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The Call of Gold (1936) by Newell D. Chamberlain


From 1851 to June, 1855, Yosemite Valley remained almost unknown and unvisited until J. M. Hutchings, accompanied by Mr. Ayres and Mr. Millard of San Francisco, Mr. Stair of Coultervine, and two Indian guides, went there for the purpose of sketching and describing it and they were the first visitors as such to Yosemite.

Upon their return, the first descriptive sketch of that remarkable valley was published in the Mariposa Gazette of July 12th, 1855, as follows:

“Starting from Mr. Hunt’s store on the Fresno, we kept an east-of-north course, up the divide between the Fresno and Chowchilla Valley; thence descending toward the south fork of the Merced River, and winding around a very rocky point, we climbed to the ridge of the middle or main fork and descending toward the Yo-Semity valley, we came upon a high point, clear of trees, from whence we had our first view of this singular and romantic valley; and as the scene opened in full view before us, we were almost speechless with wondering admiration at its wild and sublime grandeur. ‘What,’ exclaimed one at length, ‘have we come to the end of all things?’ ‘Can this be the opening of the Seventh Seal?’ cries another. ‘This far, very far, exceeds Niagara’, says a third. We had been out from Mariposa about four days, and the fatigue of the journey had made us weary and a little peevish, but when our eyes looked upon the almost terrific grandeur of this scene, all was forgotten.

“ ‘I never expected to behold so beautiful a sight.’ ‘This scene alone amply repays me for the travel.’ ‘I should have lost the most magnificent sight that I ever saw, had I not witnessed this,’ were exclamations of pleasurable surprise that fell from the lips

Galen Clark, in the Mariposa Grove of Big Trees, which he discovered
[click to enlarge]
Galen Clark, in the Mariposa Grove of Big Trees, which he discovered.

of all, as we sat down to drink in the varied beauties of this intoxicating and enchanting scene.

“On the north side stands one bold, perpendicular mountain of granite, shaped like an immense tower. It’s lofty top is covered with great pines, that by distance become mere shrubs. Our Indian guides called this ‘Capitan’. It measures from the valley to its summit about two thousand eight hundred feet.

“Just opposite to this, on the south side of the valley, our attention was first attracted by a magnificent waterfall, about seven hundred feet in height. It looked like a broad long feather of silver, that hung depending over a precipice, and as this feathery tail of leaping spray thus hung, a slight breeze moved it from side to side, and as the last rays of the setting sun were gilding it with rainbow hues, the red would mix with the purple and the purple with the yellow and the yellow with the green and the green with the silvery sheen of its whitened foam, as it danced in space. On rushed the water over its rocky bed and as it reached the valley, it threw up a cloud of mist that made green and flourishing the grass and flowers and shrubs, that slumbered at the mountain’s base, while towering three thousand feet above the valley, stood the rugged and pine-covered cliffs, that, in broken and spiral peaks, girdle the whole.

“Passing further up the valley, one is struck with the awful grandeur of the immense mountains on either side, some perpendicular, some a little sloping. One looks like a light-house, another like a giant capital of immense dimensions; all are singular and surmounted by pines.

“Now we crossed the river and still advancing up the valley, turned a point and before us was an indescribable sight, a waterfall two thousand two hundred feet in height, the highest in the world. It rushes over the cliffs and with one bold leap falls one thousand two hundred feet, then a second of five hundred feet more, then a third of over five hundred feet more, the three leaps making over two thousand two hundred feet. Standing upon the opposite side of the valley, and looking at the tall pines below, the great height of these falls can at a glance be comprehended.”

So wrote Mr. Hutchings, in the first newspaper description of Yosemite Valley. Today, tourists and writers have many opportunities to read descriptions of Yosemite, previous to their first view and are prepared for its marvelous beauties. But in the case of Mr. Hutchings’ first trip, he really had no foreknowledge, so that the foregoing description was original and is indeed a masterpiece.

Newspapers and magazines, throughout the country, copied this inspiring description and as a result, many people, including notables from all over the world, were attracted to Yosemite.

J. M. Hutchings, for forty-seven years, continued to proclaim to the world the beauties of Yosemite and by his enterprise and tenacity in so doing, earned the title “Father of Yosemite”.

He was born in England and came, at the age of fourteen, to New Orleans, where he learned the trade of architectural drawing and also took up newspaper work. In 1849, the call of gold started him westward, over the overland trail, as a correspondent of the New Orleans “Picayune”. After his arrival in California, he went to mining in Placer County, where he was very successful.

An opportunity to try out his literary talent came when he was asked to take charge of the “Placer Herald”, during the absence of the editor. While thus acting as editor, he published a number of humorous articles, including the “Miner’s Ten Commandments”, which were so popular that the circulation of the paper was trebled. Subsequently, he published these commandments in sheet form and realized a profit of $10,000. Practically every miner in the State had a copy tacked on his cabin wall.

Hutchings then put his money in a water project near Mokelumne Hill, which in a short time, went bankrupt. In 1854, he took a notion to publish an illustrated California magazine and in gathering material for it, he visited over seven hundred places of interest in the State. In 1856, he was a member of the Vigilance Committee, in San Francisco. Then for a number of years, he published “Hutchings’ Magazine”, but discontinued it on account of poor health. In 1860, he placed on the market, a book entitled “Scenes of Wonder and Curiosity in California”, of which eight thousand copies were sold the first year.

In the Spring of 1862, he decided to settle permanently in Yosemite and two years later, his wife and mother joined him there. He purchased a possessory title to one hundred and sixty acres of land in the floor of the valley and he established a saw-mill, run by water power from Yosemite Falls.

Unquestionably, the pioneer who did more than any other man to advance the interests of Yosemite by advertising its beauties to the world and exciting public curiosity in regard to it, was J. M. Hutchings.

Next: 15. Galen ClarkContentsPrevious: 13. 1854 and 1855

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