Grand Teton
Historic Resource Study
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Conservationists (continued)

The Snake River Land Company also found itself in the tourist business. A myth has persisted over the years that Rockefeller bought lands in Jackson Hole to enter the tourist business and monopolize it. Nothing could be further from the truth. When the company acquired Sheffield's Teton Lodge at Moran, they decided to continue operating it for two reasons. First, virtually no accommodations existed between Jackson and the great old lodges in Yellowstone. Travel was slower on poor roads in much slower vehicles, making Moran a logical stop. Second, company agents feared that closing Moran would hurt the land acquisition program. They reasoned "if the operation at Moran is stopped other places will spring up and flourish and give us no end of trouble." Operating tourist facilities took Rockefeller and his agents in unexpected directions. To run the operation at Moran, Fabian orchestrated the formation of the Teton Lodge Company and the Teton Transportation Company. These later merged to form the Teton Investment Company.

Moran required a considerable investment to improve and repair guest cabins, bathrooms, and the lodge. The Snake River Land Company advanced the Teton Lodge Company $35,000 to repair the tourist village. By 1933, the land company had in vested $173,712.01 in Moran and the Jackson Lake Lodge. In return, the company received $28,707.36, which included $15,000 repaid on the $35,000 advance. Rockefeller owned none of the Teton Investment Company. Profit proved no motive for the land-holding company's venture into the tourist business. [71]

Congressional Appropriation Committee
The Congressional Appropriation Committee visited Jackson Hole in 1931, and posed for a photograph by Jackson Lake Lodge. Harold Fabian, the local administrator of the Rockefeller-financed Snake River Land Company, is in the top row, second from left. Grand Teton National Park

In his letter of February 16, 1927, to Rockefeller, Albright suggested that a company be formed ostensibly to buy land for a recreation and hunting club. Albright stressed that the ultimate goal of turning the land over to the Park Service should be kept secret to avoid opposition. Further, Rockefeller should work through agents to avoid being associated with the project, thus raising prices and suspicions. However, Rockefeller's association could have been discovered at the time the Snake River Land Company was formed. On August 23, the Courier reported President Coolidge's executive order withdrawing 23,617 acres from settlement to promote elk conservation. Chorley was mentioned as being involved in the withdrawal. A little detective work would have revealed Chorley's employer. In April 1928, the editor of the Courier reported the first purchases of the Snake River Land Company. Bringing up Chorley's name in connection with the 1927 withdrawal, the editor suspected that all were connected. In June 1929, Albright received a letter from Walter B. Sheppard, an occasional visitor to Jackson, concerning the future of Jackson Hole. In the letter, Sheppard asked, "How far will Mr. Rockefeller go?" Alarmed, Albright passed the letter on to Chorley. In August, the Courier reported that the Snake River Land Company intended to turn the land west of the Snake River over to the Park Service. Because people were getting dangerously close to the truth, the company issued a press release on April 6, 1930. Revealed were Rockefeller's involvement, the role of Albright and the National Park Service, and the objective of the Snake River Land Company. [72]

The revelation galvanized opposition. William Simpson, Roy Van Vleck, and R. E. Miller spearheaded the anti-park forces. A. C. McCain, the forest supervisor, opposed the program as much as he dared. The local Lions Club served as a gathering place for opponents. After the Jackson's Hole Courier came out in favor of the park plan, opponents established an anti-park paper, the Grand Teton, described as a "vindictive, spunky, devil-may-care, master-of-insults newspaper." Choreographed by the "Three Musketeers"—Winger's reference to Simpson, Van Vleck, and Miller—opponents of the Jackson Hole Plan agitated until the Senate passed a resolution to investigate the activities of the National Park Service, the Snake River Land Company, and the Teton Investment Company. This resulted in Senate subcommittee hearings in August 1933. [73]

The Snake River Land Company suspended buying land pending the hearings. By that time, they had acquired more than 35,000 acres and spent more than $1,400,000. In retrospect, it was a remarkable accomplishment. But the company's internal correspondence indicates that Webb and Chorley grew increasingly impatient with the slow progress of the program after 1929. In 1930, Chorley wrote to Webb "extremely concerned due to a lack of progress last fall and winter." He perceived Winger's performance in acquiring six properties in six months as too slow. "This situation must change. I have assured Mr. Rockefeller that we should be able to practically clean up the situation by the end of this year." Chorley asked Webb to take the matter up with Fabian. [74]

