Gerrit Hardeman photo courtesy of the Jackson Hole Historical Society & Museum
Sifting through our Land Trust archives, we came across this beautifully written history of the Hardeman Barns by Karen L. Reinhart and are happy to share it with you. Thanks Karen!
The history of a place is only as rich as the stories that are remembered, shared, and then, treasured by future generations. But the Hardeman Barns also serve locals and visitors to the valley—even if they don’t know the stories—by being icons of America’s early ranching history. Like other regions of our country, early settlers in Jackson Hole tried to carve out a livelihood on the land by farming and ranching. They homesteaded their hopes; some made it and put down roots but many moved on to easier lifestyles and greener pastures. To be successful, homesteaders learned quickly that the long winters and deep snow of Jackson Hole grew great hay and ninety-day oats but little else. Families turned to ranching. There were nearly 400 “proved up” homesteads on today’s park lands alone.
The Hardeman Barns stand as the backdrop of the story of one family who successfully met the challenges of ranching in Jackson Hole. The story begins in 1910 when young Gerrit Hardeman emigrated from the Netherlands and made his way to Jackson Hole the next fall. After several years of experience working as a ranch hand in the valley, he purchased the Davis farm a mile south of Ditch Creek northeast of Kelly. Once he had his own ground, Gerrit planted a crop, worked in the timber, and hauled freight for a few years before he could afford to begin building his own herd. In 1924 a fire destroyed their barn and all of its contents: stored grain, chickens, and tack. But they kept going. LaMar later remembered that that fall they stored their grain in the back bedroom while she and her husband lived in only one room.
In 1926, Gerrit and his wife of four years, LaMar Crandall, filed on a delinquent homestead adjacent to their ranch. They began their herd of purebred Herefords the following year. When it was time to sell their cattle and because they had a small operation, they sent their animals to Omaha along with other ranchers’ livestock. But cattle buyers didn’t give the Hardemans a fair price. Gerrit decided not to send his cattle to market, and instead, to let the cattle buyers come to him. It was a sound economic decision: By 1948 University of Wyoming experts proclaimed that the Hardemans’ purebred Herefords were among Wyoming’s best.
The values of self-sufficiency and independence are exemplified by Gerrit’s decision to auction off his own cattle. His wife LaMar stated “Gerrit was one that didn’t want to owe nobody nothin’ and we never, in all our 55 years of marriage, ever borrowed from the bank.” I find that fact more than admirable. Also according to LaMar, “Gerrit always felt we would have a good living when we had 12 head of breeding cows. We had increased our herd to around 200 head when we sold to the National Park Service in 1956, and purchased the Moseley Hereford Ranch in Wilson.” A ten-year lease gave first-born son Earl the right to continue raising cattle and growing hay on the land. Their younger son, Howdy, moved to Wilson with his parents to begin raising their renowned cattle there. Gerrit and LaMar lived in a house on this site.
I called Howdy who now lives in the Bitterroot Valley in Montana. He moved there in 1992, two years after the Hardeman family sold their ranch. I was looking for stories specifically about the barns and this site. When Howdy was in high school he lived and worked at Major Moseley’s ranch before his parents bought it. It was 1945. These are Howdy’s words: “I was a snot-nosed freshman. I got off the bus and they told me to get my work clothes on. They filled the wheelbarrow full of concrete as a joke. I loaded up and had to go up and over a plank to the forms. They wanted to see if I could do it. Well, I made it and it blew my mind. The next time they didn’t fill it so full. I helped build the floor of the barn.” Howdy said that Andy and Wesley Bircher engineered and built the barn. Earl’s wife Pat commented that architects are always amazed at how the barn is put together, and indeed, it’s beautiful and functional.
Actually, Howdy was more interested in learning about raising Herefords and feeding the bulls than he was construction. He remembered a large cooker in back of the barn, a three foot square metal bowl that ranch hands filled with barley and water and left to cook overnight over a fire. “The bulls loved that. [The bowl] was about the size of what is used today for the [Wilson] Chicken Fry and would hold 100-150# of barley. We’d go out there on a frosty mornin’ and the bulls about knocked you down for it. ”
Though Gerrit always wanted to have a barn dance they never did because of the high cost of liability insurance. The family did build bleachers and a sale ring in the barn by taking out four stalls. Howdy remembered that the Wilson School kids came to the sale one grade at a time for maybe thirty minutes and then another grade would come to enjoy the festivities. They held the auction sales for 15 years; an auctioneer by the name of Bascomb Sager held cattle court there.
