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


The honor for the discovery of the Mariposa Grove of Big Trees and making it known to the world belongs to Galen Clark. He was born in New Hampshire in 1814. While visiting in New York City, in 1853, he saw an exhibition of California gold dust, which caused him to start in October of that year for California, via the Isthmus.

He arrived in Mariposa, in 1854, at the age of forty years. At first, he engaged in mining and surveying, in which work, he suffered exposure and developed serious lung trouble. The doctor told him that he could only live a few months. But this news did not discourage him and he decided to make his home, among the health-giving pines, on the south fork of the Merced River, near where Wawona now is.

Here, at first he lived a hand to mouth existence, almost like that of a primitive Indian. He would shoot a deer and not being able to bring it into camp alone, he would secure the aid of neighboring miners and then trade most of the meat for other necessities of life. His health gradually improved and he built a way-station for travelers, which, for many years, was known as “Clark’s Station”.

In August, 1855, he was informed by a young hunter, named Hogg, that there were three very large trees, up on Big Creek, above the Wawona Valley. This interested him greatly, so, in June, 1856, he and William Mann made a trip of exploration, which resulted in the discovery and naming of the Mariposa Grove of Big Trees.

Galen Clark was frequently asked the name of the first big tree which he saw when the discovery of the grove was made. He would reply: “I do not know for certain. They all seemed to appear. If my memory is correct, it was probably the Vermont.” The spot where he stood, when he first beheld the grove, has been appropriately marked and its location is not far from the most noted tree in the world, “Wawona”, the tree that people have driven through since 1881. He really found two groves, the “Upper Grove” and the “Lower Grove”, totalling more than one hundred and twenty-five mammoth trees. A few days later, he found the three trees, reported to him by Hogg.

On July 2 and 3, 1859, he accompanied J. M. Hutchings to the Grove and this visit has been described by Mr. Hutchings, as follows:

“Who can picture in language or on canvas, all the sublime depths of wonder that flowed to our souls, in thrilling and intense surprise, when our eyes looked upon these great marvels? Long vistas of forest shades, formed by immense trunks of trees, extending hither and thither; now arched by the overhanging branches of the lofty taxodiums, then by the drooping boughs of the white-blossomed dogwood; while the high-moaning sweep of the pines and the low-whispering swell of the firs, sang awe-inspiring anthems to their great Planter.

“Once fairly within the impressive precincts of the Grove, we were soon brought face to face with one of the oldest, most storm-tossed and grizzled of this entire family of Brobdingnags. It looked at us as defiantly as the oldest veteran grizzly bear ever could. We measured this sturdy, gnarled old fellow, which, although badly burned, is still ninety feet in circumference and we look the liberty of naming it the “Grizzled Giant”.

In 1864, when the United States Government granted the Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove to the State of California, Galen Clark was appointed one of the commissioners, at which time, one of his first achievements, was the building of a horse-trail four miles in length, to make the grove accessible.

Later he acted as Guardian for Yosemite, for a period of twenty-seven years, during which time, with very small appropriations by the State, he protected his charge against vandals, grafters and fires, and, in addition, made many improvements for the convenience of visitors. Everyone, rich or poor, were made welcome and he did everything he could to make them appreciative of the beauties, which they were witnessing. No one, who ever met him, forgot him. He was so kind, so hospitable and so informative.

He was a sincere lover and an ardent student of Nature and a veritable fountain of information about everything pertaining to Yosemite and the Mariposa Grove. This knowledge he freely transmitted to others, including John Muir and J. M. Hutchings, thus aiding them greatly in their writings. John Muir said of him, “He is the sincerest tree lover I know”. There was some jealousy between Muir and Hutchings but Galen Clark was jealous of no one.

He did not seek the praise of his fellowmen but preferred to stay in the background. He never attempted to claim the honor as discoverer of the Mariposa Grove. This serious-minded man, even though he was perhaps the best-informed man, in his time, regarding Yosemite and the Mariposa Grove, would never make a positive statement, unless so convinced in his own mind; in other words, he strived to be accurate in any information that he passed out. He was just as particular in trivial matters. One day a group of his neighbors, all of them old-timers in the Valley, were trying to foretell the weather and each one was giving the reasons for his forecast. An intimate friend asked, “Galen, you are a good observer of Nature and have studied the clouds up here for many years, what is your prediction of the coming weather?” He quietly replied: “Ask the new arrival, the fellow that just came here yesterday. He knows more about it than I do.”

At the age of ninety-six, he passed away, leaving behind a grand record of kindly deeds, of useful achievements and a multitude of sincere friends, who loved him.

Next: 16. Fremont’s ActivitiesContentsPrevious: 14. First Yosemite Description

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Online Library: Title Author California Geology History Indians Muir Mountaineering Nature Management