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The Yo-hem-i-ty Valley and Falls.

The following is the first account published on the east coast about Yosemite Valley. It was published in The Country Gentleman, (Albany, NY: Luther Tucker), October 8, 1856, p. 243, columns 1 and 2. Earlier accounts were published in California, but did not receive wide distribution outside of California. The article was reprinted from an earlier article that appeared in the California Christian Advocate. Place names have changed since this article was written: “the Giant Pillar falls” is Cathedral Rock, “south dome” is Half Dome, “next fall” is Nevada Falls, “third fall” is Illilouette Falls, “South Fork” is Illilouette Creek, “Cascade of the Rainbow” is Pohono or Bridalveil Falls, “North Fork” is Tenaya Creek, and “small lake” is Mirror Lake.

Compare with the account of the first tourist visit made the previous year, by James M. Hutchings in “California for Waterfalls!,” San Francisco Daily California Chronicle.


The Yo-hem-i-ty Valley and Falls.

The editor of the California Christian Advocate thus speaks of a visit to the Yo-hem-i-ty valley and falls. The description is graphic and interesting; if correct, as we have no reason to doubt it is, we do not see but they must rank with the most striking natural wonders on the Atlantic slope of the continent, if not as superior to many of them.

The Yo-hem-i-ty valley is located—as nearly as I can judge without a map—in the north-western part of Mariposa county. It was first discovered in 1851, by a company of soldiers in pursuit of a tribe of Indians, who having committed numerous depredations, such as driving horses and cattle, and carrying various kinds of plunder there, were followed, and about seventy including the chief, were taken captive. I was informed that the purport of the name is Grizzly Bear Valley, but a gentleman says it means High Valley. The true signification must be learned from the Indians, of whom a few remain here, but I did not see any of them.

It was visited by a party in 1854, and by several parties in 1855. Many more will go this year. I think it will ultimately become a place of great resort.

It is said to be about eight miles long, and will probably average a mile in width. Much of it produces most excellent grass, which in places grows three or four feet high.

There is a considerable quantity and variety of wild fruit; I saw strawberries, raspberries, gooseberries and currants. It is inclosed on both sides by stupendous mountains, mostly of solid granite; their average height is estimated at 3,000 feet. The sides, in most places are a little sloping, but in some quite perpendicular, and indeed in not a few places, the top seems to project several feet. These ranges run nearly parallel, and are pretty nearly in a straight line. Besides the average height, there are many cliffs and peaks which ascend much higher, some of them, it is thought nearly 4,000 feet.

The most remarkable cliff, called El Capitan, is on the north-east side of the river, and can be seen very plainly from the mountain on which I stood on Thursday evening. I judge it to be about a mile long at the base, is somewhat narrow towards the top, which is 3,100 feet above the valley. The rock is solid granite, about perpendicular, and in many places as smooth as a plastered wall. Not a tree, shrub, nor spire of grass can find a place to take root on it.

The Captain—There he stands in all his glory. I almost think he could bear up the world on his shoulders. Really strange! Though it might be considered rude to gaze in any other captain’s face so intently, yet I cannot help but gaze at him. What a magnificent sight.

The next most remarkable object we saw, is a peak on the other side of the river, a little farther up. This is probably 3,500 feet, and runs up to so sharp a point that I think no one could ascend within a thousand feet of the top from any place, without exposing himself to imminent danger. Should one fall over one of these precipices, there would be no possibility of stopping short of about 3,000 feet. It is frightful to contemplate such an event. Being the first minister of our denomination that ever visited this place, the privilege of naming this peak was granted to me, so I called it “the Giant Pillar.”

Still farther up there are two cliffs, one on each side of the river, called the north and south domes. The former is a most beautiful rock, the top of which looks like a perfect dome—the part resembling which ascends probably 500 feet above the cliff which supports it, and possibly would measure a mile in circumference at the base. The south dome is not so perfect, as in the lapse of time, one slab or block after another has fallen off, till about one-fourth is gone. If this were perfect they would be almost alike. This is 3,200 feet high. I have seen many steep mountains, cliffs, and peaks, both in the Atlantic states and in this, but never any thing like these; none that could begin to compare with them.

There are four gentleman—Judge B. S. Walworth, of New-York; John C. Anderson, of Illinois, W. C. Walling, of Pennsylvania; and J. A. Epperson, of Indiana; all single—now living here. They came last May, and each took up a claim, but at present they are all living together.

They took much pains to make my visit agreeable, showing me every attention. Two of them spent the forenoon and two the afternoon as my guides. We visited the three upper falls; the upper and highest is said to be 2,600 feet; a little below this there is another, but much smaller fall; and again below this another of about 700 feet.

The volume of water is not large, but the fall, considering its height, is one of the most remarkable natural curiosities in the world. The next fall we visited is on the main branch of the river, and in some respects is the most noted. The chasm, through which the river passes, is about 100 feet wide; and the stream itself is about fifty feet. It falls about 300 feet. The third fall is on the South Fork, and is said to be 700 feet. The fourth is at the lower end of the valley— the one I saw on Thursday evening. It is called the Cascade of the Rainbow, because of the beautiful rainbow seen in the spray when the sun shines through it, and is 928 feet. We did not go very near to these two, but had a fine view from a distance.

They are all indescribably beautiful. It is supposed there are still others which have not yet been discovered; and besides these, there are more than half a dozen cascades which pour their limpid waters over these tremendous precipices, several of which come from the tops of some of the highest cliffs, and fall nearly perpendicular, almost 3,000 feet. The North Fork runs directly through a small lake, which in time of high water covers about two acres. Several of these streams unite at or near the head of the valley, and form the surpassingly-beautiful Merced river. I use this adjective in describing this river because it is as clear as crystal; and at this place has never been sullied by dirt from the miner’s tom or rocker. There are many speckled trout, and I suppose other kinds of fish in it. Of game—there are bear, deer, squirrels, grouse, ducks, cranes, pigeons, snipe, etc. The valley is ornamented with beautiful flowers; I saw some varieties here which I think I never saw before. There are many other things worthy of note, which I have neither time nor ability to describe. I never before felt so anxious to write, and so utterly incompetent to do justice to my subject. Of all the scenery I have ever witnessed, I never saw anything so magnificent. Often, while gazing with amazement on the huge mountains and stupendous falls, I repeated the passage of Scripture:— “Great and marvelous are thy works, Lord God Almighty.” Never before was I so deeply impressed with the omnipotence and wisdom of Deity.

The author of this article is unknown, but is by the editor of the San Francisco, California Christian Advocate, a Methodist newspaper. For 1856, the editors were S. D. Simons (1852-56) and Eleazer D. Thomas (1856-68).

Digitized by Dan Anderson, November 2004. These files may be used for any non-commercial purpose, provided this notice is left intact.
    —Dan Anderson, www.yosemite.ca.us

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