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Scenes of Wonder and Curiosity in California (1862) by James M. Hutchings



                “Go abroad
Upon the paths of Nature, and when all
Its voices whisper, and its silent things
Are breathing the deep beauty of the world,
Kneel at its simple altar, and the God
Who hath the living waters shall be there.”—N. P. Willis.


For several years, after the discovery of the mammoth trees of Calaveras county had astonished the world, that group of trees was supposed to be the only one of the kind in existence. But, during latter part of July or the beginning of August, 1855, Mr. Hogg, a hunter, in the employ of the South Fork Merced Canal Company, while in the pursuit of his calling, saw one or more trees, of the same variety and genus as those of Calaveras, growing on one of the tributaries of Big Creek, and related the fact to Mr. Galen Clark, and other acquaintances. Late in September, or early in October ensuing, Mr. J. E. Clayton civil engineer, residing in Mariposa, while running a line of survey for Colonel J. C. Fremont, across some of the upper branches of the Frezno River, discovered other trees of the same class, but, like Mr. Hogg, passed on without further examination or exploration.

About the 1st of June, Mr. Milton Mann and Mr. Clark were conversing together on the subject, at Clark’s Ranche on the South Fork of the Merced, when they mutually agreed to go out on a hunting excursion in the direction indicated by Mr. Hogg and Mr. Clayton, for the purpose of ascertaining definitely the locality, size, and number of the trees mentioned.

Well mounted, they left Clark’s Ranche, and proceeded up the divide between the South Fork of the Merced and Big Creek, in a south-eastern course, with the intention of making a circuit of several miles, if not at first successful—this plan being the most suggestive of their rediscovery.

When on the summit of the mountain, about four miles from Clark’s, they saw the broad and towering tops of the mammoth trees—since known as the “Mariposa Grove”—and shortly afterward were walking among their immense trunks. A partial examination revealed the fact, that a second grove of trees had been found, that was far more extensive than that of Calaveras, and many of the trees fully as large as those belonging to that world-renowned group.

Early the following spring, Mr. Clark discovered two smaller groves of large trees, of the same class and variety, each not exceeding a quarter of a mile in distance from the other.

About the end of July of the same year, he discovered another large grove upon the head waters of the Frezno; and two days afterward, Mr. L. A. Holmes, of the Mariposa Gazette, and Judge Fitzhugh, while on a hunting excursion, saw the tracks of Mr. Clark’s mule as they passed the same group; and as both these parties were very thirsty at the time, and near the top of the ridge at sundown, without water for themselves and animals, they were anxious to find this luxury and a good camping-place before dark. Consequently, they did not deem it best then to tarry to explore it, intending to pay this grove a visit at some early time of leisure in the future. This interesting task, however, seemed to be reserved for the writer and Mr. Clark, on the second and third days of July, 1859.

With this short epitome of the discovery of these additional wonders, we shall now give a brief narrative of a visit paid them.


Arriving at Clark’s Ranche (situated about half-way between the Great Valley and Mariposa), Mr. Galen Clark, the proprietor of the ranche, very kindly offered not only to guide us through the Mariposa Grove of mammoth trees, but also to conduct us to the Frezno Grove; observing that, although the latter been discovered by himself the previous year, it had not yet been examined or explored by any one. Of course, as the reader may guess, this offer was too generous, and too much in accordance with our wishes, to be declined. Our preparations completed, and when about to mount into the saddle, we both stood waiting. “Are you ready?” asked our guide. “Quite,” was the prompt rejoinder; “but haven’t you forgotten your hat, Mr. Clark?” “Oh, no,” be replied, “I never have been able to wear a hat since I had the fever some years ago, and I like to go without now, better than I did then to wear one.” So much for habit.

