Native History: Grand Teton National Park Created on Shoshone Homeland
This Date in Native History: On February 26, 1929, President Calvin Coolidge signed a bill to create Grand Teton National Park, setting aside a 96,000-acre tract of land that included the magnificent Teton mountain range and six glacial lakes in northwest Wyoming.
It was the first step in a controversial, 52-year journey that led to the park’s present-day dimensions of 310,000 acres. The land, which park spokeswoman Jackie Skaggs called “a park of purity,” includes part of the Snake River, the broad valley of Jackson Hole and the regal, iconic mountain peaks that rise nearly 7,000 feet above the valley floor.
“We are a park that evolved through controversy and eventually compromise,” Skaggs said. “There was a lot of political intrigue in the creation of the present-day park.”
The Teton Range—which comprises the grand, middle and south peaks, along with Mount Owen, Teewinot Mountain and Mount Moran—is part of the ancestral homeland of the Shoshone people, who used the Native word teewinot to describe the range’s “many pinnacles.”
That name is a sharp contrast to les trois tetons, which is attributed to French explorers in the early 1800s who looked at the mountains and called them “the three teats.”
The earliest evidence of indigenous people in the area dates back more than 10,000 years, said Laine Thom, a park ranger and naturalist at Grand Teton National Park. Before white settlers arrived in 1884, the nomadic Shoshone people occupied the area for thousands of years.
“They didn’t live there year-round because of the long, hard winters,” said Thom, who is Shoshone, Goshute and Paiute. “In the summer, they followed game there. They also gathered different types of vegetation for medicine and food.”
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