A REAL JACKSON’S HOLE DUDE: Jack Huyler’s Fine Long Ride

By on April 16, 2013

JACKSON HOLE, WYO – “If I could have been tsar, sitting on top of the Grand Teton, saying, ‘you may do this, you may not do that,’ I’d have prohibited golf in the Valley. It’s a great game, but it’s socially oriented. It immediately means elegant cars and elegant clothing, for some reason. I don’t know why, but it does. It promotes classes, and I don’t like social classes. That’s what I hate most. There never were any social classes in the old days.” – Jack Huyler

Photo cutline: Jack and Margaret walking back from the historic Rocking H barn, built by Mel Annis in 1928.

Photo cutline: Jack and Margaret walking back from the historic Rocking H barn, built by Mel Annis in 1928.

Coulter D. Huyler wanted air that hadn’t been breathed before. But no way did his son Jack wish to step foot in Jackson’s Hole – too dangerous! Gunslingers and outlaws mattered little to Jack, though he’d meet his fair share. The real problem was that Jack’s father was, among other things, a master storyteller; and, Jack along with his older brother, Coulter Jr., clearly inherited dad’s gift. In fact, Coulter Jr. convinced then six-year-old Jack that huge, hungry wolves ravaged through the territory, waiting to circle their rig as soon as they arrived.

“I was scared to death! My brother told me horror stories about wolves, how they’d chase ya,” Jack recalls, and says he had nightmares every night. “I really believed we’d get out of the train [in Bozeman], jump into the car, and head across the prairie as fast as we could go, with the wolves closing in fast behind. I was petrified!”

Indeed, young Jack would have sooner forgotten the whole thing. Fate, however, conspired with adventure and romance to considerably alter his perspective.

Extermination had pretty much eliminated wolves by 1926, when Jack’s family landed at the foothills of the Tetons. Jack soon learned that the real predators sucked blood like vampires, spreading disease and killing fine horses. Mosquitoes would become the Huylers’ true nemesis.

Still, six or seven weeks of seasonal flying fury couldn’t tarnish the romance of cowboy livin’, nor sully true love’s path. Jack was destined to fall in love in, and with, Jackson’s Hole. Bloodthirsty insects, after all, on six legs or two, avail fine fodder for a well-told story.

The Bear Paw

Jack’s father first saw Jackson’s Hole from a stagecoach passing through Yellowstone in 1898, when he was 12 years old. Twenty-seven years later, in 1925, he lit out with two friends from New York to hunt elk at the Elkhorn Ranch in Bozeman.

“Dad got his elk the first day,” Jack explains, “then told the other two fellas, ‘I’m gonna rent a car and go down to Jackson’s Hole.’ It was the boom days and none of those young men ever heard of the Depression,” Jack continues. “They were upwardly mobile young businessmen. Dad was in Jackson for three days and bought three ranches, one for each of them.”

With the prospect of a 160-acre “Jim Dandy” summer retreat for his own family, Coulter D. pointed his soft-top, two-bench-seat, touring car down the wagon track that was then the Moose-Wilson Road, to the mouth of Granite Canyon, where Eliza Seaton was chopping wood.

Jack’s highly acclaimed book, “And That’s the Way It Was In Jackson’s Hole,” describes the occasion:

“She was a bit deaf; she didn’t hear him until he was, perhaps, a hundred feet away. She sank the ax into the block, put her hand to her sacroiliac, and straightened up slowly. By then, the car was right next to her. Dad reached over, turned off the ignition, and said, ‘If you were to sell me this place, you’d never have to do that again.’ ‘Well, I just might,’ she responded; so dad got out of the car.”

Eventually, they agreed on a price, and Coulter D. asked Mrs. Jack Seaton to have the papers drawn up by July 1 of the following year. Eliza agreed, and with a handshake he wrote a check for the amount of the ranch in full right there.

“That handshake was the only contract or receipt [dad] ever had,” Jack recounts. “It was sufficient.” The following summer, Mrs. Seaton made good on her promise, Coulter D. took ownership, and soon the Huylers established a horse ranch.

