Mormon Row Historic District: A Once Vibrant Community

“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

 

John & Bartha Moulton Barn, Circa 1910s
John & Bartha Moulton Barn, Circa 1910s

 

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.

 

Thomas Murphy Homestead, Circa 1920s
Thomas Murphy Homestead, Circa 1920s

 

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. 

 

Thomas Alma & Lucille Moulton Homestead, Circa 1910s
Thomas Alma & Lucille Moulton Homestead, Circa 1910s

 

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.

 

John & Bartha Moulton Residence, Circa 1910s
John & Bartha Moulton Residence, Circa 1910s

 

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.

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Introducing… Our Historian

Historian Mary McKinney at Colter Bay Village
Historian Mary McKinney at Colter Bay Village

 

“This is my 31st summer coming to the Tetons and I realize the more I know, the more there is to learn,” says Mary McKinney, GTLC Historian. She is endlessly fascinated by this unique place that carries so much history. “The flowers, animals, mountain names, trails, ranches…it’s like peeling an onion and getting to the core of things, one layer after another layer.”

As a child, McKinney was enthralled with stories of the past. She was particularly captivated with Narcissa Whitman, the first white woman to travel on the Oregon Trail. The history of the Settler’s coming out west lured McKinney to seek a degree in history.

“My poor children thought they were raised crawling along the Oregon Trail,” McKinney laughs, as she recalls the numerous trips to the sites.

In 1979, McKinney began visiting the Tetons, as her daughters worked summers here. Initially the family was taking camping trips through National Parks in the west and by 1986 there were five McKinney’s working at the Lodge.

“It’s a beautiful place with a manageable size; you feel you can actually get to know it” states McKinney.  “It simply seems like the most beautiful place on Earth to my family.” So beautiful, all four of her daughters were married in the Park.

McKinney began as GTLC historian by gradually learning about the settlers’ cabins at Colter Bay Village, the ranches where they originate, and some of the architectural history of Jackson Hole. She studied a bit about Jenny Lake Lodge, which was founded by a western cowboy and a romantic story. The Lodge was originally named Danny Ranch, after the cowboy’s love.

Sharing her wisdom with the public, McKinney leads history talks on three properties. The Jackson Lake Lodge tour focuses on history and artwork, from the eight wildlife paintings by Carl Rungius that hang in the second floor lobby to photographs of the early days of Jackson Hole. Jenny Lake Lodge highlights the diverse history of Jenny, the name change and how it nearly shut down at one point only to re-emerge with elegance. Colter Bay Village brings the 166 settlers’ cabins to life, with a rich history on these rustic homesteads that date as far back as the 1890’s.

A wealth of resources are available on the history of Jackson Hole including GTLC and Jackson Hole Historical Society archives, the University of Wyoming, and the Rockefeller archives in New York. While McKinney gathers information from these archives, she reveals that her best resource is simply talking to people. Guests will share their experiences and their parents’ experiences and a bit of otherwise unknown history is shared with the world. “When people are acknowledged for their stories, they feel a sense of ownership of a place and they want to come back again.”

McKinney embarks on the lengthy, annual drive from Georgia to Wyoming, as the Tetons draw her back year after year.

“At the end of a walk around the cabins, very frequently someone will say, ‘they all looked alike before and now none of them look alike. I’ll never make that mistake again.’ They see the individuality of the cabins,” says McKinney, as she expresses why she keeps returning to the Park each year. “When people appreciate this place it’s thrilling to me; when they realize it’s not just your ordinary hotel grouping, but a special place with special stories.”