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The Suspicious Death of Robert Ray Hamilton

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News and Adventure from Glacier National Park

Did you know that Signal Mountain in Grand Teton National Park received its name as a result of a highly suspicious death?

In the spring of 1890, John Dudley Sargent, along with his partner, Robert Ray Hamilton, began construction on Merymere Lodge, a 10-room cabin overlooking Jackson Lake north of Colter Bay. In August of that year, Robert, who happened to be the great-grandson of Alexander Hamilton, mysteriously went missing while hunting for antelope. Search parties were immediately organized with instructions to light a “signal” fire atop an isolated mountain east of Jackson Lake once he was found. A week later searchers found his body floating in the Snake River. As directed, a fire was lit, and the name “Signal Mountain” stuck for the low-lying mountain.

Speculation swirled for years as to whether Hamilton was murdered by his business partner, who would also be suspected of murdering his wife several years later. The circumstances surrounding both cases were strange and entangled. In the end, neither accusation was ever proved, or completely solved.

Without going into the long details of what transpired before and after Hamilton’s death, as well as the somewhat confusing and contradictory details of his death, it’s assumed that he drowned while trying to ford the Snake River at a particularly dangerous location. The prevailing rumor around Jackson Hole was that Sargent gave Hamilton directions to cross at this spot, knowing full well that this was a highly treacherous ford. Moreover, the supposition was that Sargent wanted Hamilton dead so that he could gain sole possession of the lodge.

Seven years later, as mentioned, Sargent’s first wife also died under highly suspicious circumstances. Again, the settlers in Jackson Hole immediately suspected Sargent of murder. In 1913, Sargent himself was found dead in his cabin by passing travelers who could smell his decomposing body from the road. He was found sitting in a rocking chair, with a string tied from his big toe to the trigger of his rifle.

Here’s John Dudley Sargent in his cabin, presumably in the chair that he died in:


Ramble On (2nd edition book on the rich history of hiking)
Exploring Glacier National Park
Exploring Grand Teton National Park


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