Home A - Z FAQ Online Library Discussion Forum Muir Weather Maps About Search
Online Library: Title Author California Geology History Indians Muir Mountaineering Nature Management

Next: Chapter 2: GeneralIndexPrevious: Table of Contents

THE YOSEMITE BOOK by Josiah D. Whitney (1869)


The object of this volume is, to call the attention of the public to the scenery of California, and to furnish a reliable guide to some of its most interesting features, namely: the Yosemite Valley, the High Sierra in its immediate vicinity, and the so-called “Big Trees.” Much has indeed already been published in regard to these remarkable localities; but in all that has been given to the public, with the exception of the necessarily brief description in the Report of the Geological Survey (Geology, vol. I.), there has been little of accuracy, and almost nothing of permanent value.

The origin of the present volume is to be found in the action of Congress and the State of California in regard to the Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove of Big Trees. This action dates back to the year 1864. In that year Congress, being moved thereto by certain influential and intelligent citizens of California, passed the following Act:

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America, in Congress assembled, That there shall be, and is hereby, granted to the State of California, the “Cleft,” or “Gorge” in the Granite Peak of the Sierra Nevada Mountain, situated in the County of Mariposa, in the State aforesaid, and the head waters of the Merced River, and known as the Yosemite Valley, with its branches and spurs, in estimated length fifteen miles, and in average width one mile back from the main edge of the precipice, on each side of the valley, with the stipulation, nevertheless, that the said State shall accept this grant upon the express conditions that the premises shall be held for public use, resort and recreation; shall be inalienable for all time; but leases not exceeding ten years may be granted for portions of said premises. All incomes derived from leases of privileges to be expended in the preservation and improvement of the property, or the roads leading thereto; the boundaries to be established at the cost of said State by the United States Surveyor-General of California, whose official plat, when affirmed by the Commissioner of the General Land Office, shall constitute the evidence of the locus, extent and limits of the said Cleft or Gorge; the premises to be managed by the Governor of the State, with eight other Commissioners, to be appointed by the Executive of California, and who shall receive no compensation for their services.

Sec. 2. And be it further enacted, That there shall likewise be, and there is hereby, granted to the said State of California, the tracts embracing what is known as the Mariposa Big Tree Grove, not to exceed the area of four sections, and to be taken in legal subdivisions of one-quarter section each, with the like stipulations as expressed in the first section of this Act as to the States’ acceptance, with like conditions as in the first section of this Act as to inalienability, yet with the same lease privileges; the income to be expended in the preservation, improvement and protection of the property, the premises to be managed by Commissioners, as stipulated in the first section of this Act, and to be taken in legal sub-divisions as aforesaid; and the official plat of the United States Surveyor General, when affirmed by the Commissioner of the General Land Office, to be the evidence of the locus of the said Mariposa Big Tree Grove.”

The above cited Act was approved by the President, June 30th, 1864, and, shortly after, a Proclamation was issued by the then Governor of California, F. F. Low, taking possession of the tracts thus granted, in the name and on behalf of the State, appointing commissioners to manage them, and warning all persons against trespassing or settling there without authority, and especially forbidding the cutting of timber and other injurious acts.

The Commissioners first appointed were: F. Law Olmsted, J. D. Whitney, William Ashburner, I. W. Raymond, E. S. Holden, Alexander Deering, George W. Coulter and Galen Clark, all of whom continue to hold office, with the exception of Mr. Olmsted, who resigned shortly after returning to the East, and whose place has been filled by the appointment of Henry W. Cleaveland.

The surveys necessary to establish the boundaries of the grants in question, as required by the Act of Congress, were made in the autumn of 1864, by Messrs. J. T. Gardner and C. King, and the official plat of their work was forwarded by the Surveyor General of California to the authorities at Washington, and accepted by the Commissioner of the General Land Office; thus, in the language of the Act, establishing “the locus, extent and limits” of the grants of the Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Big Tree Grove.

A map of the Yosemite Valley, on a scale of two inches to one mile, was drawn by Mr. Gardner, showing the boundaries of the Yosemite Valley grant, and the topography of its immediate vicinity. This map has been engraved and is appended to the present volume, as will be noticed further on.

