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Second Tourist Party to Yosemite Valley

(from Mariposa Gazette, August 9, 1855)

James Mason Hutchings led the second (not first) tourist party to Yosemite Valley in June 1855 ( the first tourist party, in 1854, was lead by Robert C. Lamon, but no account of the trip is known to be written). As publisher of Hutchings’ California Magazine James Hutchings also sought new material for his magazine and brought along artist Thomas Ayres, who made illustrations of Yosemite Valley.

The following account was published in the Mariposa Gazette, Thursday August 9, 1855, page 2. The files for this newspaper, including this article, burned in 1866 Fortunately, a copy of this article was saved in a scrapbook kept by James Hutchings, which is now in the possession of the Yosemite Research Library, Yosemite Village, Yosemite Valley, California. The scrapbook was purchased by the Yosemite Fund in 1999.

Compare this article with a slightly-abridged version of the same article printed nine days later in “California for Waterfalls!,” San Francisco Daily California Chronicle (August 18, 1855). See also with an account Hutchings wrote decades later in “First Tourist Visitors to Yo Semite,” in chapter 7 of his book In the Heart of the Sierras (1886). The book, by the way, has mistakes in some dates (which don’t match his diary).

Tom Bopp has interspersed the Gazette article with quotes from Hutchings diary in “The Beginning of Yosemite Tourism—A First-Hand Account.” This article was published in the Yosemite Association’s Yosemite 67(3):3-5 (Summer 2005).

The transcription, including typographic errors, was made by former NPS Historian Jim Snyder and printed in the quarterly journal of the Yosemite Fund, Approach, 7(2) (Autumn/Winter 1999). Previously it has always been reported this article was dated or July 12, 1855 (Hutchings), or July 14, 1855 (Snyder’s notes), or August 16, 1855 (Kuykendall) but August 9, 1855 is apparently the correct date. According to Jim Snyder:

“Hutchings got into Mariposa from Yosemite Valley late afternoon August 1 and stayed in Mariposa the next two days. During that period he probably stopped in at the newspaper office and either offered or was asked to write a letter about his trip to the Valley. Since the paper was published August 2, Hutchings’ letter did not come out until the next week, appearing on page 2 of the August 9, 1855 issue.”

The tourist party consisted of Thomas Ayres, Alexander Stair, Walter Millard (misprinted as “Willard” in the article), and James Hutchings. Also mentioned in the article are Capt. John Boling and John Hunt.

—Dan Anderson


[Mariposa Gazette, August 9, 1855.]

Editor Mariposa Gazette—Dear Sir:—

Having just returned from taking views of the Yo-Semity Valley and its waterfalls, it may not be unitesting to your readers to mention a few little facts concerning the trip. I have no doubt ere many years have elapsed, this wonderful valley will attract the lovers of the beautiful from all parts of the world; and be as famed as Niagara, for its wild sublimity, and magnificent scenery.

While to the dyspeptic denizens of our larger cities it offers recreation and medicine, in its pure, free air, and its ice-cold water—here, too, the disciples of Isaac Walton can ensnare the speckled trout in any quantity, and the hunter find plenty of geese, pigeons and deer. But to the trip.

“Armed and equipped as the law directs,” with defensive supplies for both the inner and the outer man, not omitting a suspicious looking weapon with a short neck “o correct bad water,” our party of four took up their line of march for the above named valley. Mr. Ayres of San Francisco, Mr. Stair of Coulterville, Mr. Willard of San Francisco and your humble servant, composed the company. As past experience had taught us that there are two ways to every place,—a right and a wrong way—and as some chances were against our taking the right one, we took especial pains to find the right one; everybody knew it, but nobody could tell us how to get upon it. At length, through the courtesy of Capt. Boling, we were furnished with an introductory letter to Mr. Hunt of the Fresno, who very kindly procured us with two good Indian guides, one named Hopum, the other Lopin.

