AIC Shines Its Community Spotlight on Driggs
Friday, January 29, 2016
Posted by: Gay Dawn Oyler
Driggs City Hall
Driggs lies in the Teton Valley three miles west of the Idaho/Wyoming border. On the eastern side of the valley, the mountains of the famous Grand Teton Range rise to 13,771 feet. Eight miles west, the Big Hole Mountains rise to over 9,000 feet.
The mountain ranges make for spectacular sunrises and sunsets. In the mornings, the sun rising over the Grand Tetons lights up the Big Hole Mountains. The evening sunsets create a colorful glow on the Grand Tetons.
About 30 miles north is the southwest corner of Yellowstone National Park. However, using surface roads, the park entrance is about 90 miles away. Two and a half miles of the western side of Yellowstone National Park are in Idaho.
The Grand Targhee Resort is about 20 miles northeast of the city in Wyoming. The only surface road access to the resort is through Driggs.
When Lewis, Clark and their Corps of Discovery were returning from their successful expedition to the Pacific Ocean in 1806, they stopped at the Mandan Indian Villages in what is now North Dakota. There they met two frontiersmen, Joseph Dickson and Forest Hancock. Dickson and Hancock were coming up the Missouri River on their way to trap beaver on the Yellowstone River.
John Colter, a member of the Lewis and Clark expedition, requested and received an honorable discharge from Lewis and Clark so that he could join Dickson and Hancock. Two years later, Colter became one of the first white men to enter the beaver-rich Teton Valley.
While camped with a village of about 800 Crow Indians on a flat between Teton and Leigh Creeks near what is now Driggs, a war party of about 1,500 Gros Ventre (Blackfoot) Indians attacked the camp. Colter’s skill with a rifle was a decisive factor in repulsing the attack.
Colter then traveled north and was the first white man to discover what is now Yellowstone National Park. It was during these travels that he came upon a band of Gros Ventre Indians who recognized him as the rifleman they faced earlier. They captured Colter, stripped him of his clothes and released him to run for his life with spear-wielding Indians in hot pursuit. Colter lost his pursuers and eventually found his way to a camp of white traders. He then returned to his farm in Missouri where he spent his remaining days.
Around 1818 French-Canadian trappers began arriving in the Teton Valley.
The beaver were trapped out by 1840. Following the discovery of placer gold over 100 miles north in what is now western Montana in 1862, prospectors came into the Teton Valley, but had little success.
Artists Thomas and Peter Moran, noted for their paintings of the Teton Mountains, came into what is now Driggs in 1879. Thomas wrote, "The Tetons here loomed up grandly against the sky and from this point it is perhaps the finest pictorial range in the United States or even in N. America."
Hiram C. Lapham—with his wife, children and brother—came from Kansas to the Teton Valley on June 1, 1882, to settle and raise cattle. Before moving to the valley, Hiram taught school for a year in Albion.
Over the next five years, settlement in the valley progressed slowly. The first dwellings were log cabins with earthen floors and roofs covered with poles, brush and sod.
In early 1883 leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Church) asked Thomas E. Ricks to lead the first party of settlers from Utah to settle and build communities in the Upper Snake River Plain. Over 1,400 people had established settlements in Ricks’ ecclesiastical jurisdiction by the end of 1884, and hundreds more came each year. Rexburg was about 40 miles to the west of the Teton Valley and was the nearest post office.
Utah emigrants Mathoni Pratt and Thomas Wilson came into the Teton Valley in 1888 to evaluate its settlement possibilities. Though sparsely settled, they found the valley promising. However, some of the settlers sought to dissuade them from coming, asserting that the valley was "…a rendezvous for horse thieves and outlaws."
Pratt and Wilson were unimpressed with the settlers’ tongue-in-cheek description of the valley. They returned to Utah with glowing reports. Primarily through word-of-mouth, emigrant families began planning the 400-mile wagon trip from Salt Lake City. From 1888 to 1890 about 300 families moved to the valley—several with the last name of Driggs.
These settlers were primarily members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Church leaders organized them into an ecclesiastical unit named the Aline Ward. As a result, the community was generally called Aline.
Most farms had milk cows. In 1893 Samuel Kunz established the valley’s first cheese factory and encouraged farmers to increase their dairy herds. One year later, another cheese factory opened in Driggs.
At the same time B.W. Driggs petitioned postal authorities for the Aline Post Office with himself as postmaster. The petition bore the signature of many people named Driggs. Postal authorities rejected the Aline name but approved the petition with a different name—the Driggs Post Office.
Ranching and farming underpinned the Driggs economy. Following the construction of shelters, the settlers’ first priorities were plowing the ground for gardens, hay, grain and other crops; building diversion dams on the streams; and digging irrigation canals and ditches. Some settlers began building water-powered sawmills on the larger streams to produce lumber for their homes and barns.
