What was homesteading? The federal government provided anyone twenty-one years of age who was a head of a household (including single, divorced or widowed women) with 160 acres free of charge.
At home in the Valley
The only requirements were a nominal filing fee, and that the filer “prove up” on the land. This meant living on the land for at least five years, building a house and making land improvements such as irrigating and farming the land, and building fences. Communities sprang up to support homesteaders who shared the vision of success in a land of extremes.
The first homesteaders arrived in Jackson Hole in 1884 and were primarily bachelors. They were practical people, seeking out land that had water and grassy meadows that would be more likely to support farming and ranching. Initially, homesteaders chose land near Wilson and south of Jackson. Five years later, families from Utah began to arrive from Idaho over Teton Pass. They settled Mormon Row and other parts of the valley.
Families were mostly self-sufficient and worked hard. They produced their own dairy products, had gardens, raised beef, and hunted elk. They also bartered their extra goods with others. Even so, settlers barely subsisted and had to turn to creative ways to make a living. Family income was supplemented by outfitting and guiding, thrashing hay for others, and by raising and selling chickens and pigs for meat and eggs. Many homesteaders moved on, selling their homesteads to other ranchers who increased their acreage and chance of success.