Transcriptions by Cole Herdman
Episode 1 – Grand Teton National Park
Jesse Bryant: Hey I’m Jesse Bryant
Hannah Habermann: And I’m Hannah Habermann
JB: And this is Yonder Lies
HH: Unpacking the myths of Jackson Hole
JB: Over the past two decades the Jackson public has gotten much more transient
HH: and, I mean, that’s sort of who we are: transients
JB: yeah and in talking to some older folks in town we kept hearing that young folks just don’t know a single thing about history. And the truth is, we really didn’t either.
HH: Right, and so that’s why we’re makin this program. To give the Jackson public an accessible way to re-engage with this remarkable history of the valley.
JB: There’s that classic quote, those who do not remember history are condemned to repeat it
HH: So, over ten episodes we’re gonna try to remember where this place came from. Using original research, in person interviews and archival content from the Jackson Hole Historical Society, We’ll cover topics from Grand Teton National Park to CWD, all in an effort to remember, in order to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past.
JB: And although geographically isolated, this place is important, and if we can’t figure out how to live with the land here, in Jackson, Wyoming, a place that has been called the cradle of conservation, a place with the most intact ecosystem in the lower 48 states, a place with seemingly infinite financial capital, well then, where else are we gonna do it?
HH: Welcome to Yonder Lies.
HH: When we were thinking of where to start this series of stories, it became clear, pretty quickly, that the history of Grand Teton National Park would be a great launching point. But before we jump in, we just want to take a second and recognize that there are thousands of years of indigenous history in this valley, long before Grand Teton National Park was even an idea in someone’s head.
JB: This series will not be told chronologically, nor is this episode the most important in the series, it is simply, we believe, a good starting point. In episode 2, we will cover stories of indigenous people and indigenous communities in this area, both past and present, and we’re looking forward to giving those narratives the time and space they deserve.
HH: And, the history of Grand Teton National Park is actually pretty complex. It brings up a bunch of questions and topics that we’ll get into later in this series, from wealth inequality to decisions around bear euthanization.
JB: A theme throughout the series is going to be ‘who gets to decide and why?’ It’s a really interesting question in this valley, because there’s so many interests and government agencies making decisions with entirely different missions and principles that all vaguely want to make this place better. But like, what is better? And for who?
HH: Exactly. Better is a moving target, and who even gets to define what is better?
JB: Throughout this episode, you’ll hear a third voice, that of John Dougherty, who is the park historian at Grand Teton National Park for decades during the 1900s. Here he is:
JD (Historian): I think if you understand the controversial nature of this park, you really can begin to understand why the issues today sometimes feel so volatile.
HH: and that’s why we’re starting here, with the creation of Grand Teton National Park, because it’s actually the start of a lot.
JB: If you drive North out of Jackson, after passing a gas station and the national museum of wildlife art, the road will rise up the side of East Gros Ventre Butte, and into the main part of the valley called Jackson Hole.
*Car Door Slams*
JB: Oh man, it never gets old
HH: What are you seeing?
JB: Way off in the distance the sun is going down behind the Teton range, clouds are ripping off the summit of the Grand Teton like a hairdo in the wind, between the mountains and us is an enormous valley. There are some cottonwoods near the creeks, but it’s mostly open and filled with sagebrush. Oh! Wait, is that a Moose? Out there?
JB: Over there, right there.
HH: No, no. I think that’s a rock.
JB: Are you sure?
JB: ok, ok well anyway, there’s also this big brown sign that says Grand Teton National Park.
HH: Which means that we’re already in the park, even though we didn’t go through a checkpoint. That’s pretty different from a lot of other national parks. This whole valley, almost everything you can see, is part of the park!
JB: It is! I mean even the Airport is in the national park.
JB: God, Sage smells so good.
HH: Hmm, it really does smell good. So, this little sagebrush here, is it owned by the Federal Government?
JB: Well it is now, but it hasn’t always been that way. If we go back to the 1800s for instance, life would for sure be very different for this little sage.