Before, however, the Yosemite Valley and the Big Tree Grove could become the property of the State, it was necessary that the grant made by Congress should be accepted by the State Legislature, with all the stipulations and reservations contained therein. The grant had no validity until the State, through its Legislature, had solemnly promised to take the premises for the benefit of the people, for their use, resort and recreation, and especially, “to hold them inalienable for all time.” This was not an ordinary gift of land, to be sold and the proceeds used as desired; but a trust imposed on the State, of the nature of a solemn compact, forever binding after having been once accepted. Had the State declined to accept the trust, on the conditions expressed in the Act, the whole proceeding would have been null and void and the premises would have continued, as they originally were, a part of the national domain.

But, at the next session of the Legislature of California after the passage of the Act of Congress cited above, an Act was passed accepting the grant of the Yosemite Valley and the Big Tree Grove, on the stipulated conditions, confirming the appointment of the Commissioners, organizing them into a body for legal purposes and empowering them to make regulations and by-laws for their own government. The Act of the Legislature also contained provisions making it a penal offence to commit depredations on the premises, and authorizing the appointment of a guardian to take charge of the Grove and Valley.

In this Act there was special authority given to the State Geologist, to make further explorations and surveys in and about the premises ceded by the United States, and to prepare and publish such topographical maps and reports on the region as he might deem advisable, for the purpose of furnishing travellers with desirable information. Thus the first step towards increasing the facilities of travel and fulfilling the stipulations of the grant was taken, to be followed, it was hoped, by opening roads and trails in and about the Valley and Grove, building bridges, and by a variety of similar enterprises calculated to render the region accessible and attractive to travellers. This was a part of the legitimate work of the Geological Survey, and similar explorations, maps and reports of the whole of the mountain regions of the State, but especially of the Sierra Nevada, should be made, and indeed, would have been, had the necessary means been furnished by the Legislature; for no more suitable way of employing our time and money could be suggested than this.

In obedience to the special request of the Legislature, however, our attention was at once turned to the region of the Yosemite Valley; and, as early in 1866 as the season would permit, a party was organized by the State Geologist for the purpose of making a detailed geographical and geological survey of the High Sierra in that vicinity, a district which had been rapidly reconnoitred and roughly mapped by us during the season of 1863, enough work having been done at that time to satisfy us that its scenery was in the highest degree attractive and that it possessed many features which should make it particularly desirable as a resort for pleasure travellers, in addition to the Yosemite Valley and the Big Trees themselves. The party of 1866 consisted of Messrs. King, Gardner, Bolander and Brinley, with two men, and was accompanied during a part of the time by the State Geologist. This party continued in the field from June to October, exploring and mapping the region about the heads of the Merced, Tuolumne and San Joaquin rivers, or that portion of the High Sierra which lies between the parallels of 37° 30’ and 38°, and which is most easily and naturally accessible by the same approaches which lead to the Yosemite Valley. An accurate topographical map of the district embraced in these explorations was commenced by Mr. Gardner, in the winter of 1866, on a scale of two miles to one inch. To complete the surveys necessary for this map, a work requiring more than one season, another party was organized in 1867, under the direction of Mr. Hoffmann. This party continued in the field during the months of August and September of that year, and the map was finished and placed in the engraver’s hands in the spring of 1868, and will be found appended to the present volume. It contains the minute details of the topography of one of the most elevated and roughest portions of the State, and is believed to be the first accurate map of any high mountain region ever prepared in the United States.

Mr. C. E. Watkins, the well-known and skillful photographer, whose views of Pacific coast scenery have been highly praised by good judges in this country and in Europe, being in the Yosemite Valley at the same time with our party, I requested him to take a set of pictures with the Dallmeyer lens belonging to the survey, for the purpose of illustrating the work then in preparation. He kindly acceded to my request, and of the pictures then taken, twenty-four were selected to accompany the volume in question, and are herewith presented, with full confidence that they will give satisfaction to those who are themselves unable to visit the scenes which they represent; and that, to those who have had that privilege, they will be of the greatest interest as recalling some of the most striking points of view in and about the Yosemite Valley. Our party of 1867 was accompanied by a photographer, Mr. W. Harris, who made a considerable number of views at points higher up in the mountains than other artists had been; and especially, at the head of the Tuolumne river, on Mount Dana, and in the Hetch-Hetchy Valley. Of these, four were selected for publication in this volume (Plates 25-28), as well adapted to give an idea of the peculiar features of the high mountain region above the Yosemite.* [*As only a small number of prints could be obtained from the photographic artist, the number of copies of the illustrated volume, or the present “Yosemite Book,” which could be issued was necessarily limited to 250; another edition, without photographs, but with the maps, and intended to serve as a guide-book to the Yosemite Valley and its surroundings, will appear shortly after the issuing of this volume. It will be called “The Yosemite Guide-Book."]

