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Lights and Shadows of Yosemite (1926) by Katherine Ames Taylor


“First Families” of Yosemite

After all, the Yosemite Indians were but newcomers to the Valley as compared to those earlier inhabitants, the black and the grizzly bears, the four species of deer, the mountain lion and the wild cat, the Douglass and the gray squirrel, and the others of the ninety-seven varieties of mammal life then existing there. These were the “first families” of Yosemite, among whom the bears and the deer and the squirrels are most frequently seen by visitors, and continue to attract the greatest amount of interest.

The grizzly bears, for whom the Yosemite Indians were named, have been practically annihilated by the white man’s rifle, and only the black and the brown, or cinnamon, bears survive, both of the same species, though differing in color. They still amble ponderously about on the floor of the Valley, thrilling the tourist who happens upon one, or who is happened upon. Not for nothing have we been brought up on the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears!

Though traditionally one of the most feared of animals, bears are of far more use than harm to the park they inhabit. The common sheep, and their shepherds, have caused inestimably more destruction in the mountains than all the wild animals together. “Hoofed locusts” John Muir called them, and it was their depredations, through nibbling, tramplings, loosening of earth on the mountain slopes, and the burnings of vast areas to provide forage for them, which led directly to the creation of this region as a National Park.

What creatures of contrast are these Yosemite bears! They delight equally to wallow in fields of wildflowers or to nose about in anesthetic garbage dumps. They feast grossly on the carcasses of warm sheep, or sheep a month dead, badgers, gophers, lizards, snakes, ants, wasps, their eggs, larvae, and nests, or turn delicately to a meal of wild strawberries, clover, raspberries, mushrooms, nuts, and acorns!

Since the garbage dumps of yesterday have been replaced by the incinerators of today, there seems to be no common rallying ground, or “clubroom,” for the bears. This was a great disappointment to

The bear cubs are the clowns of the forest. PHOTO BY A. C. PILLSBURY
PHOTO BY A. C. PILLSBURY
[click to enlarge]
The bear cubs are the clowns of the forest
many visitors. Consequently, it has become the custom each evening to haul great cans of “select swill” to a platform in the woods, where powerful searchlights are turned upon the bears as they scramble for the food, to the great delight of the spectators across the river. Occasionally a camper tourist after enjoying this amusement will return to his camp to find that the bears have been to see him in his absence, taking with them the provisions for tomorrow’s breakfast.

Then there are the deer, equally as interesting as the bears. Where one thrills, the other delights. Their grace, quickness, and gentle wildness all have a tremendous appeal for the Yosemite visitor. The deer are far more common in the Yosemite National Park than the bears. Groups of them can be seen almost any time grazing in the meadows of Yosemite Valley. For the most part, though, with the coming of summer, the greater number migrate to the upper reaches of the Park, particularly around Chinquapin, above Yosemite Falls, and in the region of Merced Lake. Like humans, they will seek the cooler climes in the summer, returning to the Valley and the western boundaries of the Park in the wintertime. This was the time, at the end of the Indian summer, that the Yosemite Indians celebrated their big hunts. It was easier to let the deer come to them than it was to seek them out!

Of the four species of deer which once inhabited this region, only the mule, or black-tail, deer remains. There are estimated to be about 20,000 of them in the Park now. Though spared from the human hunters, their ranks are still considerably thinned, each winter, by the mountain lions, and by hunters outside the Park boundaries. Hunters claim that the deer know where they are protected and that though they may stray over the boundary in search of food, at the sound of a gun or a suspicious noise they make straightway for the Park boundary, for over the line is safe!

In summer these deer wear a thin, reddish coat, but when autumn comes they grow a protective coat of gray. They live principally on the young leaf of the mountain lilac, or a tender sprig of mint or wild cherry. Fastidious and dainty they are in their food. To

At least 20,000 deer make their home in Yosemite National Park. PHOTO BY J. V. LLOYD
PHOTO BY J. V. LLOYD
[click to enlarge]
At least 20,000 deer make their home in Yosemite National Park
see them moving, swiftly, quietly, surely, in the leafy-shadowed woods, hardly distinguishable from the trunks of the trees through which they seem to weave, is an endless joy to even the most accustomed.

Yosemite is one of the world’s greatest sanctuaries of wild life. Here every protection is afforded them. In addition, a free nature-guide service is established by the National Park Service to help the visitor enjoy and know the animals and birds more thoroughly. Appreciation, of course, comes only in ratio to one’s understanding, and while one may enjoy, solely through the senses, the sound, color, and movement this wild life contributes to Yosemite, it is only through the knowledge of their haunts and habits that the realization comes that all the greater stories of Yosemite are duplicated here, in exquisite miniature, among these furred and feathered folk.

Half Dome, 8,852 feet high, towering almost 5,000 feet above Yosemite Valley, like a fragment of stupendous statuary. PHOTO BY BEST STUDIO
PHOTO BY BEST STUDIO
[click to enlarge]
Half Dome, 8,852 feet high, towering almost 5,000 feet above Yosemite Valley, like a fragment of stupendous statuary


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