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The Original Dude Ranches of Jackson Hole, WY

Jackson Hole, WY is home to some of the oldest North American dude ranches. One of the final frontiers to be settled, Jackson Hole ranches were hardly even out of use when city slickers started heading out to the country in search of a slower paced vacation. Jackson Hole is surrounded the Tenton Mountain Range, which rises more than 7,000 above the valley floor, this lying land is also riddled with rivers and streams, making the habitat ideal for Beavers and other fur-bearing animals.

Jackson is the only incorporated town in the valley, the town was named in 1893 for Davey Jackson, the first white man to endure the harsh Wyoming winter in the low lands. The first people to settle the region were the Native Americans, and then fur trappers, but the homesteaders that established ranches were the first year-round residents of the valley, however they soon discovered that the soil in this area is not ideal from growing crops, so the valley was used primarily for cattle.

In 1893, historian Frederick Jackson Turner stated that the American Frontier was demographically ‘closed’. Following this announcement, many people began to experience nostalgia for the once wild west. While some Guest Ranches were operating in the 1800s, most of them opened in the 20th century. The trend grew considerably after WWI given post war economic prosperity, invention of the motorcar, and the era of the ‘Western’ movie, these all served to bolster the growing industry of vacation ranches. 

Below are some photos for LIFE magazine by photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt, exploring the town of Jackson Hole, and the surrounding valley area in 1948.

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