an old wagon track overlooking the Snake. Not only did it offer a good view of the Teton Range, but Antelope Flats and the lands around Blacktail Butte were "still bathed in sunshine." In an interview conducted in 1967, Albright recollected the following:

I took them back up to near Menors Ferry and then on a road, I don't remember where it went but it went up around where the Oliver [4 Lazy F] place is and beyond the Bar B-C. I fooled along the river, showing it [to] them. Then to a point well above the Bar B-C. I think to Hedricks Point or near what's called Hedricks Point.

Based on this description, Hedricks Point was the site. The problem is that this location is situated on the east side of the Snake River. To get there, Albright would have had to cross Menor's Ferry and then take the maintained county road to Hedricks Point. In no source or interview does he mention crossing the Snake. It is likely from his description that the Rockefeller party traveled north along the old wagon road west of the Snake River to a point near Burned Ridge. [44]

At any rate, the Rockefeller visit proved to be a turning point in the history of Jackson Hole. Albright contacted Dick Winger, who assembled maps, a list of properties, and property values in the Jenny Lake area. In the winter of 1926-1927, Albright traveled to New York and delivered the material to Rockefeller. After perusing the maps and list, Rockefeller said, "Mr. Albright, this isn't what I wanted from you." Confused, Albright reviewed their discussion that day. It became clear that Albright misunderstood Rockefeller. Rather than limit his program to the Jenny Lake area, the millionaire philanthropist was only interested in the "ideal proposal," a buy out of all private lands north of Jackson and Spring Gulch. Elated, Albright requested more maps and cost estimates from Winger. [45]

After reviewing the new proposals, Rockefeller turned the project over to an aide, Colonel Arthur Woods. Albright, acting on the advice of Burt and Winger, outlined a general strategy for the program. Rockefeller would purchase the property and eventually donate it to the National Park Service. But first, and most important, Albright recommended secrecy—if news of Rockefeller's involvement and the purpose of the program leaked out, land prices would inflate and opponents would work hard to thwart the program. He suggested that a hunting-and-recreation company be formed to buy the land. Albright recommended that Woods hire the Salt Lake City law firm of Fabian & Clendenin to run the company. [46]

Rockefeller's agents formed the Snake River Land Company, a Utah corporation, in the summer of 1927. Kenneth Chorley, Rockefeller's chief agent at Colonial Williamsburg, orchestrated its organization with Woods and remained active over the years. They chose Vanderbilt Webb, a New York attorney, to serve as president of the company, Harold P. Fabian of the Salt Lake firm as vice president, and Robert E. Miller as field agent in Jackson Hole. Miller seemed a curious choice, because he was known to oppose park extension. On the other hand, as Albright conceded, he was a pioneer and "knew Jackson Hole lands through long experience as a banker in Jackson." [47]

The company launched an ambitious program, seeking to buy more than 30,000 acres for around $1,000,000. Although the company incorporated in 1927 and had engaged Miller by May of that year, the first purchases were not made until 1928. In April, the Courier reported that the Snake River Land Company had purchased 7,000 acres, all situated east of the Snake River. Miller remained secretive, stating only that the game herds attracted the money and that the land would remain in private hands. People have speculated over the years that Miller may have known the true intent of the scheme and of Rockefeller's involvement. No documented information has ever affirmed these rumors. It is difficult to conceive that so bitter an opponent of the Yellowstone extension would have worked knowingly for the Jackson Hole Plan. Miller maintained that he had no knowledge of the ultimate goal of the Snake River Land Company. In the 1933 Senate hearings, he testified that Vanderbilt Webb assured him that the company had no connection with park expansion in Jackson Hole. [48]

Papers related to the Snake River Land Company indicate that the principal characters expected to buy the targeted lands and turn them over to the Park Service within several years. Burt believed that income from leases would defray annual expenses, such as property taxes, during the interim. No one anticipated that 20 years of bitter controversy would pass before the settlement of 1950, and no one could have predicted the direction the Snake River Land Company and its successor, the Jackson Hole Preserve, would take in these years.

