HISTORY OF THE TETONS
Blackfeet, Gros Ventres, Bannock, and Snake Indians frequented the Tetons before the arrival of white men. Explorers and trappers trekked through the area between 1807 and the mid-1800’s, leaving place names such as Mt. Jedediah Smith, Mt. Meek, and Leigh Creek.
Survey Peak, Buck Mountain, and Mt. Bannon document the era of geographers and geologists. The Hayden Geological Survey made the first comprehensive scientific studies of the area in 1872 while camped in Teton Canyon. The first photographers of the Teton Range were made at this time by William Jackson near Table Mountain.
The years following the Civil War were notorious for outlaws who hid-out in the mountains to escape the law. Horse thieves corralled stolen herds in mountain meadows such as Hidden Corral Basin, until brands healed then sold the horses in adjacent valleys.
In the 1890s, prospectors, loggers, and ranchers came to Teton country and the valleys were soon settled. Records following the establishment of Targhee National Forest in 1907 indicate that more than 30,000 sheep and 2,000 cattle and horses grazed the meadows in the Jedediah Smith Wilderness.
Recreation is now the main reason people visit the Teton Range.
GEOLOGY OF THE TETON RANGE
The Teton Range is only 40 miles long and 15 mile wide, yet it offers a great deal of geological variety. The southern part of the range is characterized by triangular peaks, impressive cliffs and tablelands of sedimentary origin. The central part of the Tetons is dominated by cathedral peaks composed of 3-billion year old gneiss, schist, and granite.
The Teton Range is about 9 million years old, making it the youngest range in the Rocky Mountain chain. The range was formed by a series of faults on the east side which uplifted the mountains, while the Jackson Valley sank. Thus, the greatest relief is on the east side with sloping mountains on the west side. Fossilized algal heads formed under a shallow sea during the Cambrian period are now exposed at nearly 10,000 feet; dramatic evidence of the Teton uplift.
Erosion began immediately, cutting 14 major drainages through the West Slope of the Tetons. Glaciers have been the prime sculptors during the last 250,000 years creating the jagged peaks and U-shaped canyons evident today. Although the lower portions of some canyons have lost the typical U-shape due to stream erosion, the headlands are characterized by glacial cirques, scoured lake basins, and remnant tablelands.