Jackson
Pop. 8,647


Perhaps the most famous town of the "Old West", Jackson has had its share of both attention and visitors. Featured in many movies, from John Wayne’s Big Trail to Clint Eastwood’s Any Which Way You Can, Jackson and its environs have appeared on the silver screen numerous times. Many Hollywood celebrities frequent the area in their down time, as well as presidents, politicians, diplomats, and royalty from around the world. First class amenities of all kinds exist here to accommodate such a crowd. Since so much glamour is associated with this rather small town, it’s amazing that it still retains so much of its old time charm. But residents call their home "The Last and Best of the Old West." It’s hard to believe that less than 200 years ago, the only people here were Indians like the Blackfeet, Gros Ventres, Nez Perce, Shoshone, Crows, Bannocks, and Flatheads, and they only came in the summer.

The town was named for "Jackson’s Hole" (now Jackson Hole), which is inclusive of that portion of the Snake River Valley. The upper part of the valley is the Big Hole, and the lower valley is the Little Hole. "Hole" was trapper slang for a valley basin surrounded by mountains. John Colter is believed to have been the first white man here, exploring much of northern Wyoming on his own after he parted with Lewis and Clark in 1807. Astorian trappers were not far behind, who followed the Native Americans here in the warm months for the abundant game. Trapper/entrepreneurs Jedediah Smith and William Sublette named the area for their partner, David E. Jackson, a mountain man of hardy repute who was largely responsible for further exploration of the Snake River and Teton region.

Few others came to this rugged area until a band of outlaws discovered that it made an excellent hideout in the 1870s. William C. "Teton" Jackson, who was born Harvey Gleason in Rhode Island, adopted the names of the area where he dodged the long arm of the law. Jackson came west as part of the campaign against the Sioux in 1876, then discovered that being a horse thief was more profitable than being a pack train scout. He and his gang accumulated stolen horses from all over the western states, re-branded them, and sold them in South Dakota. They even had a plan to kidnap President Chester Arthur when he came to visit the newly designated Yellowstone National Park in 1883, but the president came with a sizeable military contingent to prevent any trouble.

That same year, permanent settlers arrived. Johnny Carnes and John Holland came to the valley to build homesteads for their families. In 1889, the Wilson family, led by Mormon Bishop Sylvester Wilson, crossed over Teton Pass from Idaho, in essence creating the first road there. Carnes and Holland, who hosted the new settlers until they could build their own homesteads, greeted them. Carnes and Holland continued to be the official welcome committee for other new families coming to settle in the valley throughout their lives. Bishop Wilson’s brother, Elijah "Uncle Nick" Wilson, was once a Pony Express Rider, the youngest of the lot. He was said to have run of with the Shoshones for an adventure when he was young.

In 1873, another famous "Jackson", William H. Jackson, came to the area with the Hayden Geological Survey Expedition, and was the first to photograph both the Tetons and Yellowstone. His pictures helped to persuade Congress to set aside the Yellowstone area as a National Park.

When Jackson became an official town with a post office in 1897, it was named Marysvale, for postmistress Mary White. The name changed when the town became incorporated in 1901. By 1909, the town boasted three sawmills, a newspaper, two general stores, a hotel and restaurant, a blacksmith shop, a school, two churches, and a saloon.

Around this same time period, photographer and conservationist Stephen Leek was drawing national attention to the plight of the elk in the area. Over-hunted for their "tusks" (ivory teeth), and starving due to unusually harsh winters in the early part of the century, the government was called upon to aid the majestic animals. Both state and national agencies came together to create the National Elk Refuge in 1912. The four elk antler arches which surround the Town Square in downtown Jackson remind visitors of the remarkable creatures, known to Native Americans as "wapiti."

In 1920, Jackson again received national attention when it was the first town in the nation to elect an all-female city council and mayor. Shortly after their election, they appointed several other women to positions such as marshal, town clerk, and town health officer. In addition to other significant town reforms, this group of city officials was responsible for building the wooden sidewalks, which are still a trademark of Jackson’s streets.

It has only been over the past thirty years or so that Jackson has become a hot spot for tourists. But the community has a long history of hospitality, from the trapper days to the homestead days, and current residents hold this tradition sacred. Although it is surrounded by many scenic wonders, Jackson is most popular for the friendliness of the people who live here.

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