“The first morning on the ranch, dad or mom noticed a big bear-paw print on the window, so dad named it the Bear Paw,” Jack says, adding, “Mardy Murie tells a good story about it in my most recent book, ‘Every Full Moon in August.’” Perhaps the bear had smelled something sweet, and come looking for a few world-famous Huyler’s Chocolates.

Sweet Success

The story of an East Coast chocolatier turned horse and dude rancher began with Jack’s grandfather, John, who died in 1910, having started his candy business in his mother’s kitchen. John left behind a booming candy business, then the biggest in the world. He had 14 stores in Manhattan; Tiffany’s present Manhattan jewelry store is on the site of one of the old Huyler candy stores.

Huyler’s was considered the best in the business. Immediately prior to launching his own empire in Lancaster, Pa., Milton S. Hershey worked for Huyler’s from 1883 to 1885, studying quality techniques that earned Huyler’s reputation as the finest chocolatier in the world. “When grandpa died he was worth over a million dollars,” Jack notes, a lot of cash in those days when billionaires didn’t yet exist.

Heir to his father John’s empire, Coulter D. was in the candy business when he came out to Jackson’s Hole, though he was thinking it high time to move on.

“Depression got dad. The ideal woman’s figure went from full to slim; a different view of what’s beauty. Women were beginning to smoke. The price of cigarettes was equal to a five-pound box of candy,” Jack explained. So, Coulter D. and his brothers began to divest themselves of the Huyler candy company in 1926.

Horses, Dudes, the Rocking H, and Grand Teton National Park

“Dad always was a horseman,” Jack notes. “As a child, he rode his pony through Central Park and up 5th Avenue, and by the time he reached 54th Street, you had to look out for the ducks, chickens and geese!

“He bought horses in Jackson for each member of the family in 1926. Then he decided maybe he’d expand, get out of the candy business, and into the horse business. It was a good time to buy horses because of the U.S. Calvary. But then it was shut down after WWII, about 1946 or ’47; the bottom went out of the horse market,” Jack digresses.

“So dad decided to buy horses and land to raise them. He needed more land; he needed to raise hay,” Jack explains. When the Depression came, the Bear Paw became a dude ranch, in 1932. “The fishing was pretty good and all you had to do was ride, and I loved it,” Jack says.

Jack describes himself as a horse trainer, never a cowboy. “I don’t know anything much about cattle, ’cuz we raised horses. Your best prospects were either polo ponies or ropin’ horses. The next best was the Cavalry. The Cavalry would take ’em just the way they did men: certain age, certain physical fitness and dimensions; they gave you a bottom to the market,” he explains.

Much of the additional land Jack’s father purchased lay to the east, across the Moose-Wilson Road, flanking the Snake River. The Rocking H was bought to take care of the horses, Jack says, and the Bear Paw was a more natural place to raise dudes.

“Dad sold some Rocking H land – 410 acres – to the Resors, in 1929; it was the start of the Snake River Ranch,” Jack notes. Meanwhile, the “Bear Paw was bubbling along as a very successful dude ranch. It was a big place. In the depths of the Depression, we still filled that ranch every summer,” Jack reflects.

“Dad was raising horses for the Cavalry, and a few cattle. “Two decades later, when the Cavalry phased out, there was no longer enough demand to support the horse business.

“In 1948, Dad sold the Bear Paw to Mr. John D. Rockefeller, who bought it for a family home – to be added to the JY acreage – not to be part of Grand Teton National Park,” Jack clarifies. “Mr. Rockefeller just wanted to get rid of the people. He didn’t want the buildings, so many were relocated onto the Rocking H.

“John D. said, ‘I want my grandchildren to be able to ride wherever they want in any direction without seeing anybody.’ He asked me if I could understand that. I said, ‘No sir, but I can respect it.’”

