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In the year 1874, Captain Howard took his wife and children to the Yosemite Valley, which is to-day one of the renowned scenic and pleasure resorts of the world. There are several “exact dates” of the discovery of this prodigy of nature by white men. Captain Howard stated that the valley was first entered by the Mariposa Battalion, May 5, 1851 (as mentioned in Chapter XV). The first picture of Yosemite Falls, however, was not presented to the public until 1855, and it was painted by Thomas Ayres.
The first visit of the Howard family to this valley was a thrilling trip, for many times the trail was lost to view. With all their real necessities, including two milch cows, they traveled along the Heights Cove Trail [Editor’s note: Hite’s Cove Trail—dea]. All rode horses and ponies, and through an animal’s fright one of the children was thrown over a bluff. Fortunately, the shawl which enveloped him caught in a tree and saved him from being. dashed to pieces.
Courtesy of the Southern Pacific Railway Company
[click to enlarge]
A strenuous journey of several days brought them into the valley, where they put up at the house of Mr. J. M. Hutchings, an Englishman, and author of the book entitled, “In the Heart of the Sierras.” This work gives a good description of early life in the Yosemite, and contains many unique illustrations. Mr. Hutchings’ daughter was the first white child born in the Valley; she died at the age of eighteen, and Mount Florence was named in her honor. In the previous chapter we have seen three interesting letters written by Hutchings to Howard in 1879.
Soon after their arrival, Captain Howard built a summer home on the edge of Mirror Lake, where he erected a platform out over the water, sixty by forty feet in area. The children decorated the rail of this platform with Chinese lanterns, and every night parties were indulged in, for according to the old Southern style, Mirror Lake House was “Liberty Hall.”
William built the first toll road and the first school-house in the Yosemite, and his eldest daughter, Ida, was the first school-teacher.
In 1875, McLean completed the building of a stage road, and the opening day was celebrated, July 22 of this year, when the Hon. W. J. Howard gave the address of welcome, and the Hon. W. J. Wilcox responded. At the close of the two speeches, the procession was formed into line by Grand Marshal Coulter, assisted by numerous aides, each properly designated by his scarf and buttons. At the head of the procession went a detachment of militia firing minute-guns, followed by the Yosemite and Merced bands. The residents and visitors—in wagons, carriages, and on horseback—brought up the rear.
There were three hundred and fifty people in the procession, and after marching for a while through archways, they halted in front of Coulter and Murphy’s hotel, which was beautifully decorated for the occasion. Then the meeting was called to order and five vice-presidents were chosen—William J. Howard, Judge Corcoran, Judge Jones, Charles Bogan, and J. W. Chestnutwood. Howard was later elected president, and he delivered a successful address, after which Miss Ida T. Howard recited the following poem in blank verse, which was composed by her mother, Mrs. William J. Howard, under the nom-de-plume of “Yosemite Belle”:
Enchanted Waters: Yosemite
Pride of the West, Yosemite;
Roll on in mighty grandeur, o’er thy rocky bed forever.
May many nations come to greet thee
In thy pristine beauty, and gaze in adoration on thy loveliness!
May youth and age from far and near,
O’er land and sea and desert drear,
Come to this God’s-gift of the West, to hear
Of all the myriad sights their hearts to cheer.
To see, to meditate, to adore, to worship
In Nature’s temples here;
To bow down the heart as never before
To him, its Great Creator.
Roll on, and dash thy crystalled jewels on the mossy vale
Where poets kneel to worship thee
With mute uplifted eye;
The mighty awe upon their souls, leaving them
Powerless as the tender infant, to unfold
The rush of inspiration, with which their being’s filled.
They are lost in admiration, wonder, fear,
Until their spirits seem to float, far off unto the
Mystic realms of dark infinity;
And mingle there with those, who’ve
Left this beautiful world, and fled to one beyond the
Ken of poor mortality.
All hail, thou brilliant-lined, soul-inspiring Great Yosemite!
May artists, poets, muses, linger at thy
Silver-veiled portals, and bless the God
Who gave this Western world such a
Marvel of unrivaled beauty, and
Pray to Him to lift the seals from off their souls
That thou may’st give unto the distant world
A humble idea of thy wondrous vision
Of this, our Eden Land.
Tell old philosophers to come, with all their wisdom,
To see how small, how very small, are the works
Of mightiest men, compared with this of the Great I Am.
Throw off the fetters from thy dreamy mind,
And gaze and learn, that this the
Eden of the Earth’s a resting place
For tired bodies, wearied minds, and Drooping souls;
That naught in all the philosophy of mortal man
Can counterpart our rainbow span;
Tell Wisdom’s greatest sage to come and see
If aught on earth can equal thee,
Thou peerless queen: Yosemite!
October 26, 1874.
On the evening of July 22, 1875, a grand ball took place in the ballroom of the largest hotel in the Valley, and an old copy of the Mariposa Gazette states that the celebration was a huge success.
For ten successive summers Captain Howard took his family to Yosemite, and in this wonderful valley of the gods and goddesses, he, his wife and children enjoyed weeks of real happiness, with constant and congenial occupation for both body and mind. In this world there is always some service of kindness to be rendered, and if one does not shirk the opportunities for it, such service brings its full reward. Thus, under the spell of the Yosemite, Captain Howard and his family found added happiness in helping many strangers who came to their door.