Besides the surveys and explorations mentioned above as having been made under the direction of the State Geologist, by authority of the Legislature, for the purpose of preparing a reliable guide-book to the Yosemite Valley, a careful survey of the bottom of the Valley was made for the use of the Commissioners and plotted on a scale of ten chains to one inch, making a map fifty by thirty inches in size. This map has the number of acres of each tract of meadow, timber and fern land designated on it, and also the boundaries of the claims of the settlers and a statement of the number of acres enclosed and claimed by them. The principal grove of trees in the Big Tree grant was also surveyed, each tree of over one foot in diameter measured, and the height of a number of them accurately determined. As thus measured, the trees were carefully plotted, so that their exact position, size and relations to each other can be seen at a glance.

From the very limited appropriation of $2,000 made by the Legislature of 1865-6 for the purposes of the Commissioners, but little remained after paying the salary of the Guardian of the Grove and Valley, Mr. Galen Clark; with what was left, some improvements were made on the trails in the Valley, in order to render interesting points more accessible, and two bridges were built across the Merced river; one at the lower end of the Valley in order to avoid the delay and expense of the ferry; the other above the Vernal Fall, so that the summit of the Nevada Fall might be rendered accessible. Unfortunately, both these bridges were swept away by the unprecedentedly high water of the winter of 1867-8, which destroyed every bridge on the Merced river.

At the session of the Legislature of California which commenced in December, 1867, the first after the taking possession of the Yosemite Valley by the State, the Commissioners presented their report, as required by law, in which they stated what they had been able to accomplish in the way of improvements in and about the Valley, and requested a small additional appropriation for the purpose of making interesting points more accessible, and of removing all charges or tolls on ladders, ferries, bridges, &c. They also asked for a sufficient sum for the salary of the Guardian and his assistant, so that one or the other might be able to be on the spot during all the season for visitors, it having been found that careless or malicious persons would injure or even cut down the trees and shrubs, or set them on fire, unless some person, armed with the authority of the State, was at hand to prevent such mischief. Besides all this, reference was made to the case of certain settlers in, and claimants to, portions of the Yosemite Valley, to which the attention of the reader will have to be called for a short time. And in order to understand the condition of things, it will be necessary to go back and give a brief account of the discovery and occupation of the Valley, embodying in this account some particulars with which it will always be interesting for travellers to be acquainted.

The whites living on the streams which head in the vicinity of the Yosemite had, in 1850, found themselves unable to live in peace with the few scattered Indians in that region, and after some murders and much trouble, a military company was formed to drive them out of the country. In the course of the skirmishing and fighting which took place, it was ascertained that the Indians had a stronghold or retreat far up in the mountains, in which they thought that they could take refuge, and remain without the slightest danger of being found. This place of refuge was the Yosemite Valley, and this was the way in which it first came to be heard of by white people. Of course the curiosity of the settlers was excited in regard to this stronghold, and, in the spring of 1851, an expedition was organized, under the command of Captain Boling, to explore the mountains and discover and drive out the Indians from their fastness. This was in March, 1851. Under the guidance of an old chief, named Tenaya, whose name is perpetuated in the beautiful lake which lies between Mt. Hoffmann and Cathedral Peak, and in the branch of the Merced river heading in that lake, (see Plate XXVI.) the party reached the Valley, drove out the Indians, killed a few, and made peace with the rest, who were terribly disheartened at this unceremonious invasion, on the part of the whites, into what they had supposed to be their impregnable retreat. Everything seems to have remained quiet in the region until 1852, when a party of miners was attacked, under what provocation is the Bridal Veil Meadow. This led to another expedition into the Valley by the Mariposa battalion, who killed some and drove out the rest of the Indians; these took refuge with the Monos, on the eastern side of the Sierra, but got into difficulty there, and, escaping with a lot of stolen horses, were followed back to the Yosemite by the Monos, where a battle was fought resulting in the almost entire extermination of the Yosemite tribe. Since that time the Valley has been annually visited by the Monos at the time of the ripening of the acorns, for the purpose of laying in a stock of this staple article of food; but the number of Indians actually and permanently resident in and about the Yosemite or the Mariposa Grove is very small. Like the rest of the so-called “diggers” in California, they are a miserable, degraded and fast-disappearing set of beings, who must die out before the progress of the white man’s civilization, and for whom there is neither hope nor chance.

