Jackson Hole was the center of the Fur Trade for a short period in the 1820s and 1830s due to the abundance of beaver. This squat brown mammal (once decreed a fish by the Bishop of Quebec, to fit dietary law) was once abundant throughout North America. Fur trappers venturing west to collect beaver pelts (referred to as “soft gold”) pioneered many overland routes from the Mississippi River plains to the coastal reaches of California and Oregon before the shift in fashion from beaver felt hats to silk chapeaus ended the trade. Once numbering over 60 million, the North American beaver population had been reduced to an estimated 100,000 by the 1840s. (Don’t be alarmed: their numbers have rebounded to an estimated 20 million, and we see them frequently on our evening float trips down the Snake.)
Osbourn Russell, a fur trapper who worked along the Snake River in what is now Grand Teton National Park during the waning years of the fur trade left us with a lively diary of his adventures. This diary is available online, and like many first-hand accounts of the time, includes some fascinating editorializing and dubious “facts” about the place we know as Jackson Hole.