Photos Courtesy of Time Magazine and Jackson Hole Historical Society
Jackson Hole is a place of adventure. The valley’s rugged beauty attracts visitors from around the world, and its grandeur is matched only by the personalities of those who call it home. It should be no surprise that the Last of the Old West has a long and storied past that carries on still today. Under the shadow of the Grand Tetons, the West lives on in Jackson Hole.
The Early Pioneers
Long before Jackson Hole was settled by Western pioneers, Native American tribes frequented the area. The region’s abundant wildlife provided seasonal hunting grounds for the Blackfoot and Shoshone Indians, who would make camp in the valley following the spring thaw. Harsh winters, however, limited their stays to the summer months, after which the tribes would migrate to milder climates.
Responding to ads in East Coast newspapers calling for hunters to be deployed to the Rocky Mountains, the first fur trappers arrived to Jackson Hole in the 1820s. They were met with a bounty of ecological diversity, and the region became a crossroads for at least six major trapper trails. These early explorers would host annual rendezvouses, and word soon began to spread about the area.
It wasn’t until the mid-1880s that the first settlers arrived to the area, but within a decade the valley was dotted with cabins and early settlements. Many of these structures survive today, like Menor’s Ferry near the headquarters to Grand Teton National Park and Cunningham Cabin, which is the oldest standing cabin in the valley.
These early settlers braved long winters and short summers to begin some of the area’s first successful cattle operations. It was a tough existence, but the first ranchers capitalized on the region’s lush growing conditions to raise alfalfa hay and oats, which they would then feed to livestock in the winter. Their herds contributed to the cattle trade that was burgeoning across the West.
Jackson Hole Comes on the Map
Around the turn of the 20th Century, as railroads facilitated commercial travel, visitors began arriving to Jackson Hole in greater number. Many were drawn by the region’s now renown hunting and fishing, along with stories of the area’s natural wonder, creating a boon for local outfitters. This, in turn, gave way to the emergence of dude ranches, which allowed guests to experience the Western life that was being popularized throughout the country.
Jackson Hole’s dude ranches provided an authentic, immersive experience. Many would put guests to work tending to horses and cattle, in addition to hunting, fishing and pack-tripping. The first of Jackson Hole’s tourism, dude ranches began to propagate the area’s stunning beauty in earnest.
In 1914, the Town of Jackson was incorporated. Though small, it offered conveniences that catered to visitors. Fifteen years later, in one of his final acts in office, President Calvin Coolidge dedicated 96,000 acres in Jackson Hole as a national monument.
The same year, 1929, Congress established the land dedicated by President Coolidge as Grand Teton National Park. At the time, it was a controversial move. Many considered it a land grab by bureaucrats back East. Ranchers and outfitters, especially, opposed the decision, and many refused to sell their property. Some of these “inholdings” can still be seen inside the Park boundaries.
In 1949, John D. Rockefeller – who, after visiting Jackson Hole, had begun to purchase up many of the area’s ranches and outfitting business through the Snake River Land Co. – donated his land holdings to be incorporated into Grand Teton National Park. Today, the Park spans over 310,000 acres.
World-Class Skiing Discovered
With the emergence of air travel, and as tourism in the Teton region continued to grow, the Jackson Hole Airport was built in 1930s. At first it was little more than a dirt runway. But it was slowly developed, and soon commercial flights began arriving. In 1943, the airport was declared a national monument, and in 1950 it was incorporated into Grand Teton National Park. Today, Jackson Hole Airport offers non-stop service to 13 destinations, and it remains the only airport in the continental U.S. located in a National Park.
With the designation of Grand Teton National Park, an airport and automotive travel becoming popular, Jackson Hole’s tourism began to boom in the latter half of the 20th Century. From the adventure seekers to casual travelers to those looking for a retreat at the area’s newly emerging resorts, visitors from around the world began to flock to Jackson Hole.
In 1964, construction of what is now Jackson Hole Mountain Resort began, and, in 1965, Jackson Hole Ski Corporation opened Après Vous Mountain. Snow King Mountain Resort, which first began operating in 1939, had already popularized Jackson Hole’s alpine skiing, and quickly the valley became known for its world-class slopes. Jackson Hole remains one the country’s top destinations and has consistently been ranked the top ski town by Forbes, Ski Magazine and numerous other publications.
Jackson Hole Today
Cradled in the lap of the Grand Tetons and surrounded by natural beauty that will be preserved for generations to come, Jackson Hole remains the premier destination of the Mountain West. There may be fewer cowboys saddled up at the iconic Million Dollar Cowboy Bar, and the cattle herds have thinned. But make no mistake, the Western spirit is still vibrant here.
We invite you to experience this remarkable destination. Contact our dedicated team to learn more about the area and experience the Last of the Old West.