Further, the intense hostility aroused by the company's activities surprised Rockefeller and company officers. Hostility on a local and even state level stemmed from several sources. First, some opposed the extension of a park into Jackson Hole, period. Second, activities of the company generated opposition. Third, perceptions of the company's motives, regardless of their inaccuracy, influenced local attitudes as much as the company's actions. Finally, the Snake River Land Company was a business. Its officials managed it as such. Kenneth Chorley recognized years later that "good public relations . . . were not the forte of the Jackson Hole Preserve" nor its predecessor, the Snake River Land Company. [49]

The first crisis occurred within two years, and were centered on the activities of R. E. Miller, the company's purchasing agent. Webb, Chorley, and Fabian grew concerned at the slow pace of the purchase program. This was not necessarily Miller's fault, as Webb and Chorley were too optimistic about the time needed to buy lands. More specifically, Miller concentrated on buying out properties east of the river. This was contrary to the priority of buying up lands west of the river, along the critical scenic corridor between Menor's Ferry and Jenny Lake. Webb, Chorley, and Fabian suspected that Miller bought properties with mortgages held by his Jackson State Bank. In 1929, Fabian reported that Miller held just over $88,000 in mortgages for properties on the purchase schedule. This was not extraordinary because, being the only bank in Jackson Hole, Miller was bound to hold a number of mortgages. Furthermore, as a banker, Miller had made some enemies, earning him the nickname "Old Twelve-Percent." Personal antagonism on the part of some locals toward Miller hindered the program. Miller's contract with the Snake River Land Company also encouraged him to drive a sharp bargain; by achieving lower total prices, he stood to gain significant bonuses. Finally, Miller failed to communicate regularly with Fabian, Webb, and Chorley. Exasperated, they eased Miller out and replaced him with Dick Winger and Mrs. H. H. Harrison; Miller's contract expired at the end of 1929. [50] Nevertheless, the company made significant strides prior to 1930. The Ferrins, who controlled several thousand acres, including the Elk Ranch, were bought out. The company also bought the resort and land of Ben Sheffield at Moran for $100,000 early in 1929, a very important acquisition. [51]

Miller's successor, Dick Winger, soon ran into trouble. Webb and Chorley, always accountable to Rockefeller, expressed dissatisfaction with Winger's progress. For reasons that remain uncertain, Chorley always had reservations about Winger. Fabian shared those feelings at first, but concluded that "he is the one man whom I have been able to tie to there with absolute confidence." Albright supported Winger fully, admiring his "fine mind and world of courage." Fabian found him a sensitive, yet pugnacious man. As such, Winger had made enemies in Jackson Hole, among them R. E. Miller. Winger's running battles with Miller and other opponents, such as Roy Van Vleck, Bill Simpson, and A. C. McCain, certainly influenced the controversy. At any rate, Winger remained the company agent. He was paid a commission at first and later an annual salary of $3,600, until he left the company in 1946. [52]

During this time, it is difficult to gauge the level of support versus opposition to the park, for the views of valley residents fluctuated, and vocal minorities can raise a noise far out of proportion to their numbers. In general, opinions seemed to have swung from opposition in 1919 to support in the 1920s. In 1926, Struthers Burt estimated that 40 percent of Jackson Hole's populace favored the Yellowstone extension. A year later, Burt believed 80 percent. Early support peaked in 1929 with the establishment of Grand Teton National Park. Opposition increased in the 1930s with the exposure concerning Rockefeller's involvement with the Snake River Land Company.

Proposed Extension, Grand Teton National Park, 1938. (click on image for an enlargement in a new window) National Park Service

One myth has persisted over the years that landholders opposed selling their homesteads and ranches, but sold out of economic necessity or were coerced to sell. While the economy was a factor, little evidence exists to hint at coercion. The agricultural depression of the 1920s laid ranchers low and influenced their decision to sell. This was a significant factor. In July 1919, Joe Markham, William C. Thompson, George H. Whiteman, and H. C. McKinstry wrote a letter to Albright in which they went on "record as being in favor" of the extension since Albright had addressed their concerns. In a subsequent letter, Markham advised the superintendent that most people in the northern end of the valley would support the extension if certain privileges could be preserved, such as the right to carry fire arms and exterminate wolves and coyotes. [53]

As depressed cattle prices impacted ranchers and the valley's economy, gloom characterized the mood of people. In 1920, Albright met pioneer rancher Bill Crawford. Over lunch, Crawford informed Albright that he and all the other ranchers opposed any extension unless their ranches were bought out. "He said nobody would make a living on these properties, that the climate was too cold, the soil too barren, and that people were destroying the lives of themselves and their families by trying to ranch in this country." Crawford hoped the government or private parties could finance such a scheme. In 1921, J. D. "Si" Ferrin and Bill Kelly discussed a similar plan with Albright. [54]

