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Park History: Grand Teton National Park

Grand Teton sunrise. Kurt Repanshek photo.

Sunrise in Grand Teton National Park. Kurt Repanshek photo.

Grand Teton National Park not only is one of America’s most photogenic national parks but, oddly enough, it's one of our most controversial.

After much political wrangling about preserving the Jackson Hole area – and I do mean much; it took from 1897-1929 to get the first, fledgling step taken – the federal government essentially decided that the gorgeous slab of Wyoming just south of Yellowstone National Park would make a lovely national park.

The only problem, though, was that the locals were not so keen on the idea. Indeed, it took some quiet -- some would say "shady" -- negotiations by the John Rockefeller, Jr.-financed Snake River Land Company to create the park much as it stands today.

In 1897, Col. S.B.M. Young, at the time Yellowstone's acting superintendent, suggested that Yellowstone be expanded to the south to take in the northern tip of the Jackson Hole Valley. A year later the head of the U.S. Geological Survey recommended that the Teton Range be included in the package, and in 1917 a fledgling federal agency known as the National Park Service called on the Tetons to be merged into Yellowstone.

The "original" Grand Teton National Park was set aside by Congress on this date in 1929, but its borders only surrounded the Tetons and their six glacial lakes, leaving out much of the pastoral landscape that today wraps U.S. 191/89/26.

While Mr. Rockefeller, at the prodding of Horace Albright, then Yellowstone's superintendent, funded the land company in the 1920s with an eye toward acquiring 35,000 more acres for the park, it took more than 20 years before the land was transferred to the park.

Much of the problem involved Jackson Hole land owners, who initially didn't want to see their private land turned into a park. They became so perturbed with Mr. Rockefeller and the NPS that in 1933 both were hauled before the U.S. Senate to answer questions about predatory land purchases and conspiracy with each other to ‘backdoor’ the park into existence.

Well, eventually Mr. Rockefeller and the Park Service were exonerated, and as the Great Depression wore on in the 1930s, most people in the Jackson Hole area sold their land in order to put food on the table.

In 1943 (after roughly $1.4 million was spent to acquire 35,000 acres, and after massive protests in Jackson Hole and an attempt by Congress to forever abolish the park), President Franklin Delano Roosevelt created the Jackson Hole National Monument, in part with Mr. Rockefeller's land donation, rather than risk having Mr. Rockefeller sell the land to others.

Even with that deal done, though, hard feelings and animosity existed between the state of Wyoming and the National Park Service. It wasn't until the fall of 1950 that Congress finally agreed to merge the "original" park with the Jackson Hole Monument to create today's Grand Teton.

As tourism increased dramatically after World War II, locals soon began to appreciate the value of the park. Now, it is one of our most well-known and most-visited parks. Jackson Hole locals, at least the old timers, benefited handsomely from real estate values that skyrocketed thanks to the picturesque and well-preserved park scenery.

Visitors to Grand Teton today can immerse themselves in all manner of outdoor activities, from scaling "the Grand" itself to a placid kayak across Jenny Lake. Hiking, biking, river running, and mountain climbing are all popular activities in the summertime, with cross-country skiing and snowshoeing being most prevalent come winter.

In the fall, the annual elk rut is always an entertaining spectacle, and the ‘Old West’ feel of Jackson Hole delights visitors year-round. Accommodations run the gamut from upscale lodges in the park and in town to a host of campgrounds.

Located a leisurely drive south of Yellowstone, who can resist a vacation in the heart of Wyoming, especially one filled with alpine vistas and dramatic valleys?



After reading your comment, I did a little research on Rockefeller and was quite surprised to find out he was a moral man, a devout Christian. He never smoked or drank and was very adamant about tithing his the church.

He amassed his fortune into the billions, wealthier than the Waltons or Gates, and he donated billions to the welfare of the people. "Where is it written that no one can get rich"?