Laurence Rockefeller and his brothers used the Bear Paw Ranch after John D. died, then bequeathed it to the Park. Few landowners or ranchers supported the 1929 establishment of Grand Teton National Park. Under the pretense of purchasing lands for development purposes, the Rockefellers unobtrusively bought up valley rangeland to expand the Park. Years later, even the staunchest opponents to the Park’s creation came to change their minds.

“The Depression made it hard for people to hang onto their land,” Jack sympathizes. “That helped the Rockefeller cause, and the Park cause, but it made it hard for the small-time rancher or farmer to hang in there. So there were a lot of sales.”

“At a time when it had been said that all the supporters of the Park could have met in one telephone booth, we were among them,” Jack divulges. “I don’t like everything the Park does, but I remember when there were billboards along the road to Jenny Lake, for example. The whole valley would have been commercialized if it hadn’t been for the Park.”

In 1949, Jack’s family moved onto the Rocking H ranch. Jack’s father passed away in 1952. Quite a bit of history filled the spaces in between life on the Bear Paw and the Rocking H, and no one recounts that history better than Jack, himself. His priceless yarns in “And That’s the Way It Was in Jackson’s Hole” and “Every Full Moon In August”, are must reads for pure pleasure alone. But for Jack, the best part of all is his true love, the gal who became his lifelong companion, confidant and delightful best friend, Margaret Appenzeller Huyler.

True Love

Photo cutline: Margaret Appenzeller Huyler: April 23, 1919 – Sept. 11, 2005.

Photo cutline: Margaret Appenzeller Huyler: April 23, 1919 – Sept. 11, 2005.

Jack likes to point out that he and Margaret first slept together when they were three. Despite such intimacy right from the get go, it wasn’t until 1938, when she arrived at the Bear Paw for the first time, that Jack really fell hard for Margaret. Jack describes how it went:

“When Margaret first came to the ranch, she came as mother and dad’s guest. She was a missionary’s kid, and her parents were going back to Korea, and they thought she’d be lonely so they brought her to the ranch for two weeks. Well, she’d never ridden before so, of course, I put her on an old, secure horse. She took right to it. I guess we were all monkeying around down by the corrals, and I was probably trying to show off, I don’t know what I was doin’, but I looked around and she was standing up on her horse! I have that picture right here – standin’ up with both hands free. I was convinced. I said, ‘Boy, that’s for me!’ And I never changed my mind, not once!

“Summers on the dude ranch were heaven on earth to Margaret and me. We’d go riding every night. We used to swim from Moose to the ranch. The folks at the Bear Paw were a superb bunch of people. They stretched our intellect,” Jack relishes. “My father was a great storyteller. He’d sit around the main cabin with the guests after supper when the chores were over and tell stories. I’d give a thousand dollars for a tape of dad telling a story.”

No wonder their romance happily spanned nearly 70 years. Jack’s gravestone will read, “He left for the high country looking for mom.”

From the Bear Paw to China and Everywhere in Between

In 1942, Jack graduated from Princeton, married Margaret on March 28, and went straight into the U.S. Army. Wherever he was stationed at various posts around the country, Margaret joined him. “One night we didn’t have a room and we slept in the car,” Jack reflects.

In 1944, however, Captain John “Jack” S. Huyler shipped to China. Margaret waited for his return based in Honolulu, giving birth in his absence to their first son, John Jr., in 1945. Jack received Margaret’s cable a week afterwards. Upon Jack’s safe return, he says he gave Margaret all sorts of advice to stay home with the baby, but she said, “No way, I’m going where you go.”

Ruth Huyler was born in 1948, and younger brother Steve came along in 1952. In between, Jack started teaching “writing and riding” in 1949. “All I ever wanted to do was ride horses. But I had to go to school.  Every summer I was at the Bear Paw and every fall I was teaching in New England. Then I heard about Thatcher.”

Located in Ojai, Calif., horse races at Thatcher commenced in the 1880s as intramural events. Until 1977, Thatcher was a boys-only prep school. So, when Jack began teaching there in 1960, four guys on a rope making a Bucking Barrel buck was just prerequisite. Jack served as assistant headmaster for 10 years, until he retired in 1986. He was against Thatcher becoming a coed school but allows, “Most of my reasons have been proven wrong.”

