CHEYENNE - Cliff Hansen is known throughout Wyoming for his achievements as governor and U.S. senator.
But recently, Hansen was in the national spotlight when he was featured in Ken Burns' popular PBS documentary series on America's national parks for his opposition to - and, later, his support of - the expansion of Grand Teton National Park.
As a prominent Jackson rancher and a young Teton County commissioner in 1943, Hansen was outraged when President Franklin D. Roosevelt turned about a third of Jackson Hole - much of it land covertly purchased by millionaire John D. Rockefeller - into a national monument.
Despite howls of protest by Hansen, as well as locals and Wyoming politicians, the national monument eventually became part of Grand Teton National Park in 1950.
Hansen, along with other local ranchers and movie star Wallace Beery, even illegally drove 500 head of cattle across the national monument to protest its creation and to draw national publicity.
"No Compromise!" boomed the headline of a September 1943 letter from Hansen to Gov. Lester Hunt published in the Jackson Hole Courier.
But starting in the 1960s, Hansen rethought his opposition to the expansion of Grand Teton National Park and became a strong supporter of it. He even became friends with many members of the Rockefeller family. His granddaughter-in-law, Kate Mead, chairs the Grand Teton National Park Foundation.
"I want you all to know that I'm glad I lost, because I now know I was wrong," Hansen said during a luncheon in New York in 1967. "Grand Teton National Park is one of the greatest natural heritages of Wyoming and the nation and one of our great assets."
Dayton Duncan, writer and producer of the national park series, traveled to Jackson a couple of years ago to interview Hansen for the series. But the night before the interview, Hansen had to be hospitalized, and neither Duncan nor Burns ever met Hansen in person.
Instead, the filmmakers received permission to use an interview Hansen previously gave to public television talking about his opposition to expanding the park, as well as his subsequent regret for doing so.
Duncan said Hansen was an ideal spokesman for one of the main themes of the series: that many opponents of the creation of national parks eventually became supporters.
"The thing that I think impressed us the most is it's very hard for anybody to look back on some stands and positions that they've taken and say, 'In retrospect I was wrong,' " Duncan said. "That's hard for anybody to say - and particularly hard for politicians to say.
"And I think it was a measure of Governor Hansen that looking back on the fight over the expansion of Grand Teton that he said, 'I'm glad I lost that battle.' "
Contact Jeremy Pelzer at email@example.com or 307-632-1244.