A Western Heritage

09 Jun 2019

Ranching Family Focuses on Conservation

Summer 2019

Written By: Monica Fedrigo | Images: David Bowers and Courtesy Triangle X Ranch

“I’m passionate about protecting wildness,” John Turner says. “You steward your resources for the long run—I learned that as a rancher. We never know what critical role each part will play in sustaining all of us.”

John and his brother, Harold, and their late brother, Donald, are the third generation of Turners to have lived on and operated the Triangle X Guest Ranch in Grand Teton National Park. As the fourth and fifth generations continue the 93-year tradition, the protected wilderness areas surrounding the ranch provide resources, unparalleled natural beauty, and memories for the Turner family and guests of the ranch.

John recalls his childhood growing up on the ranch. “We did not have electricity,” he says. “Everything was wood stoves, ice out of beaver dams for cooling, and self-sufficiency.” His brother Harold adds, “To be born in the horse and buggy era, and now be in the technology age, it’s really been quite a ride.”

The passing of time has not lessened the responsibility the Turners feel for the ranch, or the cherished protected spaces surrounding it. The family still provides guests with the opportunity to enjoy the vast wild areas through horseback riding, river trips, fishing, extended pack trips, and hunting. And sometimes guests become family. Robert, Lucas, and their grandfather all met their wives at the ranch.

The Turners agree that protected wild spaces define the character of Triangle X, and of the valley as a whole, and they also view protecting Western traditions as an important part of their legacy. “We’re preserving the culture as much as the land,” Lucas says. “The culture of the Old West, and the ranching lifestyle.”

John’s desire to protect wild spaces, open lands, and wildlife habitat grew from a childhood on the Triangle X Guest Ranch, as well as from friends and mentors like legendary conservationists Olaus and Mardy Murie and the Craighead brothers. After earning a masters degree in wildlife ecology from the University of Michigan, John launched a political career that included 19 years in the Wyoming State Legislature. He ultimately served as the director of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, where he worked to reintroduce wolves into Yellowstone, among many other projects.

Each Turner has memories of a life centered around the wilderness. John recalls wrangling horses while riding bareback over Two Ocean Pass, and an instance, while headed to a legislative meeting in Casper in the 1970s, when he observed an injured golden eagle next to the road. The Teton Raptor Center hadn’t been established yet, so John—who was trained in eagle and raptor research and knew how to safely rescue and rehabilitate animals—took action. “I had a suit and tie on,” John says. “I stopped my car and got the eagle, wrapped an overcoat around him, and fastened him in with a seat belt.”

"We’re preserving the culture, as much as the land. The culture of the Old West, and the ranching lifestyle" Lucas Turner

That wasn’t the only eagle he rescued over the years. Once, he brought a bald eagle with a broken wing to St. John’s emergency room for X-rays. He called ahead and friends working at the hospital told him to bring the eagle on in. A vet worked to repair the bird’s humerus with a plate, and John worked to help the eagle recover. Several months later, he released it into the wild.

“When that eagle grew stronger and eventually was able to fly away, he took off, headed down over the sagebrush meadows, just soaring, and all at once shot straight up into the sky,” John recalls. “There wasn’t a dry eye on the Triangle X Ranch. That eagle, we’d float the river, he’d tolerate us floating pretty close to him and we could see he was doing fine. A magnificent bird.” The eagle even inspired John to write a children’s book, published by Random House, entitled “The Magnificent Bald Eagle.”

Robert recalls a wild experience of his own on a pack trip in 1995. “Twenty miles in the wilderness, one of the horses was pregnant,” he says. “I kept checking on her, and at 3:30 in the morning there was a little horse next to her.” With springtime runoff swelling rivers, Robert took special care of the newborn. “We kept mother and baby at camp while he got stronger, and my cousin and I helped get them out. When the colt had trouble or got tired, we carried him.”

With so many family members working hard to keep the family ranch going, Lucas sums up their shared sentiment. “We all love the ranch, and the best part is being close to family, and working with family,” he says. “Every single Turner is involved—this is a family business.”

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