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The Census of 1900: Profile of a Frontier Community

... When the McBride wagon train of 1896 camped on the Gros Ventre River, two young bachelors, Jim Lanigan and Jim Simpson, called on them. Not to be fooled, Maggie McBride recorded in her diary "... of course they were interested in the girls..." referring to the single Allen daughters....

cutting hay
Cutting hay for the long winter. Although most Jackson Hole settlers considered themselves ranchers, they were listed as farmers in the 1900 census. Grand Teton National Park

On June 1, 1900, Daniel C. Nowlin initiated the census of the Jackson Hole Election Precinct. The district encompassed Jackson Hole from Hoback Junction to the north end of the valley. [1] Nowlin started with himself and his family, listing names, their relationships to the head of the house, race, sex, date of birth, marital status, number of years married, and the number of children born and living to his wife, Laura. Nowlin, age 42, was born in 1857 in Texas. Laura Nowlin, age 30, was born in 1869 in Missouri. They had been married 12 years. Luckier than many parents, all five of their children were living, three sons and two daughters ranging from nine months to ten years. Nowlin recorded place of birth of each, plus the birthplace of their parents. Since the Nowlins were born in the United States, he left the citizenship column blank. Nowlin entered "farmer" as his occupation, but entered no occupation for his wife. Three of the children attended school for four months per year. He answered yes to each question; can read, can write, can speak English.

Nowlin completed the census on June 27. Although it reduces people to statistics, the census sheets reveal much about the people and character of Jackson Hole in 1900. Officially, 638 people resided in the valley in June 1900. Even though the population had increased tenfold over 1890 estimates, this mountain valley remained a sparsely populated backwater. Mae Tuttle recalled "old man Atherton's" remark that people were getting "too darn numerous," when a dozen people turned out for a Fourth of July picnic at Jenny Lake in the 1890s. Atherton soon abandoned his cabin on Flat Creek in favor of a more remote location on the Gros Ventre River. [2]

Like most frontier communities, Jackson Hole remained a male-dominated society in 1900. A total of 239 males, age 18 and over, lived in the valley, compared to 118 women, age 18 and over. Of 191 separate households, 91 (less than 50 percent) comprised married couples. Bachelors, widowers, or married men living apart from spouses totaled 68 households. Some were confirmed bachelors, such as Bill Menor, Johnny Counts, Dick Turpin, and Bill Blackburn. Others were widowers in their 50s and 60s, and at least one had left his wife. However, bachelors in their 20s and 30s comprised most of them. In addition, about 80 bachelors lived as boarders or with parents.

It is no coincidence that the plot in Owen Wister's The Virginian developed the romance between a cowpuncher and a schoolteacher. [3] Losing teachers to marriage was common in Jackson Hole. People seemed to expect that young female teachers would migrate to the valley, teach for a year or two at most, then give up their careers to marry and have children. Indeed, new teachers provided fodder for entertaining gossip regarding their longevity as teachers, potential suitors, and choice of grooms. Young women drew plenty of attention. When the McBride wagon train of 1896 camped on the Gros Ventre River, two young bachelors, Jim Lanigan and Jim Simpson, called on them. Not to be fooled, Maggie McBride recorded in her diary ". . . of course they were interested in the girls ..." referring to the single Allen daughters. [4]

The remaining 281 people were children, age 17 and under. The first families to bring children into the valley were the Nelsons in 1888, followed by the Cheneys and Wilsons in 1889. By 1900, children lived in 88 of the 191 households. Although Jackson Hole was predominantly a male society, families with children made up the largest segment of the 191 households, chipping away the rough edges of this frontier valley.

Eleven women listed themselves as heads of households. Mary Anderson supported herself and three children by serving as the postmaster of the Jackson Post Office and running a hotel and boarding house. Unlike others, she was separated from her husband, John Anderson, who continued to live in the valley. Divorces, if less common in 1900, did occur. In 1897, Jack Shive married Lucy Wadsworth Nesbitt, then brought her and a stepdaughter to his ranch on the Buffalo Fork. This was her third marriage. She had been married to a much older man as a teenager and, later, a professional photographer too fond of the bottle. She divorced both men. Her marriage to Jack Shive proved happier. [5]

Other women were widows. Margaret Adams, widowed by age 29, shouldered the responsibility of managing a homestead. Another, Nancy Tanner, and her six children boarded at the Adams homestead. Mrs. Tanner worked as a housekeeper, while two older sons worked as day laborers, undoubtedly at the Adams's homestead part of the time. Mary Wilson, the widow of pioneer Sylvester Wilson, continued to work the family ranch with the help of her son and teenage daughter. In addition, her son, Ervin Wilson, had died, leaving her daughter-in-law responsible for five young children. Ervin Wilson's brother-in-law, Nate Davis, worked at the homestead, listing his occupation as farm laborer. Fifty-five-year-old widow Mary Mangum rented a home with her 17-year-old son, listing her occupation as a day laborer. Seven other women headed households, although they listed their status as married. Six lived on their own homesteads. A Mrs. Holden described herself as a sawmill operator for eight months of the year, while the others listed farming as their occupations. Mrs. Ann Pratt cared for seven children, including twin girls, aged two months, and performed routine male chores in addition to her household work.