From Mr. Hunt’s store, we kept an east of north course, up the divide between Fresno and Chowchilla vallies—thence descending towards the South Fork of the Merced River, and winding around a very rocky point, we climbed nearly to the ridge of the middle or main fork of the Merced, and then descending towards the Yo-Semity Valley, we came upon a high point, clear of trees, from whence we had our first view of this singular and romantic valley; and as the scene opened in full view before us, we were almost speechless with wondering admiration, at its wild and sublime granduer. “What!” exclaimed one at length, “have we come to the end of all things?” “Can this be the opening of the Seventh Seal?” cried another. “This far, very far exceeds Niagara,” says a third. We had been out from Mariposa about four days and the fatigue of the journey had made us weary and a little pevish, but when our eyes looked upon the almost terrific grandeur of this scene, all, all was forgotten. “I never expected to behold so beautiful a sight. This scene alone amply repays me for the travel.” I should have lost the most magnificent sight that I ever saw, had I not witnessed this!” were exclamations of pleasurable surprise that fell from the lips of all, as we sat down to drink in the varied beauties of this intoxicating and enchanting scene.

On the north side stands one bold, perpendicular mountain of granite, shaped like an immense tower. Its lofty top is covered with great pines, that by distance, become mere shrubs. Our Indian guides called this the Capitan; it measures from the valley to its summit about two thousand eight hundred feet.

Just opposite to this, on the south side of the valley, our attention was first attracted by a magnificent waterfall, about seven hundred feet in height. It looked like a broad hugh feather of silver, that hung depending over a precipice; and as this feathery tail of leaping spray thus hung, a slight breeze moved it from side to side, and as the last rays of the setting sun were guiding it with rainbow hues, the red would mix with the purple, and the purple with the yellow, and the yellow with the green, and the green with the silvery sheet of its whitened form, as it danced in space, one almost felt that he was upon the forbidden ground some unknown spirit; or that it was a dream from which to awaken and find it but a dream; was an irrepairable loss; but on rushed the water over its rocky bed, and as it reached the valley, it threw up a cloud of mist that made green and flourishing the grass and flowers, and shrubs, that slumbered at the mountains base;—while towering three thousand feet above the valley, stood the rugged and pine covered cliffs that, in broken and spiral peak, girdle in the whole. Now let us turn from this a moment, and look at that clean, green spot in the valley, surrounded by trees; or look around at the narrow and timbered bottom land stretching dimly on in the distance, and by the side of these mountains, look like small weeds overshadowed by a very high wall; and that wall is a mountain not less than three thousand feet in height; while on, in the farthest distance, stand a pair of bold granite domes. One is partly broken, and is said to be seen from Ridley’s Ferry on the Merced River. The intervening space is filled by abrupt mountains of almost every conceivable shape, and with here and there one solitary pine, growing out from a seam in these bold steeps of granite.

The fast sinking sun admonished us to descend and camp on that spot of green where we found grass for our animals in any quantity, and as the Indians are said to be numerous, and will bear looking after better than trusting, we set our guard and slept soundly, while the stars, no doubt, (wagishly) winked at us as we lay and dreamed of home.

Passing further up the valley, one is struck with the awful grandeur of the immense mountains on either side—some perpendicular, some a little sloping. One looks like a lighthouse, another like a giant o descend and camp on that spot of green where we found grass for our animals in any quantity, and as the Indians are said to be numerous, and will bear looking after better than trusting, we set our guard and slept soundly, while the stars, no doubt, (wagishly) winked at us as we lay and dreamed of home.

Passing further up the valley, one is struck with the awful grandeur of the immense mountains on either side—some perpendicular, some a little sloping. One looks like a lighthouse, another like a giant Capitol of immense dimensions—all are singular, and surrounded by pines.

Now we crossed the river, and still advancing up the valley, turned a point, and before us was an indescribable sight—a waterfall two thousand two hundred feet in height—the highest in the world. It rushes over the clifts, and with one bold leap falls one thousand two hundred feet, then a second of five hundred feet more—the three leaps making two thousand two hundred feet.

Standing upon the opposite side of the valley, and looking at the tall pines below, the great height of these falls can at a glance be comprehended.

About ten miles from the lower end of the valley there is another fall of not less than fifteen hundred feet. This with lesser falls and a lake make the head of the Yo Semity Valley; so that this valley is about ten miles in width; and although there is good land enough for several farms, it cannot be considered, upon the whole, as a good farming valley. Speckled trout, geese, and pigeons are quite numerous.

After completing our series of views of this beautiful and wildly romantic valley, we looked a last look upon it, with regret that so fine a scene should be only the abode of wild animals and Indians, and that many months, perhaps years, would elapse before its silence would again be broken by the reverberating echoes of the rifle, or the musical notes of the white man’s song. J.M. HUTCHINGS


Digitized by Dan Anderson, www.yosemite.ca.us, July 2005.


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