With our fire-arms across our shoulders, and our blankets a couple of days’ provisions at the back of our saddles, we proceeded for a short distance through the thick, heavy grass of the ranche, and commenced the gradual ascent of a well-timbered side-hill, on the edge of the valley, and up and over numerous low ridges, all of which were more or less covered with wild flowers, on our way to the Mariposa Grove. Although the trail was well worn and good, yet, on-account of the long ascent to the summit of the ridge, it was with no small pleasure that we found ourselves in the vicinity of the grove.

THE “TWINS,” IN THE MARIPOSA GROVE. Sketch from nature, by G. Tirrel.
Sketch from nature, by G. Tirrel.

Who can picture, in language, or on canvas, all the sublime depths of wonder that flow to the soul in thrilling and intense surprise, when the eye looks upon these great marvels? Long vistas of forest shades, formed by immense trunks of trees, extending hither and thither: now arched by the overhanging branches of the lofty taxodiums, then by the drooping boughs of the white-blossomed dogwood; while the high, moaning sweep of the pines, and the low whispering swell of the firs, sung awe-inspiring anthems to their great Planter.

The Indians, in years that are past, have, with Vandal hands, set portions of this magnificent forest on fire; so that burnt stumps of trees and blackened underbrush frown upon you from several points. Indeed, many of the largest and noblest looking are badly deformed from this cause. Still, beautiful clumps of from three to ten trees in each, and others standing alone, are numerous, sound, and well formed.

“Passing up the ravine, or basin,” says Mr. J. Lamson, who kindly sent us the sketch from which this engraving is made, “we we came to a large stem, whose top had been stripped of its branches, giving it somewhat the resemblance of an immense spear, and forcibly reminding one of Milton’s description of Satan’s weapon of that name:

        ‘To equal which, the tallest pine,
Hewn on Norwegian hills to be the mast
Of some great ammiral, were but a wand.’

Believing this to be far greater than any tree Milton ever dreamed

of, and fully equal to the wants of any reasonable Prince of Darkness, in compliment to the poet it his hero, we named it ‘Satan’s Spear.’ Its circumference is seventy-eight feet.

“Several rods to the left of this is another large trunk, with a dilapidated top, presenting the appearance of a tower, and is called ‘The Giant’s Tower;’ seventy feet in circumference. Beyond this, stand two double trees, which have been named ‘The Twin Sisters.’ Still further on, is a tree will a straight and slender body, and a profusion of beautiful foliage; near which, frowned a savage-looking monster, with a scarred and knotted trunk, and gnarled and broken branches, bringing to one’s recollection the story of ‘Beauty and the Beast.’ Crossing the ravine near ‘Satan’s Spear,’ there are many fine trees upon the side and summit of the ridge. One of the finest, whose circumference is sixty feet, and whose top consists of a mass of foliage of exceeding beauty, is called ‘The Queen of the Forest.’ Above these, stands ‘The Artist’s Encampment,’ seventy-seven feet in circumference, though so large a portion of its trunk has decayed or been burned away to a height of thirty feet, as materially to lessen its dimensions.”

As the size of the principal trees was, ascertained by Mr. Clark, and Colonel Warren, editor of the California Farmer, in which journal it first appeared, and as their measurements doubtless approximated to correctness, we give them below:

“The first tree was ‘The Rambler,’ and measuring it three and a half feet from the ground, we found it eighty feet in circumference; close at the ground, one hundred and two feet; and, carefully surveyed, two hundred and fifty feet high. Tree No. 2, nearly fifty feet in circumference. No. 3 (at the spring), ninety feet, three and a half feet from the ground; one hundred and two at the ground; and three hundred feet high. Nos. 4 and 5 (‘The Sisters’) measured eighty-two and eighty seven feet in circumference, and two hundred and twenty-five feet high. Many of the trees had lost portions of their tops, by the storms that had swept over them.