In the late 1800s, industrial extraction of timber and minerals was destroying the environment of the american west. In 1872, Yellowstone park was created to prevent the destruction of the wild landscape and promote tourism in the area. When it comes to our little sage friend, the late 1800s meant the first attempt of white settlement in Jackson Hole. In 1907, Teddy Roosevelt created the United States Forest Service within the Department of Agriculture, to promote conservation of our public lands, and with this area as its central focus. Just a year later, in 1908, Teton National Forest was established, though it mostly included the forested hills around Jackson Hole. Again, this means the fate of our sage friend was likely guided by private interests. Then, a little less than a decade later, in 1916, the NPS was formed as a part of the Department of Interior and with a relatively different vision for land management than the US Forest Service. Whereas the goal of the US Forest Service is conservation, or “ to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of the nations forests to meet the needs of present and future generations,” the goal of the National Park Service is different. It is about preservation, or, “to preserve, unimpaired, the natural and cultural resources and values of the national park system for the enjoyment, education and inspiration of future generations.” Where the Forest Service is about productivity, the Park Service is about inspiration. Here’s John Dougherty on this,
JD (Historian): Where Gifford Pinchot, who’s the head of the forest service said, the first fact about conservation is that it stands for development, people like Pinchot whose a protege to Teddy Roosevelt, all they were talking about is that we need to conserve our resources and utilize them wisely. That doesn’t mean we set areas aside, like wilderness areas, and not use them. They were saying, ‘yes you use those resources: harvest timber, hunt, and that kind of thing, but it’s lawed use, it’s a restricted sort of use. You don’t go in all at once and clear cut an area. Versus preservation, which represents people like, uh, John Muir. Who called the people a, called the supporters of Hetch Hetchy in Yosemite, he referred to them as temple destroyers for putting a reservoir in a National Park. And that pitted again later on, although agencies denied it at the time, it pitted the Park Service against the Forest Service from a bureaucratic angle. Jealousy about who administers what areas, the Park Service represented preservation interests and the Forest Service represented it’s utilitarian conservation. So you’ve got all of these things tied in which makes the story of Grand Teton National Park a really a fascinating story.
HH: Throughout the first decade of the 1900s, There had been this sort of subtle desire in washington to expand yellowstone park to include the teton range and Jackson Hole. And so, just after the park service was created in 1916, politicians in Washington threw a sort of, hail mary on the first play, trying to do exactly that, make what is not Grand Teton National Park, part of Yellowstone. And, it almost worked! After passing in the house, the bill died in the senate Where Idaho senator John Nugent was stopped by a lobby of people wanting to protect sheep grazing in the West. Just after the bill dies, in 1918, the people in Jackson hole realized that the federal government was after the land. Cattle ranchers expected that a park would mean reduced grazing allotments. And dude ranchers feared that the western aesthetic would be destroyed by roads, cars and consumption. The forest service started to fear that their land would be transferred to the National Park Service, that their power would diminish in the area, and that the precious natural resources of the valley would be locked up forever in some, half alive, museum-like preservationist purgatory. And although these groups often couldn’t agree on much, they did all agree that they didn’t want the valley of Jackson Hole to become too commercialized.
JB: In 1923, a small group of folks started thinking that if nothing was done, the fate of Jackson Hole would surely go the way of commercialization and natural resource destruction. So, this handful of concerned citizens held a secret meeting at Maude Noble’s cabin near Moran. And interestingly, with the exception of a few, these weren’t, like, pro national parks folks. Most of them wanted to keep hunting and ranching in the Valley, but they wanted to do so on their own terms, which meant keeping out the rush of urban coastal wealth. They came up with a plan to seek private funds from close friends, with the goal of creating a recreation area that would explicitly preserve the character of the old west, creating, in their words, “a museum on the hoof.”
HH: Wait.. Hoof, like horse hoof?
JB: Yeah, exactly like that. On the hoof.
HH: Like on the hill?
JB: Doesn’t that make sense? Isn’t that such a compelling slogan? Isn’t that such an obvious, like…
There idea was essentially a national park
HH: So, between 1923 and 1928 was kind of a funny time in Jackson Hole. A couple things were going on. First, cattle ranching was becoming notably less profitable, this hit jackson ranchers harder than many others, as the long winters and desert like conditions made for precarious operations to start with. In 1925, a petition was actually circulated in favor of selling land to the “museum on the hoof” folks. The ranchers premonition noted that, this region will find its highest use as a playground, the destiny of Jackson’s hole is a playground, typical of the west, for the education and enjoyment of the nation, as a whole.
