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Galen Clark was the grand old man of Yosemite and the founder of Wawona, which he called Clark’s Station. There are two famous (true) often-told stories about him. One, that he came to Wawona to homestead in 1856 because a doctor had told him he did not have long to live because of consumption. He was then 43 and lived to be 96.
At his ranch he went about bare-footed and bareheaded in a determined search for health. However, although his lungs healed, Clark was far from robust, and, in 1870, wrote a niece he couldn’t repay a debt to her father due to fourteen years of sickness and financial reverses. 8
The other popular story about Clark is his twenty years of preparation for his burial. Early-day Yosemite visitor, Pinkie Ross, wrote, “I was riding . . . by the (Yosemite Valley) graveyard . . . and I found Galen digging a grave . . . We stopped and asked him who had died. He said, “I’m digging this for myself for then I will be sure of being buried here.” 8
Later, Galen dug trenches around the grave and scattered pieces of broken glass on its edges to discourage rodents. About 1896 he planted six sequoias around his eventual burial place. Next he dug a well, built a hand pump to water the trees, (four of which survive) then selected a granite rock as a marker and carved his name upon it.
An anecdote about Clark illustrates his quiet, but humorous nature. Assaulted with questions from a woman visitor, he told her that his way with words was “not of the artesian type,” presumably referring to the vocal John Muir, but that he “could be pumped.” 9
Although biographers argue whether Clark’s birthplace was Dublin, New Hampshire or Shipton, Canada, he, himself, wrote in 1880 in a reminiscence for the Bancroft Library, that he had been born in Massachusetts.
His early personal life was tragic. His marriage to Rebecca Marie McCoy of Missouri ended when she died in Philadelphia, February 16, 1848, after having had three sons and two daughters. None of the boys lived to be thirty. Solon McCoy Clark drowned, Joseph Locke Clark was killed at Bull Run, and Galen Alonzo Clark, who came to California to be near his father died in 1873 while studying for the law in San Francisco. Alonzo died at Wawona but was buried in Mariposa. 10
In 1853, gold fever seized Clark and he left his children with Eastern relatives to go to the gold fields. Clark came to California by steamer. Intending to work at his trade of chair maker he instead headed for the Mariposa area where he worked variously as a miner, packer, camp-keeper and hunter. He camped at the meadows in Wawona in 1855 and returned there in 1856. Clark wrote that, after a hemorrhage of the lungs, he went to Wawona for his health and “spent the first season in leisure.”
His idea of “leisure” was to homestead a 160-acre ranch and build Clark’s Station, a rough overnight lodging place for tourists. His ranch was a logical stopping place for travelers as it was about halfway between Mariposa and Yosemite Valley. The Indians called Clark’s Station “Pallahchun,” meaning “A good place to stop.”
Travelers thought so too and one Charles Loring Brace described Clark’s Station and its owner thus: “This ranch is a long, rambling, low house, built under enormous sugar-pines, where travelers find excellent quarters and rest in their journey to the Valley. Clark himself is evidently a character; one of those men one frequently meets in California — the modern anchorite — a hater of civilization and a lover of the forest — handsome, thoughtful, interesting, and slovenly. In his cabin were some of the choicest modern books and scientific surveys; the walls were lined with beautiful photographs of the Yosemite; he knew more than any of his guests of the fauna, flora, and geology of the State; he conversed well on any subject, and was at once philosopher, savant, chambermaid, cook, and landlord.” 3
Brace was among many notable, early, horseback tourists to Yosemite Valley who stopped at Clark’s Station. William Brewer, Clarence King and Josiah Whitney of the State Geological Survey visited there as did I. W. Raymond, Jessie and John Fremont. These educated, far seeing people recognized the need of preserving Yosemite for the public and had a great deal to do with its creation as a State Grant in 1864 and a National Park in 1890.
Clark was well loved for his erudition, gentleness, integrity, independence, modesty and devotion to the wonders of Yosemite. He was the second white man to see the Mariposa Grove of Big Trees 4 and publicized it to an amazed world. There are over 600 mature sequoias in the Grove, several of them, almost incredibly, over 3500 years old!
At the Grove, which was eight miles from his ranch, Clark built a small cabin where he stayed while guiding
Clark’s Station about 1867
At first the self-assigned godfather of the Grove, Clark become, in 1864, the state appointed guardian of both Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove.
For all his many virtues, Clark was not a businessman and, in 1869, was forced to take in “Deacon” Edwin Moore as a full partner. The following year they mortgaged their ranch for $6000 at 2% interest to pay for a sawmill and defray $12,000 Clark had sunk into the building of the Chowchilla Mountain stagecoach road. 7 Clark was concerned about his debt, but optimistic that the next tourist season would pull him out of his financial hole.
The improvements, partnership and “woman’s touch” of Mrs. Moore helped business, but in December 1874 Clark and Moore sold out lock, lodging house and good will. 13
Clark’s part in Wawona’s development was at an end, but he had forty years more of vigorous service, as guardian, author, interpreter and friend of Yosemite before his death in 1910, at a venerable 96. 14
Wawona Hotel about 1890 — (L to R) Main Building, built 1879;
The Long White; The Small White or Manager’s Cottage, built 1885.
The cupoled structure was called the Small Brown
and was constructed in 1886.
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