Albright's papers from the early 1920s contain numerous letters concerning the economic dilemma of ranchers in Jackson Hole. In late 1923, he informed Hal Evarts that "practically every ranchman in Jackson Hole is broke and in debt up to his ears. There is no hope of these poor people getting out of debt." Separate observations tend to confirm Albright's assessments. In 1924, George Ryter composed a 113-page letter to Mrs. Rose Crabtree, while wintering as the caretaker at Cissie Patterson's Flat Creek Ranch. Discussing conditions in the valley, Ryter believed "many ranchers would be glad to go." More than a few owed taxes going back several years. If the Jackson Hole Plan failed to materialize, he believed most ranches would "pass into the hands of the few. Perhaps moonshine-booze/hilarity will make us forget our troubles." [55]

Hard times seem to have peaked in 1925. In that year, ranchers circulated a petition supporting a buyout of private lands in response to anti-park agitation in Jackson Hole. Si Ferrin and Pierce Cunningham reputedly authored most of the petition and circulated it for signatures. The authors expressed concern that opponents of the Yellowstone extension had deliberately misrepresented facts, which had been repeated in editorials throughout the Wyoming press. The authors also stated that the Yellowstone extension involved little more than a transfer of public land from one federal agency to another, and numerous public documents presented facts regarding the extension. The petition went further, proposing "that the entire Jackson Hole should be set aside as a recreational area, or should be administered as a recreational area, through whatever agency, state or national, is considered best fit to do it." Based on hard experience at ranching, signers believed "that this region will find its highest use as a playground. . . . The destiny of Jackson's Hole is as a playground, typical of the west, for the education and enjoyment of the Nation, as a whole." They not only pledged themselves to cooperating to further the project, "but we will at any time . . . sell our ranches at what we consider a fair price." What is remarkable about this petition is that 97 landowners endorsed it; and many were Jackson Hole's first pioneers and had a reputation for being park opponents. These people owned more than 27,000 acres, much of it in the area encompassed by the Jackson Hole Plan. The 1925 petition indicates that significant support existed for the plan. It is clear that economics were an important motive. [56]

As the Snake River Land Company officers began organizing in 1927, supporters urged haste. Burt, believing 1927 might be a good year for ranchers, feared some might be less willing to sell, developing a crimp in their backs as usual." Burt also observed that "each summer more and more rich Easterners are buying places on this side of the river and this means more and more land the Government will not be able to control." In October, he repeated the urgency of purchasing parcels as soon as possible. Jackson Hole was no longer in a dejected state of mind. "The Kelly flood has been forgotten, the cattlemen, for the first time in years, expected to make money, and the recent buying up of numerous ranches by rich men had whetted the appetite of every one." [57] Still, available documents indicate that a significant number of ranchers were ready to sell, although their motives were complex. A few like Tony Grace were willing to sell for altruistic reasons; others such as Si Ferrin wished to sell for personal financial reasons. [58]

Another charge leveled against the Snake River Land Company concerned prices paid for land. Stories have persisted over the years that the company paid less than fair market value. In a letter to Wilford Neilson dated April 6, 1933, Harold Fabian revealed total purchases up to that time. The Snake River Land Company had paid a total of $1,400,310.04 for 35,310.396 acres of land. This included payments to homestead applicants in exchange for relinquishing claims to the United States. The company paid an average of $39.66 per acre, or $6,345.60 for 160 acres that usually contained improvements. [59] These figures compare favorably with other real estate transactions during this period.

Several variables determined the appraisals made by Dick Winger and R. E. Miller. Buildings, fences, the condition of improvements, ditches, cultivated land, irrigated land, pasture, wasteland—all were factors in determining fair market value. No appraisal records survived in the company files kept by Fabian and Chorley. Individual appraisal records probably remained with Winger and Miller. Prices for individual properties differed according to these variables, along with their condition. For example, Roy Nipper received $4,000, or $25 per acre, for a dryland farm and ranch buildings in poor condition. His neighbor, Norm Smith, received more than $12,000 for a well-kept homestead and irrigated acreage. Also, the fact that the Smith property was located near Menor's Ferry may have given it some strategic importance. [60]

