Yesteryear: There will never be another Geraldine Lucas
JACKSON HOLE, WYO – Probably you have seen the photo—an old black-and-white shot of a stout woman perched atop the Grand, posed triumphantly on a pile of rocks with the US flag. Maybe you’ve wondered who this woman was besides being the second female to summit iconic peak.
To those who knew her well, Geraldine Lucas was simply referred to as “Aunt Gere.” To others who shared a valley with her in the early 1900s, she was a bit of an acquired taste. She was blunt to a fault, kept to herself, and preferred a life lived off what the land provided.
And what land she chose! A 160-acre spread about 4.5 miles north of Moose along the banks of Cottonwood Creek was to become a homestead Geraldine said she would never leave…and she never did. Not even death would remove Geraldine from her property at the base of the Grand.
When most other holdouts eventually sold their spreads to the Snake River Land Company (Rockefeller’s holding company that purchased ranches in order to eventually create Grand Teton NP), Geraldine hung on to the end, reportedly vowing, “They’ll never get me off this land.”
After homesteading the acreage in 1913 when she came to the valley at the age of 45, Geraldine stubbornly refused every effort to get her off that ranch. She turned down an offer of $50,000 for a property appraised at $19,204.05 at the time of her death in 1938. Her son, Russell, sold the property not long after she died but had his mother cremated and her ashes interred in a large granite boulder resting in a meadow at the western edge of her property with a plaque facing the Tetons she loved and always called “her mountains.”
While Lucas’ counterparts—townswomen like Mae Deloney, Rose Crabtree, Grace Miller, Faustina Haight and Genevieve Van Vleck—formed high society cliques like the Pure Food Club and were seeking local office, Geraldine was quietly busy being a modern-day woman in her own way.
Society dame she was not. How shocked must neighbors have been to see Geraldine mushing her own team of dogs down from Moose to grab the mail in Wilson, or tooling around the valley in her 1924 Buick? How frustrated did she make the men trying to buy her land for a park when she told them to stack their silver dollars as high as the Grand before she would even start talking to them? How flabbergasted were her petticoat peers to see a photo of a 58-year-old Lucas waving Old Glory atop the Grand with a 16-year-old Paul Petzoldt as her guide?
Geraldine Lucas did life her way. In the end, the irony is not lost on those who know the full story. Harold Fabian, the Salt Lake City lawyer and vice president of the company trying to buy out Geraldine for all those years, eventually did purchase the property for $60,000, and would personally spend 29 summers there with his wife, Josephine, until the day he died in 1975.
He and his wife enjoyed immensely just sitting out on the porch that faced the Tetons and taking it all in. They were captivated by the raw beauty of the valley and that special spot. Just as Geraldine had been.
Fabian and Lucas could not have been more different, but they both shared an awestruck love of the Jackson Hole and the view they had of paradise found.