Evidently, he was smarter than the average "brown or black bear."You speak of a global energy crisis, adversely hurting the poorest people in society. I'm going to rephrase and say Rockefeller taketh away and giveth back. How is this abuse? I wonder if the comedian , Mrs. Hughes is right.
Is menopause and hot flashes, Global warming. I am constantly looking over my shoulder to see if Al Gore is stalking me!!!!!

Bottom Line: The little fish can swallow the big fish as long as he has a strong bottom line.
Using the statement: bottom line is the last line of an income statement, revenue is the top line..

Strictly,my opinion: Rockefeller had the revenue to purchase the land, he gave the land back to the people and the government to oversee its welfare. To me that was quite a loss or net income,the last or bottom line of an income statement.

Ends and means, a morally right action taken to produces a good outcome.

I thank the Rockefellers for the wonderful gift of God and nature

Brenda Byles


I wouldn't have jumped at the chance to acquire the Tetons - so much that has gone wrong in this world comes from the big fish swallowing up the small fish. The irony here only is that it's the Tetons that were swallowed up, but by the same means Rockefeller used to build his refining empire we are now faced with a global energy crisis that again will only most adversely hurt the poorest people in society. Rockefeller giveth and taketh away. If we want to avoid the mistakes and truly protect the places we love, then we must do things differently and connect the means and ends. You have to consider how you go about things and not excuse the abuses of capitalism for some of the accidental pleasures that arise from it.

It's interesting you write this today because the JY Ranch - the Rockefeller's private ranch within Grand Teton was finally formally donated to the Park Service today, the largest extension of the Tetons since most of Jackson Hole was added in 1950.

Anyhow, whether you find me incorrigible and boorish or jealous and petty doesn't really matter. What matters is whether what I've said is right - and if wrong, where the contradiction lies, or lacking that, what I've said in my premises is suspect. I love these places with all my heart - more than you'll ever know or realize - but I am not about to excuse what brought them into being.

As for God's creation of the Tetons, we can agree on that; that's perhaps why it's sad that the Tetons from the small landowners to the big landowners to the federal government have been caught in a place where loving thy neighbor was not practiced when it came to the bottom line.

Jim Macdonald
The Magic of Yellowstone
Yellowstone Newspaper
Jim's Eclectic World

Mr. Macdonald:

After reading your article about the Grand Tetons, I find you incorrigible and boorish. I wouldn't take my hat off for you, but Rockefeller, gets kudos. You sound jeolous and petty . The magnificance of the Grand Tetons could only be created by the man I call God. Whether Rockefeller wanted it as a park or not.

I bet if you had the chance to acquire the Tetons you would have jumped at the chance. I bet you wouldn't call it a scam. Just good business.!!!!!! As for the big fish swallowing up the little fish. It seems a whale swallowed Jonah and he became a very blessed and wealthy man.

The "boon" was wonderful for the Grand Teton National Park, it is certainly beautiful to the eye , the natural habitat of all the animals. All the visitors and the Rangers, who watch out for them, makes it most desirable .

You probably have the first dollar you made from her existance. Why not donate to the fund and help keep the park beautiful and maintained. Why not give the rangers a nice tip.

Brenda Byles


I'm a pacifist so that should tell you about what I think about war.

You have to show the contradiction of ends and means in the grim reaper notion of the NPS related to protesting their slaughter of Yellowstone buffalo because I don't see it.

As for the accidental killing of someone from delivering a loaf of bread, how is that even an ends and means question?

Mack, I've done my best to take you seriously; that's why I gave the care and length to the response I have; I'd appreciate the same respect. There are reasons for connecting ends and means; there are reasons to reject your view that sometimes the ends justify the means. I've done my best to answer your question. Throwing out examples like this don't speak to those arguments.

So, there's nothing more for me to say.

Jim Macdonald
The Magic of Yellowstone
Yellowstone Newspaper
Jim's Eclectic World

"I don't believe that ends ever justify the means; the ends and the means are inextricably linked."

