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Frontier Life: Old West Days in Jackson Hole

Frontier Life: Old West Days in Jackson Hole

Jan 2, 2015

All of you would-be cowpokes, outlaws, and backwoods trappers, listen up! You’re not going to want to miss the fast-approaching 2015 run-through of one of Jackson Hole’s most celebrated events.

This year sees the 34 th iteration of Old West Days, a Memorial Day weekend staple that embodies Jackson’s “Last of the Old West” motto like nothing else. Locals and tourists from around the country and the world mingle over delicious food and regional microbrews as they bask in a one-of-a-kind celebration of Jackson Hole’s frontier heritage.

From Mountain Men to Gunslingers

Old West Days packs a dizzying diversity of performances, events, and activities into the last weekend of May. All of them are outrageously fun, that’s for sure, but authentic history lessons are everywhere you look.

One of the most popular happenings is the daily Mountain Man Rendezvous and Traders’ Row. This lively assemblage of bearded, buckskin- and fur-cap-clad characters honors a longtime tradition in Jackson Hole and other mountain valleys throughout the West: the fur-trapper rendezvous of the early and mid-1800s.

These were rowdy summertime gatherings during which mountain men–who spent much of their time alone in deep Rocky Mountain backcountry–socialized, restocked, sold and traded their furs, and competed with one another in games of marksmanship and other skills. Rendezvous often also attracted local Indians who participated in the commerce and the entertainment.

One of the largest such congregations took place in 1832 not terribly far west of Jackson Hole. In Pierre’s Hole just over the Tetons, hundreds of trappers (most affiliated with the Rocky Mountain or American fur companies) mingled with even more Nez Perce and Flathead peoples for a now-legendary rendezvous that concluded dramatically in an intense skirmish with the Gros Ventre Indians.

The modern Old West Days rendezvous is much safer (and much calmer) than its historical analogues. The whole family will enjoy the friendly games, which include bow-and-arrow, knife-throwing, and atlatl competitions.

Another highlight is the Jackson Hole Shootout, which sends up a different era in Wyoming history: the lawless gunslinger days. Lauded by the Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce as the country’s longest-running shootout reenactment in the U.S.–it was first held in 1957–the event sees the Shootout Gang face off at 6 p.m. in Jackson’s historic Town Square.

Saturday also marks the daylong Old West Brew Fest, where fans of craft beer gather in the Town Square to sample a plethora of regional and national libations. The Yellowstone-Teton country is an authentic hotbed of great microbrews, and homegrown stalwarts such as Grand Teton Brewing, Idaho Brewing, Jackson Hole Brewing, and Snake River Brewing will be on hand.

Other Old West Days attractions include free historical walking tours of downtown Jackson, stagecoach rides, storytelling, the Jackson Hole Rotary Wine Fest (Friday evening), and several special Memorial Day ceremonies. The amazing, summer-long Jackson Hole Rodeo, meanwhile, coincides with Old West Days on Saturday night.

Where to Stay

Lots of area hotels, motels, and lodges offer convenient accommodations for Old West Days. The White Buffalo Club (, for instance, provides elegant lodging just three blocks from the festival’s hub, the Town Square.

Whether it’s a coonskin cap or a Stetson you feel the strongest connection with, you’re going to want to make Old West Days a part of your summer vacation–take our word for it!

Jerry Williams is a self-confessed history nerd. An avid blogger, he likes to research and then write about what he discovers. You can read his illuminating posts on a variety of blogs and websites today.

Image by jurvetson under CC license