“The whole number measured, was one hundred and fifty-five, and these comprise but about half the group, which we estimate cover about two to three hundred acres, and lie in a triangular form. Some of the trees first meet your view in the vale of the mountain; thence rise south-easterly and north-westerly, till you find yourself gazing upon the neighboring points, some ten miles from you, whose tops are still covered with their winter snows. The following am the numbers and measurement of of the trees:

1 tree, 102 feet in circumference.    
1 tree, 97 feet do
1 tree, 92 feet do
3 trees 76 feet each do
1 tree, 72 feet do
3 trees, 70 feet each do
1 tree, 68 toot do
1 tree, 66 feet do
1 tree, 63 feet do
3 trees, 63 feet each do
2 trees 60 feet each do
1 tree, 69 feet do
1 tree, 58 feet do
3 trees, 67 feet each do
1 tree, 66 feet do
3 trees, 55 feet each do
2 trees, 54 feet each do
1 tree, 53 feet do
1 tree, 51 feet do
4 trees, 50 feet each do
6 trees, 49 feet each do
5 tress 48 feet each do
2 trees, 47 feet each do
3 trees, 46 feet each do
2 trees, 45 feet each do
1 tree, 41 feet do
2 trees, 43 feet each do
2 trees, 42 feet each do
1 tree, 40 feet in circumference.
1 tree, 35 feet do
2 trees, 36 feet each do
2 trees, 32 feet each do
1 tree, 28 feet do
2 trees, 100 test each do
1 tree, 82 feet do
1 tree, 80 feet do
2 trees, 77 feet each do
1 tree, 76 feet do
3 trees, 75 feet each do
1 tree, 64 feet do
4 trees, 65 feet each do
2 trees, 63 feet each do
1 tree, 61 feet do
10 trees, 60 feet each do
3 trees 59 feet each do
2 trees, 61 feet each do
6 trees, 50 feet each do
1 tree, 49 feet do
1 tree, 47 toot do
1 tree, 46 feet do
2 trees, 45 feet each do
1 tree, 43 fact each do
1 tree 44 feet each do
4 trees, 42 feet each do
3 trees, 41 feet each do
8 trees 40 feet each do

“Some of these were in groups of three, four, and even five, seeming to spring from the seeds of one cone. Several of these glorious trees we have, in association with our friend, named. The one near the spring we call the “Fountain Tree,” as it is used as the source of the refreshment. Two trees, measuring ninety and ninety-seven feet in circumference, were named the “Two Friends.” The groups of trees consisted of many of peculiar beauty and interest. One of those, which measured one hundred feet in circumference, was of exceeding gigantic proportions, and towered up three hundred feet; yet a portion of its top, where it apparently was ten feet in diameter, had been swept off by storms. While we were measuring this tree, a large eagle came and perched upon it, emblematical of the grandeur of this forest as well as that of our country.

“Near by it stood a smaller tree, that seemed a child to it, yet it measured forty-seven feet in circumference. Not far from it was a group of four splendid trees, two hundred and fifty feet high, which we named the “Four Pillars,” each over fifty feet in circumference. Two gigantic trees, seventy-five and seventy-seven feet in circumference, were named “Washington” and “Lafayette;” these were noble trees. Another group we called “The Graces,” from their peculiar beauty. One mighty tree that had fallen by fire and burned out, into which we walked for a long distance, we found to be the abode of the grizzly; there he had made his nest, and it excited the nerves to enter so dark an adobe. Yet it was a fitting place for a grizzly. Another tree, measuring eighty feet, and standing aloof, was called the Lone Giant; it went heavenward some three hundred feet. One monster tree that had fallen and been burned hollow, has been recently tried, by a party of our friends, riding, as they fashionably do, in the saddle, through the tunnel of the tree. These friends rode through this tree, a distance of one hundred and fifty-three feet. The tree had been long fallen, and measured, ere its bark Was gone and its sides charred, over one hundred feet in circumference, and probably three hundred and fifty feet in height.