JB: It’s weird to hear such preservationist rhetoric from cattle ranchers, but as we know, that sort of premonition will eventually come true.
Throughout the latter half of the 1920s, negotiations between the park service and the residents of Jackson landed on an agreement. If a national park were to be created in the area, it would only include the mountains and glacial lakes at their base. And so, in 1929, after more than a decade of anti-park sentiment in the Tetons, the federal government and local residents came together to create Grand Teton National Park.
HH: And we’ll say this one more time, because it’s going to be important, the compromise reached meant that the valley of Jackson Hole was not included in the newly minted National Park.
JB: But as we know, not all compromises are made in good faith. As all these negotiations and compromises were taking place, something more nefarious was brewing under the surface.
HH: Just as cattle ranching was becoming less profitable in the valley, a new player emerged in town, seemingly out of nowhere. In 1927, a business called the Snake River Land Company, based in Salt Lake, appeared, and began to buy up land in the valley of Jackson Hole. While some depleted cattle ranchers sold out of necessity, others became suspicious of the company and its intentions. THey wondered if it was a front for something more troubling. And this is sort of one of those moments in history where the conspiracy theories turn out to be true.
JB: You see, one of the attendees at the Maud Noble cabin meeting we mentioned earlier, was Horris Albright, who, among other jobs, served for a time as the superintendent of Yellowstone National Park. After the meeting at Maude Noble’s cabin, Albright began to search for financiers that may be interested in funding their “museum on a hoof,” and…
JD (Historian): Well that’s when the Rockefellers got into the picture. Albright was appointed the superintendent of yellowstone in 1919 and served there for two years and was called eventually the Duke of Yellowstone. And in 1926, he brought John D. Rockefeller Jr. down here, along with his wife, for a tour of the valley. And they toured the whole area around here, and finally they met at a point, and a lot of people say that it happened on lunch tree hill, but do you know where Hendricks point is? It’s a spectacular view of the range, although there are spectacular views everywhere. But there they met, and all they talk about – this is Mrs. Rockefeller and John D. Jr. – they were saying, what’s going to happen to this valley? And that’s when Albright revealed the Jackson Hole plan. Rockefeller didn’t say anything but a few weeks later he wrote to Albright and said, ‘tell me how much money you need and how much acreage you need,’ because he was interested in the plan. Albright put a map together of all the lands west of the Snake River, it was essentially small parts around Jenny Lake, and the Potholes area out on the flats. He fixed up the parcels there and gave him kind of a rough estimate of what it would cost to buy the private lands out there, sent it back, and Rockefeller said no that’s not what I wanted, that’s too small, send me the whole thing. He wanted everything east of the Snake River, down towards Jackson, down, at least south of the Gros Ventre a ways and all the way up, at least, to around Jackson Lake.
HH: Yep, the money behind the Snake River Land Company was, it turns out, John D. Rockefeller, aka, the richest person in modern history. So, at the same time that the federal government was telling the people of Jackson that Grand Teton National Park would only include the mountains and lakes, they were also meeting with the financier of the Snake River Land Company, famous New Yorker, John D. Rockefeller.
JB: John D. Rockefeller was born in upstate New York in 1839. His father Bill was a con-artist, who made his money primarily in horse trading and in the sale of elixirs. His mother, Eliza, was young John’s saving grace, and taught him everything he knew. At 16, Rockefeller started as a bookkeeper, and by twenty he had his fingers in a handful of different businesses. After the Civil War, he joined his brother in Cleveland in the kerosene industry and eventually went on to start the Standard Oil Industry. Though Standard Oil would eventually be disintegrated on antitrust charges into 34 separate companies, including Chevron and Exxon mobil, Rockefeller would become the richest person in modern history, with an estimated net worth, adjusted for inflation, of 350 billion dollars. For context, that’s about three times as wealthy as Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, the current richest person on earth. But unlike Bezos, most of Rockefeller’s fortune would flow back into society through philanthropy, he started the University of Chicago and Rockefeller University, he was the primary donor that started the Atlanta baptist female seminary, which became the well known, all-woman, Spelman College. And he also bought the majority of land that is now Grand Teton National Park.