However, you apparantly believe that the ends, the resolution of the bison slaughter situation, justifies the means, the use of some black puppet, as you describe it, hanging in effigy near the west entrance of YNP, degrading and insulting YNP personnel on the ground, in my opinion. Surprise...! I maintain this further illustrates the hypocrisy of your position on the use of the black puppet.

What about the American Revolutionary War - did the ends justify the means? What about defeating Hitler - did the ends justify the means?

What about that loaf of whole wheat bread you just baked? Did the truck delivering the flour accidentally kill some wildlife while getting the flour to the retailer? And if it did, does your ends, baking and consuming the loaf of bread, justify the means?

If you respond, I encourage you to keep it short and sweet. :)


Mack P. Bray
My opinions are my own

Jim, I appreciate your economical use of words to make your point.

Jim, you are rambling. The sellers sold their land to a buyer. For a price they accepted as fair. That's it. Nothing more, nothing less.


I don't believe that ends ever justify the means; the ends and the means are inextricably linked. When someone says that a particular end justifies the means, they are denying this tight link. As long as a good end happens, according to this view, how we got there doesn't matter.

So, if someone was given the problem:

3 + 4 X 2 = x

If the person answered this problem by adding 3 + 4 saying that it equaled 5 and then multiplied it by 2 to say that it equaled 11, they would arrive at the correct answer, though they would have performed each step incorrectly. To answer the question correctly, they should have first multiplied 4 X 2 (8) and then added 3 to reach 11 - given the order of operations of arithmetic. To get the right answer here is an accident.

Now, Rockefeller's action wasn't an accident. It was calculated. You get the land, you then give it to the government, who protects it for all posterity. However, rationally speaking, the end is no less accidental because by the same means, the same person might have arrived at the opposite result. In some parts of this country, developers buy up land from individuals either directly or using front groups in order to destroy land. If there's no connection between the process and the end result, then it's contradictory to assert that ends justify the means. In fact, the end had nothing to do with the means. Justification of the same means can produce different ends, and so the means have nothing to do with end. Only if means and ends are actually connected can we assert that one act was just while another was not. And, if the same means can be used to produce contradictory ends (not at all different than mistakes or accidental correct answers in arithmetic), then those means cannot be just.

But, what is the argument that means and ends are connected outside of justifying things like mathematical equations, where they clearly are connected (though some mathematicians have tried to deny this)? This is a difficult ethical question because there doesn't seem to be a lot of actions where we can understand how our actions will produce the ends we take to be just. We have trouble projecting how our actions and consequences relate with each other. This is one reason why I don't agree with management-based ethics. However, it is indubitable that any action which is contradictory cannot be rationally connected with its ends. That is, if the same action can be used as a reason to justify both a good and an evil, then the action not only has no connection to the ends, it is unjust.

So, it is very important how we go about things. While we cannot guarantee an action that is good (that is, an action that contains no contradiction) will necessarily produce a good result because we don't know how the two are connected, we can guarantee that an action that is contradictory that happens to produce a good result is unjust because there is no way anything could ever be connected to our goals (which would make human action absurd). Everything would be an accident; it would really mean that anything goes (and doesn't go).

As I understand the history, Rockefeller did scam people out of their land. He got people to do what they otherwise did not want to do. People wanted to sell their land but did not know they were selling land to a group opposed to their interests or at a fair value given the buyer (even the person Rockefeller hired to buy up the land was not in on it and would have opposed it had he known- which further duped the people who were selling their land)--(by the way, my main source for this information is the book: Crucible for Conservation: The Struggle for Grand Teton National Park by Robert W. Righter, a book pretty sympathetic to Rockefeller, even if it doesn't agree with all his methods.) That's essentially what a scam is, right? You convince someone that it is their interest to do something for you based on certain misleading information, and they ultimately act in a way that's against their interest. I am not a lawyer - I don't really care whether the act was legal or not - it was certainly contradictory. By the same process, people sell their homes, mortgage their life savings, sell their souls for student loans (I fell for that one and again - perfectly legal), and do all kinds of things they later regret and would not have done had they understood all the relevant context. Though, in this case, the irony was that people who were abusing the land suddenly were swindled out of an abuse they thought would happen for perpetuity. It's a little humorous because usually the opposite happens, but poetic justice isn't necessarily justice.

