History – Gutenberg
An Inspiring Location
Teton Science Schools (TSS) rests a step above the cottonwoods of Ditch Creek, nestled between Shadow Mountain and Lobo Hill. With its home on the eastern side of Grand Teton National Park, Teton Science Schools enjoys a view that extends from the foot of the Gros Ventre Mountains through the sage flats of Jackson Hole, to the Snake River and beyond to the rising of the majestic Teton Range. The unique history of Teton Science Schools has witnessed a multitude of change unfold in this magnificent landscape.
Those Who Came Before
People have inhabited Jackson Hole intermittently for the last 11,000 years. Many of the early natives subsisted by hunting and gathering, utilizing rich supplies of plants for food and medicines and sources of obsidian for spear and arrow heads. The major presence in the valley when European-Americans arrived were the Wind River Shoshone, who established a number of large base camps along the shores of Jackson Lake. The Shoshone avoided the harsh winters of Jackson Hole and usually inhabited the valley during the summer when food sources were plentiful.
The Elbo Ranch
The Elbo Ranch was a guest ranch located on Cottonwood and Taggart Creeks leased by Katy Starratt from the National Park Service. Katy Starratt was a longtime friend of Joan and Ted Major, the founders of Teton Science Schools, which eventually led to the establishment of TSS at the Elbo.
Collection of the Jackson Hole Historical Society and Museum, 2005.0014.031
Experiential Education in the Tetons
Ted Major led a summer field school for 12 students who worked on research projects for six weeks and took field trips into the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. The program expanded from Jackson Hole High School’s biology classroom to the old Haines place on Moose-Wilson road, surfacing as the school’s next residence.
Teton Science Schools moves to the Elbo Ranch
Ted’s vision to establish a year-round school somewhere in the Grand Teton National Park came to fruition when TSS was granted a special use permit at Elbo Ranch, making the school one of the few cooperative, yet independent, environmental schools in the national park system.
Teton Science Schools established Journeys School in 2001, an independent school founded on Mad Dog Ranch on Moose-Wilson Road. The school was constructed by TSS board, staff, and local families in an effort to bring place-based education to a year-round academic setting.
Teton Valley Campus
In 2002, the Teton Valley campus was founded as the independent Teton Valley Community School (TVCS) by a small group of parents and teachers dedicated to enhancing educational opportunities in Teton Valley, Idaho. In 2012, TVCS became a program area of Teton Science Schools.
Teton Science Schools integrated both schools, Teton Valley Community School and Journeys School, under the TSS administrative umbrella in 2018 and into one learning community, with the goal of creating expanded opportunities for students and more professional pathways for faculty and staff.
The Teton Valley Community School in Idaho and the Journeys School campus in Wyoming united as one school with two campuses in 2019, becoming what is known today as Mountain Academy. The Teton Valley Campus and the Jackson Campus continue to use the community as a classroom to prepare students for college and beyond.
For a more in-depth history of the journey of Teton Science Schools, read A History of Teton Science Schools written by Lindsay Patterson.
To learn more about the Elbo Ranch, visit the Jackson Hole Historical Society and Museum’s website.
A History of Teton Science Schools
An Idyllic Location
The Teton Science School rests a step above the cottonwoods of Ditch Creek, nestled between Shadow Mountain and Lobo Hill. With its home on the eastern side of Grand Teton National Park, TSS enjoys a view that extends from the foot of the Gros Ventre Mountains through the sage flats of Jackson Hole to the Snake River and beyond to the rising of the majestic Teton Range. The unique history of Teton Science School has seen a multitude of changes unfold in this magnificent landscape.
Those Who Came Before
People have inhabited Jackson Hole intermittently for the last 11,000 years. Many of the early natives subsisted by hunting and gathering, utilizing rich supplies of plants for food and medicines and sources of obsidian for spear and arrow heads. The major presence in the valley when European-Americans arrived were the Wind River Shoshone, who had established a number of large base camps along the shores of Jackson Lake. The Shoshone avoided the harsh winters of Jackson Hole and usually inhabited the valley during the summer when food sources were plentiful.
The Ditch Creek designation originates from 1870-71, when prospectors, searching for gold and fortune, excavated the first ditch in Jackson Hole, diverting water 3.5 miles northwest from Ditch Creek to Schwabacher’s Landing on the Snake River. Many prospectors searched the valley during this early period but found little but “color” in the water.
