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News & Press: Community Spotlights

AIC Shines Its Community Spotlight on Tetonia

Friday, August 10, 2018  
Posted by: Gay Dawn Oyler
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Main Street, Tetonia, Idaho

Tetonia lies in the upper Teton Basin (Valley) about six miles west of the Idaho/Wyoming border. The Teton River, a tributary to the Snake River, is four miles west of the city. The Grand Teton Mountain Range, rising up to 13,771 feet, forms the valley’s eastern boundary. Even though the eastern slope of the Grand Teton Mountains—viewed from the Jackson Hole, Wyoming, area—is the most stunning and famous, the west slope of the mountains is also spectacular.

Eight miles southwest of the city are the Big Hole Mountains, rising to over 9,000 feet.

About 21 miles due north is the southwest corner of Yellowstone National Park. However, using surface roads, the park entrances are much more distant. Most of the park is in Wyoming; however, the western two and a half miles of the park extend into Idaho and Montana.

Fertile farms and ranches surround the city. Driggs and Victor are nine and 17 miles south, respectively. Rexburg is 40 miles west.

Historical Tidbits
In 1808 two years after his discharge from the Lewis and Clark expedition, John Colter was one of the first white men to enter the beaver-rich Teton Valley.
At this time, Coulter was camped with a village of about 800 Crow Indians on a flat between Teton and Leigh Creeks near what are now Tetonia and Driggs. A war party of about 1,500 Gros Ventre (Blackfoot) Indians attacked the camp. Colter’s marksman skill with a rifle was a decisive factor in repulsing the attackers.
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, for sport, released him to run for his life, barefoot 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 Missouri, content to spend his remaining days on his farm.
Around 1818 French-Canadian trappers began arriving in the Teton Valley. One of the trappers was an Iroquois Indian named Vieux Pierre. Pierre reported the potential of the beaver-rich valley—called “holes”—to the Hudson’s Bay Company. They designated the valley “Pierre’s Hole.”
In 1832 Pierre’s Hole was the location of rendezvous for traders, trappers and Indians. At the rendezvous, trading companies packed in tobacco, whisky, gunpowder, traps, clothing, food and supplies to trade for furs.
At the conclusion of one of the 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 recognized and killed a Gros Ventre chief who came to parley. A fierce battle ensued with numerous deaths on both sides. The battle ended with the Gros Ventre men, women and children escaping quietly into the night.
By 1840 the beaver had been trapped out. Few white men came into the valley until the early 1860s. Energized by the bonanza gold discoveries a hundred miles north in what is now western Montana, prospectors searched area streambeds for the precious metal. Finding none, they moved on.
In the early 1880s a stream of settlers, principally coming up from Utah Territory, began filing homestead claims in the Upper Snake River Plain.
On June 1, 1882, Hiram C. Lapham—with his wife, children and brother—came into the Teton Valley to establish a ranch and raise cattle. Before moving to the valley, Hiram had taught school for a year 150 miles west in Albion.
In January 1883 leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Church) asked Thomas E. Ricks to lead a large party of settlers from Utah to settle and build communities in the Upper Snake River Plain. Under Ricks’ leadership, they established Rexburg and several other communities. About 1,420 people had established settlements in Ricks' ecclesiastical jurisdiction by the end of 1884, with more coming each year. Initially, the nearest post office for area settlers—including those few that had come into the Teton Valley—was Rexburg.
In 1888 Utah emigrants Mathoni Pratt and Thomas Wilson came into the Teton Valley to evaluate its settlement possibilities. They found the valley sparsely settled, but promising. 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 to the Teton Valley. From 1888 to 1890 about 300 families immigrated to the valley. Those settling on the north end of the valley named their community Tetonia, after the nearby Teton Mountain Range.
These settlers were primarily members of the Church. Church leaders organized and named the valley’s first ecclesiastical unit in what is now Driggs. They named the unit the Aline Ward. Members in the outlying communities, such as Tetonia, were made branches and held church services in their own communities.
In 1894 B.W. Driggs petitioned postal authorities for a post office named Aline with Driggs as postmaster. The petition bore the signature of many people named Driggs. Postal authorities approved the post office with the name of “Driggs.”
Ranching and farming underpinned the valley’s 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 irrigation canals and ditches. Some settlers began building water-powered sawmills on the larger streams to produce lumber for their homes and barns.
Most farms had milk cows. In 1893 Samuel Kunz established the valley’s first cheese factory. This cheese-making facility encouraged more farmers to increase their dairy herds and build more creameries and cheese factories.
Music and dancing were common forms of community entertainment. E. Beesley, a noted fiddler, and Charles Carr, a local carpenter, built a dance hall in Driggs. Tetonia residents often traveled by buggy to the dances held in the Driggs Dance Hall.
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.
In 1906 Dr. Ora Keith, an unmarried woman, began a medical practice in Driggs. 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, located in Driggs, published its first edition.
On November 18, 1910, Tetonia became an incorporated village.

Beautiful Setting

In 1879 artists Thomas and Peter Moran, noted for their paintings of the Teton Mountains, came into the valley. 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.”

Amenities and Attractions Today

Tetonia business interests have combined with the business interests in the cities of Driggs and Victor to form the Teton Valley Chamber of Commerce.

The city’s most prominent amenity is its scenic location. The Teton River, fed by numerous mountain streams, is an excellent trout fishery. Its rapids are also an attraction to white water kayak and canoe enthusiasts.

Hiking, biking and horseback riding is 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. Bikers and hikers use the abandoned railroad track that runs through Tetonia. The portion of the trail between Driggs and Victor is paved.

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 back-country skiing and snowmobile touring in the adjoining public lands.

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