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Jackson vs. Jackson Hole: Behind the Names

Find out why the Tetons are called the Tetons—and Jackson vs. Jackson Hole

Everybody knows Old Billy Shakespeare once said, “What’s in a name? A rose by any other name would smell just as sweet.” He was wrong, of course—nobody wants to bring home a dozen blood-petal pokey-stems for their significant other—but that’s beside the point. Names are full of meaning, as the names around Jackson Hole suggest. So let’s take a tour through the valley’s various nomenclatures—starting with a common name-related question. So, Jackson vs. Jackson Hole: what’s the difference?

Jackson vs. Jackson Hole

Good question. “Jackson” is just one town, while “Jackson Hole” refers to the entire valley—which also includes Teton Village, Wilson, the Aspens, Moran Junction, Moose, and more. Both are named for Davey Jackson, a nineteenth-century fur trapper who was one of the first Europeans to spend a winter in the valley. He considered it one of his favorite trapping spots, and the flat valley floor completely surrounded by mountains became known as Jackson’s Hole. Eventually, the “s” faded from use, much like eight-track tapes or the correct meaning of the word “literally.”

Okay, what about some of the other names in the area?

Glad you asked. Beyond the all-important Jackson vs. Jackson Hole question, there’s a lot to learn. For instance, Hoback Junction is named after John Hoback, who guided fur traders through the mountains. Moran Junction and Mt. Moran are named for Thomas Moran, a painter who often painted the Rockies. And Wilson comes from Elijah Nicholas Wilson, a Mormon pioneer who apparently wanted to play every role in a Western, having been a Pony Express rider, stagecoach driver, blacksmith, prison guard, prison inmate, farmer, fiddler, trapper, and frontier doctor. He also lived among the Shoshones for a time, perhaps because he felt he didn’t have enough varied life experience. 

Lastly, the town of Moose comes from the large number of bears in the area. Just kidding—we’re sure you can figure that one out for yourself.

But where does the name “Teton” come from?

You’ve been waiting to ask this, haven’t you? Well, there are two stories. The less entertaining version is that the name “Teton” comes from a tribe of Native Americans called the Teton Sioux, one of several related Sioux tribes. Prominent leaders of the Sioux nation include such figures as Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull.

But of course, that’s not the story that everyone tells. Kids, if you’re reading this, go browse social media or accuse baby boomers of destroying the Earth or something. Are the kids gone? Okay, good. So, as the story goes, early French fur trappers, starved for female company, looked out at the pointy mountains rising above them and immediately thought of certain anatomical features they hadn’t glimpsed in a while. Thus the mountains were named “Les Trois Tetons,” or “The Three Breasts.” The word “grand” in French means “large,” so “Grand Teton” means…well, you get it.

It should be noted that those French trappers would hardly have been the first humans to see those majestic peaks. The Shoshone, who lived in the area for thousands of years before the white man and were clearly much more mature, referred to the Grand Teton as “Teewinot,” or “Many Pinnacles” and the whole range as the “Hoary-headed Fathers.” (“Hoary” means “gray.”)

Other names that didn’t quite stick include the Pilot Knobs (a name you’re welcome to use if you’re forming a retro band that plays ‘90s punk), from when the Scottish explorers Alexander Ross and David MacKenzie used the mountains to find their way; and the Three Titans, which is way cooler and deserves to be brought back.

These days, you can’t throw a ski pole without hitting something named after the Tetons, including Teton Village (a resort town about twelve miles from the city of Jackson); Teton Valley (an area mostly on the Idaho side of the mountains); Teton County (a county in Teton Valley); and Tetonia (a town in Idaho, located in the aforementioned valley and county, settled by people who clearly did not want to be troubled by the effort of thinking up an original name). And that’s not to mention the countless doctor’s offices, steakhouses, and outdoor outfitters within a hundred miles of the peaks that take the name.  

That concludes our tour of the names you’ll find around Jackson Hole. If it’s a literal tour you’re interested in, be sure to book a room at Flat Creek Inn.

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