The Indian residents in and about the Yosemite Valley are said to have been a mixed race, made up of the disaffected of the various tribes from the Tuolumne to King’s River.* [*See Dr. Bunnell’s account of the “Indian War” in Hutchings’s California Magazine, and in the Scenes in California, by the same author.] But little is known of their language; but it is well ascertained that they had a name for every meadow, cliff and water-fall in and about the Valley. The families of the tribe had each its special “reservation” or tract set apart for its use, each of these, of course, having its distinct appellation. It were much to be desired that these names could be retained and perpetuated, but it is impossible; they have already almost passed into oblivion. They are so long, so uncertain in their spelling and meaning, that they have never been adopted into general use and never will be. The only one which is current is that of the Valley itself—”Yosemite,” and this, it appears, is not the name given to the Valley by the Indians; the word means “Grizzly Bear,” and was probably the name of a chief of the tribe; or, perhaps, this was the name given to the Valley by the band of Indians driven out by the whites in 1851. Such would seem to be the case, from the fact that the name became current at that time. At all events, it is well known that the present Indian name of the Valley is, not Yosemite, but Ahwahnee.

While our party was at the Yosemite, in 1866, the services of a person designated as the most reliable Indian interpreter in the region were secured by me to accompany us around the Valley and give the Indian names of the different objects and localities and their meaning. This gentleman, Mr. B. B. Travis, furnished the following names, which were taken down by Mr. Bolander as nearly as he could imitate them, the Italian sounds being given to the vowels:

Pateéa. [corrected to Patéea. in the 1871 edition.] The mountain over which the Yosemite trail runs.

Topinémete. The rocks between the foot of the Mariposa trail and the Bridal Veil Fall; said to mean “a succession of rocks.”

Póhono. The Bridal Veil Fall; explained to signify a blast of wind, or the night wind, perhaps from the chillness of the air occasioned by coming under the high cliff and near the falling water, or possibly with reference to the constant swaying of the sheet of water from one side to the other under the influence of the wind. Mr. Hutchings, more poetically, says that “Pohono” is “an evil spirit, whose breath is a blighting and fatal wind, and consequently to be dreaded and shunned.”

Kosúkong. The rocks near Cathedral Rock, sometimes called “The Three Graces.”

Pútputon. The meadow and little stream, on the Coulterville trail, first met in coming into the Valley; means the “bubbling of water.”

Keialauwa. Mountains west of El Capitan.

Lungyotuckoya. The Virgin’s Tears Creek; meaning, Pigeon Creek.

Totokónula. Usually spelt Tutocanula, the rock generally called “El Capitan;” the Indians say that this name is an imitation of the cry of the crane, given because, in winter this bird enters the Valley generally by flying over that rock. How the name El Capitan, the captain, originated it is not easy to say; perhaps it may have been given with the feeling that it was the most striking and impressive mass of rock in the Valley, and the Indians, who often have a smattering of Spanish, may have called attention to it as “el Capitan;” or, as we might say, “the biggest fellow of them all.” The west side of El Capitan is called “Ajemu,” or manzanita, that being a place where they gather the berries of this familiar shrub.

Wawhawke. The Three Brothers; said to mean “falling rocks.” The usual name given as that of the Three Brothers is “Pompompasus,” equivalent to “Kompopaise” given by our interpreter as the name of the small rock a little to the west of the Three Brothers. It was said to mean “Leaping Frog Rock.” The Three Brothers have a vague resemblance to three frogs with their heads turned in one direction, each higher than the one in front. The common idea is, that the Indians imagined the mountains to be playing “Leap Frog.” It would remain, in that case, to show that the Indians practice that, to us, familiar game; we have never caught them at it.