Settlers followed the prospectors to Jackson Hole, with ranchers claiming the best lands along rivers and creeks. According to local sources, between 1900 and 1911 Orant Shinkle was the first squatter to claim the land presently known as the Teton Science School. Shinkle homesteaded the site, but in 1911 relinquished his claim to Ransom “Mickey” Adams, who had received a patent to homestead 160 acres. In 1917, Adams sold the property for $5,000 to D.H. Miller, who later re-sold the land to Adams in 1923. Jack and Dollye Woodsman purchased the property in 1928 and established a dude ranch known as the Flying V Ranch. The ranch included a large 11-room main lodge, heated cabins and floored tents for sleeping quarters. The two-story, cross-shaped main lodge was one of the most impressive buildings among dude ranches in the valley. In 1932, fire destroyed the main lodge, which, in addition to the depressed economy, prompted Woodsman to sell the ranch to Gustav Koven and Paul Petzoldt in 1935 for $5,000. Petzoldt and Koven hoped to establish a profitable dude ranch, hunting camp, and climbing school at the ranch, but after two years Petzoldt withdrew from the partnership. This same year, the current main lodge was finished, although the ranch remained idle until 1941 when Koven started the Ramshom Ranch. Koven’s rented the ranch to Bill and Tom Jump, who ran the ranch for five years until 1946 when the ranch was purchased by Greer Sugden, David Alleman and Robert Irwin.
The Ramshorn was a dude ranch in the summer, a hunting lodge in the fall and a ski retreat in the winter and spring. Increasing popularity and numbers of visitors brought the installation of electricity to the ranch in 1947. Over the next four years, a succession of partners bailed out of the association until only Sugden and Alleman remained. They sold the ranch to Alvin Adams in 1953. He was host to the Prime Minister of Pakistan during his tenure at the ranch. After several attempts to sell the property and prolonged negotiations with the National Park Service, Adams sold the Ramshorn to the federal government in 1956 for $68,000.
The Elbo Ranch
From 1958 to 1973, Katy Starratt leased the land from the Park Service and operated the property as a guest ranch known as the Elbo Ranch. The original Elbo Ranch was a tourist facility located on Cottonwood and Taggart Creeks in the late 1920s and was leased to concessioners by the National Park Service until 1955. The operation was transferred to the Ramshorn Ranch on Ditch Creek and renamed the Elbo. Katy Starratt was a longtime friend of Joan and Ted Major, the founders of Teton Science School, which eventually led to the establishment of the Teton Science School at the Elbo.
Experiential Education in the Tetons
The Teton Science School developed as an experiment to expand the classroom into the outdoors. Ted Major had hopes of exposing students to new educational and living experiences through the study of ecological concepts in relatively undisturbed ecosystems. In such a setting, students could better understand the relationships of the natural world and the interconnection and interdependence of all life.
The idea of a field science school grew from Ted’s early exposure to science, his brother Jack Major, a distinguished plant ecologist, and his training and experience as a biology teacher. Ted taught the ecological version of Biological Sciences Curriculum Studies (B.S.C.S.) in Anchorage, Alaska. The B.S.C.S. program was initiated by the National Science Foundation as an effort to improve science education in the United States soon after the Russians launched Sputnik. In addition, in 1965, Ted was selected to attend an eight-week summer field biology program, sponsored by Colorado College and The National Science Foundation, at the Aspen Institute. After his family spent the summer in Colorado, Ted became inspired to move teaching outdoors. This experience in Colorado became the model for the Teton Science School.
While teaching high school biology in Anchorage, Alaska, Ted proposed to teach a summer field biology program. His proposal was rejected in Anchorage, but an opportunity to teach in Jackson Hole surfaced, and Joan and Ted Major moved to Jackson in 1966. Ted took a position as a seventh-grade life science teacher in the local public school and proposed the idea of a summer field school to the Jackson Hole Superintendent. Ted spent the winter of 1966-1967 teaching seventh-graders and working on the summer field program. Twelve students spent the summer of 1967 working on research projects for six weeks and taking field trips around the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, basing out of the Jackson Hole High School biology room. To meet expanded enrollment goals for the 1968 summer and with cooperation from the United States Forest Service, a residential field school was located on Polecat Creek near Huckleberry Hot Springs. Frank Craighead helped secure a grant from the Atmospheric Science Research Center to help fund the summer program that year.
As the summer continued, it became evident that the program needed a more permanent site closer to town, and Ted began meeting with Howard Chapman, Superintendent of Grand Teton National Park, about establishing the school within the park. During the meeting, the old Haines place on the Moose- Wilson road near the Whitegrass turnoff surfaced as the school’s next residence. A tremendous amount of hard work cleaning, repairing, remodeling and building helped make the Haines Ranch a fantastic school for the students of 1969. The six-week field course continued for the following four years at the Haines place, and a two-week field ecology college course through the University of California at Davis was started and taught by Jack Major. The fifth grade environmental awareness program, LIFE (Living In the Field Environment), was incorporated into the school’s curriculum in 1971 through a federal grant. This program is still run in cooperation with the Teton County School District and brings every fifth-grade student from Teton County to TSS for two and one-half days during September and early October.