The census sheets provide another interesting statistic; each married woman listed the number of children born and the number living as of June 1900. Of 436 children born, 354 survived, representing an 18 percent mortality rate. Although a few died as adults, it is safe to assume that the overwhelming majority died in childhood or infancy. This statistic fits the general pattern of mortality in these years. Parents dreaded the thought of losing a child, yet came to expect it. Families tended to be larger, and the families in Jackson Hole were no exception. Some were lucky, such as the Van Winkles, with eight sons and daughters, all living, but most families had lost at least one child.

Too often, adults died in their prime, causing more family instability than is recognized today. Relatives or stepparents often raised children. Childbirth became all too often a life-threatening ordeal for mother and baby. Nels Hoagland was a 41-year-old widower with a one-year-old son. James Hall was a 31-year-old widower with three small children, the youngest a one-year-old boy. It is likely that their wives died in childbirth. Americans in 1900 could not take life for granted. The lack of knowledge concerning preventive medicine and bacteriology caused a much higher mortality rate than today.

Jackson Hole Residents, Place of Birth—The 1900 Census

The Mountain States
Utah: 174
Wyoming: 84
Idaho: 57
Colorado: 20
Montana: 12

The Midwestern Heartland
Iowa: 38
Illinois: 26
Ohio: 13
Indiana: 12
Wisconsin: 9
Minnesota: 5
Michigan: 4

The Southwest
Arizona: 1

The Old Border States
Missouri: 19
Kentucky: 5

The Pacific Coast
California: 9
Oregon: 1
Washington: 1

The South
Virginia: 5
North Carolina: 2
South Carolina 1
Tennessee: 1

The Plains
Nebraska: 20
Kansas: 7
Dakotas: 1
Indian Territory: 1

Texas: 3
Arkansas: 1

The Mid-Atlantic
Pennsylvania: 19
New York: 17

New England
Massachusetts: 3
Rhode Island: 1
Vermont: 1

Regarding nativity, census-taker Nowlin recorded the birthplace of each person, along with the birthplace of their parents. American citizens listed their native state, while foreign immigrants recorded their nationality. The results reinforce the notion that Americans were a restless people quick to pull up stakes and move on to new country. [6]

Mormons dominated settlement from 1890 to 1900. More than 25 percent of the population, or 174 settlers, claimed Utah as their birthplace. Fifty-seven of their children were listed as being born in Idaho, leaving a record of the migration of Mormon pioneers to Idaho and Wyoming. [7]

It was often true of the frontier experience that settlers moved to vacant lands from adjacent areas since distance was not so great an obstacle. A homesteader from Colorado did not have to contend with as much distance as a settler from Pennsylvania. Moreover, pioneers living in adjacent areas were more likely to be familiar with the unoccupied area. Thus, no less than 283 of the valley's residents were born in Utah, Idaho, Colorado, Montana, or Nebraska. Those born in Wyoming comprised 13 percent, or 84 settlers. Virtually all were children under the age of 18, representing the first and second generation of Wyoming "natives." Only four people over the age of 18 listed Wyoming as their place of birth with James Lanigan the oldest at 36.

A significant number (107) hailed from the Midwestern heartland of the United States. No less than 64 settlers came from the states of Iowa and Illinois. Missouri (19), the gateway to the West, and Pennsylvania (19) and New York (17) were well represented in the valley. Few settlers came from the Pacific Coast, the Southwest, the South, and New England.

Foreign Born Settlers

Sweden: 15
England: 10
Canada (English): 8
Germany: 7
Austria: 4
Denmark: 4
Scotland: 4
Switzerland: 3
Holland: 2
Norway: 2
Wales: 2
France: 1
Ireland: 1

Foreign immigrants comprised a large segment of homesteaders in the American West. Europeans were drawn to the United States by "the most effective advertising campaign ever to influence world migrations." [8] Steamship companies and state immigration bureaus launched ambitious advertising and recruiting efforts to lure European immigrants. They portrayed the West in glowing terms. Kind critics described these representations as overstatements, while harsher ones called them lies. The lure of free land and burgeoning markets for agricultural products provided compelling reasons for many European farmers to risk leaving their land-poor countries. [9] Sixty-three foreigners comprised nearly ten percent of the population of Jackson Hole. Unlike some areas of the West, no foreign colonies were established in Jackson Hole. Although citizens from the United Kingdom and Canada made up the largest segment of the foreign population, 15 Swedes and seven Germans marked the beginning of a wave of immigrants from Scandinavia and central Europe.

