Welcome to the first of the Park Avenue group's features on the National Parks. Today's feature is on Jackson Hole National Monument in Wyoming, a monument created in 1943 and later merged with Grand Teton National Park. The former monument contains some of my favorite spots on earth and thusly will always have a special place in my heart.
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One evening in the late spring of 1942, the noted landscape photographer Ansel Adams stood above a bend in the Snake River facing west southwest and took one of the most iconic and famous images ever recorded: “The Tetons – Snake River.”
In the 1880’s when General Philip Sheridan took at a personal interest in the protection of the newly created Yellowstone National Park and its wildlife, Sheridan lobbied Congress for the southern border of the park to be extended to include the valley known as Jackson Hole. Sheridan believed it was essential to the protection of Yellowstone’s elk herds, whose winter migrations took them south into the valley to escape the harsh, snowy winters of the Yellowstone plateau.
Sheridan failed to win approval for his plan and Congress ignored a similar proposal made in 1897 by acting Yellowstone superintendent Col. Samuel Baldwin Marks Young; however, later that same year President Grover Cleveland used his authority under the Forest Reserve Act to create the Teton Forest Reserve, preserving over 800,000 acres of land including most of the northern part of Jackson Hole.
1901 USGS map of the 1899 survey of the Teton Forest Reserve
Two years later in 1910, the Bureau of Reclamation began work on a new dam at Jackson Lake where the Snake River flows out of the lake to replace a much smaller log dam that had failed in 1907. Water and irrigation ditches sprang up along the Snake River as it winded its way through the valley bringing valuable water resources for farming and ranching activities. Ranchers began fencing off areas bringing hundreds of cattle and farmers began transforming rich soil areas into fields for crops.
In 1916, Stephen Mather, director of the newly created National Park Service, and his assistant Horace M. Albright paid a visit to Jackson Hole to inspect the construction of a new road from the southern border of Yellowstone National Park to the valley. Both men, particularly Albright, became enamored with the Teton mountains and the series of glacial lakes at their base. The following year, as part of their duties in overseeing the parks then in existence, they issued a report to their boss, Secretary of the Interior Franklin K. Lane, on the seven most urgent needs facing the Park Service. One of those seven needs Mather and Albright listed in their report was the same as General Sheridan and Superintendent Young before them, the expansion of Yellowstone National Park to include the Teton Mountain range, Jackson Lake and much of Jackson Hole. A bill to that affect passed the House in 1919, but was blocked in the Senate by an Idaho senator over his concern over the loss of sheep grazing rights that would result from an expanded Yellowstone Park.
But Horace Albright wouldn’t give up. That same year, Albright became superintendent of Yellowstone, a post he would hold for a decade and use as a bully pulpit to save the Tetons. By 1923, the increased development in Jackson Hole and a plan to dam the outlets of an additional two lakes in the area prompted a meeting of several ranchers and business leaders in the valley. Albright attended the meeting to pitch his idea of turning the area into a national park, but soon discovered a pervasive anti-park sentiment among those in attendance. The meeting attendees, however, did not want to see the valley developed any further. Instead of a national park, they wanted what they described as a recreation reserve that would preserve the Old West character of the valley, a place that would still permit hunting, ranching, grazing activities.
When the millionaire heir of the Standard Oil fortune, John D. Rockefeller, Jr. paid a visit to Yellowstone in 1926, Albright saw another chance to advance his dream. Rockefeller had already been generous to the national parks system, donating handsome sums of money for other park projects. As superintendent, Albright escorted the Rockefeller family down to Jackson Hole for a visit.
The John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Family ca. 1922 (l to r): Laurance, Abby, John D. III,
Abby, David, Winthrop, John D. Jr, Nelson.
Within a matter of months, Rockefeller had committed to the idea of saving the Tetons and Jackson Hole using both his money and influence to protect a special place from being ruined by further development. In 1927, President Calvin Coolidge visited Yellowstone and was escorted on a grand tour of the park by Albright. As they toured, Albright lobbied Coolidge about the Tetons somewhat to Coolidge’s annoyance as he simply wanted to go fishing. But when Rockefeller later lobbied the President about the Tetons as well, Coolidge decided to listen. After his visit, Coolidge signed a proclamation removing some 23,000 acres of land in the valley from being homesteaded (an action which greatly angered the local population) in part to preserve Yellowstone’s migratory elk herd, but due in no small part to Rockefeller’s prodding, a fact not publicly known at the time.
Yellowstone Superintendent Horace Albright escorts President Calvin Coolidge
around Yellowstone Natl Park in 1927
By 1929, a tentative consensus had been reached with the local government in Teton County for the creation of a national park. On February 26, 1929, Calvin Coolidge signed the bill creating Grand Teton National Park, but the new park set aside only the mountains and some of the lakes at their base, and not the valley. Rockefeller’s attempt to have his private holdings included in the new park also let the cat out of the bag on the Snake River Land Company’s true purpose. The backlash against him in Wyoming was so sweeping, the state’s congressional delegation managed to initiate a congressional investigation of Rockefeller’s Snake River Land Company dealings. Several former landowners who had unwittingly sold their land sued to try nullifying the sales. The idea of including the valley in the park became radioactive and remained politically untenable for years.