More Horses and Cowboys, Genuine and Otherwise

Looking back, Jack laments there’s so little “real” ranching left in Jackson’s Hole now. He’d like to see a more dedicated awareness of the importance of Jackson’s past, “more horses, riders and cowboys, genuine and otherwise.”

“The greatest days in Jackson’s Hole life, in my mind, was the dude ranch days, the ’40s, when the four of us big ones – Triangle X, Whitegrass, Bear Paw, Happy Valley – got together every year for barbecues to raise money for the library, or the town ski hill or whatever,” Jack said. “A dude ranch rodeo every summer, where the cowboys from the different ranches competed for trophies rather than cash; it was a lot of fun.

“You know the sign on Teton Pass about ‘Howdy Stranger, Yonder Lies Jackson Hole, the Last of the Old West’?” he asks. “Well, that’s a little phony, but that’s kinda what we liked about the place a lot. It had an atmosphere, for example, until well after World War II, of a lot of horses in town … old, ersatz, genuine atmosphere. It’s gone!

“And skiing. Betty [Woolsey] and Ginny [Huidekoper] brought in a good winter economy. They didn’t damage the place. They enjoyed the natural skiing as much as their lifts, I think.

“But there’s no hope for an authentic Jackson Hole. It’s gonna end up a Williamsburg [Virginia]. Williamsburg’s a marvelous, beautiful place, a great testimony to our heritage. But it’s a total showplace; and that’s where Jackson Hole’s headed,” he says.

“Going back to my position as tsar, I’d say yes to anything that helped Mother Nature and no to anything that didn’t. The key word is preservation: preservation of natural resources; and, preservation of a Western way of life.  You can preserve more easily than you can recreate,” Jack warns.

Inclusive, Not Exclusive

“It used to be that anybody was welcome to cross anyone’s property if they left the gates the way they found them,” Jack notes. “I’d have gotten myself put in jail, probably, if I was still riding, ’cuz I’d have refused to accept closure of trails that have been there for a long time. The gated community is a class creator,” he says.

“Back to my position as tsar again, I’d promote fishing, swimming, photography, boating, riding; anything that does not encourage separation. There were no locked gates that I can remember when I was a kid. That’s a real loss,” Jack decries.

“The Huyler trophy for indoor polo had a thunder bucket on top; we played over at the rodeo grounds. That was the first polo in Jackson Hole. It didn’t promote social consciousness at all. Jackson Hole used to be inclusive and now it’s exclusive,” he says.

Regarding Jackson’s history of inclusivity, Jack fumes, “When it’s gone, it’s gone. Just like the wildlife, if it’s not protected, it’s gone!”

And America?

“I don’t know about America,” Jack responds. “I think things are pretty damn bad now. Abuse of natural resources is a shame.  Crooks were able to lead us into this Depression we’re in. None of ’em paid – maybe got slapped on the wrist, a couple of ’em jailed, but they have all kinds of money to buy them special treatment.”

Somebody That Loved Jackson’s Hole

Jack Huyler’s superb literary accounts attest to his love of Jackson’s Hole history. “My ambition when I retired was if I could get on the board, or maybe be president of the Historical Society, that would be my goal,” says Jack, now thrilled to have achieved this. “My aim was to combine the Historical Society and the Museum – they were two separate entities. We got it done together, over quite a bit of protest. I was proud of that.”

Jack wishes to be remembered as, “Somebody that loved Jackson’s Hole – the way it was more than the way it is.”  He adds, “Jackson’s Hole is like a beautiful woman – you can’t bear to see her prostituted. But that’s exactly what is happening. It’s the buck. It’s prostitution.”

Unable to return to his beloved Rocking H this year, Jack, now 93, concludes, “I’m lickin’ my wounds and getting ready to make a counter-attack next year, ’cuz I always wanted to die in Jackson’s Hole and my Margaret awaits.”

About Jeanne Ball

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