HH: In 1930, when it became known that Rockefeller was behind the Snake River Land Company, the Jackson public erupted with anger. It was exactly what they dreaded, a wealthy New Yorker coming to decide the fate of their land. And since land and people are often hard to separate, they felt like he was coming to decide their fate too. There were lots of people who had homesteaded in the area and had worked hard in order to earn the rights to its ownership. So, understandably, they weren’t quite down with the idea that their hard work would be so quickly lost and traded back to the government. So here we are, Jackson Hole in 1930, one year after the fledgling Grand Teton National Park has been established, and basically, everybody is upset. In 1933, a senate subcommittee investigation is launched to determine if there was any illegal collusion between Rockefeller and the National Park Service. The investigation turns up nothing of note. Throughout the 30’s, bill after bill aiming to expand the park boundaries to include rockefellers gift fails. Initially, it is the Wyoming representatives in Washington that are pushing for the parks expansion, but, by the end of the decade, even if they oppose it. After years of stalemate, Rockefeller essentially hands the government an ultimatum. In a letter to F.D.R., Rockefeller says that if the government doesn’t want the land that he’s purchased in Jackson Hole, then he’s going to start selling it off to the highest bidder. So, in march of 1943, F.D.R. accepts Rockefeller purchased land and uses his executive power to sign the 200,021 acre Jackson Hole National Monument into being.
JB: Huh, wait, what’s a National Monument? Is that like a National Park, or what?
HH: Well, it’s like a baby national park that can just go poof, made by the president. No congressional approval, no nothing. Once created, the baby monument can level up into an adult park, a National Park, if congress decides that’s a good idea.
JB: Oh, ok, so a president can just create these baby parks.
HH: Yeah! And this whole thing comes from the Antiquities Act from 1906, which was passed into law by Congress and then President Teddy Roosevelt. People believed the bill was necessary to preserve native american ruins and cultural sites that were being looted as the West rapidly expanded. It seemed like the current ways to preserve land were too slow, so the antiquities act was created in order to allow presidents to, “historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest as national monuments” all without the approval of congress.
JB: Which, in a system built on checks and balances is pretty weird, and not super normal.
HH: Right, exactly! But almost every president since, republican and democrat alike, has used this power to create National Monuments. Now, I think it’s important to take a step back for a second and talk about how the antiquities act has been perceived. As you can imagine, presidents making national monuments has always been a bit, well… controversial. Some see it as an overreach of power, while others see it as a necessary part of land conservation and preservation in the US. National Monuments even made the news recently, when President Trump controversially used the antiquities act to sign an executive order, reducing the size two national monuments in Utah, shrinking Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument about 46% and Bears Ears National Monument and whopping 85%.
So, should presidents be allowed to reduce the land conservation legacy created by those before them? Should presidents be able to create this legacy on their own, without congress? It’s still very much up for debate.
JB: And so in the 1940s you have this funny situation where the mountains and lakes are in Grand Teton National Park, while the valley is Jackson Hole National Monument.
JD (Historian): The fat was in the fire. Everyone was outraged, the local paper, the Jackson Courier referred to it as a dirty sneaky pearl harbor attack,
JB: And at this point, the anti-federal government outrage has kinda permeated up to Washington D.C. In the early 1940s, a bill to abolish Jackson Hole National Monument passed both the House and the Senate, before being promptly vetoed by F.D.R.
HH: In 1934, the state of Wyoming even sued the National Park Service, but the courts basically said the judicial branch couldn’t resolve that sort of issue. The only real anti-monument success came when the Wyoming delegation in Washington successfully passed a resolution to bar the federal government from spending any money on the Monument. So, in the 1940s, our sage friend out there in the valley, the one that smells so good, is technically being managed by the federal government, who can’t spend any money managing it. It’s kind of stuck in limbo. And then, World War II happened and that kind of overhauled the politics of the situation. After the war the american public was relieved and happy, overall. Much of the country started to reorient around a culture of consumption and leisure, and in 1950, with very little public outcry, President Harry Truman ordered Jackson Hole National Monument to be made part of Grand Teton National Park. But importantly, five essential compromises were made. One, compensation to Teton County for lost tax revenue. This means that the federal government will compensate the country for lost property taxes that would have otherwise been paid by Rockefeller. Two, Cattle grazing remains. Typically cattle grazing does not happen in National Parks, yet it does in Grand Teton, which, as we’ll learn later, has created complicated conservation issues when it comes to managing bears in particular in this valley. Three, continuation of the Elk reduction program. There remains elk hunting in grand teton national park, where hunting is very rare in other park service land. Four, no more national monuments ever in Wyoming greater than 5,000 acres. And five, very specific inholdings remain for particular purposes. The best example of this is the airport. Jackson hole airport is still the only airport that is located within a National Park.
