In 1878, Sylvester Wilson and his family, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), settled what became Wilsonville, UT. A decade later, in the face of a prolonged drought, Sylvester and his son-in-law, Selar Cheney, moved their families north seeking better conditions. Initially intending on settling in St. Anthony, ID, the group chanced upon Sylvester’s brother, Nick Wilson, who convinced them to settle instead in Jackson Hole, a fertile and relatively untouched valley in Wyoming.
Leaving most of their possessions in Idaho, the company crossed Teton Pass in 1889. As the first company to bring women, children, and wagons into the valley, the group enlarged an indigenous trail through the pass, cutting aside trees and other growth. After two weeks and 88 miles of rough terrain, the company reached Jackson Hole on November 11, 1889.
When the Wilson-Cheney company arrived, the valley was home to only 28 individuals. The large company more than doubled the valley’s population, and quickly began constructing various elements of American civilization. In 1891, following the deaths of Sarah and Joseph Wilson, they established the valley’s first cemetery. In 1892, they opened the first school in Sylvester Wilson’s home. In 1893, Nick Wilson opened a hotel and post office at the base of Teton Pass.
The company’s greatest impact on the valley, however, was the clearing of Teton Pass for wagon travel. The trail the Wilson-Cheney company expanded allowed more homesteaders and merchants to access the valley. From its initial population of roughly 28 in 1889, the valley grew to 638 men, women, and children by 1900. The short-lived town of Cheney, one of the company’s settlements, consisted itself of almost 150 people by 1910, and included a blacksmith, carpenter, postmaster, doctor, and taxidermist. Although the LDS settlers mostly left the valley during economic struggles in the 1920s and 1930s, their initial settlements in Jackson Hole brought civilization to the otherwise rugged, mountainous backcountry, and opened the door for countless more settlers.