Mormon Row: Historic Site or Ghost Town?

What is the difference between a ghost town and a vacated  historic site? Is there one?

Recently, back up in the Tetons, I ventured with a couple of friends to visit

Map of Mormon Row drawn by Craig Moulton, courtesy of Jackson Hole Historical Society and Museum

Map of Mormon Row drawn by Craig Moulton, courtesy of Jackson Hole Historical Society and Museum

Mormon Row, a four mile stretch of homesteads and ranch houses just southeast of Black Tail Butte in the valley of Jackson Hole. Here were solid, but decaying, remnants of a community that once thrived, was vibrant with life, if not exactly prosperous by today’s way of understanding. The National Park leaves its historic buildings to decay naturally, which I daresay means that, with time, they’ll be gone. But for now, the buildings stand as a monument to what people do to secure a better life, to survive, perhaps also a monument to what really matters in life.

The first homesteaders came from Rockland, Idaho, stopping in Victor before

Thomas Alma & Lucille Moulton Homestead, ca.1910

Thomas Alma & Lucille Moulton Homestead, ca.1910

crossing the Teton Pass. Nowadays, we have a road, which, I have to say, I’m somewhat reluctant to drive, yet they crossed the pass in wagons. They camped in Wilson, where I now abide part-year, on Fish Creek, before moving on to make their claim for 160 acres under the Homestead Act, paying their $21 claim fee. Some would secure further acres under the Desert Land Act, which required them to irrigate the land.

Arriving in July, too late to plow or plant, water and shelter were their first concerns. They dug irrigation ditches, and dug down 120ft. or so for wells. To be sure water would be available in summer, this was the time to dig—when water would be at its lowest. Then they built log cabins with a dirt roof, the lodge pole pines coming from nearby forests. And they went to Flat Creek, where hay was available for anyone who wanted it, cut it by hand, and also planted an early maturing oat, ready in 90 days. Plowing through the sage brush, with either a hand plow or a sulky plow, the soil underneath was fertile, and the resultant burning sage made an evening’s entertainment.

John & Bartha Moulton Homestead, ca. 1910

John & Bartha Moulton Homestead, ca. 1910

The community was called Grovont. Mostly ranchers, the cattle raised were not for their own consumption. Their subsistence depended on elk meat, hung in winter and left to freeze until they wanted it, and hogs killed and cured in summer, then wrapped in newspapers to keep the flies away. Huckleberries were another staple along with garden vegetables they could grow in the short season: rutabagas and carrots predominated. The cattle they owned were to raise money for other necessities; the steers were driven to Victor, Idaho, to put on the train for Omaha and sales. But since the price of a steer could vary as much as between $29 and $600, income was not guaranteed. Some families traded hay, eggs or chickens, oats or cream for butter down in the town of Jackson. The Moultons, of Moulton barn fame (the most photographed barn in the country, apparently) had a dairy

Moulton Barn

Moulton Barn

and sold milk to the local dude ranches. In addition, there was trapping, and one could earn about $50 a month from coyotes.

So, was there any recreation in this subsistence-level existence? Of course! The Church was a major center of activity, not only for services but especially for dances. Everyone danced, and dances were twice a month at the church (but no drinking or smoking allowed).   Still, they lasted until 3 a.m., and there’s a story about the piano player having to tape his bleeding fingers. Christmas and Halloween parties were well attended, political rallies, weddings and harvest celebrations, and concerts and school plays, too. Even in winter, when temperatures could drop to -60, and -27 or so was a norm, irrigation ditches became ice skating rinks, and the butte afforded skiing and sledding, while in summer there was swimming in nearby water holes.

Andrew & Ida Chambers Homestead, ca. 1920

Andrew & Ida Chambers Homestead, ca. 1920

In 1925, the Gros Ventre mud slide on Sheep Mountain damned the Gros Ventre River east of nearby Kelly, Wyoming, and caused a lake to be formed. Two years later, the damn failed, flooding Kelly and killing six people, yet uncovering a warm spring that never freezes. The Mormons called it ‘The Miracle Spring’, and they dug ditches to bring the water that would never freeze to their homesteads year-round. So life went on, improved somewhat. Better houses were ordered from the Sears Roebuck Catalogue and shipped by rail to Victor, then brought by stage over the Teton Pass and erected by community effort. Other new houses were stucco with cement. Out-buildings were built: log barns, granaries, and pump houses. School, originally in someone’s living room before moving to the Church basement, finally had its own building when someone donated land. Mail came in by team or sleigh from Jackson or Moran. Kerosene and gas light gave way to electricity in the 1950s.