Several developments influenced the company program after 1929. As noted earlier, Dick Winger replaced Miller as purchasing agent in 1929. And, as the company leased and disposed of properties, other activities conflicted with real estate negotiations. For example, in 1930, Chorley wrote to Albright expressing concern about the slow-moving pace of land acquisition. "Confidentially between ourselves, I am inclined to think that Harold [Fabian] has become so immersed in other activities, especially the Teton Lodge Company, the acquisition of the Jackson Lake Lodge, the reconstruction of Moran, the entertainment of the Fox Film people . . . that he has temporarily lost sight of the fundamental purpose; namely the acquisition of property." Indeed, responding to Webb and Chorley's concern about Winger, Fabian expressed disappointment in his "complete absorption in the work he is doing for the Fox people." Fabian blamed himself for giving Winger "too much rope" by letting him organize housing at Moran and supervising camps and supplies for the Fox Film Company, while they filmed "The Big Trail." [75]

Chorley had "very distinct misgivings with regard to Winger," while Fabian and Albright were strong advocates. In a 1931 letter, Fabian reminded Webb and Chorley that Winger bailed them out in 1929 "when Miller flopped on us." Fabian, in a series of letters, pointed out that Winger worked against serious obstacles. The revelation of the company's plan and financier aroused opposition, and people tended to hold out for higher prices. Further, in 1929, the company deleted Mormon Row farms and ranches from the project at the behest of Governor Frank Emerson, who had been led to believe the landowners opposed the sale. This occurred after Winger optioned many of the properties. After some Mormon Row residents complained, the lands were returned to the schedules, but the damage had been done. Fabian noted that "remaining parcels were the tough nuts to crack." The tough nuts included hold-outs such as Geraldine Lucas, Pete Karppi of the Half Moon, Henry Gunther, and the Wolff family.

Finally, some worked against Winger to stymie the project, or out of personal spite toward him. Fabian knew "that Miller with all his influence and canniness has been and still is fighting Winger as hard as he can." In May 1931, Winger learned from Dr. Charles Huff that Miller advised Geraldine Lucas to hold out for $100,000. The previous winter, Winger had learned from settler Joe Heniger that Dr. Huff had been counseling Mormon Row settlers to keep their prices high. Heniger believed Huff acted to secure a higher price for his land. [76]

As the controversy continued, the company and its successor, the Jackson Hole Preserve, continued to purchase land, eliminating the "tough nuts" as opportunities presented themselves. One of the most important purchases occurred in 1944, when Fabian acquired the Lucas property. Geraldine Lucas had died in 1938 and willed the ranch to her son, Russell Lucas. He promptly sold the estate to J. D. Kimmel, who intended to subdivide the land for residential lots. Fabian and Kimmel became acquainted and fast friends in the intervening years.

In 1944, Kimmel invited Harold and Josephine Fabian for a drive up the Gros Ventre River valley. Josephine Fabian recalled vividly the following conversation: "Fabian, I can ruin your whole damn project," said Kimmel. Fabian replied, "I know you can Uncle Kimmel." Knots must have twisted Harold Fabian's stomach at the thought of a subdivision at the foot of the Teton Range. After a few minutes of silence, Kimmel said ". . . but I ain't a goin' to." Kimmel proposed to sell the Lucas place and his holdings at Jenny Lake—tourist cabins, gas station, store—for what he paid in exchange for a lease. True to his word, Kimmel sold out in 1944. The sale brought critical parcels under federal ownership. [77]

Meanwhile, events important to park extension occurred in 1933. First, Horace Albright, who had served as director of the National Park Service since 1929, resigned to accept a lucrative offer to serve as president of the United States Potash Company. Nevertheless, he remained active in conservation issues, the Park Service and, especially, the park extension in Jackson Hole.

Kendrick, Carey, Woodring
Wyoming Senators John B. Kendrick and Robert Carey with Superintendent Woodring, 1931. Grand Teton National Park

Second, the Senate Subcommittee on Public Lands and Surveys convened its hearings on August 7, which lasted through August 10. Company agents and the Park Service prepared well for the hearings. Most important, Albright, Fabian, and J. H. Rayburn, president of the Teton Investment Company, prepared histories of their activities. The histories were presented in the form of letters to Wilford Neilson, the editor of the Courier, who published them in the spring of 1933. The letters were compiled into a booklet and published as "Mr. John D. Rockefeller Jr.'s Proposed Gift of Land for the National Park System in Wyoming." The hearings attracted a lot of publicity, in part because of Wyoming Senator Robert Carey's sensational allegations of illegal tactics employed by the Snake River Land Company, such as burning fences and homes. Carey asserted that events in Jackson Hole had elements similar to the Teapot Dome scandal. However, by the conclusion of the hearings, it was apparent that the allegations against the National Park Service and the Snake River Land Company had no foundation.

