“A ranch to the Moulton’s is more that just lands and buildings; it’s the husband, wife, and family all getting together in the field helping each other.”
-Clark Moulton, Mormon Row Homesteader, circa 1930s
As early as our American Revolutionary War, the distribution of Government lands had created a challenging issue related to land measurement and pricing. Early methods of stepping off property plots from geographical landmarks resulted in arbitrary overlapping claims and chaotic border disputes. The Land Ordinance of 1785 finally implemented a standard system of Federal Land Surveys that eased border conflicts by using astronomical starting points and dividing land into measurements of townships, sections, square miles, and acres. When in 1862, the Homestead Act was passed and signed into law by President Abraham Lincoln, a U.S. Citizen could file claim to 160 acres of surveyed government land and after 5 years, by living on the land, improving it with a 12 by 14 foot dwelling, and growing crops, they could file a patent (deed of itle) and the property was theirs.
Originally known as the town of Grovont, the Mormon Row settlement did not occur until the 1890s. The promise of land eventually drew homesteaders into Jackson Hole. Lush sagebrush, natural fields of timothy, and the Gros Ventre River indicated a healthy soil and water supply to entice the first Mormon families to the area with hopes of beginning a new life. With the construction of homes, ranches, churches, and schools, a true vibrant community began to blossom. Settlers began with traditional Lodgepole Pine log homes providing basic shelter from the harsh Jackson Hole weather and evolved, with increased prosperity, into more modern houses. Barn raising was a community event. Elders and young men from various families supplied the construction ingenuity and strength while women and children provided the communal meals and picnics. Mormon Row dispersed in the mid 1900s and only a handful of buildings remain standing today.
What remains today is a remarkable look back in time: a time when log built ranches and barns dotted the landscape at the foot of Blacktail Butte, a time when barn raising was a community event, and a time when barns and homes were to the family what Church was to the community. Visiting Mormon Row provides a glimpse of early homesteading life and quiet contemplation of barn raisings, cattle drives, church services, long schooldays, skating on ice covered irrigation ditches, sledding down snow covered Blacktail Butte, berry-picking expeditions to Taggart Lake, and splashing in a nearby swimming hole filling hot summer days.
A visit to Mormon row is well worth the time. Some of these original homestead buildings are over a hundred years old and are naturally weathering . Enjoy them from a distance and respect the culturally historic value of the site. Oh, by the way, an early morning photography safari may produce award winning images.
Sources: www.archives.gov , A Place Called Jackson Hole – John Daugherty, Jackson Hole Historical Society, Grand Teton Association
Posted from Don’s Corner. Photography by Don Wells.