Yosemite is only one-hundred and fifty miles from San Francisco, and is regarded as the wonder-spot of California. It is a vast region in the Sierra Nevadas, covering an area of thirty-six by forty-eight miles, and is known to-day as Yosemite National Park. The Merced River flows through this wide expanse, and the valley alone is about seven miles long and one mile wide. The rocks and streams are so delicately harmonized by nature that their magnitude is not realized at first. Sheer precipices 3,000 to 5,000 feet high are fringed with tall trees growing close, like grass on the brow of a lowland hill. Extending along the base of a precipice there is a ribbon of meadow, actually vast, but looking like a strip that a farmer might mow in a day. Waterfalls 500 to 2,600 feet high, dwarfed by the mighty cliffs over which they pour, seem like wisps of smoke, gentle as floating clouds, tho their voices fill the valley and make the rocks tremble. The mountains along the eastern sky, the domes in front of them, and the succession of smooth, rounded waves between, swelling higher and higher, with dark woods in their hollows, serene in massive exuberant bulk and beauty, have a tendency to hide the grandeur of the Yosemite Temple, and make it appear a subdued and subordinate feature of the vast, harmonious landscape. Any attempt to appreciate one feature is beaten down by the overwhelming, awe-inspiring influence of all the others. Here one finds nature in all her glory, mountain-ranges with snowy peaks, domes and shadowy valleys, nature fierce and devoutly wild, yet caressing the flowers with a gentle hand, painting and watering them like a faithful gardener. Every aspect of beauty prevails, and the symmetrical sequoias, over three thousand years old, stand in all their majestic dignity, unshaken by wind and storm.
In the midst of this sublime scene, men had already ventured to plant an orchard and a strawberry patch, whose fruits afforded the Howards many gustatory delights. They had been planted by Mr. Lamon, who built the first log cabin in the valley.
At night, Captain Howard recalls, one could see a circle of bright faces sitting around a glowing fire, watching the phantom forms which came and went with the scintillations of the blazing embers. Nimble fingers ply the needles as they knit yarn spun from the wool of Yosemite sheep. Someone is reading aloud, some are learning a song or poem, while others are playing cards. Day after day the various families in the valley live and enjoy such social communion, discussing great authors, and reading at intervals the California Magazine.
News of the wonders of Yosemite spread rapidly throughout the world, and tourists from all parts arrived at Mirror Lake to enjoy its beauties. This lake is situated between two mountains, one 5,000 feet high and the other 4,700, and travelers were always anxious to see it at sunrise, when they could get the thrill of the mountains as reflected in its clear waters.
For the convenience of the family and visitors, William had two flat-bottomed boats made, and named them after two Civil War vessels, the Kearsarge and the Alabama. They were always in readiness at the foot of the steps leading to the platform of Mirror Lake House.
On one occasion Lord Arthur—we will call him Lord Arthur Blank—arrived with three ladies from Great Britain, and by special request Howard assisted the little party into the Alabama, and all five pushed out into the middle of the lake. Suddenly Howard called their attention to pictures in the water, caused by the reflections. “There is a crane,” he cried, “and the Sleeping Beauty, and a clothes-line with stockings and shirts hanging on it!” This exercise of fancy was extremely interesting to the ladies, but Lord Arthur’s imagination would not rise to the occasion; he became restless, commenced to rock the boat, and destroyed the reflection for the rest of the party.
“What kind of water is this?” he asked.
“Why,” replied William, “this water travels through a canyon from Lake Tenia, and while traveling it becomes pressed and compressed so much that when it reaches Mirror Lake it is absolutely pure and will not wet.”
Just then they drew near to a log ninety feet in length, and the ladies suggested that Lord Arthur jump upon it. As he put one foot on the log, the boat shot away, and he fell into twenty feet of water. In a few minutes William, with the assistance of the ladies, pulled him into the boat, and when he was able to speak, he said, “Ladies, we have the most wonderful scenery here, but the biggest liars in Christendom.”
The next afternoon, according to custom, Lord Arthur and his party set out for the Bridal Veil. This is a waterfall six hundred and twenty feet high, which when the sun shines upon it looks like a beautiful rainbow. All tourists were conveyed to it in a stage drawn by six prancing horses. The Englishman took a seat by the side of the driver, and as they followed the winding river their eyes gazed upon tropical scenery basking in the glorious sunshine.
When they had traveled about two miles, Lord Arthur saw a small animal in the road, and asked what it was. “Oh,” replied the driver, “that is the Yosemite squirrel.” At this remark, the lord requested that the conveyance be brought to a halt, so that he might get out and catch the pretty little animal. In a moment he was on the road and had knocked the black-and-white-striped “squirrel” over with his umbrella. Quickly the ladies raised their handkerchiefs to their noses, white Lord Arthur felt something wet in his face, for his trophy was a skunk and had discharged some of its perfume at the excited Englishman. Confusion followed, and the ladies, holding their dainty noses, cried excitedly, “Driver, don’t let him get into the coach!” The driver however, perhaps feeling a little guilty for his part in the episode, assisted the redolent victim into the stage, and all returned to the hotel. All that evening and part of the night Lori Arthur rubbed and scrubbed his face, and early the next morning, when walking toward the river, he met Captain Howard and said, “Do you know, Howard, I still feel the effects of that Yosemite squirrel.”
This and much more Captain I toward loved to tell about his summers in the Yosemite. Some of the experiences were thrilling, for the children had several narrow escapes from death, particularly when one of their mules suddenly slipped over the edge of the trail, or when the whole party had to cross a chasm several hundred feet deep on a rope, hand over hand.
To convey the true inspiration of this sleeping valley is beyond the power of the pen, the camera, or the painter’s illuminating art. Even the human tongue cannot adequately portray this majestic work of Mother Nature, and no change of time or circumstance can efface from memory the emotions of one’s first glimpse of Yosemite.
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