“The mightiest tree that has yet been found, now lies upon the ground, and, fallen as it lies, it is a wonder still; it is charred, and time has stripped it of its heavy bark, and yet across the butt of the tree as it lay upturned, it measured thirty-three feet without its bark; there can be no question that in its vigor, with its bark on, it was forty fact in diameter, or one hundred and twenty feet in circumference. Only about one hundred and fifty feet of the trunk remains, yet the cavity where it fell is still a large hollow beyond the portion burned off; and, upon pacing it, measuring from the root one hundred and twenty paces, and estimating the branches, this tree must have been four hundred feet high. We believe it to be the largest tree yet discovered.’

This grove of mammoth trees consists of about six hundred, more or less. It must not be supposed that these large taxodiums monopolize the one mile by a quarter of a mile of ground over which they are scattered; as some of the tallest, largest, and most graceful of sugar pines and Douglass firs we ever saw, add their beauty of form and foliage to the group, and contribute much to the imposing grandeur of the effect.


Crossing a low ridge to the south-westward of the large grove, is another small one, before alluded to, in which there are many fine trees. We measured one sturdy, gnarled old fellow, which, although badly burned, and the bark almost gone, so that a large portion of its original size was lost, is, nevertheless, still ninety feet in circumference, and which we took the liberty of naming the “Grizzled Giant.”

An immense trunk lay stretched upon the ground, that measured two hundred and sixty-four feet in length, although a considerable portion of its crown has been burned away. This was named by Mrs. J. C. Fremont, “King Arthur, the Prostrate Monarch.”


Leaving the “South Grove,” we struck across Big Creek and its branches, in a course almost due south, as near as the rugged, rock-bound mountain spurs would permit, in the direction of the Frezno group, some of whose majestic and feathery tops could be seen from the ridge we had left behind.

Apparently, these trees were not more than six miles distant from the Mariposa Grove; but which, owing to the trailless course we had to take, down and across the spurs of Big Creeks, were not

THE GRIZZLED GIANT. From Nature, by G. Tirrel.
From Nature, by G. Tirrel.
less than ten miles. About six o’clock P. M., we arrived at the foot of some of the mammoth trees, that stood on the ridge, like sentinel guards to the grove. These were from fifty to sixty feet, only, in circumference.

As the sun was fast sinking, we deemed it the most prudent course to look out for a good camping-ground. Fortunately, we discovered at first the only patch of grass to be found for several miles; and, as we were making our way through the forest, feeling that most probably we were the first whites who had ever broken its profound solitudes, we heard a splashing sound, proceeding from the direction of the bright green we had seen. This, with the rustling of bashes, reminded us that we were invading the secluded home of the grizzly bear, and that good sport or danger would soon give variety to our employments.

Hastily dismounting, and unsaddling our animals, we picketed them in the swampy grass-plat, still wet with the recent spritings of several bears’ feet that had hurriedly left it; then kindling a fire, to indicate by its smoke the direction of our camp, we started quietly out on a bear hunt.

Cautiously peering over a low ridge but a few yards from camp, we saw two large bears slowly moving away, when a slight sound from us arrested their attention and progress. Mr. Clark was about raising his rifle to fire, when we whispered—“Hold, Mr. C., if you please—let as have the first shot at that immense fellow there.” “With pleasure,” was the prompt response, and at a distance of twenty-five yards, a heavy charge of pistol balls, from an excellent shot-gun, was poured into his body just behind the shoulder, when he made a plunge of a few feet, and, wheeling round, stood for a few moments as though debating in his own mind whether he should return the attack or retreat; but a ball from the unerring rifle of our obliging guide determined him upon the latter course. The other had preceded him.

We immediately started in pursuit; and although their course could readily be followed by blood dropping from the wounds, a dense mass of chaparal prevented us from getting sight of either again, although we walked around upon the look-out until the darkness compelled us to return to camp, where, after supper, we were soon soundly sleeping. Early the next morning we followed up the divertissement, for a few hours; but meeting with no game larger than grouse, we commenced the exploration of the grove.