Posinaschucka. Cathedral Rock, a large “cache” of acorns; evidently from its shape resembling that of a large stack or cache of acorns, which the Indians are accustomed to build in the trees, in order to secure their stock of food from the depredations of wild animals.

Loya. Sentinel Rock; means an Indian camp, or signal station, probably.

Ollenya. Small stream between the Three Brothers and the Yosemite Fall; means Frog Brook.

Schotallowi. Indian cañon; the gulch between the Yosemite Falls and the North Dome.

Ummo. Rocks between the Yosemite Falls and Indian Cañon; means lost arrow.

Lehamete. Rocks next east of Indian Cañon; meaning, the place where the arrow-wood grows.

Tokoya. The North Dome; meaning the basket, so named on account of its rounded basket shape.

Schokoni. The Royal Arches; meaning the shade or cover to an Indian cradle-basket, the shape of these rocks being somewhat like that of this aboriginal and domestic article.

Waiya. Mirror Lake.

Tesaiyak. The Half Dome.

Waijau. Mount Watkins; meaning the Pine Mountain.

Patillima. Glacier Point.

Tululowehäck. The cañon of the South Fork of the Merced, called the Illilouette in the California Geological Report, that being the spelling given by Messrs. King and Gardner;—a good illustration of how difficult it is to catch the exact pronunciation of these names. Mr. Hutchings spells it Tooluluwack.

Peiwayak. The Vernal Fall; meaning white water, spelt Piwyack by some. [Editor’s note: The correct Ahwahneechee name for Vernal Fall is Yanopah. Piwyack refers to Tenaya Lake and was mistakenly transfered as the name for Vernal Fall. Bunnell, Discovery of the Yosemite (1880), p. 207.dea]

Scholuck. The Nevada Fall, as given by our interpreter. By others this word, or Choolook, as it is often spelled, is used for the Yosemite Fall, while Yowiye is used for the Nevada. Perhaps the word “Scholuck” means simply a water-fall.

A comparison of the above names with those previously published shows how difficult it is to get at the real truth where Indian words and their pronunciation are concerned. As will be noticed, the very name of the Valley itself is uncertain, both as to its origin and orthography. The word “Yosemite” means grizzly bear and is not that by which the Valley is at present designated by the Indians, and how it is that Ahwahnee, or Auwoni, the real name, failed to be brought into use it is now impossible to say. Nor is it of much consequence, unless it be to the special student of the aboriginal Indian languages. The names given by the early white visitors to the region have entirely replaced the native ones; and they are, in general, quite sufficiently euphonious and proper. Some of them, perhaps, slightly incline to sentimentality; for if we recognize the appropriateness of the “Bridal Veil” as a designation for the fall called Pohono by the Indians, we fail to perceive why the “Virgin’s Tears” should be flowing on the opposite side of the Valley. The Geological Survey has made no changes in the nomenclature either in or about the Valley. We have adopted all the names which were in well-established use and added nothing. Only in the High Sierra, among the numerous high peaks previously without appellations, we have selected a few to which we have given the names of some of the most eminent explorers, geographers and geologists of this and other countries, as will be seen further on in this volume or on reference to the map. This we have done not so much from any desire to impose designations of our own selection on the public; but because the dominant peaks were unnamed, and it would have been excessively inconvenient to us, in the course of our topographical work, to have been obliged to designate them by numbers. We claim, however, a full and ample right, as the first explorers, describers and mappers of the High Sierra, to give such names as we please to the previously unnamed peaks which we locate; and the names thus given by us will be adopted by the civilized and scientific world abroad, however much our disinclination to bestow on prominent points the names of great politicians and editors may be criticised in California.* [*The principles we have followed in this Geological Survey, in giving names to prominent natural objects, and especially mountains, which have previously been unnamed, are simple and such as must commend themselves to all reasonable people. We have selected for this purpose the names of explorers, surveyors, geographers, geologists and engineers, and especially of such as have worked or lived in the region in which the point to be named was situated when there was no such name to be found, or when if found, it was already in use elsewhere, we have, in a few cases, selected, honoris causa, the names of very eminent geographers, geologists, or physicists, who have labored successfully in general science, and whose results thus become the property of the world.]

