Episode: The Jackson Hole Story

Original Airdate: 
March 2004

On February 26, 1929, President Calvin Coolidge signed a bill establishing Grand Teton National Park. The 96,000-acre area protected the Teton Range and the scenic lakes at the base of the mountains. Its boundaries satisfied many locals. But others wanted the park to be even bigger. The stage was set for a series of political events wild enough to have come from the pages of Old West fiction.

Marking the 75th anniversary of the original Grand Teton National Park, KUED-Public Television presents a documentary that explores the struggle behind the expansion of federally protected land in Teton County.

Premiering on KUED-Channel 7 Wednesday, March 3, at 8 p.m., THE JACKSON HOLE STORY takes a balanced look at efforts to promote – and actions to stifle – the enlarged Grand Teton National Park known today. At the same time, the program shows how the battle over public and private land shaped Jackson Hole into what it is today. The program was produced by KUED’s Joe Prokop and narrated by Babe Humphrey of the Bar J Wranglers band.

The one-hour documentary combines footage of breathtaking scenery with archival photos and old 8-mm film to detail the evolution of Jackson Hole over the course of the 20th century. Featured interviews include former Wyoming Governor and U.S. Senator Cliff Hansen, dude rancher Jack Huyler, long-time residents Bob Kranenberg and Virginia Huidekoper, and outdoorsmen Bill Briggs and Frank Ewing.

Culled from the Columbia University Oral History Office are recorded memories of well-known locals W.C. “Slim” Lawrence and Homer Richards, along with former Yellowstone Park superintendent Horace Albright and lawyer Harold Fabian.

“While the documentary shows the struggle over land, it also looks back and celebrates the character of Jackson Hole,” said producer Joe Prokop. “The locals interviewed paint vivid pictures of life on the hoof. They remember Jackson’s ranching heritage and the wealthy ‘dudes’ on vacation. Old-timers reminisce about the days of rodeos and the wild nights of gambling at The Cowboy Bar.”

THE JACKSON HOLE STORY begins at Maude Nobel’s cabin, where a cross-section of locals gathered in 1923 to formulate an ambitious balance between conservation and development. Yellowstone superintendent Horace Albright found financial backing for their plan from John D. Rockefeller, Jr. A front company was created to buy private land and later turn it over to the federal government for protection.

“And you know John D., the story goes around the he was buying so much they said they’d see green grass grow on the streets of Jackson, Wyoming,” joked Clarene Law, a Wyoming state representative who is featured in the documentary.

But obstacles kept Rockefeller from turning the tens of thousands of acres he had purchased into a national park. His threat to sell the land prompted President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to sign an executive order establishing the Jackson Hole National Monument in the Spring of 1943. The monument absorbed nearly one hundred thousand acres of grazing land in the Teton National Forest.

Cliff Hansen recalled a feeling of betrayal in a 1966 interview that became part of the Jackson Hole Preserve’s oral history project. “A number of boys were in the service then…and almost every serviceman from Jackson Hole felt that he’d had a knife stuck in his back,” Hansen said. “They felt that they were away from home fighting to protect their country, and while they were away from home, their homes had been taken away from them.”

After three decades of local clashes and Washington deal-making, Rockefeller’s gift was finally incorporated into the expanded boundaries of Grand Teton National Park in a 1950 bill signed by President Harry Truman. The park had expanded an additional 214,000 acres larger than itsoriginal incarnation. A new era for Jackson had begun.

From early homesteading life up through today’s booming tourism, THE JACKSON HOLE STORY examines the tenuous balance between conservation and development, between a place and its people.

"The Jackson Hole Story"
was generously funded by
the Laurance S. Rockefeller Fund.

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