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Guardians of the Yosemite (1961) by John W. Bingaman


Chapter XII

CHASING LAW BREAKERS

During the early 1920’s there was a lot of new construction in Yosemite. Work was started on the All Year Highway, from Mariposa to Yosemite and convicts from the State Prison were used on much of this work. A number of them escaped from their camps and were apprehended by park rangers. Several times I was notified by the Chief Ranger to be on the lookout for them after a break. One time we were out a day and night searching for four reported in the Big Meadow area. Rangers Townsley, Boothe, Rich, Nelson, Sault and myself were watching all trails and road junctions. About five o’clock in the morning Rangers Boothe, Nelson and Sault flushed the four escapees out of a brush patch. They gave up without much trouble and told us they were trying to make their way over the mountains to Nevada.

One August afternoon in 1921 a lone bandit held up and robbed the Tenaya Lake Camp. The bandit who operated with a mask and at gun point, took three hundred and fifty dollars from the manager then made his getaway on foot. The manager immediately notified my station by phone. Rangers Nelson, Miller and I rode on horseback the eight miles to Tenaya Lake and contacted Frank Ewing, our Trail Crew Foreman, who was camped there. He offered to make a patrol along the road to check on any lone hiker while Rangers Nelson, Miller and I covered the area around the Lake looking for said bandit.

I had reporded to the Chief Ranger about the holdup and he told me to continue the search and check all trails in that area for lone hikers and tracks. It was an all night hunt with no success. The next morning Ranger Wegner arrived and took charge. We continued all that day with no clues so that evening the search was given up.

A few years later this same bandit was caught in Oregon pulling the same kind of a job and confessed he was the one that robbed Tenaya Lake Lodge. While serving time in the Oregon jail he stated the first night after the holdup at Tenaya Lake he worked his way down the trail to Yosemite Valley. He saw the ranger riding fast up the trail and he slept in the Yosemite cemetery that night.

One day late in June 1943 Ranger Bill Davies, two young high school boys and I were clearing logs from the trail. We had started from Hetch Hechy that morning with food and sleeping gear, my two pack mules and saddle horses. We had planned to camp at the City Trail Camp about five miles distant at the Rancheria Creek crossing. Working along the trail bordering the reservoir we sawed out about ten downed trees and arrived at the planned camp site about four-thirty p.m. While unpacking I thought that I heard a moan or low wail coming from an old tool house about three hundred yards up the trail. I told Bill about it and he said it couldn’t be as this was a Closed Military Area and no one was permitted in here during the war. Then we both heard the sound. Only this time it sounded more like a cry for help. I told Bill to watch the back of the tool house while I went to the front door. As I neared the building a voice from inside called, “Come in and get me you have been a long time coming.” I was armed, so trusting on the old 45 Colt I kicked the door open. Inside, on the floor covered with pine needles, lay a man that looked like a skeleton.

I said, “Who are you and what are you doing here?”

He replied in a weak voice, “Who are you?” Then added “I’m starved give me food. Today I was ready to die.”

He went on to say that he’d had nothing to eat for the past week but rattlesnake meat and was starving to death. I assured him I would give him food. He went on to say that about a week ago he fell into one of the rushing creeks back up in the higher country and lost his pack, food and gun. When he arrived at the Reservoir Site and saw the posted signs, “Keep Out Military Area,” he preferred to starve rather than go through and face the Guards at the Hetch Hetchy Dam. Later I found out why.

Bill prepared some soup for our patient but we only gave him a small amount at first as he was in no shape to take on much food at this time. When he had eaten he told us his name was Lewis. I explained to him that it would be necessary to take him to headquarters for medical care and investigation. He wanted to avoid passing the Guards but Bill and I secured him firmly to the pack mule for we were taking no chances of him falling off or trying to get away. Then we rode down to Hetch Hetchy and crossed the Dam and through the Guard Station. We stopped at the cook house for more food. Lewis insisted on taking a shower. He said it would make him feel much better so I gave permission for he really needed one. The shower and a little more food and Lewis was feeling better.

I reported my find to the Chief Ranger at headquarters and he said to bring Lewis in. We transferred to my patrol pickup, then drove to headquarters where I turned Lewis over to the Chief Ranger. Through Military and Police files we found that Lewis was a draft dodger and had been on the travel from place to place for over a year. When the check on him was completed we turned him over to the army and he was placed in a military prison for the duration.

The next day I returned to the boys at Trail Camp and we proceeded on our trail clearing job for another two days of work before returning to Mather Ranger Station.


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