Thomas Perry Homestead, ca. 1910

Thomas Perry Homestead, ca. 1910

So, what happened to this vibrant community? Admittedly, it was at subsistence level, but the homesteaders had made a conscious choice of the life they wanted, and this was it. But in the 1950s, the government started a buy-out of the land that was unproductive. The Snake River Company, with Rockefeller money behind it, bought up marginal lands, and then moved in on the homesteaders whose older generation took the money, with life leases permitting them to stay their lifetimes. John Moulton was the last to close at his death in 1990. And so, this community became part of Grand Teton National Park.

So now, is it a ghost town or an historic site? What is the difference? Perhaps it is that a Ghost Town is abandoned, a place where subsistence is no longer viable. Mormon Row, the former community of Grosvont, could have continued, but Time and Progress overtook it. The people saw the sense of taking the money and running with it, of leaving the area for future generations that would appreciate the enlarged Grand Teton National Park. Yet, the ghosts are still there. It’s an historic site, yes, but one that resonates with its history, as well as lost possibilities, forgotten potential.

Today, the Church, which served as such a center of community life, serves as the Calico Pizza, my local restaurant in Wilson, Wyoming. I eat there yet see no ghosts, nor even history.DSCN1517

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My sincere thanks to Emily Winters, Director of Archives at the Jackson Hole Historical Society and Museum, for her assistance in my research for this article.

 

The Good, The Bad, & the Ugly of Deadlines: Pt. 2

Sydney St. Clair continues:

Today, I’ll finish talking about deadlines, those necessary evil’s of life. Let’s look at:

Types of Deadlines Writers Face

Completed Manuscripts This is the most common and the most important. None of the other deadlines can happen until you meet this one, and no one else will be able to meet their deadlines unless you meet yours. If you are not published yet, you will never be published unless you finish that manuscript or two or three. As said earlier, being productive and making progress is the key to making writing a career. Continue reading

The Good, The Bad, & the Ugly of Deadlines

For the next couple of weeks, I have fellow author from The Wild Rose Press, susan picSydney St. Clair visiting and talking about that dreaded part of author’s lives:  deadlines!

Sydney St. Claire is the pseudonym of Susan Edwards, author of 14 Historical Native American/Western/Paranormal romances and the author of the popular “White” Series. Continue reading

Cunning Inspiration: Dearest Darling and The Cunningham Cabin

20131018_155648Nothing takes my breath away quite so much as the landscape of northwestern Wyoming. If I say it leaves me speechless, you will understand how very difficult it is for me to relate the love affair I have with this small section of our vast country, how I feel no dictionary is complete enough to supply words to describe this patch of land where the earth has struggled like an indecisive artist to create high plains that stretch themselves into the harsh, jagged peaks of the Tetons. One can only feel reverence, one can only feel a minute speck in the vast panorama; it makes you realize how tiny and inconsequential you are in the scheme of things. So now, imagine how envious I am of those who are lucky enough to live there year-round compared to my two, comparatively brief stays each year. Then you can realize both the awe in which I hold those who homesteaded this unforgiving country and the jealousy I feel that they were able to live here. This is a land that gives you a sense of history, a sense of destiny. It is a geography of hope, forged by nature and hard won by man.

One of the men who would put his mark on this country was J. Pierce Cunningham. A fellow New Yorker, he arrived in the Jackson Hole area of the Tetons around 1885, aged about twenty. A few years later, he and his wife staked DSCN1349a claim under the Homestead Act, and thereby laid the foundations for what would become the Bar Flying U Ranch. The cabin they built, which under the Act had to be at least 12 x 12, was what is commonly known as a dogtrot or double-pen cabin, encompassing two separate rooms with a dogtrot or breezeway in-between. Although a more substantial home was eventually built, along with sheds, barns and other outbuildings, it is the original cabin that still stands today.

