Sometimes you make discoveries in your own home. In my case, the discovery was in Gray’s antique map of the Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho territories from 1875, just after the Hayden Survey and the exploration and formation of Yellowstone National Park. The other day, I was gazing at the map in a semi-distracted state when the placement of Jackson Lake and the Tetons caught my eye. It jumped out at me because of a passage I had read way back in the 1980’s when I was researching information that I would use when starting out as a Barker-Ewing River Guide on the Snake River in Grand Teton National Park.
It turns out that being a boatman is more than just getting yourself and a few sightseers down the river safely. We are expected to inform and entertain – which means we have to do our homework. Back in the day, one of the primary sources of quick information about Jackson Hole was a short booklet by Orrin H. and Lorraine G. Bonney called Bonney’s Guide, Grand Teton National Park & Jackson’s Hole. The Bonneys were well known in environmental and mountaineering circles, and published many guides like this one.
One passage in the Bonney’s Guide stuck in my memory because it suggested that the name Tetons originally belonged to a different trio of peaks. The passage reads: “The original “Trois Tetons” were 3 buttes in the Idaho plains named with blunt vividness by the early French Hudson’s Bay trappers for their silhouetted likeness to the female breasts. This name was later transposed to these summits…” Having split my time between Bozeman, Montana and Jackson Hole since 1980, I have had ample opportunity to search for these so-called “land breasts” in Idaho, to no avail.
Which brings me to the map. My wife loves maps and does quite a bit of reading about maps and mapping expeditions. She found and framed this map of our tri-state area and it has been hanging on our wall for years. I recently spent some time with it, and labeled right on the map in Idaho were Three Tetons and Mount Hayden (Grand Teton to us). I then looked a bit harder, and noticed that the Wyoming-Idaho border as shown on this antique map is about 40 miles too far east, putting the Tetons and Jackson Lake in Idaho. Eureka! The solution to my quest. The Tetons were right in front of my eyes all along – it was the darn map that was wrong, and the Bonneys must have consulted it (or something like it) when penning their Teton tale. As we all know, the boundary between Idaho and Wyoming runs along the western edge of the Teton range, and not along the east side of Jackson Lake, as shown on this map. The actual boundary places the Tetons firmly in Wyoming where they belong and may explain why it was once thought the name had been transposed from a location in Idaho.
By the way, Bonney’s Guide is still available. It is still a great resource of trivia and facts for those investigating Jackson Hole and Grand Teton National Park. The book is set up as a series of “drives” so that a visitor can enjoy self-guided tours of our beautiful region – a popular activity in these parts. But if you want to let someone else do the driving, and the talking, then meet me on the river!