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


Chapter XVII

WAWONA DISTRICT AND PEOPLE

I was promoted to District Park Ranger and assigned to Wawona District June 22, 1937. Our quarters was the residence built for District Rangers a few years before. It was a comfortable house in a beautiful location and served as headquarters for the Wawona Ranger District. My duties as District Ranger were many. I had field work to do, as well as supervise all rangers, fire guards and do the book work of reports and records. The District Ranger supervises and directs fire suppression in his district. I was responsible too for the entrance station operation, the outpost station patrol in the high country and the apprehension of law violators. It was also my duty to fully cooperate with U.S. Forest Service and State agencies during fire emergencies. The protection of the Mariposa Grove of Big Trees was of great importance in my district.

In 1932 Wawona Basin, some 8,785 acres was taken into the Park and added to the Rangers’ problems. Section 35, a small village, was left in private ownership within the boundary of the Park and here new subdivisions and new modem homes and lodges were built. The maximum population in summer, including owners and renters, increased to one thousand. These people came under the protection of the Park Service Regulations.

One of the oldest members of a pioneer family, Mrs. Hattie Bruce Harris, still lives in Wawona on the old homestead. A great deal has been written covering the early history of her family. I had the privilege of knowing Albert, Jay, William, Jennette and Hattie who were of real pioneer stock and knew from experience the hard knocks of life. They were always willing to give a helping hand to anyone in need and would go out of their way to help a neighbor in trouble. They held many important positions in Yosemite. First with the Washburns in the hotel business, then the Park and other community affairs. I became acquainted with the family in 1921 during the early days of my ranger duties in the Big Trees.

Bert, as he was called by his friends, was the photographer in the Big Trees for many years. Jay became the State Lion Hunter, and made a record for himself tracking down and killing two hundred lions in the Sierra Region. He is the author of the book, “Cougar Killer.” William, a carpenter by trade, built many houses around Wawona. Jennette lived in San Francisco much of the time. Hattie, now Mrs. Sam Harris, took a prominent part in the community life in Wawona. Most of her earlier life was spent in San Francisco as a telegraph operator. After her retirement she returned to her first home in Wawona.

Another old time Wawona resident was Frank B. Marks, Sr. He was born in San Francisco, California, January 31, 1870. His father came from Gulde M of Yosemite National Park

A Dude Party camping in Hetch Hetchy, 1918
A Dude Party camping in Hetch Hetchy, 1918
Poland about 1833 and settled in New Bedford, Mass., then in 1852 went to San Francisco and bought land at what was known as Cow Hollow.

Frank married Fannie T. Olmstead, and they had four children; two boys and two girls. They lived in Merced and Fresno Counties where they had a dairy and raised alfalfa. In 1893 he moved to Dos Palos. At that time the family owned most of the town. Later he moved to Newman, California, where he went into rock, sand, and gravel production, and in 1931 into road construction with contracts in California and Nevada. In 1939 he contracted with Yosemite National Park to pave the Wawona Road and the Big Oak Flat Road which was finished in 1940.

His first camping trip to Yosemite Valley was in 1881, with his mother, brother and party. They drove a team of horses with a freight wagon. There were very few people in the Valley at that time. In 1913 he came on another camping trip to the Valley. The U. S. Troops patrolled the Park at that time. In 1922 he made his first park trip to Waterwheel Falls. The horses were rented horses at Tuolumne Meadows. At Return Creek the horse wrangler told him the fence was safe to hold stock but during the night the horses and mules worked out and disappeared. It was a job to find them. However all but two mules were found. These two showed up three weeks later on the Sunrise Trail. Mr. Marks said he was presented with a bill from the horse wrangler for one hundred and four dollars for the lost time on these two mules. Frank spends part of the summer in his private home in Wawona. He bought this property in 1924 from the Quig family and built a fine home.

Another old timer is Fred M. Terry a long time property owner in Wawona. Fred was born November 17, 1886 in London, England. For many years he was Chief Engineer for Hotel Fairmont and Whitcomb Hotels in San Francisco. His wife, Paula, was a native of Bavaria. Terry first came to Wawano in 1917, via the Cannon Ball Stage over Chowchilla Mountain.

Wawona Hotel
Wawona Hotel
He was met at Wawona Hotel by a boy who had a burro and took Terry’s luggage and camp equipment up to the Bruce homestead. He bought private land from Will Bruce, and in 1927 built a very comfortable home which he lived in for many years.