A significant cause of bitterness on the part of some landowners revolved around higher prices paid for properties in "scenic areas" as opposed to viable agricultural lands. Company agents considered land west of the Snake River the most scenic, and the most threatened. As such, the company offered higher prices for this land. Ranchers and farmers on Mormon Row could not comprehend why land worthless for agriculture should be worth so much more than their well-kept farms. For example, the Snake River Land Company targeted 1,545 acres in the township that included Jenny Lake. They estimated the cost to be $174,376, or $112.82 per acre. But more than 6,000 acres in the Mormon Row-Antelope Flats area was projected to cost $247,867.62. Strictly hay meadows and pasture, this land averaged $40.88 per acre. Although the company adopted a policy of not disclosing prices, people had no such policy. More was probably known about prices the company paid than Fabian, Webb, and Chorley could have imagined. Frank McBride sold his 480-acre ranch for $12,000 in April 1928. Two years later, he learned that some neighbors had received $40 per acre, while he had received $25. McBride wrote a letter to the company, not angry or especially bitter, asking for an additional $15 an acre, "beaing [sic] that the Co. is all well-to-do people." He had been forced to sell, because the Jackson State Bank threatened to foreclose on a $1,000 mortgage dating from 1918. Being a businessman, Fabian, of course, denied the request. [61]

In an interview years later, Harold Fabian recalled that John D. Rockefeller Jr., "had always said that he would rather pay more than less." Yet, the Snake River Land Company operated in a business-like manner. Estimates were made, price schedules drawn up, and budgets allotted. Webb, Chorley, Fabian, and Winger managed Rockefeller's money carefully. None liked to feel they got the wrong end of a sharp bargain. They were expected to work within budgets, and Winger had to secure approval to make offers higher than the scheduled amount. For example, Fabian gave Winger the authority to offer Joe Jones $10,000 for his homestead, well over the projected $7,300 price. However, Fabian instructed Winger to use the $3,400 saved on the purchase of the Herb Whiteman place at Moran. After Mary Cowles accepted an offer of $35 per acre for 468 acres on the Buffalo Fork, Fabian informed Winger that the offer was no longer good as the land was worth no more than $17.50 per acre. In this case, hard negotiating backfired. Cowles sold to the Cockrells, who started a cattle outfit on the property that continues to operate today. In 1929, the owner of the JY and park supporter Henry Stewart asked Fabian to re-convey title of 160 acres to Harold Brown and his wife. According to Stewart, the couple sold under duress, as Mrs. Brown had been ill and required surgery. Members of the Dupont family, friends of the Browns, determined to help them out and pay their bills. Fabian reported Stewart as being very adamant, believing the Browns sold for too little money. He hoped the company would reconvey title or, in lieu of that, pay a higher price for the land. Fabian passed the request on to Chorley, but wrote "Mr. Miller says to forget it and I agree with him." The company refused Stewart's request, but did give the Browns a short-term lease to enable them to continue operating the Moose Post Office at the property. In 1929, Struthers Burt complained to Kenneth Chorley about Miller's high handedness toward some landowners, suggesting that local resentment had increased as a consequence. [62]

In general, the company treated landowners fairly, both in prices paid and in other matters. In 1935, Winger had property lines surveyed. A survey of the Gottfried Feuz property showed his fences being several hundred feet off of the actual property lines. Feuz was "about sick" over the mistake, but Winger assured him the company had no intention of ordering him to move fences and buildings. Some locals were poor neighbors to the company. In the same letter, Winger reported serious incidents of vandalism and theft at the Elk Ranch. A horse had been shot, fences broken down, boards stolen from ditch headgates, and a long list of tools and gasoline stolen. "Midnight salvage crews" stole virtually anything on unoccupied company properties. [63]

Another cause of resentment stemmed from the company's practice of removing structures and improvements. The purpose of the buyout was to remove unsightly development and restore the natural landscape. Further, by eliminating improvements, the company reduced property taxes. Dr. E. M. Fryxell recalled watching buildings being moved tortoise-like down the Jenny Lake Road in the late 1920s and early 1930s. When the company tore down a barn on the old Manges homestead, Jimmy Manges vowed never to construct a solid building again on the X Quarter Circle X. He kept his vow. In some cases, improvements were sold; in other instances, buildings were burned, such as the Nipper property. By 1936, a geographer reported "a large part of the settlement has now been removed from this territory, removed so completely that only when viewed from the air or from the summit of one of the buttes can the faint traces of occupance be discerned." Based on homestead records, the company removed as many as 200 or more buildings in this period. [64]

