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Introduction and Sketch of the Author

GALEN CLARK, the author of this little volume, is one of the notable characters of California, and the one best fitted to record the customs and traditions of the Yosemite Indians, but it was only after much persuasion that his friends succeeded in inducing him to write the history of these interesting people, with whom he has been in close communication for half a century.

The Indians of the Yosemite are fast passing away. Only a handful now remain of the powerful tribes that once gathered in the Valley and considered it an absolute stronghold against their white enemies. Even in their diminished numbers and their comparatively civilized condition, they are still a source of great interest to all visitors, and it has been suggested many times that their history, customs and legends should be put in permanent and convenient form, before they are entirely lost.

Many tales and histories of the California Indians have been written by soldiers and pioneers, but Mr. Clark has told the story of these people from their own standpoint, and with a sympathetic understanding of their character. This fresh point of view gives double interest to his narrative.

Galen Clark comes of a notable family; his English ancestors came to the State of Massachusetts in the seventeenth century, but he is a native of the Town of Dublin, Cheshire County, New Hampshire, born on the 28th day of March, 1814, and is consequently nearly ninety years of age, but still alert and active in mind and body.

He attended school in his early youth during the winter months, and worked on a farm during the summer, leading nearly the same life which was followed by so many others who afterwards became famous in our country’s history.

Later in life he learned chair-making and painting, an occupation which he followed for some years, when he removed to Philadelphia and subsequently to New York City.

Whilst residing in New York, in 1853, he resolved, after mature reflection, to visit the new Eldorado. His attention was first attracted to this State by visiting the celebrated Crystal Palace in New York, where there was then on exhibition quantities of gold dust which had been sent or brought East by successful miners.

Mr. Clark left New York for California in October, 1853, coming via the Isthmus of Panama, and in due time reached his destination, In 1854 he went to Mariposa County, attracted thither by the wonderful accounts of the gold discoveries, and the marvelous stories he had heard of the grandeur and beauty of the Yosemite Valley and the surrounding mountains.

Upon his first arrival in Mariposa, he engaged in mining, and was also employed to assist in surveying Government land on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley, and canals for mining purposes, some of which passed through the celebrated “Mariposa Grant,” the subject of prolonged and bitter litigation, both in this country and in Europe. He probably knows more about the actual facts concerning the Mariposa Grant than any one now living, and it is to be hoped that some day he may overcome his natural repugnance to notoriety, and give to the public the benefit of his knowledge.

In the year 1855 Mr. Clark made his first trip into the Yosemite Valley with a party made up in Mariposa and Bear Valley.

Returning to Mariposa, he resumed his old occupation of surveying and mining, and, whilst so engaged, by reason of exposure, had a serious attack of lung trouble, resulting in severe hemorrhages which threatened to end his life.

He then removed, in April, 1857, to the South Fork of the Merced River, and built a log cabin in one of the most beautiful of our mountain valleys, on the spot where Wawona now stands. He soon recovered his health entirely, and, though constantly exposed to the winter storms and snows, has never had a recurrence of his malady.

Wawona is twenty-six miles from Yosemite, and at that time became known as Clark’s Station, being on the trail leading from Mariposa to the Valley, and a noted stopping place for travelers. This trail, as well as one from Coulterville, was completed to the Valley in 1857, and the trip to Yosemite then involved a stage ride of ninety-two miles, and a journey of sixty miles more on horseback. In 1874 and 1875 the three present stage roads were constructed through to the Valley.

All travelers by the Raymond route will remember Wawona and the surroundings; the peaceful valley, the swift-flowing Merced, and the surrounding peaks and mountains, almost equaling in grandeur the famous Yosemite itself.

In the early days this locality was annually visited by several bands of Indians from the Chowchilla and Fresno rivers. The Indian name for the place was Pal-lah´-chun. Whilst residing there Mr. Clark was in constant contact with these visiting tribes; he obtained their confidence, and retains it to this day.

Whilst on a hunting trip, in the summer of 1857, Mr. Clark discovered and made known to the public the famous Big Tree Grove, now known all over the world as the “Mariposa Grove of Big Trees,” belonging to the State of California. On this expedition he did not follow the route now traveled, but came upon the grove at the upper end, near the place where the road to Wawona Point now branches off from the main drive. The spot where he caught his first view of the Big Trees has been appropriately marked, and can be seen from the stage road.

