Resolute women of the Wild West

12 Sep 2023

Plenty of fearless females helped shape the history of Jackson Hole

Summer 2023

Written By: Heather Jarvis | Images: Lindsay Linton Buk and Collection of the Jackson Hole Historical Society and Museum

Jackson Hole has long been a land of strong, intrepid women. In the early days of settlement, families were drawn to the promise of free land with the Homestead Act of 1862. But it wasn’t for the faint of heart.

Surrounded by mountain ranges protecting the valley on all sides, early settlers had to endure harsh winters, short growing seasons, and isolation when the snow closed the valley off for at least six months of the year.

But plenty of fearless females joined their husbands, and some forged out on their own, in order to thrive in such a scenic area. Wyoming itself entered the nation in 1890 as the “Equality State,” having given women the right to vote and hold public office in 1869. And in Jackson Hole, it took plenty of grit and determination to survive and thrive in an area that truly defined the “Wild West,” with women equaling their male counterparts in ingenuity and determination.

From being the first state to give women the right to vote to Jackson’s all-female town council, the Wild West certainly wasn’t only a lifestyle for cowboys, but also the hardworking, rugged women who helped build Jackson Hole into what it is today. Here are a small handful of the notable women who helped shape its history.

The “Petticoat Rulers”

Jackson’s all-female town council established order in the Wild West of 1920 — the same year the 19th Amendment first granted women the right to vote across the country. In an election with the highest voter turnout the town had ever seen at that point, the five women — Mayor Grace Miller, Rose Crabtree, Mae Deloney, Genevieve Van Vleck and Faustina Haight — defeated an all-male roster by a margin of 2-to-1. The women are credited with personally collecting overdue taxes, bringing the town’s account from $200 to $2,000 in the first two weeks of their tenure, and appointed women into all other town positions. They also cleaned up the town by criminalizing littering, expanding electrical service, and “formalizing” a town square by prohibiting the grazing of cattle there. Unfortunately it didn’t set an immediate trend — Jackson did not see another woman in an elected position until the 1980s.

Tribute to Clarene Law

A Wyoming Icon
(Photo by Lindsay Linton Buk)

Clarene Law began her life as a businesswoman when she and her husband purchased The Antler Inn in Jackson Hole in 1962. Described as a self-made businesswoman and “matriarch of the tourism industry,” Clarene and her second husband expanded the family enterprise into one of the biggest lodging businesses in town, encompassing multiple motels with over 400 units. She made strides for business in Jackson when she created the Wyoming Business Council, and was an original member of the Jackson Town Planning Commission. Clarene spent 14 years in the state Legislature, and spoke of the importance of being a positive influence for other women. In a story about her passing in September 2022 in the Jackson Hole News & Guide, she was described as “probably the best known woman in Jackson Hole.”

Geraldine Lucas

Geraldine Lucas was known in the valley for her eccentricity and obstinate opinions. Not one to conform to society standards, six months into her pregnancy and marriage at the age of 21, Geraldine divorced her husband and moved to New York to work as a teacher before eventually joining her siblings in Jackson Hole around 1912. She filed for and acquired an almost 160-acre parcel directly underneath the Grand Teton after nine years of bureaucratic hurdles, where she lived with no electricity or plumbing. Guided by Paul Petzoldt, Geraldine, at age 58, reached the summit of the Grand Teton in 1924, the second recorded woman to accomplish the climb. In her final years, she vehemently refused all offers on her land by the Snake River Land Company, and began making arrangements to donate the property to Oberlin College before dying in her sleep. The homestead and property went to her son, where it changed hands a few times before it was given to Jackson Hole Preserve and eventually Grand Teton National Park.

Margaret “Mardy” Murie

Mardy Murie moved to Jackson Hole with her conservationist husband Olaus in 1927 to study the deteriorating elk populations. In 1945, the Muries purchased a ranch in Moose, living on the property and later hosting Wilderness Society annual meetings there when Olaus became president. The couple increasingly worked together to encourage legislation to protect America’s wilderness resources until Olaus died in 1963. Mardy, however, continued to work as a wilderness advocate, writing speeches, letters, books and appearing in movies, with her work featured around the world. She received the Audubon Medal, the Sierra Club John Muir Award, the Wilderness Society Bob Marshall Award and a Presidential Medal of Freedom for her work in conservation. Mardy sold the ranch to Grand Teton National Park in 1968, and the Murie Center continues to educate park guests on the importance of conservation and natural resource protection.

Elizabeth “Betty” Woolsey

A climber, professional ski racer, accomplished horsewoman and writer, Betty Woolsey made her way to Jackson Hole to live in 1942 after her ski-racing career peaked when she won the U.S. National Downhill Championship in 1939. On the first of many traverses down Teton Pass, Betty found a piece of land that she soon after purchased, turning it into a dude ranch, where she lived and worked until her passing in 1997. On top of ranching, she guided skiers through the back- country in the winter, and led pack trips into the wilderness in the summer, often relying on a catch of trout for dinner. Trail Creek Ranch continues to operate on 270 acres today.

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