By late 1901 Henry and Elen Harper Wallace, whose son Howard was one of the first settlers, platted the Driggs townsite on their 160 acres. In preparing the plat, they named the streets Little, Wallace, Ashley, Howard and Harper after members of their family.
Music and dancing were common forms of community entertainment. Around 1915 the City donated land to E. Beesley, a noted fiddler, and Charles Carr, a local carpenter, for construction of a two-story building at the corner of Little and Main Streets with a dance hall on the upper floor. The building is now Key Bank.
For many years, the availability of professional medical care was limited. The Church organization for women, the Relief Society, trained several women to be midwives. These women often traveled long distances in dangerous weather to serve their patients. Their pay was often food or produce.
Dr. Ora Keith, an unmarried woman, began a medical practice in Driggs in 1906. For the next decade, she made house calls, even in blizzards, with a team of horses pulling her buggy. In her honor, many people named their children Ora or Keith.
On April 15, 1909, The Teton Valley News published its first edition.
On May 23, 1910, with a town population of about 200, the Fremont County Commission approved the citizens’ application to make Driggs an incorporated village. Its status changed to a city in 1967 due to a change in state municipal law.
Rendezvous and Confrontations
One of the French-Canadian trappers who began arriving in the Teton Valley around 1818 was an Iroquois Indian named Vieux Pierre. Pierre reported the beaver-rich valley to the Hudson’s Bay Company, which named it "Pierre’s Hole." Valleys were often called "holes."
In 1832 Pierre’s Hole was the location of a prominent rendezvous for traders, trappers and Indians. At the rendezvous, trading companies exchanged tobacco, whisky, gunpowder, traps, clothing, food and supplies for furs.
At the conclusion of this rendezvous, events turned deadly when about 100 of the departing fur trappers and their Indian allies encountered a tribe of several hundred Gros Ventre Indians. Two of the Indians traveling with the trappers killed a Gros Ventre chief who came to parley. A fierce battle ensued with numerous deaths on both sides. The battle ended with the remaining Gros Ventre men, women and children escaping quietly into the night.
Amenities and Attractions Today
The City of Driggs has over 28 acres of parks, some of which are under development.
Driggs City Park is a five-acre parcel in the heart of town. It has mature trees, shrubs, a pavilion, a Little League baseball diamond, a t-ball field, a fire pit, an outdoor basketball court, a children’s playground, a winter ice skating rink and an athletic field.
Lion’s Park is a three-acre, tree-lined park with an athletic field used principally for Little League baseball and soccer.
The eight-acre Fifth Street Park has not yet been fully developed. Amenities of this former gravel pit include a skate park with a Dreamland-designed 10-to-five-foot-deep bowl, a BMX bicycle track and a 9-hole Disc Golf Course with most of the holes located on eight acres leased to the City. Nature trails wind through the wooded portion of the park.
There are several smaller parks including neighborhood subdivision parks that offer picnic areas, pedestrian paths, children’s playgrounds, basketball courts and sand volleyball.
Several community and private groups have donated use of their property to create a 2 ½ mile Nordic skiing and skating track, part of which runs near the high school.
Golf is available at several nearby resorts and communities.
The city’s most prominent amenity is its scenic location. The Teton River, fed by numerous mountain streams and flowing near the eastern and southern borders of the city, is an excellent trout fishery. Its rapids are also an attraction to white water kayak and canoe enthusiasts.
Hiking, biking and horseback riding are available on hundreds of miles of national forest trails that begin a short distance from the city. Many of these trails interconnect with trails in Grand Teton National Park. The Driggs-Victor Trail is a paved path on the abandoned railroad track that once ran between the two cities.
In the winter, many of the trails used for hiking and biking in the summer become groomed Nordic skiing trails. The Grand Targhee Resort also offers backcountry skiing and snowmobile touring in the adjoining public lands.
The Teton Arts Council provides art classes and shows, music performances and live theatrical performances. The Teton Valley Foundation also brings cultural, educational and recreational events to the city.
Nonprofit groups work to enrich the lives of local residents and protect cultural and natural values. The Teton Valley Trails and Pathways supports improvement and maintenance of local trails. Friends of the Teton River and the Teton Regional Land Trust help maintain the area’s natural beauty and wildlife habitat. The Teton Valley Recreation Association facilitates organized sports.
The Driggs City Center is a popular location for community meetings and events. The Driggs Senior Center offers affordable lunches three times a week.
The Teton Valley Museum has displays and exhibits highlighting early pioneers, mountain men and American Indians. There is an antique warplane collection at the airport.
Historic buildings include the "Corner Drug," a cut-stone two-story structure built in 1906. The bottom floor was always a drug store. However, the top floor was originally used for high school classrooms and later a courtroom.
The two-story Key Bank building was built in 1916 with offices on the ground floor and a dance hall on the upper level.