When I first visited Cunningham’s cabin I was immediately struck by the isolation of this remote location, how lonely it must have been in the 1880s. Although more than four hundred claims were filed in Jackson Hole in the latter part of the nineteenth century, the vastness of the valley meant there could be little interaction, especially during the harsh winter months. And this was a hardscrabble life; rocky soil led to high operating costs as ranchers struggled to feed their cattle during the long winter. The horrendous winter of 1886/87, as I described in my book Loveland, put an end to much of the open range ranching.DSCN1348

One might think, why do it then? I can only answer for myself as to what I feel when I stand there, surrounded by a landscape so startling, so inspiring, you feel purified, whole, inconsequential and ephemeral. Not having been born there, I cannot fathom my own attachment to this place, why I feel the oft-repeated need to return there, but it somehow cleanses me, clears my head. It was obvious that I somehow had to employ this site as the backdrop for a book. You might think it a poor reckoning, to use a setting so magnificent in my modest western historical romance.   After all, I could not possibly do it justice.

The view from Cunningham's cabin

The view from Cunningham’s cabin

But I have tried…

Dearest Darling comes out Oct. 8th from The Wild Rose Press.  To celebrate, I’ll be giving out copies of both this new novella and my full-length novel, Loveland, to up to 5 people who leave a comment.  The winners are Liz Flaherty, Eunice Boeve, Roni McFadden, Susan J. Tweit, and Rolynn Anderson.  Congrats to all and I hope you enjoy the books.

DearestDarling_w8647_750Stuck in a life of servitude to her penny-pinching brother, Emily Darling longs for a more exciting existence. When a packet with travel tickets, meant for one Ethel Darton, accidentally lands on her doormat, Emily sees a chance for escape. Having turned down the dreary suitors that have come her way, is it possible a new existence also offers a different kind of man?

Daniel Saunders has carved out a life for himself in Wyoming—a life missing one thing: a wife. Having scrimped and saved to bring his mail-order bride from New York, he is outraged to find in her stead a runaway fraud. Even worse, the impostor is the sister of his old enemy.

But people are not always as they seem, and sometimes the heart knows more than the head.

EXCERPT:

Emily liked the sound of his voice, low but not husky, a slight twang he had cultivated, but not pretentiously so. When he spoke, she envisaged melting caramel, something delicious, the way it could be so appealing as she stirred, with a shine and slow drip from the spoon, before it gradually solidified. Soothing. A liquid velvet.

But he hadn’t spoken today. Not since first thing when he’d told her to get ready. Not through breakfast, or as he helped clear dishes, or gave her a hand up into the wagon.

“You haven’t seen her. You didn’t see her picture, did you?” The questions came sudden, yet without malice.

Emily straightened, alert. “No. No, I didn’t.” Would I understand better? Is that what he meant?

“I keep it with me.” Daniel began to fish in his pocket. “Would you like to see it?”

“No. No, you keep it, please. It won’t change anything.” Emily panicked. She would be beautiful, the other, that would be the answer. So stunningly beautiful that just her photograph had enthralled him, mesmerized him into loving her. Emily couldn’t bear to look, didn’t want to know the answer. Didn’t wish to torture herself further. “And I’m sorry. I’m sorry for reading the letters.” A rush of words, they flowed out of her. “I should never have done that. It’s not like me. But you…well, you understand it seems—”

“You’re probably wondering what I see in her. Or what she sees in me. As for that, what she sees in me, I have no idea. Maybe, like you, she wishes to get away.”

Emily studied his profile, the planes and contours of his face, the eyes set straight ahead, the slouch hat low on his brow. He gave nothing away, was a man in control of his emotions, thinking, maybe still wondering how he had won that woman. Or maybe set on keeping the answer to himself.

Overhead, clouds scudded, scoured the sky, leached the blue, threatened.

“Did you ever ask her? Why you?”

“I did. She never answered. I’m thinking what she sees in me is husband material. I guess. She tells me about her day, the people she knows, what she does. As you read.”

“She just seems so…so outgoing, so…so very social to ever want this life. I found it difficult to believe.” She jutted her chin out, then turned to him, waiting.

He gave the reins a sharp shake. “I don’t know. I never asked if she knew what she was getting into. I described it. I assumed if she wanted to stop the correspondence there, she would have. I was pretty damn amazed and happy she’d wanted to come, written back even though I described the cabin to her, the isolation.” His gaze slid toward her.

“And you think she’ll make you a perfect wife, do you? Be happy living here? Cook your meals, mend your clothes, keep your cabin, have your babies?” Exasperated, she tried to make him think, think of what he was letting himself in for, how long a marriage like that could go on, how it could end up being even lonelier than he was now. Emily would seem to him to be trying to win him over rather than making him see the truth, but push him she must, save him, stop him. She knew those sorts of women, the debutantes, the socialites. Not a one would last out here, not for a single day.