The only questionable practice concerned Park Service pressure on the General Land Office to scrutinize pending homestead entries. The Park Service believed many of the entries were "fraudulent and not in good faith," and asked the General Land Office to inspect certain entries to assure compliance with the law and cancel any fraudulent or improper applications. Inspectors evaluated 56 pending entries in Jackson Hole; they approved 47 in favor of the settlers and rejected only nine entries, most of which were abandoned and, therefore, rightly cancelled. One exception concerned the stock-raising entry of Albert W. Gabbey, near String Lake. The General Land Office disapproved his entry, stating that the land was not classifiable as stock-raising. Yet, other stock-raising entries in the area had been approved, notably the entry of Harrison Crandall adjacent to Gabbey's claim. Eventually, Gabbey secured title to his stock-raising claim in 1940, on the grounds that the law had been applied inconsistently.

Other complaints surfaced such as charges of manipulating the location of the Moose Post Office to further the land purchase program, but the hearings exonerated the National Park Service and Snake River Land Company. Further hearings were cancelled, and press accounts derided the whole event. The Denver Post characterized the affair as less than "a tempest in a teapot. . . . It was not even a 'squall in a thimble.'" [78]

The 1933 hearings opened the door to a settlement. Indicative that the park extension was no longer such a contentious issue, Bill Simpson resigned as editor of the Grand Teton and the paper shut down in 1934. In June of that year, Senator Robert Carey introduced a bill in the Senate to expand the boundaries of Grand Teton National Park. Among other compromises, the bill proposed to reimburse Teton County for the loss of taxes incurred by the extension. The federal government was to pay an annual sum to the county for 20 years after the purchase of property. A federal organization, the Bureau of the Budget, hamstrung the bill at the 11th hour. Reluctant to establish a precedent of paying counties in lieu of taxes for federal lands, the bureau added an amendment requiring compensation from sources other than the Treasury Department. The bill died in the House of Representatives. [79] In 1935, Carey introduced another bill (S. 2972), which in no way resembled the 1934 bill. For one thing, Jackson Lake was excluded, along with other land. Further, the issue of reimbursing the county for lost taxes had not been resolved. This bill died in committee after the Park Service withdrew support. [80]

The tax issue remained the most serious hurdle in the 1930s. Teton County officials and citizens refused to give up revenue, especially in a tax-poor county. And, during this period, opposition to the park extension seemed to gain strength again. Objections to a park in Jackson Hole surfaced from unexpected quarters. The National Parks Association, a preservationist organization, opposed including Jackson Lake. The association believed it was a bad precedent to consider conveying national park status to a dam and reservoir. The sagebrush flats east of the river also did not meet national park standards in association members judgment. Fear of setting these precedents threatened to kill the grand plan. [81]

The National Park Service seized the initiative again in 1937-1938. The bureau prepared a 16-page pamphlet titled "A Report by the National Park Service on the Proposal to Extend the Boundaries of Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming." The document outlined the history of park extension and extolled the benefits of tourism, but most important included a bill to extend the boundaries of Grand Teton National Park.

The reaction in Jackson Hole was swift and harsh. New leaders emerged to direct anti-park activities. The new editor of the Courier, Charles Kratzer, wrote weekly editorials railing against the plan, while Felix Buchenroth, Peter Hansen, A. C. McCain, and Millward Simpson organized opposition. They orchestrated a meeting with Governor Leslie Miller, at which 162 of 165 voted against the plan. Politically, the issue grew hotter, prompting the Wyoming congressional delegation to call for hearings. [82]

A Senate Subcommittee convened hearings in Jackson on August 8, 1938. The Jackson Hole Committee prepared their anti-expansion case very well. They beat the Park Service and Snake River Land Company to the punch, arranging food, entertainment, and lodging. Millward Simpson, an implacable foe, conducted the hearings. Simpson assembled an impressive array of statements, petitions, and witnesses against the park extension. He even presented a letter written by Struthers Burt to Congressman Frank Mondell in 1919, detailing his opposition to the old Yellowstone extension. Burt, of course, had become one of the strongest proponents of the plan! The Jackson Hole Committee gave the pro-park faction an old-fashioned beating. The result: the Wyoming delegation would not support expansion legislation, and Congress would not pass a bill against the Wyoming solons' wishes. [83]

It seemed a national park embracing Jackson Hole would remain a dream. On October 27, 1938, Horace Albright composed a short letter to Harold Fabian. Regarding Jackson Hole, he wrote:

When you get a chance write me again telling me how things are going, and give us any suggestions that you have as to what we should do in the Jackson Hole country. In a talk with J.D.R. Jr. I detected a note of discouragement. In fact, he asked whether we thought we could get fifty cents on the dollar if we sold the land. If he ever loses interest in this project it is gone for good. This is confidential, of course.