TSS Moves to the Elbo Ranch
Ted resigned his teaching position from Jackson High School in 1973 in hopes of developing a year-round school somewhere in Grand Teton National Park. The process began with a letter to Superintendent of Grand Teton National Park, Gary Everhardt, and led to a year-long exchange of letters, meetings and phone calls before their efforts proved successful. It was also at this time that Katy Starratt, a close friend of Joan and Ted Major, died while undergoing heart surgery. Several of Katy’s closest friends proposed that Teton Science School move to the Elbo Ranch, and after overcoming strong opposition from dude ranchers, the National Park Service approved relocating TSS to the Elbo in December of 1973. The school was granted a special use permit, making TSS one of the few cooperative, yet independent, environmental schools in the national park system.
TSS moved to the Elbo in April of 1974 in time for summer programs to take place at the new campus, and The Grand Teton Environmental Education Center was dedicated on August 24, 1974. The welcoming address and introduction of guests was given by Nathaniel Reed, Assistant Secretary of the Department of the Interior, with a response from Margaret Murie, member of the Teton Science School Board of Trustees and long time supporter of the school. Many Park Service personnel were present along with at least two hundred locals, including Senator Cliff Hansen and Laurence Rockefeller.
Settling in at the Elbo
As there were few precedents in outdoor winter programming, TSS pioneered a unique curriculum, and the first winter program began December 9, 1974. During the Majors’ five years at the Elbo, they developed many of the programs that are still offered at TSS today. In addition to High School Field Ecology and the fifth-grade fall program, the college level Winter Ecology program and the seventh-grade winter studies programs were added in 1974 and 1977, respectively. Several new high school programs were initiated, including Jackson Hole High School Nature in Literature and Art Through Nature in 1975. These programs were later combined to form the present Art and Literature in Nature program. Summer Natural History Seminars and teacher workshops were introduced in 1976 and offered expert instruction in understanding the flora, fauna and geology of the Teton-Yellowstone ecosystem. Also during these early years, a large donation allowed two yearly scholarships for inner-city students from the Pasadena-Watts area in California.
Early in 1978, Kurt Rademacher was hired to take over some of the administrative duties from Ted when he retired in the fall. Joan and Ted Major’s influence was significantly missed, and their absence spurred many changes at TSS. During Rademacher’s year at TSS, board members helped begin the process of organizing a master plan and obtained a grant for lab equipment and museum cases to properly protect the Murie Collection and other specimens.
In these early years, TSS was able to prosper through the help of many devoted friends, including the National Park Service, the Majors and renowned conservationists Olaus and Mardy and Adolf and Louise Murie. Most of Olaus and Adolph’s specimens from the Sonoran Desert and the Arctic became part of the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C., but they also saved numerous duplicate samples. About 2,500 of the bird and mammal study skins, scats and plaster casts of tracks that formed the basis of Olaus’ Field Guide to Animal Tracks were donated to TSS by Adolf Murie because he recognized the value of the specimens for teaching purposes. Also added to the gift was a diverse collection of skulls and mammal and bird skeletons. Olaus had passed away in 1963, before TSS began, but was an important mentor to Ted Major throughout his career. Adolf died in 1974 and had provided tremendous scientific support to the Majors and TSS. Moreover, Jack Major, brother of Ted Major, had started a herbarium at the school, and Louise and Adolf’s donation of a large collection of herbarium specimens made the Teton Science School’s natural history collection one of the finest in the region.
As the generosity of the Muries, the Majors and the National Park Service shows, community support has served as the backbone of TSS since its inception. The first annual TSS auction was held in the fall of 1979 and was a huge success financially as well as publicly by involving a broad cross-section of the community. After a very successful fall, Rademacher resigned in December of that year to pursue other interests and was replaced by Jackie Gilmore as interim director. Jackie ran the school for six months during the winter of 1979-1980, allowing ample time for the selection of the next permanent director. Colleen Cabot, a High School Field Ecology student in 1969, returned in 1972 as a counselor-instructor, an administrative assistant in 1975 and was selected by the TSS Board of Trustees as executive director of the school in 1980.
