Mormon settlers moved into Jackson Hole in the late 1890’s and began “taming the valley”. It’s difficult to imagine how difficult the century long task must have been while I am sitting in my warm truck—complete with heated seats and steering wheel, and wearing a goose down jacket and insulated boots. But the settlers did it! Along the way, the hardy group built towns, businesses, and farms and ranches. To maintain their horses and cattle, they needed fences. Today, there are numerous styles and kinds of fences remaining in the Jackson Hole valley to remind us of earlier days.
Back in 2015, I posted this page: Grand Teton National Park’s Buck Rail Fences. That page featured the area’s distinctive Buck Rail Fences, but there are several other types of fences used by the settlers and homesteaders. A few days ago, I cruised some of the valley in an effort to document some of the remaining fences.
This is a Harrison Crandall painted postcard showing the Old Jackson Hole Road. The caption on the back reads, “The Old Jackson Hole Road” which follows the east border of the Valley. Fences of the “buck and pole” type such as these are remnants of early days and are still a distinctive feature.” Another postcard featured a buck rail fence and included this caption, “The Tetons from Park Headquarters—Fences of the “buck and pole” type such as these, are a remnant of the early ranching days, and are still a distinctive feature of Jackson Hole scenery. (Security Lithograph Co, San Francisco, CA)
Personally, I love the old buck rail fences. They are romantic icons of earlier days and have been photographed by countless visitors. Lodgepole Pine trees are abundant in Grand Teton National Park. The materials were free, readily available, and close-by. Just add labor and a few long nails! They didn’t require digging holes in the rocky soil, and this type of fence could follow the terrain effectively.
There are a few remnants of these plank style fences remaining along Mormon Row. The three historic photos above were taken in 1962-1964 by Al Pounian during this three summers in the area. Fences around the John Moulton barn were all six to eight feet tall. The Moultons housed their horses in the corrals. I’ve always assumed the tall fences were to keep elk and predators out. Each year, more of these fences fall to the ground.
Barbed Wire fences were apparently common in Jackson Hole. There are very few remaining inside Grand Teton National Park, but you can still see them along some portions of Mormon Row. Last year, the Park Service replaced the barbed wire fence in front of the TA Moulton barn with barbless wire. In many other areas of the park, volunteers have been systematically removing the fences for the safety of the migrating animals. As far as I know, only one sections of land still grazed by cattle in the Elk Flats area and another herd of Longhorn cattle grazes behind barbed wire fences near Kelly.
This fence style may have a name, but I can’t find a reference for it. It was a hybrid buck rail fence and barbed wire fence. As before, this style of fence didn’t require digging post holes in the rocky soil. This fence was along what is now called the East Boundary Road, just north of Antelope Flats Road. The fence and cabins were gone before we moved here 31 years ago.
Buck Rail fences, like the old barns and houses were never meant to last forever. Weather takes its toll on about anything left to the harsh environment. The Park Service replaced the old buck rail fences around the “Shane Cabins” (properly labeled the Luther Taylor cabins) about 8 years ago, but are now letting the cabins and structures deteriorate. Currently, they are rated as non-essential “ruins”.
Worm Fences (sometimes called Snake Fences) can be seen along the Jackson Hole Golf and Tennis roads. I don’t know how prevalent they would have been in the early 1900’s but I’d bet you could find a few that took advantage of the plentiful Lodge Pole Pines. I am unaware of any stacked rock fences being built in Jackson Hole in the early days.
Post and Rail fences were common in Jackson Hole. You can still find a lot of them along Mormon Row as seen above and the historic photo below.
Viewers might recognize this as the T.A. Moulton Barn, taken at a time when the farm was fully functional. The corrals and out buildings were gone when we moved to Jackson Hole in 1986. I’ve asked if these structures could be replaced, but the Park Service spokesperson says they barely have the budget to keep the existing structures from decay.
The image above runs along the property line of the Bed & Breakfast on Mormon Row. (Moulton Ranch Cabins) I’d suggest this is a contemporary fence built out of necessity for the safety of their guests. Bison migrate north and south along Mormon Row. Iit takes a hefty fence like this one to influence them to go around. The low mesh wire portion probably keeps the critters out. Oh yes, if you have a spare $5,000,000 you can pick up the historic bed & breakfast complex. Tell Hal Blake I sent you!
Over the past few years, this style of “Wildlife Friendly” fence has been replacing miles of Buck Rail fencing. Advocates suggest that some animals, like Pronghorns, can climb under the smooth wire, while others can safely jump the fence. Unlike the early settlers that had to hand dig the post holes, modern day tractors with augers can make short work of a tough job.
The new Wildlife Friendly fences aren’t as photogenic as the old Buck Rail fences. Wildlife advocates, some of which helped pay for the new fencing, suggest the fences make it safer for the migrating herds. No problem! I’ve wished for several years that the Park Service would replace about 100 yards of this fence at Triangle X ranch with the old Buck Rail fences. Historically, that spot was a popular stop for tourists and photographers, and photos from there were featured on posters, calendars, book covers, and so forth. The fence is used to keep the trail horses in the pastures, but the horses are only in the pastures during the mid-summer months—after the spring migration and before the fall migration. With no horses around during the migration, some of the top rails could be lowered in a few sections. At least from my perspective, it looks like a workable solution.
Where to see Buck Rail Fences now:
Buck Rail Fences are disappearing, but there are still numerous places to see them.
- Buck Rail fences can be seen along Mormon Row Road, along with almost all other fence styles mentioned here .
- There are still stretches of Buck Rail fences along the highway north of Triangle X ranch. They are deteriorating fast, so hurry!
- New fences replaced the Buck Rail fences north of the drive into Cunningham Cabin, but look on the north side and around the Cabin.
- Watch for Buck Rail Fences south of Moosehead Ranch near Spread Creek.
- Luther Taylor (Shane) cabins have Buck Rail Fences.
- Buck Rail fences surround the Chapel of the Transfiguration. There aren’t a lot of the fences on the West side of the Snake.
- New Buck Rail Fences have been installed at Antelope Flats Junction.
- Buck Rail Fences are seen in several sections of Spring Creek Road.
Of course, you may have found picket fences around the house at a few pioneer homesteads, and you can find a few examples in the Town of Jackson. Chain link fences and other contemporary style fences are common in town, but this page was focused on the fences I’ve seen in the Park area. You can also find a few electric fences being used along Mormon Row today.
Additional Fence Links
Wyoming Wildlife Foundation http://www.wyomingwildlifefoundation.org/
Facts about fences http://www.sagegrouseinitiative.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/Wyo_FenceGuide.pdf:
Smoky Mountains History: Fences. Additional photos of fences.
Area History and Cultural Events:
Jackson Hole has a rich heritage and history. The area was originally homesteaded by Mormon settlers. Their history has always intrigued me.