In 1942, John D. Rockefeller Jr.'s growing discouragement and impatience culminated in his well-known November 26 letter to Secretary of the Interior Harold L. Ickes. Rockefeller concluded, reluctantly, that if the federal government did not want the gift of land or could not "arrange to accept it on the general terms long discussed . . . it will be my thought to make some other disposition of it or to sell it in the market to any satisfactory buyers." The National Park Service and Secretary Ickes determined to persuade President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to create a national monument out of public lands in Jackson Hole. Through the Antiquities Act of 1906, the chief executive could "declare by public proclamation historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest" located on public lands to be national monuments. It offered a way to circumvent the stumbling block of Congress, which would not act against the Wyoming delegation. On March 5, 1943, Ickes presented a memorandum on the subject to the president, along with a proclamation to create Jackson Hole National Monument. Understanding that the proclamation might be unpopular, Roosevelt nevertheless signed it on March 15. Jackson Hole National Monument was now a fact, a 221,000-acre addition to the national park system. [84]

Generally, it has been interpreted that Rockefeller was serious about divesting himself of the Jackson Hole lands. Harold Fabian recalled hearing Rockefeller state, in Chorley's office on one occasion, "if the Government won't accept it as a park, then I'm going to put the whole place up for sale." Further, it has been accepted that his letter generated the concept of a national monument. Available documents indicate otherwise. The idea of a national monument had surfaced in the late 1930s. By early 1939, the National Park Service had prepared a draft proclamation, which Rockefeller agents rejected as a poorly prepared document and too controversial. Robert Righter, after examining evidence and interviewing principal characters, believes that Rockefeller "was not prepared to abandon the Jackson Hole project" and the November 27 letter was sent to provoke action. Indeed, Rockefeller indicated his determination to see the project through. After Rockefeller's 1931 visit to Jackson Hole, Superintendent Sam Woodring wrote the following in his monthly report: "Mr. Rockefeller is thoroughly convinced of the ultimate need of enlarging this park, and stated that he intended for the Snake River Land Company, his agent to carry out the extension plan even though its completion might require many more years." [85]

The anti-park forces mobilized opposition. They did not seem to have known of the national monument option and the proclamation caught them by surprise. Since it occurred during the midst of World War II, opponents likened Roosevelt's action to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor or the German Anshchluss in Austria. Opponents criticized the monument as a blatant violation of states rights. Despite specific policy statements assuring the protection of private property, the regional press, the Courier and the "Committee for the survival of Teton County" circulated information that private landowners in the monument would be condemned and displaced. This was incorrect. Governor Lester Hunt wrote a letter to President Roosevelt that specified state objections to the monument. Opponents believed the monument would destroy the local economy and county, as taxable land would be removed from the rolls. Ickes endorsed a policy statement, written in late March, that addressed fears of Wyoming citizens, but to no avail. Local groups published pamphlets and documents filled with misinformation. One must conclude that much of it was deliberate. [86] On May 2, 1943, a group of ranchers, heavily armed, gathered near the monument and trailed some 500 cattle across it, possibly hoping for a confrontation. The Park Service ignored the stunt, and little would have come of it but for the participation of Wallace Beery, the famous Hollywood actor. The drive focused national attention on the monument. Many were unaware that ranchers had a right to trail cattle across the monument. Moreover, Governor Hunt raised the issue at a governor's conference, and the Wyoming delegation rallied their colleagues in Congress. Considering that the nation was engaged in a world war, the monument drew much attention in Congress. [87]

As the controversy grew more vocal and bitter, Wyoming Congressman Frank Barrett introduced a bill to abolish the Jackson Hole National Monument. In the spring of 1943, the House Committee on Public Lands conducted hearings on the monument. In August, a Senate Committee visited the valley and, at a hearing in Jackson, sentiment overwhelmingly was against the monument. Barrett's bill passed both the House and Senate but, as expected, President Roosevelt exercised a pocket veto to kill it. [88]

Opponents took the issue to the courtroom. The state of Wyoming filed suit against the National Park Service, seeking to overturn the proclamation. Judge Blake T. Kennedy heard testimony from August 21-24 at the Twelfth District Court in Sheridan, Wyoming, and issued a ruling on February 10, 1945. In the State of Wyoming vs. Paul R. Franke (superintendent of Grand Teton National Park), Kennedy found for the defendant, the Park Service, although he refused to rule on the merits of Jackson Hole as a national monument. Instead, he found the issue "to be a controversy between the Legislative and Executive Branches of the Government in which, under the evidence presented here, the Court cannot interfere." [89]

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Last Updated: 24-Jul-2004