The adult population mirrored the history of frontier expansion. Their parents were often born on the frontiers of a previous generation, in particular the Old Northwest and the Mississippi Valley, especially Missouri. The Mormon migrations from Illinois and Missouri, trying to escape prejudice and violence, can be traced on 15 census sheets compiled by D. C. Nowlin. The influx of immigrants, primarily from Scotland, Ireland, and England, is also reflected in the enumeration sheets. Thirty-four parents of Utah homesteaders were English immigrants, probably the result of Latter Day Saint's missionary work in Great Britain.

However, the records of nativity are limited to the extent that the whereabouts of individuals are unknown between their place of birth and their arrival in Jackson Hole. For example, Bill Menor was born in Ohio in 1857 and took up his homestead in 1894, yet it is known that he worked as a cowpuncher on the Kansas cattle trails and served one of the railroads as a buffalo hunter. By the time he arrived in Jackson Hole, Menor was well-traveled. "Uncle Jack" Davis worked the Montana goldfields, before drifting to Jackson Hole in the 1880s. According to local tradition, he was running from legal trouble. [10]

One of the most common questions asked about homesteaders is, "What did they do here?" The 1900 enumeration sheets provide some insight. Of 191 households, Nowlin counted 121 farms owned by their occupants. For some reason he failed to count 16 additional farms, eight of which were rented. Thus, there were 145 separate farms in Jackson Hole in 1900. Assuming a minimum of 160 acres for each homestead, settlers had preempted at least 23,200 acres. Nowlin listed all as free of any mortgage, which is difficult to believe given that most settlers were cash-poor. Mortgaging land was the best way to raise funds. [11]

Occupations—Census of 1900

Farmers: 148
Farm laborers: 48
Day laborers: 41
School teachers: 6
Housekeepers: 6
Carpenters: 4
Blacksmiths: 4
House servants: 2
Lawyers: 2
Miners gold: 2
Taxidermists: 2
Butcher: 1
Capitalist: 1
Commercial traveler: 1
Engineer, locomotive: 1
Engineer, stationary: 1
Harness maker: 1
Horse trainer: 1
House painter: 1
Merchant retailer: 1
Music teacher: 1
Operator sawmill: 1
Physician: 1
Postmaster: 1
Stonemason: 1

Most adults listed their occupations. Farmers dominated the list with 148. This is curious terminology, for though they needed farming skills to cultivate hay, most considered themselves ranchers. There seems to be no explanation, except that they might not have qualified as stockgrowers under the census criteria. Moreover, the list of occupations fails to illuminate the variety of work these people undertook to survive. Many guided well-heeled dudes on hunting excursions, trapped, hauled freight, and a few panned for flour gold in the valley's icy rivers, all to raise just enough cash to lay in a winter's supplies and, with luck, provide a few luxuries for their families. [12]



Day Labor29124 months
Farm labor1863 months
Carpenters 319 months
Blacksmiths 317 months
Taxidermist 212 months
Schoolteacher 518 months
Stonemason 110 months
Horse trainer 15 months
Engineer, locomotive 112 months
Salesman, grocery 16 months
Operator, sawmill 14 months
Butcher 112 months
Harness maker 14 months
Commercial traveler 112 months

There were 48 farm laborers and 41 day laborers. The distinction between the two occupations is unclear and probably not that significant. Day laborers may have engaged in a wider variety of tasks. Undoubtedly many considered themselves cowboys, although this work included a wide range of tasks at small mountain valley ranches. All but one were men. Most were youngsters from 14 through their 20s, or middle-aged bachelors in their 40s and 50s. Most were family members or boarders where they were employed. While it was generally true that chronic labor shortages plagued the West, this might not have been a problem in Jackson Hole. Ranchers counted the passage of the years by the annual cycle of tasks such as calving, plowing and sowing hay fields, spring roundups, branding, fence mending, irrigating, haying season, and the fall roundup. Farm and day laborers had plenty of work from spring to fall, but winters could be cold, lean months. Twenty-nine day laborers spent 124 months unemployed or a little over four idle months per individual. Eighteen farm laborers reported being unemployed for 63 months during the previous year, or three and one half months each.

Other occupations indicate the variety and extent of economic activities in the valley. Commerce was underdeveloped with a very limited market. Settlers relied on commercial centers in Idaho for their supplies. Charles Deloney, a merchant retailer, had just opened a general mercantile store in 1899. A commercial traveler (traveling salesman) and a grocery salesman also lived in the valley at this time. The commercial traveler had been unemployed for the last year, and the grocery salesman had been unemployed for six months.