Ultimately, unlike the ethical arguments, which I think stand or fall on the ground of their own reasons, yes, this is my opinion of what happened. I don't think we are disagreeing on the basic facts, but even our shared opinion of those facts is no less an opinion. I didn't mean to make it seem like I was just stating facts, and if there's need to add a disclaimer like you do at the end of each of your comments, then I am more than willing to concede that for this discussion.

I would dispute that any of us know ultimately what would have happened with Jackson Hole had Rockefeller not gotten involved the way he did. None of us can know because that road was not one we went down. It might be, though, that the valley might have been destroyed had Rockefeller not acted in the way that he had. However, that it worked out I think - again - is a happy accident, not something to praise Rockefeller for. If we praised Rockefeller and only praised people because their means produced the right ends, we would truly live in a chaotic world where we wouldn't be judged until people saw the results. And, by what reason would we judge results since we've essentially said that reason doesn't really matter? It's incoherent. For example, I made a lot of friends only after Bush started the war in Iraq, friends I wouldn't have had, some of them even my best friends. My newborn son might never have been born because I only met my partner because we met in the anti-war group with which we were both involved. Should I praise Bush for this? Had he acted differently, none of this would have happened for me. How would I have met people who only came together to oppose that war? Should I praise Bush for all my happiness, even though the same cause has also produced such death and suffering? Should I praise a student who gets the right answer even though he did everything wrong to get there? We can argue about whether Rockefeller did something wrong (there's room for us to disagree, I think), but I can't imagine how we can say that sometimes contradictory behavior is justified? And, adding "some" actually doesn't help; one contradiction entails every other contradiction.

I realize my metaphors for explaining myself here might not work at communicating what I'm after, but it's the best I can do at this late hour. I do think it's important, (and no I don't think it's hypocritical - I don't think there's anything contradictory about what BFC did in West Yellowstone in criticizing the National Park Service, though I'd be open to you showing it).

I feel passionately that we have to be careful not to praise everything that made the things we cherish about our current circumstances possible. We should be allowed to regret, to be critical, so that we can be empowered to make decisions of right and wrong now. If we can't know all the answers - and despite how you tend to paint me, there's almost nothing I know that confidently - at least we can resist absurdity when we see it. It doesn't mean that one can't be thankful for what is even if one is critical about how one got there. Because, if we follow blindly the processes of history, we will use those same processes to perpetrate many atrocities as well. I sincerely don't want to be part of that if I can at all help it; I certainly don't want to pretend to justify it. Because, I know I do so many wrong things as it is because it's so hard to see what one should be doing. That is frustrating enough for me; it would be more frustrating if I knowingly embraced the contradiction of disconnecting ends and means so that I gave Rockefeller a pass on his tactics regarding Jackson Hole and Grand Teton National Park.

So, it is very personal for me, too, though I don't have the connection with the Tetons or probably the degree of love and knowledge that you have (and I mean that sincerely). With all my heart, I want this place - Yellowstone (Tetons included) to be well and alive. I have cried real tears thinking about it; my heart burns for this place. But, at the same time, that leads me to be more critical, more discerning of the processes that brought us to now. It's so important that we embrace ends and means not just because of what happened but what's to come, as we all make decisions about how to live for this place.

Hopefully, that says at least as much, if not more, than the metaphorical deficiencies of far too much time in a different jungle,

Jim Macdonald
The Magic of Yellowstone
Yellowstone Newspaper
Jim's Eclectic World

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