Over the next decade and a half, Rockefeller continued to purchase lots when he could, but no progress was made in securing NPS protection for the valley floor. By 1943, Albright concluded that there was no political solution to save the valley, that the only viable route to saving Jackson Hole was through the Antiquities Act of 1906, an act which gives the President the power, by proclamation, to set aside public land and accept the gift of private land to create national monuments to protect “objects of historic and scientific interest.” The retired Albright, with the help of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes, convinced Rockefeller to write the President threatening to sell his land, which totaled over 33,000 acres (about 51 sq miles). It was a gamble, but it paid off. On March 15th, 1943, Roosevelt issued a proclamation:
WHEREAS the area in the State of Wyoming known as the Jackson Hole country, including that portion thereof which is located in the Teton National Forest, contains historic landmarks and other objects of historic and scientific interest that are situated upon lands owned or controlled by the United States; and
WHEREAS it appears that the public interest would be promoted by establishing the aforesaid area as a national monument to be known as the Jackson Hole National Monument,
Now, THEREFORE, I, Franklin D. Roosevelt, President of the United States of America, under and by virtue of the authority vested in me by the act of June 4, 1897 (30 Stat. 11,36; U.S.C., title 16, sec. 473), and the act of June 8, 1906 (34 Stat. 225; U.S.C., title 16, sec. 431), do proclaim that the Teton National Forest lands within the aforesaid area are hereby excluded from the said national forest and that, subject to all valid existing rights, the lands excluded from the said national forest together with all other lands within the following-described area are reserved from all forms of appropriation under the public land laws and set apart as a national monument, which shall hereafter be known as the Jackson Hole National Monument.
Warning is hereby expressly given to all unauthorized persons not to appropriate, injure, destroy, or remove any feature of this monument and not to locate or settle upon any of the lands thereof.
The Director of the National Park Service, under the direction of the Secretary of the Interior, shall have the supervision, management, and control of the monument as provided in the act of Congress entitled “An Act to establish a National Park Service, and for other purposes," approved August 25, 1916 (39 Stat. 535, U. S. C., title 16, sees. 1 and 2), and acts supplementary thereto or amendatory thereof, except that the' administration of the monument shall be subject to the reclamation withdrawals heretofore made under the authority of the act of June 17, 1902, 32 Stat. 388.
IN WITNESS WHEREOF I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.
DONE at the City of Washington this 15th day of March in the year of our Lord nineteen hundred and forty-three, and of the Independence of the United States of America the one hundred and sixty seventh.
FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT.
In all, Roosevelt set aside over 221,000 acres of land as a national monument, including the more than 33,000 acres owned by John D. Rockefeller, Jr.
1901 USGS map of the Tetons updated in 1945 to include the boundaries
of the Grand Teton National Park and Jackson Hole National Monument
Included in those 221,000+ acres was the perch from which Ansel Adams had stood a year earlier to take his iconic image of the Tetons, a spot now known as Snake River Overlook. Also preserved within the new monument were many of the other iconic locations people immediately think of when they think of Grand Teton National Park, locations such as Schwabachers Landing,
Eventually, cooler heads prevailed and a political compromise permitted the consolidation of Jackson Hole National Monument into an enlarged Grand Teton National Park in 1950. Though only in existence for 7 years, Jackson Hole National Monument and its subsequent absorption into Grand Teton National Park represented a lifetime of work for Horace Albright and a substantial investment by the Rockefeller Family. It also saved a part of the park essential to what makes Grand Teton National Park such a special place. I shudder to think what would have happened if their efforts had not been successful. Looking back now, if FDR had not used the Antiquities Act to preserve Jackson Hole it is quite likely the valley floor would have never become part of the park and would be subject to the commercialization and development that we see just south of the park at Teton Village with its condos and high dollar resorts. It is not difficult to imagine the magnificent views from some of the places I show above being marred by a multi-story luxury resort hotel or a subdivision of multi-million dollar homes like those now built between the park and the Town of Jackson, Wyoming.
In Ken Burns’ documentary The National Parks: America’s Best Idea, the writer Martin Murie, son of the late Wilderness Society executive director Olaus Murie and nephew of the late NPS biologist and noted conservationist Adolph Murie, said it best when he remarked, “So it's not just the spectacular. It's the foreground. You have to have foregrounds to wilderness, you have to have the highlands and middle lands and the lowlands, and a huge piece of northern Jackson Hole is saved from strip malls, saved from what happened to down in the town of Jackson.”
The former Jackson Hole National Monument saved some of the most important viewpoints of those magnificent mountains. We get to see them unimpaired by development. We get Martin Murie’s foreground and middle lands. Horace Albright’s dream “to preserve the Grand Tetons in the only way [he] knew, through the National Park Service” was indeed the right course of action and today, we are much richer for his efforts. For his lifetime of service to the National Park idea, in 1980 Albright was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Jimmy Carter.
Horace M. Albright on his first day as Superintendent of Yellowstone
National Park in 1919 and with his Presidential Medal of Freedom
awarded to him by President Carter in 1980
Thanks for reading and I hope everyone enjoyed this little bit of history of Jackson Hole and how some of the grandest views of the Tetons came to be protected within Grand Teton National Park.
[Update] I forgot to mention the next several features in the Park Avenue series on the parks. Next week we have JenS writing about Fort McHenry National Monument & Historic Shrine followed by Phoenix Rising's feature on Capitol Reef National Park and then SJerseyIndy's story on the Petrified Forest National Park. Please join us each Thursday at 11:30am ET/8:30am PT as the series continues.