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Next: Chapter 9IndexPrevious: Chapter 7

In the Heart of the Sierras by James M. Hutchings (1888)


CHAPTER VIII.

ITS EARLY DEVELOPMENT AND PROGRESS.

Cascade Falls.
Photo by Geo. Fiske.Photo-Typo by Britton & Rey, S. F.
Cascade Falls.
(See page 401.)
Though varying wishes, hopes, and fears,
Fevered the progress of those years,
Yet now, days, weeks, and months, but seem
The recollection of a dream.
Scott’s Marmion, Canto IV
There is no life of a man, faithfully recorded, but is a heroic poem of its sort.
Carlyle’s Essays.
The west yet glimmers with some streaks of day;
Now spurs the lated traveler apace,
To gain the timely inn.
Shakespear’s Macbeth, Act III.

As time rolled on, delighted visitors kept flocking to Yo Semite. The dangerous roughness, and uncertainty of the old Indian trails (where there were any), or the inconveniences and discomforts of open-air life, in no way deterred or discouraged them. This induced two enterprising brothers, Milton and Houston Mann, in 1856—who had formed a portion of the Sherlock’s Creek party the preceding year—to survey and construct a new horse path from “Clark’s,” on the south fork of the Merced, to the valley. This was completed in August, 1856, and opened as a toll trail. Proving unremunerative as such, it was subsequently sold to the county of Mariposa, at about one-third of its cost, and made free. Every visitor that has passed over this trail in early days will call to pleasant memory the unpretentious hospitality and comfort of the wayside inn known as “Peregoy’s;” and never forget the emotions evoked by the magnificent view of the distant Sierras from “the meadows,” or the inexpressively impressive scenes from “Inspiration Point,” and “Mt. Beatitude.” Now, these are seldom seen except by sheep and cattle herders, who make the succulent pastures of these mountain steppes a place of temporary refuge for themselves and flocks, during the summer months.

CONSTRUCTION OF OTHER TRAILS.

The liberal patronage coming from the public to hotel keepers, livery men, and others upon the line of travel from Mariposa to Yo Semite, became a strong incentive to the businessmen of Coulterville and Big Oak Flat to seek similar advantages for themselves. Accordingly, mountaineers were sent among the forest solitudes beyond those settlements, trails surveyed, built, and soon thronged with expectant pilgrims on their way to the new Mecca of scenic devotion. About this time, moreover, the newly discovered “diggings” of Mono (now included in the Bodie Mining District) were attracting great attention from miners and traders, and very naturally intensified the interest in all such enterprises, and stimulated their rapid completion. Scarcely a turn could be made upon either of these routes without revealing some wonderful picture of majesty or beauty.

In the earliest infancy of trail travel to Yo Semite,

ALL HAD TO CAMP OUT.

And to many there was, and still is, a peculiar charm about camp-life in the country that is unknown and unexperienced in the world’s crowded thoroughfares. The absence of certain civilized formulas and restraints; its freedom from ordinary cares; its opportunities for buoyant dilatation and cheerfulness; its constantly recurring changes; its tendencies to develop the best (and, sometimes, the worst) of human qualities; its resultant trending to fearlessness; its uniform healthiness, in a climate like that of California, and especially in the mountains; and, certainly not among the smallest of these considerations, is its uniform economy (and which, in these latter days, is by no means the least), unite to make “camping out” one of the most invigorating and enjoyable of divertisements. But successful camping out is “a fine art,” and it is not every one that can efficiently manage, or successfully conduct it. A few hints upon this will be found in a future chapter.

An “overwhelming majority” of tourists, however, do not like to camp out. Some there are who could not if they would; and there are others who would not if they could. For these, therefore, hotel accommodations became desirable.

PIONEER HOTEL BUILDING AT YO SEMITE.

To meet such emergencies, a very primitive kind of a house, the frame of which consisted of pine poles—some of them set in the ground to form posts—and the covering of “shakes,” or “boards,” riven from logs of pine, its gable, or triangular end, forming the front, was commenced in the fall of 1856, near the location known as “Black’s,” by Messrs. Anderson, Ramsdell, Coward, and Walsworth; but which was not finished that year.

