It was April 6, 1930 when the citizens of Jackson Hole, in Teton County Wyoming, and the adjacent area learned who was behind the recent and prolific purchases of land and ranches in the valley. The Snake River Land Company had spent the previous two years acquiring vast amounts of real estate in western Wyoming near the recently dedicated Grand Teton National Park. It was on that day that Wyomingites learned John D. Rockefeller Jr., a New York billionaire, was the money behind the Snake River Land Company. The nefarious motive behind the plot was to donate the land to the federal government for annexation to Grand Teton National park in order to conserve and protect it for generations to come! How dare a rich guy do something good for humanity and the environment! Of all the nerve!
Rockefeller made good on his intentions by offering over 30,000 acres of land he had amassed as a gift to the country. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, recognizing a political hot potato when he saw it, stalled and delayed. For more than ten years, the president refused to accept the donation. Hearings were held on the local and national level, congress played politics with the plan, but they weren’t willing to act on it.
Finally, in 1942, Rockefeller gave the president an ultimatum. He threatened to sell the land to developers if the government didn’t take it. Roosevelt, not wanting that to happen, needed a way to accept the land, without approval from congress. Using his authority under the Antiquities Act (which had previously been used only for protection of archaeological sites), he created Jackson Hole National Monument.
The predictable political ruckus ensued in congress, but that was nothing compared to what was happening in Wyoming. In a fit of outrage, the local ranchers staged a protest worthy of a Hollywood blockbuster. The locals organized a “posse.” They set out on horseback, whooping and hollering, and drove over 500 head of cattle out to graze on the newly minted National Monument. In their eyes, this egregious act of federal overreach could not stand. In the ensuing years, a bill to abolish the Monument passed both houses of congress. President Roosevelt vetoed it. At long last, in 1950, after numerous debates, and bills passing and failing, the Jackson Hole National Monument was absorbed by Grand Teton National Park.
Cliff Hansen, the cowboy who led the rebellion over the monument, later went on to become Wyoming’s governor and a U.S. senator. He was also a big enough man to admit he was wrong. “I want you all to know that I’m glad I lost, because I now know I was wrong,” Hansen said during a luncheon in New York in 1967. “Grand Teton National Park is one of the greatest natural heritages of Wyoming and the nation and one of our great assets.”