To return to the subject of the history of the discovery and settlement of the Yosemite Valley. The visit of the soldiers under Captain Boling led to no immediate results in this direction. Some stories told by them on their return found their way into the newspapers, but it was not until four years later that, so far as can be ascertained, any persons visited the Valley for the purpose of examining its wonders, or as regular pleasure travellers. It is, indeed, surprising that so remarkable a locality should not have become known at once; one would suppose that accounts of its cliffs and water-falls would have spread at once all over the country. Probably they did circulate about California, and were not believed but set down as “travellers’ stories.” Yet these first visitors seem to have been very moderate in their statements, for they spoke of the Yosemite Fall as being “more than a thousand feet high,” thus cutting it down to less than one-half its real altitude.

Mr. J. M. Hutchings, having heard of the wonderful Valley, and being, in 1855, engaged in getting together materials to illustrate the scenery of California, for the California Magazine, collected a party and made the first regular tourists’ visit to the Yosemite during the summer of that year. This party was followed by another from Mariposa, the same year, consisting of sixteen or eighteen persons. The next year (1856) the regular pleasure travel commenced, and the trail on the Mariposa side of the Valley, from White and Hatch’s, was opened by Mann Brothers, at a cost of about $700. This trail was afterwards purchased for $200 by the citizens of the county and made free to the public.

The first house was built in the Yosemite Valley in the autumn of 1856, opposite the Fall of that name; it is still standing, and is usually known as the Lower Hotel. At the locality a little over half a mile further up the Valley, a canvass house was built by G. A. Hite, in the spring of 1857, and in the spring of the next year the present wooden house, now known as “Hutchings’s Yosemite Hotel” was built by Hite and Beardsley. They kept it as a public house during that season, and it afterwards passed into the hands of Messrs. Sullivan and Cashman; it was next kept, in 1859-61, by Mr. Peck, then by Mr. Longhurst, and from 1864 on by Mr. Hutchings. In the spring of 1857 Cunningham and Beardsley had a storehouse and shop just above the present Hutchings Hotel. The Lower Hotel was kept by John Reed in 1857, and by Mr. Cunningham from 1858 to 1861; it remained vacant for a couple of years, and was then taken by Mr. G. F. Leidig, who has kept it during the season of travel for the past three or four years.

Previous to 1864 the only actual settler and permanent resident in the Valley was Mr. J. C. Lamon, who took up his lonely quarters there in 1860; many persons had been there during the summer and numerous claims had been made, which were of course invalid under United States laws, as they were not accompanied by permanent residence, neither had the land ever been surveyed and brought into market, so that it was not open to preemption.