Earl went to auctioneer’s school while on his “second” honeymoon with wife Pat. He would become a familiar voice at 4-H sales, the elk antler auctions, the rodeo, and more events around the valley. Backing up a step, Earl and Pat were married in 1960, working side-by-side on the Kelly ranch before moving to Wilson in 1967. They continued raising cows and calves for the family operation until 1990. Pat retains their grazing lease near Kelly but now Glenn and Marian Taylor lease the land for their cattle.
In case anyone is wondering, the women on the Hardeman Ranches worked as hard as the men. Earl was always quick to point that out. He told a story about his mother when she was several months pregnant with him. His father was away hauling freight and a heavy October snowstorm blew in and blanketed the ranch. From her window she could see that a horse was in trouble so she waddled through the snow, extracted the horse from a barbed wire fence and brought the horse inside the house. LaMar put flour on the wound to stop the cut from bleeding. Like his mom was for his dad, Earl believed that his wife Pat was his best asset; they worked together as a team.
Our society today is so fast-paced. Too fast-paced. We all need the tranquil setting of the Hardeman Ranch to remind of us of simpler times. Those times were not less busy, just simpler. During winter, Earl and his son Rob rose early in the morning to milk the family cow, harness the work horses to a huge sledge that was heavy with hay, and then deliver breakfast to their cattle standing belly-deep in snow. This ritual had to be done day in and day out during Jackson Hole’s long winters despite blizzards and/or subzero temperatures. Hay was the ranch’s lifeblood and the work growing, and then parceling it out was hard, steady, and certain. Fortunately for Earl and Rob a big breakfast was also certain when they came in from their work, Pat having risen early to gather eggs and start breakfast. The family’s work was very real and connected to the land.
The Hardeman story is about many values that the communities and people of Jackson Hole hold dear. Vision, independence, hard work, and endurance are the stuff that the Hardemans are made of. But there’s also another part of the story that is also inspiring and far reaching because it stretches toward future horizons.
When it was time for the Hardemans to sell their ranch, the newly-formed Jackson Hole Land Trust went out on a conservation limb in June 1989. A non-profit organization that works toward preserving open space, ranch lands and wildlife habitat, they work with landowners who want to preserve their lands in perpetuity. They paid a non-refundable $100,000 for an option to buy the Hardemans’ 137 acre property which included the barns and the meadows. Then, they had to raise an enormous amount of money, $1.7 million. If the property was not preserved as open space, it would be sold to a developer and become a 70-unit subdivision. The scenic ranchland of Highway 22’s corridor between Jackson and Wilson would forever be changed. Teton County commissioners jumped on the wagon and agreed to contribute $500,000 to the cause. That left $750,000 that the Jackson Hole Land Trust had to raise; the organization wondered if the families and communities of the valley would rally and support the cause.
The Land Trust hosted a Western Carnival, and here I quote part of the story from the Land Trust: “On a day in early June, circus tents were erected in Owen Bircher Park, the barbeques rolled in, and the musicians tuned up their instruments. Signs read that admission was ‘free or whatever you want to give.’ Before long over 1,000 people—one-tenth of the entire population of the valley at the time—arrived to eat hot dogs, try their hands at carnival games, show off their pets, and participate in a hobby horse rodeo. By afternoon, countless well-dressed pets were proudly displaying prize ribbons, the volleyball tourney had been won and the Walk-For-The-Meadows up Teton Pass was complete. Numerous businesses and individuals had donated auction items, everything from llama pack trips to a handmade sweater.”
How many of you attended the carnival? The event raised $38,000. But the Land Trust still had a long way to go to realize the community’s dream of keeping the barns and meadows intact for the future. The Hardemans extended the deadline by a month. According to the Land Trust, “At the eleventh hour, Gil Ordway agreed to purchase over 100 acres from the Land Trust with development restrictions in place. The barns and nearby pastures remained in Land Trust ownership. The Land Trust and the county each retained an easement over the entire property.”
The Jackson Hole Land Trust now manages the Hardeman Barns and Meadows with a keen eye toward sustainable land management. Hay is grown on the north pasture and Gerrit Hardeman’s grandson, Rob Hardeman, leases the southern pasture for his cattle. The Land Trust fenced and restored Spring Creek that flows through the property, and with a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture they put in wells for the cattle, protecting riparian areas. The Land Trust strives to balance community benefits with wildlife and agricultural needs.
Over the years, this site was also the home of the Snake River Institute, the Teton County 4-H Club, and currently houses the Teton Raptor Center.
Saving the barns and the meadows constituted a happy ending that embraced the values of generosity, cooperation, and hope for the future. It is one of the most inspiring community pull-together stories I’ve ever heard. As symbols of the ranching lifestyle and days gone by, the Hardeman Barns stand tall and proud. They, too, help us remember important values, and that having a good time with neighbors and family is part of a healthy and happy life.