Sentimental value is impossible to appraise. The dramatic change in the landscape aggravated the emotional trauma some settlers experienced in selling. Some had poured years of sweat into their homesteads, raised families, and lived through the usual assortment of life crises such as illness or the death of a family member. No wonder people found it a gut-wrenching experience. These emotions fueled ill feelings toward the Snake River Land Company and Rockefeller. [65]

Friends of the Jackson Hole Plan and park extension sometimes received more consideration than others in terms of prices paid for their land. Jack Eynon held out for $12,000 for his 160-acre ranch, considerably more than the appraised value. He justified the price based on his "hard and constant" work for the project. Webb, Chorley, and Fabian deliberated over the price for some time, aware of the problem of inflating prices and vulnerability to charges of favoritism. In the end, they paid Eynon's asking price, which was $7,200 above appraised value. Joe Jones, among the first park advocates, received $10,000 for his parcel, more than its appraised value. John and Maytie Turner were paid $20,000 for 320 acres. Although the homestead was in excellent condition, the price was very high compared to other land in the Spread Creek area. Winger himself filed a timber and stone entry for which he received $10,000, clearly more than its real value. In the end, Fabian, Chorley, and Webb may have agreed to pay these prices rather than risk losing valuable allies. [66]

After the company began buying land in 1928, Miller, Winger, and Fabian grew concerned about speculators buying land and holding out for higher prices. H. C. Ericcson was an attorney from Kansas, who filed a 640-acre stock-raising entry in July 1926 near Deadman's Bar. He began purchasing other tracts in the valley, clearly engaging in land speculation. In March 1930, Ericcson wrote to Fabian informing him that he secured an option to buy 323 acres from Charles "Beaver Tooth" Neal for $13,460, or $41.67 per acre. Ericcson offered to sell it to the company for $50 per acre, a modest profit of $2,690. In lieu of that, Ericcson proposed to "establish adequate accommodations for the general traveling public." [67]

Before initiating the Jackson Hole Plan, Rockefeller's agents also had to eliminate more than 20,000 acres of public domain available for settlement. Kenneth Chorley conferred with Secretary of the Interior Hubert Work and Chief Forester W. B. Greeley to explain the company's project, and discuss the problem that public land available for settlement would cause the company. Out of this meeting came the executive order of July 7, 1927. President Coolidge withdrew thousands of acres from settlement, ostensibly to protect elk habitat. This executive order, coupled with five additional orders withdrawing smaller tracts, ended the homesteaders' frontier in Jackson Hole. More important for the company, it prevented speculators from appropriating public lands. [68]

Both the Park Service and company agents corresponded with the General Land Office, challenging the validity of pending homestead entries. General Land Office agents generally favored entrants when interpreting the legal requirements to secure title to public land. The Park Service and Snake River Land Company encouraged land office agents to investigate entries closely. In 1929, Chorley complained to Secretary of the Interior Ray Lyman Wilbur about a number of timber and stone entries considered "bogus." He cited entries made by Dick Winger's wife, Marta Winger, Wilford Neilson, a supporter of the Jackson Hole Plan, and Dr. Charles W. Huff In 1931, Fabian asked Winger to determine if Fred and Eva Topping had resided on their entry (the Moosehead). Winger promptly replied, "There can be no possible objection to the issuance of the patent as the Toppings have continuously lived there" and exceeded requirements for final proof. The main exception occurred when the Government Land Office denied A. W. Gabbey's claim to a stock-raising entry in response from pressure from Albright and the Park Service. [69]

As the purchase program progressed, Albright recommended the company adopt Struthers Burt's recommendation that purchased properties be operated to defray operating expenses and property taxes. From the outset, leases became very important. Believing the Triangle X to be an ideal location for a dude ranch, the company leased it back to John "Dad" Turner in 1930. By 1931, income from hay production and leases and rentals made up two-thirds of the company's income. As the controversy over the extension of a park into Jackson Hole dragged on into the 1940s, leases became more extensive and entrenched. Management became more complex. In 1941, Winger complained about problems in harvesting hay. Aside from being rained out, Winger found the crews to he "undependable, untrustworthy, and incompetent. At least, one third of my crew gets drunk every night—locals as well as floaters." [70]

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Last Updated: 24-Jul-2004