Chapter Three

The Countess of Flat Creek

Cissy Patterson at her ranch in Jackson HoleAfter a long, dirty Union Pacific railway journey from Chicago to Salt Lake City, followed by even dustier ride on the newly-completed Oregon Short line from there to Victor, Idaho, the recent divorcée, her eleven year-old daughter and their French maid crossed the threshold of the Killpack Hotel in August, 1917. Beneath the sign informing them they had entered the “Loby” of the town’s most luxurious hotel, they found themselves in the company of a number of local cowpokes chewing tobacco before a long line of spittoons. After an inedible dinner and an uncomfortable night, the trio met their wagon team at the Killpack the following morning and set off for the Bar BC Ranch, across the Teton Pass in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

Given the weight of Cissy’s seven steamer trunks—crammed with English tweeds; high laced walking boots and several pairs of other boots appropriate to riding either sidesaddle or astride, and formal habit and head gear for each; wide brimmed hats to guard Cissy’s pale complexion from the ravages of the Western sun when unmounted; an array of lotions, cosmetics, creams and curatives; evening gowns and day dresses with their own matching hats; and the Mannlicher rifle (of the sort favored by the Austro-Hungarian military and professional elephant hunters) that she had brought from Novosielica—it was impossible for the passengers to ride all the way, especially on the steepest grades. Cissy strode ahead of the struggling team in long Parisian skirts and custom-made hobnail boots, her copper hair gleaming in the sunlight. Felicia followed, delighted by the magnificent vistas that surrounded her. The French maid straggled along the dusty trail behind them.

Typically, guests of the Bar BC would arrive from their day-long journey as the sun set majestically over the Tetons. By the time the Gizycka party reached the ranch, however, it was already dark and a cold, driving rain had begun to fall, turning the thick dust on their faces to mud. They were greeted heartily at the door of the main cabin by Katherine Burt, the proprietress, who exclaimed, “I’m a cavewoman.” Expecting a hot bath, room service and clean sheets after hours of walking uphill and down, Cissy found instead that they had arrived in the middle of a rustic costume party. Moreover, she discovered to her mounting consternation, there was no electricity or running water and the ranch was inaccessible to motorized vehicles. If the countess wished to leave, she would have to wait until the team was sufficiently rested to haul her trunks back over the steep pass to Victor, while she followed behind, once again, largely on foot.

“My mother was spoiled, willful and bad tempered but this time she knew she was licked,” Felicia recalled. The following morning, Cissy made arrangements to send her maid back to Washington with six of her trunks. She and Felicia would remain, however.