Rockefeller and the secret land deals that created Grand Teton National Park

The audacious plan was hatched in secret. In the 1920s, John D. Rockefeller Jr. — son of the Standard Oil founder, ardent conservationist and one of America’s richest men — agreed to surreptitiously acquire thousands of acres of breathtaking scenery around Jackson Hole, Wyo., and donate them to the federal government for a national park.

At the behest of Horace Albright, the future director of the National Park Service, Rockefeller formed a company called the Snake River Land Co. to buy up property around the Snake River. Rockefeller knew that if word got out that he was interested in acreage there, the price would skyrocket.

“He was willing to pay fair-market prices for the land, but not Rockefeller prices,” said Park Service spokesman Andrew White. The federal government had created several national parks in the early 20th century, White said, and the philanthropist “didn’t want the optics that this was the federal government coming in and taking more land.”

The agents Rockefeller hired to do the buying told landowners only that they were representing someone who wanted the land for conservation purposes. It left locals thinking that perhaps the buyer was interested in expanding an elk preserve that had been created in 1913.

But by 1930, a year after Congress had established Grand Teton National Park, word had gotten out about the purchases, and Wyoming residents were furious.

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