The property where The Trapper Creek Lodge is located used to be The Trapper Lodge Ranch.
The history of The Trapper Lodge Ranch started when Jordan L. Smith and his wife Mary Lavina Colyer Smith left Smithtown, Long Island several years after the Civil War had ended.
J.L. Smith was a descendent of the Englishman, Richard Smith, nicknamed “ Bullsmith” according to a legend still told in the region of Long Island. After saving the daughter of an Indian chief from the Dutch in the early 17th century, the Indians awarded Smith all the land around which he could ride in a day on his pet bull.
In 1865, Long Island had just been linked by direct rail to New York City, and the New Yorkers soon began to vacation in the countryside virtually unchanged since the Revolutionary War. At the same time, soldiers from the Civil War, many disabled, jobless and hooked on opium and alcohol, wandered the streets. Both these factors combined until the streets and public seemed filled with gambling, drinking strangers, J.L. and Mary decided to move West to seek a healthier environment for their two young sons.
The Smith moved to Iowa, which was heavily advertised for new settlers when the first railroad bridge across the Mississippi River was build.
After a Tornado destroyed much of their Iowa farm, the Smiths moved on, also by rail, to homestead in the Nebraska Sand Hills. There they established the first school, the first town government, the first post office.
In 1884, overland, in two wagons pulled by oxen and driving their herds of horse and cattle, they followed the immigrant trails into and through Wyoming to follow closely the Bridger Trail north in the Big Horn Basin.
Settling in the still isolated Mahogany Buttes area between Tensleep and Worland on Deep Creek, they began to meet the cowpunchers who worked for one of the owners of the three big cattle outfits who, a number of years before had agreed to divide up the free grazing land among them.
The cattle ranch, M Bar, was located up toward the foot of the mountains on Owl Creek above present Thermopolis. The M Bar cattle utilized range from the Wind River canyon north toward the Worland area on both sides of the Wind River and on up river where it is renamed Big Horn.
The cowpunchers told the Smiths about the creek valleys to the north, the crossings over the Big Horn River, the trails on up past the Prior Mountains into Montana.
Meeting the few early homesteaders in the Hyattville and Tensleep areas, the Smiths once again had established a school for their children, now numbering eight. But after two years, J.L. still wanted to pursue his original plan to push on West to Oregon.
In June 1886, the Smiths once again sold their ranch to set out with wagons and stock to travel in to Montana, then on to the west coast.
Trapper Creek Valley
It was two days travel to cross the 30 miles on rough sagebrush country from the Hyattville country to Trapper Creek Valley. The family camped for the night in the Red Basin, first killing numerous rattlesnakes.
In the late afternoon when the Smith wagons moved along slowly on the rough trailers, they were surprised by a lone rider who’d came out to meet them. Julius Boucher, who called himself Joe Bush, had ridden from his home on upper Trapper Creek curious to find out who was coming in with wagons. He told the Smiths that they were only several miles from water.
So they moved through the last hills to the Trapper Creek with Joe Bush riding in the lead, and set about to make camp on the bank above the creek. Joe Bush encouraged J.L. and Mary to take up land below him right on Trapper Creek, so he would have neighbors. J.L. and his boys went with Bush to gather some firewood in the creek bottom while Bush explained the locations nearby valley, creeks, and river and the relative distances between them.
Bush, who name still locates Bush Creek and Bush Butte up the mountains south of Trapper Canyon, lived in a dugout about where the old Trapper Lodge across the Trapper Guest House now stands. This would become the first Dude Ranch in the area. He would homestead the “upper” 160 acres of the Trapper Lodge Ranch – first consolidated under the Wyeth family into 326 acres from the Bush homestead and the 160-acre Jenks’ ranch just below it.
The ranch with the exception of the two 30 acre parcels below the Trapper Creek lane, the upper on now owned by Fred and Kay Cunnings, and the lower one, adjoining Jerry and Margaret Brown, owned by a person in Powell, WY, plus a 53 acre parcel belonging to Gil Smith, located above the lane, the old Wyeth property was brought back together again by Lorie Hunter who purchased the ranch acreage, barns and old Dude Ranch lodge from the Smith family and the Wyeth lodge, known as Trapper Creek Lodge (or the “new” Trapper Lodge or The Wyeth Lodge), its yard and old orchard.
Lorie Hunter sold the property to Paula Flitner in 2002, who saved no effort, nor resources to restore the Trapper Lodge in its old glory.
The Smith’s settled in Trapper Creek Canyon
In the summer of 1886, the Smiths, tired from traveling decided to settle near Trapper Creek instead of pushing on to the West. The winter of 1886 / 1887 was the most famous winter of all time. This is the winter of 1886 that Charles Russell’s drawing, “The last of the 5.000” illustrates. Near their ranch that summer the Smiths trapped the biggest Grizzly killed in the Basin. Earlies in 1884, Smith had ridden over the mountains from Mahogany Buttes to Buffalo to have a blacksmith forge a bear trap large enough for Grizzlies. There where plenty of bears in both Shell and Mahogany Buttes.
At that time Smith, his wife and kids became afraid to walk from Shell up to Trapper Creek because of the bear and the longhorn cattle, many of which had never seen a person on foot, and curious, would come right up them.