Local Life: Jackson Hole Icon

Standing Sentinel

One tree on the Elk National Refuge has a long history.

// By Samantha Simma
Photo by Bradly J. Boner

RISING UP FROM the sage and grasses of the National Elk Refuge’s prairielike expanse immediately east of U.S. Highway 89, a lone cottonwood tree stands tall, casting a shadow over a stretch of Flat Creek. Today, the tree bears a nickname among local guides and tourists as the “eagle tree,” for its propensity to serve as a perch for the birds of prey. Its more official title is the Winegar Tree, after a family of early pioneers who settled in the area in 1909 and likely planted the tree.

Willis L. Winegar was an Idaho butcher shop owner when he had a chance to deliver groceries to Jackson Hole in August 1897. After a prosperous season for the shop, Winegar asked his wife, Alice, if she would move to Jackson Hole. The family, which included eight children, purchased the Frank Woods ranch, today part of the National Elk Refuge. Recollections from Alice’s diary that were published in a 1965 edition of The Jackson Hole Guide said that the family moved to Jackson Hole on Thanksgiving Day, and that snow on Teton Pass made crossing it take three days. W. L. Winegar was reported to have been a guide in Yellowstone National Park and Jackson Hole for many years and was also the bishop of the Jackson Ward of the LDS Church from 1915 until 1921. 

“To our knowledge, their house was located near that tree,” says Raena Parsons, visitor services manager at the National Elk Refuge. “There was originally more than one tree, but some of them have died over the years. And as far as we know, the cottonwoods were planted by that family.” In the 1930s, the Winegars sold their ranch (the National Elk Refuge bought it), and they relocated to Salt Lake City. When the family began preparations to sell, a 1938 Jackson’s Hole Courier article stated, “The Biological Survey has an option to purchase the property. Addition of this ranch to the Biological refuge will complete the project on the west line and permit the erection of remaining section of fence.” 

The Winegar Tree is easy to spot. Driving north out of the town of Jackson, about when you pass the National Museum of Wildlife Art, look toward the east and Sheep Mountain. The lone tree is the Winegar Tree. JH

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