His head snapped around to stare at her. “She’s been writing. She hasn’t stopped.”20131018_155503

Buy at: Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Dearest-Darling-Letters-Andrea-Downing-ebook/dp/B00NGWT816

The Wild Rose Press: http://www.wildrosepublishing.com/maincatalog_v151/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=195&products_id=5842

Riches to Rags: The Men Who Found Gold

1849 poster ad for ship to California Gold Rush

1849 poster ad for ship to California Gold Rush

Anyone who has ever studied history of the United States will associate the words, ‘Sutter’s Mill,’   in connection with the California Gold Rush of 1849.   They may know John Sutter as owner of that mill, and they may even know that it was James W. Marshall, Sutter’s foreman at the mill, who made the actual discovery of gold. After that, most history books go off into the gold rush itself, and its effect on the expansion of the United States, and the development of California in particular. Sutter and Marshall, now as then, get pushed aside.   Continue reading

Before They’re Gone–The Work of George Catlin

George-Catlin-frontispiece-200There are many artists known for their paintings of the West, but the one whose work enthralls me the most is George Catlin.  Working somewhat in the ‘naive’  style, Catlin’s life work was to capture the American Indian before they vanished, and this he did:  his subjects came from over fifty nations.

Born in 1796 in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, later moving to upstate New York, Catlin’s fascination with American Indians started at an early age. His mother had regaled him with her tales of being a captive of the Iroquois during the Revolutionary War, and his cheek bore a scar from a ‘tomahawk’ thrown in a childhood game.

Ojibwa woman, ca. 1832

Ojibwa woman, ca. 1832

An encounter in 1805 with an Oneida may also have influenced him.   Although he initially studied law, Catlin was accepted by the Philadelphia Academy of Fine Arts and started his career as a portraitist. Successful enough to be commissioned by clients such as Sam Houston and Dolly Madison, Catlin spent time in Philadelphia’s museums painting tribal costumes, weapons and ornaments brought back by Lewis and Clark. When a delegation of Native Americans came to Philadelphia in full regalia, his ambition took root. Continue reading

BE IT EVER SO HUMBLE: LIFE IN EAST HAMPTON, THEN AND NOW

Map in my possession showing the village on its 300th anniversary, 1948

Map in my possession showing the village on its 300th anniversary, 1948

It’s a source of some amusement to me that John Howard Payne, lyricist of the immortal ‘Home Sweet Home’ (“Be it ever so humble, there’s no place like home…”) spent his youth in East Hampton. In fact, the small colonial residence of his grandfather, where he lived, is now a museum, sitting on Main St. amongst a line of colonial and Victorian properties. But East Hampton is hardly known for its history. Programs such as ‘Royal Pains’ and ‘Revenge’ as well as a plethora of films, including ‘Something’s Gotta Give,’ continue to perpetuate the image of ‘The Hamptons’ as the enclave of the rich and famous. That’s hardly true of the entire population! And it certainly wasn’t always true… Continue reading

A Question of Bounty

Back in October 2012, Paul Colt visited this blog with a post about Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid.  Paul’s latest book, A Question of Bounty:  The Shadow of Doubt is published this month by Five Star.  Here he takes a second look at the death of Billy the Kid.

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Paul Colt

Paul Colt

Two years ago Andi gave me the opportunity to share one of my favorite historical controversies. Pat Garrett claims he killed Billy the Kid, July 14, 1881. John Poe, Garrett’s deputy on the scene that night—and others—question Garrett’s claim. They suggest he killed the wrong man and covered it up. Continue reading

Romancing the Vaquero

Anne croppedAnne Schroeder writes about the West in short stories, essays and two memoirs, Ordinary Aphrodite and Branches on the Conejo. Cholama Moon is her first published novel. The second novel in the series, Maria Ines, will be released later in 2014, both by Oak Tree Press. Continue reading

The Role of Newspapers in Kansas Territory

I felt an immediate affinity for my guest this month, Linda S. Johnston.Pub photo 2 copy  Not only are we the eastern stronghold of Women Writing the West, but we have both lived in Great Britain and have both moved house an inordinate amount of times. While I beat Linda in years spent in the U.K., she certainly outdoes me in moves—more than fifteen, including places as diverse as Margate,  England; Seattle, Continue reading