Local: JH Icon

Howdy Stranger

// By Samantha Simma

“HOWDY STRANGER YONDER IS JACKSON HOLE, THE LAST OF THE OLD WEST.” Signs bearing this have welcomed people to Jackson Hole since the mid-1930s. Local artist Grant “Tiny” Hagen partnered with local furniture craftsman Lester Lee to paint and carve three of these signs. (Lee modeled the signs’ cowboy silhouette on Harry Clissold, who was a Jackson town councilman and then Jackson’s mayor from 1934 to 1965.) To welcome people entering the valley from the west, a sign was erected at the top of Teton Pass. Travelers from the east found a sign on Togwotee Pass. To get travelers coming to the valley from the south, the third sign was placed on the Hoback Rim. The three signs were replaced once in these locations before being removed by the Wyoming Department of Transportation in 1973. (Two of these three signs have been lost; the third hangs at the Jackson Hole Historical Society and Museum.) 

Jackson Hole had no special welcome signs again until 1999, when Bob Rudd—a local historian,former director of the Jackson Hole Museum, and member of the Teton County Historical Preservation Board—set his sights on their resurrection. In 1999, Rudd told the Jackson Hole News&Guide, “I had seen the signs every summer when my parents and I drove to Jackson Hole. I could always remember the ‘Howdy Stranger’ sign located on Togwotee Pass beneath a huge old limber pine with the Teton Range beyond.” 

With community-sourced funds and assistance from the Jackson Hole Ski Corp (now Jackson Hole Mountain Resort) and the Rotary Club of Jackson Hole, which had helped with the original sign project, Rudd made four signs that were exact replicas of Hagen and Lee’s. The first went up on Teton Pass in 2000 (which required U.S. Forest Service approval). In 2002, the Jackson Hole Airport got the second sign, with the third sign going up on Togwotee Pass shortly after. Rudd never found a home for the fourth, and, to this day, it sits in his garage. 

The Jackson Hole Shrine Club and Rotary Club of Jackson Hole keep the signs looking good, maintaining and replacing them as needed. The sign atop Teton Pass, which suffers the most from winter weather conditions and plowing, was replaced in 2012 with a sign made by Shriner Terry Chambers. Chambers, a metal craftsman, fabricated a sign with powder-coated metal lettering. Chambers has since replaced the sign again with a freshly painted version, giving the iconic cowboy new life and longevity. JH

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