A greater diversity of programming during this time led to the adoption of permanent faculty positions and a team teaching approach. Program expansion was enhanced by improvements in facilities, resources and equipment. Increasing numbers of staff necessitated moving additional cabins, which were gleaned from other ranches in the valley, to the property. Further need for facility development led Colleen and the TSS Board of Trustees to coordinate a million-dollar capital improvement campaign in 1983. The two student dormitory buildings, staff Commons area, the Major Laboratory and Museum and additional staff housing were added as a result of the campaign. Also included in the effort was the establishment of the current Murie Endowment. Colleen and the board commemorated their campaign with the dedication of the Joan and Ted Major Laboratory and Murie Museum complex in 1985. Shortly after this milestone, Colleen Cabot turned the executive director position over to Greg Zeigler.
Greg Zeigler brought the school out of the capital campaign and into an era of strong annual giving that continues to be critical for the success of TSS. Program options were expanded in the summer of 1986 with the addition of High School Field Biology for fourteen- to sixteen-year-olds and Teton Junior Science School for eight- to twelve-year-olds. These programs followed the success of Junior High Field Ecology, which had been added in the summer of 1984. Continued growth focused Zeigler on creating a consistent philosophy and mission for TSS. Scholarships and the endowment continued to grow, granting TSS financial security and the stability to focus on quality programming.
Zeigler passed the executive director role to Jack Shea in 1988, which also marked the expansion of TSS programming to twelve months a year, the addition of the Field Research Station in Bridger-Teton National Forest for summer programming and the Young Women and Science and Best of Wyoming residential programs. The Outreach program expanded in 1991 with the Improving Scientific Literacy to Assure Natural Diversity (I.S.L.A.N.D.) curriculum, increasing the number of schools and students reached by TSS annually. The addition of the dining lodge, moved on site from the Hunter Ranch just north of the ditch creek campus, also occurred in 1991. As programming grew, so too did the staff, necessitating the establishment of the Crystal Creek, Coyote Rock, Blacktail Butte, Buck and Bearpaw housing units in 1992. Also during this time, TSS cabins that had previously been known by number were named after natural objects.
Setting the Standard
The Teton Science School set a precedent in environmental education with the establishment of the Professional Residency in Environmental Education (PREE) program in 1994. The program, which allows aspiring educators to engage in academic classes and gain invaluable field and classroom teaching experience, has expanded from its original 13 students to its present size of 18. The sense of place curriculum that serves as the foundation for TSS programs was developed into the Journeys Curriculum in 1997 and has been accompanied by workshops and outreach visits to public schools. The Stokes Family Learning Center was completed in 1998, adding the Polis Kid’s Classroom and the Rick Black Earth Science Classroom for much needed classroom space. The year 1999 marked the establishment of the Los Angeles High School Residential and Latino Outreach Programs, thereby offering the TSS experience to inner-city and minority students. The popularity of the Journeys program prompted entire schools and faculties to adopt the Journeys Curriculum, initiating Journeys II. This nationally known program brings TSS staff to schools throughout the region for teacher training and collaboration.
In 1999, TSS expanded into the world of eco-tourism with the acquisition of Wildlife Expeditions. Wildlife Expeditions allows TSS to educate tourists who may not otherwise associate with the school during short visits to the valley. A remarkable success in its first year, Wildlife Expeditions adds an interesting and innovative dynamic to TSS programming.
The rich history and soundness of the Teton Science School has seen Jackson Hole through a multitude of changes since its brilliant beginning in 1967. The rising cost of living has challenged TSS and prompted the school to set another precedent with its efforts to secure affordable housing for its employees. To this end, TSS will purchase the Mad Dog Ranch near Teton Village, converting TSS into a landowner for the first time in its history. An effort to increase environmental literacy and the growing demand for TSS programs has prompted TSS to forge ahead with the construction of a second campus. This mountain campus will provide a location for enhanced adult and family programming, additional residential programs and a Journeys Lab School whose purpose is to train teachers in integrating the environment into their classrooms.
As the Teton Science School moves into the twenty-first century, the future holds new challenges and potential. Throughout its history, TSS has set a standard in environmental education and scientific exploration. Students from around the world have discovered the wonders of the natural world in Grand Teton National Park and Bridger-Teton National Forest and are poised to become our future stewards. As the interdependence of humans and the natural world becomes more evident, our setting in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem places the Teton Science School in an ideal position to teach people a different way of living in, and relating to, the world.
Compiled by: Lindsay Patterson, PREE 2001.
Daugherty, John. 1999. A Place Called Jackson Hole: The Historical Resources Study of Grand Teton National Park. Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming.
The Teton Science School: An Experiment That Works. 1998. Edited by Terry Tempest Williams. Teton Science School, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming.