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Wawona’s Yesterdays (1961) by Shirley Sargent


HOMESTEADERS

Galen Clark was NOT the first homesteader in the Wawona basin, although he was the on one to prove up on his land and have it patented. His 160 acres was claimed “for agricultural and grazing purposes” March 19th, 1856. William H. Leeper, Davis Potts, James D. May and Hiram Cartwright had all filed 160-acre claims earlier that same month. Excepting Cartwright, the other men had surveyed the Wawona basin and filed a land plot in the Mariposa County Recorder’s office. 22

John T. Banton claimed a quarter section in 1862, and in 1868 Jarvis Kiel filed for another 160 acres “near Galen Clark’s house.” 22

Hundreds of acres were homesteaded and patented in the 1880’s and ’90’s. The Albert Bruces, Van Campens and Washburns accounted for most of it, but Bruce Leitch, Roscoe Greeley, John E. Hammond, Archibald C. Stoddart, John Green and others received patents. An Emily V. Dodge had 480 acres patented to her in 1891 while both Thomas Hill and his wife, Willeta, homesteaded 160 acres apiece, for which patents were issued in 1891. 22

Homesteaders had to be hardy in Wawona’s winter wilderness, and the Albert Brutes were. Hattie Bruce Harris, of eight children, remembers that the good old days were rough. Her parents “fenced and cross-fenced, plowed, sowed and reaped . . . Mother Bruce raked hay and canned everything she could. The winter of 1888 the snow piled six feet on the level, the hay gave out in the barn and it took from four o’clock in the morning till ten at night to get the team to the Washburn barn” about a mile and a half distant. 23

The Bruces raised wheat and children on their 320-acre homestead. The

The Bruce Homestead about 1900 — Destroyed by fire in 1950
The Bruce Homestead about 1900 — Destroyed by fire in 1950
wheat grew ten feet high, and a heavily-headed shock of it stood in the Bruce parlor for years as a symbol of strength and fertility and ownership.

All the Bruces who were able worked on the homestead. One time a group of Scottish and English men passed by on their way to Chilnualna Falls and saw the toiling family. On their way back to the hotel, a horrified Scotchman told Albert Bruce, who had finished haying for the day, “I saw what I never thought I would see in America a brute of a mon out in a field, his bonny wife raking hay.” Bruce muttered something, but did not acknowledge that he was the “brute of a mon.” 23

The Bruce homestead, patented April 1884, six years before Yosemite became a national park, had a boundary line in common with the Park.

Year after year, the superintendent’s report to the Secretary of the Interior stressed that all private lands in Yosemite, especially at Wawona, should be purchased. 5 Year after year, Congress failed to appropriate funds for this purpose, and administration of the lands became more difficult.

Fire was the most dreaded problem with water rights and sanitation becoming increasingly critical as the original homesteads were subdivided into numerous small lots. Privately owned acres still exist at Wawona, and independent commercialism is represented by motels, guest cabins, small grocery stores and a gas station.

In August, 1932, 8,785 acres were added to the Park. The Washburn Hotel Company sold their 3,724 acres and 5,061 of public domain acres were acquired for a total cost of $376,600, half of it donated and half appropriated by Congress. 24

To the Park Service, the remaining private property constitutes “an ever present source of trouble,” since policing responsibility falls to the County, and there are no local County officers stationed at Wawona.

Wawona — When Haying and Logging were the Main Industries
Wawona — When Haying and Logging were the Main Industries

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