JACKSON, Wyo. — Given that Jackson Hole never had its own railroad – with the closest one being the “end of the line” in Victor – many people do not realize how train service changed the growth and development of the Jackson Hole valley.
Over the years several plans to service the Jackson Hole area with a railroad were hatched, they were ultimately abandoned. Only seven railroads constructed between 1867 and 1926 served the Greater Yellowstone region, but not Jackson Hole directly.
In the Teton Valley Magazine article “Ties to the Past,” author Dan Buchan writes, “On July 1, 1913, the first train steamed into Victor on rails laid by the Oregon Short Line, a subsidiary of the Union Pacific Railroad. The citizenry couldn’t have been happier, as the railroad promised greater prosperity and an easier existence.”
In Jackson, the nearby railroad especially impacted three of the valley’s most important industries: cattle ranching, dude ranching and tourism.
To sell cattle outside of the valley, local ranchers needed to get their animals to the largest markets in Omaha or Los Angeles, which they did through trains. Each fall, cattle drives heading towards various railheads were an annual event.
The most popular route traveled over Teton Pass to stock pens provided by the railroad in Victor. The pens were thoughtfully located upwind to help carry away the cattle aroma. Even though herding cattle over the Pass could be difficult, this practice continued until trucks became more available in the 1950s.
Imports to Jackson Hole, in the form of dudes and tourists, began in the early 1900s with visitors disembarking in Rexburg or St. Anthony, as well as Ashton, Idaho. In fact, Union Pacific teamed up with dude ranches to produce a promotional brochure, “Dude Ranches Out West,” with a special section just for those in the Jackson valley.
The Northern Pacific produced a similar publication and some of the ranches promoted included Bar BC, Crescent H, Teton Valley and White Grass.
Railroad was a primary way for dudes and dudines to reach the area. Many hosts would greet their guests at the Victor Railroad Depot before transporting them over the Pass.
During busy seasons, more “dudes” than residents filled the valley. The large influx of primarily east coast visitors might not have been possible without rail service. The trend lasted for most of the dude ranching era through the 1940s.
To explore more, including early bicycle history in Yellowstone, join the Jackson Hole Historical Society & Museum for an online Beers and Banter conversation. Guests will include Dan Buchan of Overland Press on the influence of the Victor railroad and Wyoming historian and author Lori Van Pelt from WyoHistory.org on bicycles in Wyoming.
Online Beers and Banter: Bikes and Rails
Early 20th Century Transportation in Jackson Hole and Wyoming
Thursday, October 1, 7-8 p.m.
Register at bit.ly/bikesandrails
In lieu of your regular beer purchase, consider a donation to support local history at bit.ly/beersdonate.
Article by Jackson Hole Historical Society & Museum staff including excerpts and research from Dan Buchan’s book “The History of Railroading in Jackson Hole.”