History of Jackson Hole


Jackson Hole was first home to Native American tribes, fur trappers and traders.

The valley was visited during the warmer months by hunting parties of Crow, Gros Ventre, Blackfeet, Nez Perce, Bannock and Eastern Shosone tribes as as long as 12,000 years ago. One tribe, the Sheep Eaters, lived year round in the higher elevations year round, getting their name from their diet of bighorn sheep that grazed on the southern slopes.

Fur trappers began arriving in the early 1800s. John Colter, Nick Wilson, William Sublette, Jedediah Smith, Jim Bridger, and David E. Jackson are credited with settling the area, though they were by no means the first inhabitants. The valley, or "hole," first got its name during this period. In 1829, Sublette named the valley Jackson’s Hole after his partner David E. Jackson. Jackson’s Hole eventually became Jackson Hole because the first term invited too much ribald humor. For 30 years, between 1810 and 1840, Jackson Hole was a center of the fur trading and trapping universe. Jackson Hole was a central meeting point where trappers, isolated in the winter months, gathered in the summer to sell and trade, and enjoying much alcohol consumption and merriment before heading back to the higher elevations to resume trapping. But the demand for fur dwindled by 1845, as men's fashion turned more to silk. As a result, Jackson Hole quieted down and was largely uninhabited for nearly 45 years due to its relative isolation. One notable government expedition passed through in 1871. The Hayden expedition and its photographs convinced the federal government to appoint Grand Teton as the nation’s first national park in 1872.

Ranching and cattle raising was the heart of Jackson Hole’s economy during its early years. But this has always been a tough lifestyle and eventually the valley's draw shifted and became a draw for big game hunters, fly fisherman, horseback riders, dude ranchers and outdoor lovers in general. Being no fools, Jackson Hole residents soon realized that taking care of tourists provided a much better life than caring for cattle. Many transformed their former cattle ranches into vacation destinations.

Visit the Jackson Hole Historical Society Website

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