History: Pre-Incorporation Years
Victor was first inhabited by Native Americans for centuries and then the mountain men starting traveling through the Valley and what is known today as Victor in the 19th century. (According to history, John Colter from Lewis & Clark’s Corps of Discovery was the first white man to pass through the area.) All lived here until the beginning of winter when they would have moved south to escape the harsh winter season and would then return in the spring after the thaw. Trappers followed Colter and for years things went well between the trappers and Native Americans, including the Crow, Shoshone and Blackfoot tribes. This peace unraveled in 1832 when a fierce band of Blackfoot appeared during a trading conference and a big battle occurred with the loss of many lives. The area was virtually uninhabited for the next 50 years with only outlaws and horse thieves coming into the area and few settled to stay due to the severity of the winters.
Gideon & Alice Murphy were known to be the first white settlers moving their family from Lyman in 1888 and their fifth child, Elizabeth, was the first white child born later that year in October. The first settlers came primarily from Utah. They were Morman converts or descendents from Great Britain, Scandinavia, Switzerland and Germany. They came to establish new homes and lives because of the plentiful land, irrigation water and timber.
Hazards and gruesome sights occasionally masked an otherwise peaceful scene as the pioneers came to the area. A skeleton of a trapper greeted settlers that came to Warm Creek in April of 1889. His hands got caught in a bear trap and he could not get out of it.
The original wagon route was close to the Teton River. The pioneers followed the river in order to have water for themselves and livestock and meadow grass for their livestock. Today’s highways are far away from the river, mostly built on former sagebrush flats.
Draft horses were important to a successful settlement. The biggest loss to any Victor farmer was the death of a horse.
Those who came here had a rustic lifestyle that is a far cry from the creature comforts people today expect. The early log cabins were not built for comfort, just practicality. These cabins were far from warm in winter as they were mostly built with bare floors. Pitched roofs on cabins consisted of dirt that was packed on and between log poles placed closely together. Unless straw or animal hides were on the floor, the floors were extremely cold – when it rained or the snow melted, ceilings leaked muddy water. If the cabin had windows, blankets or hides were used to cover the exposed areas and door hinges were made of rawhides.
Abundant food was available – wild game, a variety of berries and small stream fish were in ample supply. Crops grew well and animal reproduction was high. Foods not able to be grown in the valley were done without.
Flour had to be shipped by wagons in until threshing machines and mills became available in the 1890’s.
With the exception of the above-mentioned berry bushes, fruit was not and to this day is not a livable crop that can be grown here due to the consistency of the soil. For this reason alone, a child finding an orange in his or her stocking at Christmas time considered the receipt of it a real treat. Rail shipment made this possible.
It is important to mention that even though the early settlers did without a lot of foodstuffs and products and services, their overall health was good. A scarlet fever epidemic as well as typhoid fever came through the area in 1910 – no lives were lost. Smallpox also came to the area in 1911 and there were no deaths.
The settlers dug irrigation canals and after this back-breaking work planted crops, built sawmills, ranched sheep and cattle, and mined for oil, coal and limestone. This was not an existence for the faint of heart – they got up early in the morning and went to bed late at night.
From 1926 to 1970 Victor mined limestone near the area now known as Fox Creek for the sugar beet factory in Idaho Falls. Gas emitted from the limestone purified the sugar. The railroad was used for transportation and Victor produced enough limestone to be transported to Idaho Falls every other day.
For 100 years, farming and ranching was the basis of Victor’s economy. There are still some farms and ranches left today, but with the growth of the population here and around the area, a lot of that land is being developed for homes and commercial developments. Progress changes the landscape continuously, but the spirit and sense of community of the residents of Victor remains warm and welcoming.
Formation of City
In 1889, Cache Valley Mormons founded Victor. The city was comprised of four existing settlements; Trail Creek, Fox Creek, Chapin and Cedron. Originally it was named Raymond Village after David Raymond Sinclair, the ward’s first bishop. Bingham County still has the original drawing that was recorded.
The United States Post Office rejected the name of Raymond as there already was one on record so for the founding fathers - it was back to the drawing board to decide on a name for the community. Victor is named for George Victor Sherwood, a postman who devotedly carried the mail on his back who walked or skied the route between Jackson Hole and the south end of Teton Valley.
The founding of Victor also coincided with other world events that were occurring at the same time; e.g., the construction of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, and the Johnstown, Pennsylvania flood that killed over 2,000 people also occurred in 1889.
Government history from this period of time is not lengthy or controversial due to the small size of the city. Victor residents have been able to resolve differences and have basically agreed with elected officials. Most difficult problems were providing and maintaining a proper water system, maintaining streets and cemeteries and fighting fires. To date the city has experienced a low crime rate.
Turning Points Section
The extension of the rail line that came from Driggs in 1913 put Victor on the map, so to speak, by providing the residents with a way to get goods not readily available in the area. The Oregon Short Line was the original rail service that came to Victor; years later it was followed by the Union Pacific. A “Y” rail was built so that the train could turn around and go back to Driggs. The same year rail service extended here, Victor’s Depot was also built. This building still stands today as a preserved historic monument and is a reminder to residents of our rail history.
The railroad’s presence created jobs for the city’s residents. It was less expensive for Jackson Hole residents to get goods shipped her than from any point in Wyoming. Haulers would loads wagons up and go over Teton Pass to deliver these goods. This presence also brought some interesting passengers to the area – park tourists and even movie stars! The marriage scene from “Continental Divide”, a movie that featured John Belushi was filmed in Victor with a local resident who acted as a wedding witness!
The first hotel was built in 1896 by Ben (Grampa) Jones. Folks visiting the area had a place to lay their weary heads. The Killpack Hotel was also established as a place for visitors to stay. Both establishments are no longer in existence.
After the summer cattle drivers moved the herds down from the high country to the ranchers’ pastures. When ready for market, they moved them to the stockyards which were located next to the railroad for easy transportation. The same was true with sheep.
The year 1921 brought the first airplane that ever landed in Victor. The pilot was from Idaho Falls and he landed in a field a mile away from town. He took people for rides above the valley. On the 4th of July he would do stunts and maneuvers over the grandstand.
The pulling out of the passenger train service in the mid-60’s dealt a blow to the city’s economy. Known as the “Park Train”, the rail service brought visitors to Victor who would then be bussed over to Jackson Hole/Grand Teton National Park and back again. This trip was very popular and profitable.
In the early 1970’s all Union Pacific rail service stopped and there was a loss of convenience experienced by the whole community. The rails kept Victor fortified with supplies and visits from loved ones; Victor’s stockyards shipped cattle to other areas. With the end of the rail service, the stockyards closed and residents had to come up with alternatives to provide for their livelihoods and provisions.
This is a city that refused to give up and quit just because of some inconveniences that came in its way. It has withstood the test of time and all the trials and tribulations that go with it.