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A Guide to the Giant Sequoias of Yosemite National Park (1949) by James W. McFarland


The Grizzly Giant and the discover of Mariposa Grove, Galen Clark. (Probably the first photo of a giant sequoia, taken by C. E. Watkins in 1858 or 1859.)
The Grizzly Giant and the discover of Mariposa Grove, Galen Clark. (Probably
the first photo of a giant sequoia, taken by C. E. Watkins in 1858 or 1859.)

DISCOVERY

Giant sequoias were probably first seen by white men in 1833 when the Joseph Walker exploration party crossed the Sierra Nevada from the east and descended the western slope along the ridge between the Merced and Tuolumne Rivers. Zenas Leonard, a clerk with the expedition, wrote in his journal (published in Clearfield, Pennsylvania, in 1839) : “In the last two days travelling we have found some trees of the Redwood species incredibly large—some of which would measure from 16 to 18 fathoms [96 to 108 feet] round the trunk at the height of a man’s head from the ground.” These trees were in either the Tuolumne or Merced Grove in what is now Yosemite National Park.

Although Galen Clark is given credit for the discovery of the Mariposa Grove he undoubtedly was not the first white man there. In 1849 giant sequoias in Mariposa County are supposed to have been observed by Major Burney, the first county sheriff, and John McCauley. Measurements were taken and reported in the town of Mariposa but they were considered just another “tall story” of those pioneer days.

In 1857 Mariposa Grove was thoroughly explored and brought to public notice by Galen Clark. He named it Mariposa Grove of Big Trees as it was in the county of Mariposa.1 [1 Thus it is evident that the meaning of the Spanish word Mariposa (Butterfly) has no direct connection with the name of the grove.] The first tree he saw is located north and east of the Wawona “tunnel” Tree and is named in his honor. In the same year he established a stage station at the present site of Wawona. People came by stagecoach to his “Clark’s Station” and proceeded by horseback to Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove.

Soon after Abraham Lincoln, in 1864, signed the proclamation into law, conserving the Mariposa Grove and Yosemite Valley as a park to be administered by the State of California, Galen Clark was appointed as the guardian. The area surrounding Yosemite Valley became a national park in 1890. In 1906 the State of California receded to the United States Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove so that the whole became Yosemite National Park.

From 1906 until 1914, shortly before the National Park Service was organized in 1916, the enforcement of national park regulations was married out by a troop of cavalry of the United States Army who were stationed in Yosemite National Park during the summer months, a detachment being assigned to Mariposa Grove (see page 71). They made a significant contribution to Yosemite National Park by preventing serious damage to the area by sheep grazing and the depredations of lumbermen and poachers.

Galen Clark was born in New Hampshire in 1814. While visiting in New York City, in 1853, he saw an exhibition of California gold dust. In October of that same year, he started for California by way of the Isthmus. A short time after he arrived in Mariposa, in 1854, he suffered exposure and developed serious lung trouble from his mining and surveying experiences. After a medical examination, believing that he had only a few months to live, he decided to make his home on the South Fork of the Merced River near the present site of Wawona. As his health improved he built “Clark’s Station” and the first cabin in the Mariposa Grove.

Shortly after he became guardian of Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove of Big Trees, he sold “Clark’s Station” to the four. Washburn brothers who did a great deal to make the grove accessible. They built the old Wawona Road, maintained the stagecoach lines, and provided hotel accommodations for visitors from 1866 to 1903.

When he died in 1910, aged 96, Galen Clark was buried beneath the shelter of four beautiful giant sequoias which he had planted in the cemetery near the present Yosemite Museum in Yosemite Valley.


Next: GrovesContentsPrevious: Foreword

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