The Seventh Day Adventist Camp in Wawona has been a real asset to the community and continues to bring many children in for field school and training in outdoor camp life. They are always well cared for and supervised.

The Walter Baker and Harold May families have been property owners some thirty years and furnished lodging to the Park visitors which was needed during the peak travel season.

The summer season usually brings many of the old families back to the Wawona Hotel. Some of these, first came in the Washburn regime and returned each summer for their vacations. The Wawona Hotel has always been noted for its quiet relaxing atmosphere.

One of the first hotel managers we had the pleasure of knowing was Clarence Washburn, son of the original Washburn family who came to Wawona in 1875. Clarence Washburn was a most hospitable host and had the best interest of Wawona at heart. His father John, with two brothers, Henry and Edward, came to California from Vermont in 1865 and settled in Mariposa County. They ran a store in Bridgeport near Mariposa for a while until the Washburns bought the private property from Galen Clark and Moore on January 6, 1875 and built the Wawona Hotel in 1878. The old original building burned down in the fall of 1883. The present Wawona Hotel was built in 1884.

Henry Washburn did much to keep Wawona and the Mariposa County mountain area self supporting in the early era. He was highly respected by everyone who knew him, and Wawona is truly a monument to Henry Washburn.

Clarence told me that the Golf Course and Air Port were completed in 1917. It was the first mountain golf course in the State. The Air Port was used by a commercial pilot Frank Gallison who operated a sight seeing service over the area for a few years. Don Tresidder, president of the park company used the field for his plane. In 1932 the Park bought this private property from Washburns and therefore discontinued this service as park laws did not permit planes to operate on government land.

The Yosemite Park and Curry Company took over the operation of the Wawona Hotel. Clarence Washburn stayed on as manager until fall of 1934. He then moved to Indio, California, where he operated the Potter Hotel and now calls Indio his home. He was Mayor of that city for a number of years. Don and Mary Tresidder came to the Wawona Hotel and loved its quiet atmosphere. Don’s sister, Olene Mentzer, was manager of the hotel for a while and was a most gracious hostess. Lou Foster, a true lover of nature, was also manager for a number of years. Lou comes from an old pioneer family near Cloverdale, California.

Eddie Gordon, manager of the horse concession for many years, has made Wawona his home since 1902 when he first worked as rider and drove stage and freight team in and out of Wawona. He was a packer and guide for the Washburns and the Yosemite Park and Curry Company continuously up to the present time, except three years when he drove team for the Park. Ed’s father, Tom Gordon, was a well known horse stage driver for the Washburn family starting in the 1870’s.

The high country in the southern part of the Park is patrolled by a ranger stationed at Buck Camp. This camp was used in the early days by the U.S. Troops, who maintained an outpost for patrolling the Park. This is a convenient place for rangers and their stock for there is a good log cabin, a pasture and a cold spring of water. The location is within close riding distance to Chiquito Pass which is the southern most pass in the Park. Fernandez Pass and Red Peak Pass are also in the Buck Camp rangers district. Adjacent to these passes, cattle graze in summer and occasionally they will break through the drift fances and get into the Park meadows.

Hunting season always brings many hunters to the area bordering the Park. In past years this area has produced many fine deer.

I made a practice to contact the packers in the Basore Meadow area along in the fall. Johnny Jones held a special use permit, as did Tom Jones. They often packed parties to the Park for fishing and camping. Fred Wass at Fish Camp also held a permit to enter the Park under such a contract.

The rangers at South Entrance are kept very busy with the increase of

Ranger Bingaman escorting a party of special visitors
 through the Big Trees, 1921
Ranger Bingaman escorting a party of special visitors
through the Big Trees, 1921
travel from June 15th to the end of August. Two incoming lanes are worked in order to keep traffic moving through the Station.

The heavy noon day traffic in the Mariposa Grove of Big Trees has also increased and the Upper Loop is almost a solid line of cars during the middle of a summer day. The Wawona Tunnel Tree is the most photographed Tree in all the country. There has been much discussion about the road with all the thousands of cars passing through this Tree each year and whether this should be permitted to continue. My observation and reaction to this is, that a road should be built around the Tree.

As a tribute to the many pioneers that lived and contributed to the Wawona area and other parts of Yosemite the Park Service is establishing in Wawona, “The Historical Pioneer Center,” wherein some of the old landmarks have been rebuilt and created so that park visitors will be able to see and learn from a living museum of by gone days what took place in the Yosemite nearly a century ago.


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