History of Star Valley

By Bessie Beachler

Fifty years before its first settlement, Star Valley was known to pathfinders, trappers and traders. Several members of Wilson Price Hunt's Astorians worked the area as early as 1812; the names of Day, Hoback, Stuart and Smith were given to streams, lakes, mountains and trails. From 1856 until the late 1860's emigrants on their way to Oregon passed through on the Lander Trail, a cut-off of the old Oregon Trail, which passes through Upper Valley and out by way of Stump Creek. It was from the salt works on Stump Creek that early freighters secured loads of salt to carry to Montana and other places. Mr. Stump was the first to operate the salt works there.

Before the Homestead Act of 1886, many cattle were driven into the Valley from Bear Lake and it was used as a summer range. The son of President Budge, of the Bear Lake Stake, was in charge of the herd and the Valley served as rich pasture land for thousands of cattle. After the Homestead Act these large herds ceased to invade the Valley grasslands.

(LDS) Apostle Moses Thatcher, while seeking new places suitable for home for the Mormon people, visited this Valley about 1878 or 1879. He stood on a vantage point overlooking the Valley and saw that it was good. "I hereby name this valley Star Valley," he said, "Because it is the star of all valleys". Indian John (Jim) acted as guide on this journey.

The Edmunds Anti-Polygamy act of 1882 accelerated the migration of Mormons to Star Valley. Only about two percent of the men of the church, were allowed to practice polygamy.

Those who came to the Valley with their several families were stable citizens and effective colonizers. Wyoming, a young sparsely populated territory, aspired to become a state and was anxious to expand its population. Federal authorities who attempted to enforce the law received little cooperation.

From the diary of Ole Jensen we read, "In the spring I broke up fifteen acres of new land, planted and sowed it and felt truly thankful that we could live here in peace". I will state here that the Wyoming Government was favorable, and invited the Latter Day Saints to come here and settle. The Utah officers, who had harrassed the Mormons or polygamists, had offered their services to the Government of Wyoming to prosecute the Mormons. A few of them came to this place to inquire after the polygamists but the Govenor refused saying, "No, thank you, if we wish to prosecute the Mormons, we have officers of our own".

Signal Hill, a low bench-like knoll at the foot of the mountain range, at one time served as a lookout. From this place warnings were sent to Mormons and fugitives when unannounced parties entered the Valley. Visible from all parts of Upper Star Valley, it commands a sweeping view of Crow Creek Canyon, the main entrance to Star Valley at this time. When the lookout sighted strangers, he sent up a column of smoke. This sent apprehensive citizens to cover. If the newcomers proved harmless, another signal informed the fugitives that all was well.

Not all of the settlers were polygamists, but most of them were Mormons. Today (1951) about 95% of the Valley's population are Latter Day Saints and are affiliated in some way with Church activities with their (unique) social and moral advantages.

Most of the early families were virile young men and women starting life together. Large families were raised by these sturdy folk under trying circumstances. It was not uncommon to find as many as fifteen children belonging to one couple.

Many a sick bed was tended by the light of a candle or wick light in a one-room log house. There were no shingles and the only covering for the roof was straw covered with the brown earth of the fields.

Most of the beds were home-made with ticks (mattresses) made of straw stuffed inside a heavy pillow ticking.

Wild game abounded everywhere and it was not uncommon for a deer to wander into the dooryard. Fish were to be found in all the creeks and irrigation ditches. Little fishing tackle was used in the early days. Settlers merely set a fish trap in the stream and soon would have all the fish they wanted. Sage chicken, mourning doves, grouse, ducks and geese were to be found in abundence and could be killed at any season of the year. Men did their planting by hand and the plowshares were sharpened by the local blacksmith.

Matt Warner and Tom McCarthy entered Star Valley soon after their bank robbery of the First National Bank of Denver in March 1889, in which $21,000 dollars was taken from the bank. Here they assumed the names of Willard Doherty and James Smith. They were both affiliated with the McCarthy gang who often wintered in "The Hole in the Wall" or Jackson Hole.

Butch Cassidy, brother of Tom McCarthy, spend a short time in the Valley at different times and Hugh Whitney also spent some time hiding in the east hills of the Salt River range.

Geographical Background
by Allie Hyde

In western Wyoming, about one hundred miles south of Yellowstone Park, close to the Idaho border, lies the lovely valley known as Star Valley. It consists of two small valleys known at first as Upper and Lower Salt River Valley.

The Valley is fifty miles long, from five to ten miles in width, and is surrounded in every direction by lofty mountain ranges, the Caribou on the west and south and the Salt River range on the East. Salt River winds its way through the center of the Valley and, fed by countless springs and many canyon creeks, forms one of the largest of Snake River's tributaries.

Having an average altitude of 6,000 feet, many of the peaks reach an altitude of over 10,000 feet.

Please note that the following was written in 1951.The climate is ideal, the temperature seldom going above 85 in summer. The cool mountain air, intermixed with the aroma of pines and other varieties of plant life, is invigorating and health producing. The average yearly precipitation is 22 inches. The winters ae usually severe but mild enough to allow all sorts of winter sports. The native populaton has a record of health and longevity and no one has ever frozen to death. The valley is always blanketed with snow during the wintertime with an average depth of 2-1/2 to 3 feet. The coldest night recorded in the past thirty years of official recording was 55 degrees below zero - the highest temperature 97 degrees.