There was a need for food and lodging in these years. In addition to her duties as a postmaster, Mary Anderson ran what may have been the first boarding house or hotel in Jackson Hole. Cap Smith, the Charles J. Allens, and Herb Whiteman operated roadhouses or hotels, although they did not list them as occupations. John Sargent, the owner of Merymere, was not listed in the census.

Deloney's General Store
The first general mercantile store in Jackson opened in 1899. Deloney's General Merchandise carried groceries, hardware, dry goods, farm machinery, and other commodities. The building now houses the Jackson Hole Historical Society Museum. Jackson Hole Historical Society and Museum

Other trades served the agricultural community. There were four blacksmiths. A horse trainer and a harness maker worked in the north end of the valley. Several settlers worked in construction trades. There were four carpenters, a sawmill operator, a housepainter, and stonemason, and two tinsmiths.

The census also confirms the presence of professional occupations. There were two lawyers in the valley, William Simpson and Leslie Allen. One wonders how lucrative their practice could have been. There has always been debate over the first doctor in Jackson Hole. Dr. Luther F. Palmer resided in Jackson Hole in 1900 and did practice in the valley. [13]

The only hint of the importance of the hunting guide industry was the presence of two part-time taxidermists, Albert Nelson and George McKean. Two men, John Condit and Andrew Davis, were perpetual optimists, their occupations being gold miners. Uncle Jack Davis and Johnny Counts were also prospectors, but listed their occupations as day laborers. Nelson and his old partner, Billy Bierer, had given up prospecting for ranching, and in Nelson's case, taxidermy. A few occupations were unusual. Hattie Green, R. E. Miller's sister-in-law, listed "capitalist" as her occupation. Whether she loaned money to homesteaders in Jackson Hole is unknown. Hugh "Cap" McDermott was clearly in the wrong place if he intended to pursue his career as a locomotive engineer. [14]

Educating children was always a major concern in frontier communities. In 1900, the people of Jackson Hole had to provide for 154 children between the ages of six and 17. There were six teachers in the valley at the time. No fewer than 124 children attended school for a total of 356 months, or nearly three months per child. Although school terms appear to have run from four to six months, a number of school-age children did not attend school at all. Living in remote locations made it difficult for some, while parental indifference may explain the absence or erratic attendance of other children. In these years, the eighth grade was the highest level taught in the valley.

According to the census sheets, school ended for virtually all boys beyond the age of 15. In 1900, 20 boys between the ages of 12 and 17 had entered the labor force, most as farm laborers. School was out for them. Only three teenage boys attended school beyond the age of 14, for a total of 20 months. Perhaps they showed an unusual aptitude, or their parents placed a high value on education. Males were valuable sources of labor, and once they learned to read and write, it was time to begin their apprenticeship as farmers and ranchers. Most were probably eager to leave the schoolroom and begin the rituals of manhood.

Teenage girls appeared to have more opportunities for continuing their education. Of 13 girls between the ages of 15 and 17, 12 attended school for a total of 52 months, or a little over four months per student. Only one girl and her 14-year-old sister had entered the labor force as housekeepers. One 19-year-old attended school for six months. Perceptions of work roles based on gender seem to offer the best explanation. While boys were expected to enter the workforce at the age of 15, females had some additional time until they reached a marriageable age. School was considered a useful activity, and if a family had the means and the daughter showed promise and interest, she might go on to become a school teacher.

Although Jackson Hole settlers may have considered advanced schooling a frill, they did value education. According to the census enumeration sheets, all but ten school age children and adults could read, write, and speak English. Of the ten who admitted their illiteracy, six were European immigrants. This is probably a deceptive statistic for the literacy rate seems high. No doubt, a few lied. Like most Americans, the people of Jackson Hole supported education and respected educated people such as doctors and lawyers; being able to read and write was important, but a grammar school education was considered sufficient.

In 1900, Jackson Hole was in its essence a sparsely populated frontier valley, increasingly settled by families. People of all ages lived here, from Charles Wort, less than one month old, to Manuel Bowlsby at 85 years of age. Most took up mountain valley ranching, hoping to prosper. It was a rough life, and some gave up, driven out by the winters and isolation. Many of the names are not familiar to us today. Others stuck it out, and if they did not prosper, they did make a living. The list bears the names of pioneer families whose descendants live in the valley today: Wilson, Cheney, Budge, Ferrin, Lucas, Henrie. The bulk of homesteading occurred after 1900, but the pre-1900 pioneer proved it could be done and led the others. Along with 76,000,000 other Americans, Jackson Hole residents entered the 20th century.

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Last Updated: 24-Jul-2004