Almost simultaneously with these movements, Mr. S. M. Cunningham and Mr. Buck Beardsley formed a co-partnership for hotel and trading purposes at Yo Semite, and started for the valley; but a heavy snow-storm compelling a retreat, they cached their tools and supplies, and returned to their old residence on Bull Creek, to spend the winter. Early the following March, they again set their faces for Yo Semite, where they arrived March 17, 1857. As Beardsley had to return with the pack-mules, Cunningham was left entirely alone. This latter remark may need a little qualification, inasmuch as he was surrounded by a large band of Indians, who, on account of a bounteous acorn crop the preceding fall (acorns forming the Indian staple of bread-stuff), had made an unusually early visit this year. But these gave him no trouble.

Cunningham and Beardsley erected a “shake” cabin* [* Afterwards temporarily occupied by Mr. T. Hill, Mr. W. Keith, Mr. Virgil Williams, and other artists.] just above the other location, and at once commenced business. These, eventually, buying out the interests of the others above named, finished the building commenced by them, and occupied it. During the winter of 1857-58 the heavy snows broke down the new building, and constrained the erection of another more substantial, in 1858. This was opened and kept, for S. M. Cunningham (who had separated his business connection with Mr Beardsley in the fall of 1857), by Mr. and Mrs. John H. Neal, who thus became

THE FIRST HOTEL KEEPERS AT YO SEMITE.

The following seasons of 1859-60 it was kept by its owner, Mr. Cunningham. In 1861, these premises were sold to Mrs. A. G. Black—then living at Bull Creek—who rented it to Mr. R Longhurst, and others; and, in after years, to Mr. G. F. Leidig, until occupied by her husband and herself, in 1869, by whom it was taken down to make way for other much-needed improvements. Not a vestige now remains of this pioneer structure to mark the spot where it stood. Unassuming and simple as it was, many eminent persons, known to fame, once found shelter beneath its humble roof.

After Beardsley’s co-partnership with Cunningham had ceased, he united with Mr. G. Hite—brother to the successful miner and millionaire, Mr. John Hite, of “Hite’s Cove"—when, in the fall of 1857, they commenced the business of hotel keeping and trading, in a blue tent, while preparing the timbers for the building now known as

THE OLD HUTCHINGS HOUSE.

As this was much more commodious than the other, its con struction was necessarily attended with more difficulties and expense; especially where everything had to be “created"—so to speak—upon the spot, or brought fifty miles on pack-mules. As there was no saw-mill for their needed supply of lumber, every board or plank, rafter or joist, had to be hewed, or cut out by whip-saw. These primitive contrivances took time as well as money, so that the new structure could not be utilized for visitors until May, 1859. Soon after its formal opening, Mr. C. L. Weed, the pioneer photographer of Yo Semite, Rev. F. C. Ewer and family, Miss M. Neill, and the writer, were among its first guests. The accompanying illustration is from the first photograph ever taken in Yo Semite, and by C. L. Weed, in June, 1859. [Editor’s note: Charles Leander Weed’s first photograph, taken June 18, 1859 was of Yosemite Falls, not what was latter known as the Hutchings House, which was photographed 3 days later—dea.]

Owing to a heavy indebtedness incurred in building the hotel, and the lack of success in attending the first “Fourth of July Party” given, for which extensive preparations had been made, and from which much had been expected, its projectors and builders, unable to meet their obligations, assigned it to creditors for their protection. The following two years it was leased to Mr. Charles Peck, then to Mr. P. Longhurst, after which it was either let temporarily, or remained closed, until purchased by the Writer in 1864.

The old Hutchings House.
THE OLD HUTCHINGS HOUSE.
In this connection it may be remarked that at that time the land here was a part of the public domain of the United States, and as such was considered to be open to preemption and settlement under the Preemption Laws of the United States. Being unsurveyed, however, as no regular plot, could be filed of any given portion of it in the United States Land Office, its location, giving metes and bounds, was entered upon the records of the county, and such entry was interpreted as a legal guarantee of title, until surveyed by the United States, and in the market. Under this impression settlements were made, titles respected, and frequent transfers of such title given from one to the other, without their validity being questioned. And it is a matter of historical interest to state that, at one time (about 1860), an enterprising citizen secured nearly the whole of such titles, and put them all into a “Grand Lottery Scheme,” for the purpose of raffling off the entire valley to the “lucky winner.” But a “justifiable” number of tickets not having been sold, most of the money (as his enemies assert) was (un)returned, and the speculation abandoned.



Next: Chapter 9IndexPrevious: Chapter 7

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