HH: So, it’s been seventy years since Grand Teton National Park became the park it is today. The park currently spans 310,000 acres, which is about 485 square miles. 45 miles in length from north to south, the park is 26 miles across at its widest point.
JB: In 1950, the year the park expanded to its present size, 189,000 people came to visit. After that, visitation rapidly increased. Since 1954, yearly visitation has never dropped below 1 million. In 2018, almost 3.5 million people visited Grand Teton National Park.
HH: And if you add up all of the visitation from 1929 to 2018, the total number of people that have come to Grand Teton National Park totals almost 155 million, that’s 155 million people.
JB: And so, what brings them here today?
HH: Well, a lot of people come to see the scenery and to see the wildlife. Blackbears and Grizzly Bears, Moose, Elk, Dear, Bison, Wolves, and lots of tiny creatures too. Marmots, Pikas, Squirrels, Beavers, River Otters. In the summer the valleys and the mountainsides explode with wildflowers. Paintbrush, larkspur, alpine forget-me-nots, lipso orchids. Recreation is a huge draw today too. We’ll dive more into how this shapes Jackson Hole in future episodes, but you can find tourists and locals alike doing pretty much any outdoor activity you can imagine. Hiking, biking, mountaineering, camping, fishing, horseback riding, skiing, and of course, selfie-snapping. People sail, canoe, and float on innertubes on Jackson and Jenny Lakes, and Raft on the Snake River. But, stepping back, what do all these visitors mean for Jackson Hole financially. Put simply, how does all this tourism impact the surrounding community.
JB: A recent report conducted by the park service found that in 2018, visitors spent a collective 629 million in communities near the park. The study found that this spending supported 8,620 jobs in the area and in gateway communities and created 792 million in total economic benefit.
HH: Wow. that’s a lot of money. And obviously we can infer that increased tourism is occurring just by the sheer amount of money being spent by visitors in Teton Park. That jumped from 463 million in 2013, to 629 million in 2018. That’s a 36% bump in five years.
JB: Man, thats wild. I mean, it’s good that so many people get to experience this wonderful place, huh?
HH: Totally, I mean I agree. I’m super grateful to be here and im glad that people get visit but, i don’t know, sometimes I wonder how all of this tourism is affecting the land. Are we destroying it in some way? Or maybe also destroying what drew people to Jackson in the first place? All the wide open spaces. I don’t know, but at the same time it’s cool and unique that we still graze cattle in the park and that there’s all these multi-use things going on that we can use the land in so many different ways.
JB: Yeah, but it’s also managing bears really really difficult. Like, it’s impossible to have bears on the same land that cattle are grazing and not have conflict – not have bears eating cattle every single year.
HH: That’s true, I guess they don’t naturally get along too well.
JB: Yeah. It’s kind of this weird place. There’s so much wealth, but at the same time is that good? Do some people have too much decision making power? We started this episode by saying a lot of it is going to be about who gets to decide and why, and in this case, it kind of seems like Rockefeller got to decide himself, right?
HH: Yeah but, also, where would this valley be without Rockefeller? Strip malls and suburban sprawl?
JB: I mean, probably. It’d probably look like Salt Lake City, and can you imagine the air quality in the summer in Jackson Hole if there were a million people living here?
HH: I mean Salt Lake isn’t all that bad. But it’s true, people do love being here to recreate, to slow down, and so much of the economy is based on tourism and so much of that tourism is based on recreation and leisure.
JB: Yeah, it’s true. I mean we ski all the time, we climb all the time, and despite that, and despite there being kind of a huge culture around philanthropy and giving back, there’s also kind of this apathy, this lack of involvement or lack of awareness. There’s just this kind of basic aloofness that’s so ‘Jackson.’
HH: Yeah, I’m left with the question of, how do we get people to care? And what should they be caring about? What should we be caring about?
Well, I guess that’s why we’re making this podcast.
JB: Yeah, it is.