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

Next: Thomas HillContentsPrevious: Pike

Wawona’s Yesterdays (1961) by Shirley Sargent


STEVE CUNNINGHAM

Steve Cunningham

History is not always made up of notable events and people, but often of misadventures and wanderers. Stephen Mandeville Cunningham was on adventurer who claimed to be the second white man in Yosemite Valley. Born in New York state in 1820, he sailed around the Horn in 1849, prospected for gold, taught school, served as Justice of the Peace for Mariposa in 1852 and was associated in business with James Savage. 48, 49

Whether he was the second non-Indian in Yosemite Valley or not, Cunningham was there in 1857 when he was “hotel-keeping and trading in blue tent while preparing the timbers for the building.” 50 Besides the pioneer building, Cunningham built the first, steep ladders at Vernal Fall and helped construct the trail to the Fall.

During the Civil War, he served for ten months with the California Infantry and then returned to Yosemite Valley and later the Mariposa Grove where he served as guide, guardian and curio seller. Frequently, when visitors stayed overnight to marvel at the Sequoias, he would give them his cabin and sleep in a hollow tree. 48

That Cunningham was intimately associated with the Wawona area is attested by the fact that he was Grand Marshall for a parade held July 22, 1875, to celebrate the opening of the Wawona Road. 51

In the 1870’s he filed many mining and grazing claims in Yosemite Valley, Little Yosemite and above Bridalveil Fall. He homesteaded land at the mouth of Rush Creek which empties into the South Fork near Cunningham Flat in the present public campground.

Cunningham built a fairly-large, 18- by 21-foot cabin there in the 1860’s which was about 85 yards from the South Fork of the Merced. It was constructed with neatly-notched yellow pine logs, had a shake roof and a granite fireplace. He had a wood lathe in it and spent his spore time using it to make curios to sell at Mariposa Grove. 53

After Cunningham’s death, the Washburns bought his and and held it until 1932. The rotting remains of the cabin were cleared from the ground in the 1940’s for the Cunningham Flat campground. 54

Jack Leidig, Yosemite old-timer, liked to tell a story about the time Cunningham came into Mariposa for his winter’s supply of groceries, among them a large slab of bacon, chunk of cheese, a ten pound box of crackers and a five gallon jug of whiskey. Driving down the Cold Springs grade on the old Chowchilla Mountain Road, he hit a chuckhole and the demijohn broke.

Moaned Cunningham, as he watched he whiskey pouring onto the ground, “There goes half my winter provisions!” 12

In 1883, a Mariposa Gazette columnist reported that Cunningham, then sixty-three, was working on repairing the road between Wawona and the Mariposa Grove.

He never married and his early enterprise and energy deteriorated to an old age that included drinking and an Indian woman called “Short and Dirty.” 48

On October 5, 1898, he entered the Sawtelle Veterans’ Hospital in Southern California. He died July 3, 1899, and was buried there, far from the pines and granite of Wawona. 55


Next: Thomas HillContentsPrevious: Pike

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

http://www.yosemite.ca.us/library/wawonas_yesterdays/steve_cunningham.html