100+ years of White Grass history

JACKSON, WY – When Harold Hammond and George Tucker Bispham started the White Grass in 1913, it was the third dude ranch to open in Jackson Hole. Hammond arrived in Jackson as a young man working for the Reclamation Service on the Jackson Lake dam. In 1912, Hammond found work wrangling at the Bar BC and became determined to open his own ranch. That summer he met Bispham, and the two filed on adjacent homestead parcels a year later. During World War I, Bispham managed both tracts of land while Hammond barely escaped with his life. On February 5th, 1918 Hammond was aboard the SS Tuscania when it was torpedoed and sunk. Hammond survived and returned home to Jackson Hole to officially open the dude ranch in 1919 after the close of the war.

Photo credit: Jackson Hole Historical Society and Museum collection, 1958.2525.001.

That first year, they hosted ten dudes in three sleeping cabins. After a brief stint in the 1920s as a boys camp in partnership with the Bar BC, the White Grass grew to be one of the preeminent dude ranches in the valley. By the end of the decade, the ranch could host 30 dudes across 15 cabins. In 1939, Harold Hammond’s widow Marion Galey and her son Frank took on management of the ranch. During Frank’s deployment during World War II there was a brief hiatus where caretakers and a few dudes tried to keep the ranch up, but despite their efforts the property fell into disrepair. When Frank returned, despite a backlog of deferred maintenance, he increased capacity to 55 dudes.

Frank also kept up with the haying and cattle raising. They usually kept 5-6 pairs of Herefords, as well as 2-3 milking cows, pigs, and chickens. The ranch had workhorses for haying and about 50 saddle horses for the dudes. By the mid-1950s electricity would make its way to the ranch, adding modern comfort. Some dudes dug ditches to run into small dammed puddles to store their drinks to keep them cold. Nearby Lake Ingeborg, a man-made pond was available for swimming and fishing. The White Grass had a strong set of annual visitors, families and individual dudes alike. Soon the cabins became named for the families that rented them year after year.

In 1985 the ranch’s long tenure ceased with the death of Frank Galey and management of the ranch was turned over to Grand Teton National Park. An auction was held, and everything was sold off, including the barn. The National Park Service completed an inventory of all of the man-made structures on the property and began to dismantle them. Their intent was to return the property back to its natural setting. They removed all of the irrigation systems, fencing, and the pond. Before they could go much further, shifting ideas about historic preservation and a well-timed listing in the National Register of Historic Places in 1990 stopped the removal of the remaining cabins.

Photo credit: Jackson Hole Historical Society and Museum collection, 19582583001.

In the early 2000s, a project was started to rehabilitate, preserve, and reuse the old ranch. After decades of deferred maintenance, the buildings were severely deteriorated. The National Trust for Historic Preservation and Grand Teton National Park established the Western Center for Historic Preservation to serve as a training facility for the preservation of the historic resources in the western National Parks with the White Grass Ranch as its primary campus. Today White Grass annually houses several groups for training seminars with participants spanning from Alaska to Arizona.

With the successful campaign to preserve the White Grass Ranch buildings, a new effort was begun to bring the lost pieces of White Grass home. In 2011, the White Grass Heritage Project began collecting, scanning, and preserving historic photo collections, conducting oral histories, and gathering ephemera, videos, and old ranch furnishings. To date, over 2,700 historic photos and 70 hours of oral histories have been archived. The White Grass Heritage Project has also continued the Share Your Story campaign first begun by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Stories submitted about White Grass by former dudes, wranglers, or other friends of the ranch have been compiled into a searchable format, and new story submissions are on-going.

The Jackson Hole Historical Society and Museum, along with the White Grass Heritage Project, has just launched www.whitegrass.org as a resource to learn more about the Ranch, project, and ways to get involved.

To officially launch the website, the Jackson Hole Historical Society and Museum will host a special Beers & Banter program on Thursday, July 25th at 7 pm focused on the stories of White Grass Ranch from former wranglers and guests.

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