At the time that the Governor’s proclamation was issued, taking possession of the Valley, and appointing Commissioners to protect and manage it, there were several residents and numerous claims to various portions of the Valley and to “improvements” which had been made there. These claimants the Commissioners were disposed to treat, and to recommend to be treated by the State, with all possible consideration. They went to the extent of their powers by offering Messrs. Hutchings and Lamon leases for ten years of the premises occupied by them, at a nominal rent. This liberal offer these gentlemen saw fit to decline, believing that they could work upon public sympathy, or in some way influence the Legislature to grant them better terms, or perhaps even to look with favor on their pretensions to get possession of the Valley and hold it in fee simple. They appeared before the Legislature of 1867-8, the next one to that which had accepted the Congressional grant, and succeeded in procuring the passage of a bill giving them each 160 acres of land and asking Congress to confirm this action. It is now stated, however, that, by some clerical oversight, this bill did not actually become a law. Be that as it may, this action of the Legislature of California came up in Congress for endorsement, and a bill or resolution to that effect did actually pass the House; but, reaching the Senate, was unfavorably reported on and left on file for future action. [Footnote in 1871 edition: At the second session of the next Congress after the one here alluded to (the second session of the Forty-first Congress) this bill was again introduced in the House, but was rejected by a very large majority.] What this action may be it is, of course, impossible to say; but what the result will be, if the bill passes, it will not be difficult to predict. The Yosemite Valley, instead of being held by the State for the benefit of the people, and “for public use, resort and pleasure,” as was solemnly promised, will become the property of private individuals and will be held and managed for private benefit and not for the public good. As the tide of travel in the direction of this wonderful and unique locality increases, so will the vexations, restraints and annoying charges, which are so universal at all places of great resort, be multiplied, and the Yosemite Valley instead of being “a joy forever” will become, like Niagara Falls, a gigantic institution for fleecing the public. The screws will be put on just as fast as the public can be educated into bearing the pressure. Instead of having every convenience for circulation in and about the Valley, free trails, roads and bridges, with every facility offered for the enjoyment of nature in the greatest of her works, unrestrained except by the requirements of decency and order, the public will find, if the ownership of the Valley passes into private hands, that opportunity will be taken to levy toll at every point of view, on every trail, on every bridge and at every turning, while there will be no inducement to do anything for the public accommodation, except that which may be made immediately available as a new means of raising a tax on the unfortunate traveller. Had the liberal policy inaugurated by the Legislature which accepted the grant (that of 1865-6) been carried out by its successor—a policy which involved only a very small expenditure of money—during the past season new trails and bridges would have been built, affording free access to every point of interest, and the present occupants of the Valley would have been in undisturbed possession of their premises, where they might remain so long as they were willing to conform to the few simple regulations of the Commissioners, forbidding wanton damage to the trees, shrubs and flowers. Leases, on reasonable terms, would have been granted to such respectable parties as might apply for them, and multiplying facilities on every side would meet the increase of travel.

It has been argued that the Valley is large, and that the ceding of a couple of patches of only 160 acres each to private parties will have no seriously injurious consequences—the bulk of the land would still remain in the hands of the Commissioners, to be managed for the benefit of the public. But there are only a little more than 1,100 acres of land in the Valley, within the rocky talus, or debris fallen from the walls, and of this only a small portion is valuable land for pasturage and cultivation, as well as desirable on account of its convenience of situation. Thus the holders of 320 acres of land judiciously selected would, in point of fact, have almost a monopoly of the Valley, especially as they would not be hampered by any restrictions and would be above all control by the Commissioners. But, more than this, the whole Valley is already claimed, and if two of the claimants are to have their requests granted, the rest must be placed on the same footing: there would be neither justice nor reason in conceding 160 acres each to Messrs. Lamon and Hutchings and not doing as much for others who made claims before either of these gentlemen. The whole Valley must be inevitably given up to the claimants, if any portion of it is; and the Commissioners would recommend that this should be done, in case Messrs. Lamon and Hutchings succeed in making good their pretensions. It would be entirely useless to attempt to exercise any useful control over the premises, with so large a portion of them withdrawn from supervision and placed in charge of irresponsible persons.

The State of California has, through its Legislature, assumed the responsibility and the guardianship of the grants of the Valley and the Big Tree Grove: she has solemnly promised to hold them “inalienable for all time.” She has no right to attempt to withdraw from the responsibility she has voluntarily assumed. The equitable claims of the settlers in the Valley can be abundantly made good by a small amount of money, and it is astonishing that the great State of California should seek to avoid the performance of her agreement—to repudiate her obligations—merely to avoid the payment of the small sum which may be equitably due the parties who have been deprived, by the joint action of the State and of Congress, of their power to obtain, at some future time, a right in fee simple to the land they occupied. Legal rights these parties have not; the land had never been surveyed and opened to preemption. Their case is like that of thousands of others, who have settled on the public land before it was surveyed, and who have afterwards been ousted by the General Government, when the ground they occupied was required for purposes of public good.

No: the Yosemite Valley is a unique and wonderful locality: it is an exceptional creation, and as such has been exceptionally provided for jointly by the Nation and the State—it has been made a National public park and placed under the charge of the State of California. Let Californians beware how they make the name of their State a by-word and reproach for all time, by trying to throw off and repudiate a noble task which they undertook to perform—that of holding the Yosemite Valley as a place of public use, resort and recreation, inalienable for all time!

Next: Chapter 2: GeneralIndexPrevious: Table of Contents

Home A - Z FAQ Online Library Discussion Forum Muir Weather Maps About Search
Online Library: Title Author California Geology History Indians Muir Mountaineering Nature Management