So impressed was Mr. Clark with the importance of his discovery, that he opened up a good horse trail from Wawona to the Trees, and shortly afterwards built a log cabin in the grove, for the comfort and convenience of visitors in bad or stormy weather. This cabin became known as “Galen’s Hospice.”

In the year 1864 the Congress of the United States passed an Act, which was approved in June of the same year, granting to the State of California the “Yosemite Valley” and the “Mariposa Grove of Big Trees.” This grant was made upon certain conditions, which were complied with by the State, and a Commission was appointed by Governor Low to manage and govern the Valley and the Big Tree Grove. Galen Clark was, of course, selected as one of the commissioners. He was subsequently appointed Guardian of the Valley, and under his administration many needed improvements were made and others suggested. Bridges were built, roads constructed on the floor of the Valley, and trails laid out and finished to various points of interest overlooking the Valley itself. In a word, the Guardian did everything possible with the limited means at his disposal.

After serving twenty-four years, Mr. Clark voluntarily retired from the position of Guardian, carrying with him the respect and admiration of every member of the Commission, of all the residents of the Valley, and of every visitor who enjoyed the pleasure of his personal acquaintance.

As showing the opinion of those with whom Mr. Clark was intimately and officially associated for so long a time, the following resolutions passed by the Board .of Commissioners upon his voluntary retirement from the office of Guardian, are herein given:

WHEREAS, Galen Clark has for a long number of years been closely identified with Yosemite Valley, and has for a considerable portion of that time been its Guardian; and

WHEREAS, he has now, by his own choice and will, relinquished the trust confided in him and retired into private life; and

WHEREAS, his faithful and eminent services as Guardian, his constant efforts to preserve, protect and enhance the beauties of Yosemite; his dignified, kindly and courteous demeanor to all who have come to see and enjoy its wonders, and his upright and noble life, deserve from us a fitting recognition and memorial; Now, Therefore, be it

Resolved, That the cordial assurance of the appreciation by this Commission of the efforts and labors of Galen Clark, as Guardian of Yosemite, in its behalf, be tendered and expressed to him.

That we recognize in him a faithful, efficient and worthy citizen and officer of this Commission and of the State; that he will be followed into his retirement by the sincerest and best wishes of this Commission, individually and as a body, for continued long life and constant happiness.

The subject of this sketch is one of the most modest of men; but perfectly self-reliant, and always actively engaged in some useful work. He has resided in the Valley for more than twenty summers, and has also been a resident during many winters, and his descriptions of the Valley, when wrapped in snow and ice, are intensely interesting. Though always ready to give information, he is naturally reticent, and never forces his stories or reminiscences upon visitors; indeed it requires some persuasion to hear him talk about himself at all.

For some years, Mr. Clark was postmaster of Yosemite; and he has made many trips on foot, both in winter and summer, in and out of the Valley.

In September, 1903, this writer made a trip through the high Sierras from Yosemite, and, upon reaching the top of the Valley, Mr. Clark was met coming down the trail, having in charge a party of his friends, amongst whom was a lady with her two small children. This was at a point 2700, feet above the floor of the Valley, which is itself 4000 feet above the level of the sea.

Needless to say, he is perfectly familiar with all the mountain trails, and, notwithstanding his great age, he easily makes long trips on foot and horseback which would fatigue a much younger man. Mr. Clark is thoroughly familiar with the flora, fauna and geology of the Valley and its surroundings. His knowledge of botany is particularly accurate, a knowledge gleaned partly from books, but mainly from close personal observation, the best possible teacher.

His long residence in Yosemite has made him familiar with every spot, his love for the Valley is deep and strong, and when he departs this life his remains will rest close to the Yosemite Falls, in the little grave yard where other pioneers are buried.

With his own hands he has dug his grave, and quarried his own tombstone from one of the massive blocks of granite found in the immediate neighborhood. His monument now rests in his grave, and when it is removed to receive his remains, will be used to mark his last resting place. His grave is surrounded by a neat fence, and trees, shrubs and vines, which he has himself planted, grow around in great profusion. In each corner of the lot is a young Sequoia.

May it be many years before he is called to occupy his last earthly tenement.


San Francisco,
     February, 1904.


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