This consists of about five hundred trees of the taxodium family, on about as many acres of dense forest land, gently undulating. The two largest we could find measured eighty-one feet each in circumference, well formed, and straight from the ground to the top. The others, equally sound and straight, were from fifty-one feet to seventy-five feet in circumference. The sugar pines (Pinus Lambertiana) were remarkably large; one that was prostrate near our camp measured twenty-nine feet and six inches in circumference, and two hundred and thirty-seven feet in length. Fire has not desolated and deformed this, like the groves of Calaveras and Mariposa.

It ought here to be remarked, that Mr. L. A. Holmes and Judge Fitzhugh saw an extensive grove of much larger trees than these on the head waters of the San Joaquin River, about twelve miles east of those on the Frezno; but it has never been explored.

All of these trees are precisely of the same genus and variety as those of Calaveras, and will abundantly reward visiters who spend a day or two here, on their way to the Yo-Semite Valley.

The trail, from the South Fork of the Merced River to Mariposa, is of an easy grade, upon which a good stage-road could be constructed without much difficulty, and which would materially increase the comfort of a majority of tourists, and shorten the time of reaching the Mammoth-Tree Grove, or Yo-Semite Valley. The heavily timbered ridges, covered with pines; the gently undulating hills dotted with oaks; and the flower-margined ravities that are crossed, are beautifully picturesque and gratefully inviting to eye; until the busy bum of mining life tells that the town of Mariposa is near.

For the convenience of those travellers who would like to visit the Yo-Semite Valley, by way of Mariposa—which is quite as good as either of the other routes—we append the following table of distances, furnished us by Mr. Clark:*

* On a recent visit Mr. Clark informed us, that the nearest way to the Yo-Semite Valley, from Mariposa, was by Lovejoy’s Road to the toll-house, thence by White and Hatch’s Road, to De Loup’s ranch, thence by a new road, recently opened until it intersects the old Yo-Semite trail, near the Chowchilla, where a sign-board marked “Yo-Semite Trail,” indicates the course to take.

From Mariposa to the spring and camping ground at the head of dug road.3 1/2
From Mariposa to Forbes’ (known as the Hog Ranche).5 1/2
From Mariposa to Magoon’s Ranche.11
From Mariposa to Branch of Chowchilla.17
From Mariposa to Clark’s Ranche (South Fork Merced).25

Although there am several camping places beyond this, the first good one is Empire Camp.

From Mariposa to Empire Camp.34
From Mariposa to Owl Camp.35
From Mariposa to Mountain Meadows.37

Branches of these meadows are found about every half mile for five miles; water plenty.

To the Valley, from lower end of these Meadows.8

Making the distance

From Mariposa to the Valley.50
From the Valley to Cunningham’s Hotel4 3/4
From the Valley to Hite’s Hotel5 1/2
Total55 1/2


Mariposa is the most southerly of all the mining towns of importance in the State. Although it has suffered more, perhaps, than almost any other mining district, for the want of water for mining purposes; owing to its quartz leads, and rich flat, gulch and hill diggings, it has generally been prosperous; and being the county seat, as well as the trading centre of numerous small camps around, its streets, at certain seasons of the year, present a very lively appearance. An ably edited and spirited paper, The Mariposa Gazette, is issued weekly, L. A. Holmes editor and proprietor.

The population is about thirteen hundred, or about one-seventh of the entire county.


It is here that the celebrated Fremont Grant is located. Being an excellent starting point to the Yo-Semite Valley and the Mariposa Grove of mammoth trees, it is likely to become a place famous to history and the note books of travellers. The neat and tastefully cultivated gardens in the vicinity, give an air of freshness, and home-like brightness, that some other places we might mention would do well to imitate. The distance from Stockton to Mariposa is ninety-one miles, and the road good, upon which a line of stages is running on alternate days. Here horses for the trip can be obtained at two dollars per day.

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