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Yosemite: Its Wonders and Its Beauties (1868) by John S. Hittell

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The valley was first seen by white men in March, 1851, when a party of volunteers, under the lead of Major Savage, went out to punish the Indians for various murders. in the early part of May, Savage headed another expedition again in pursuit of Indians, all of whom surrendered and promised peace, and kept it until a year later, when they murdered two miners named Rose and Shurbon, who had gone with some companions on a prospecting expedition. A month later some troops and volunteers went to the valley and shot five of the red men, who were dressed in the clothes of the murdered miners. The other savages fled to Mono Lake, where they remained till the next year. Dr. L. H. Bunnell accompanied all these parties into the valley, and he inquired of the Indians the name of the fall, and they called it Yosemite, although their pronunciation was various, some calling it Yosoomite, Oosoomite, and Oosemite. The name of the valley was Ahwahnee, and of their tribe Ahwahnechee. The tribe has now died out, and the red men in the valley are stragglers from other places, mostly of the Mono tribe.

Several parties of hunters and prospectors visited the valley in 1858 and 1854, but so little was said of the place that, in 1855, many intelligent persons in Mariposa County had never heard of it. In the spring of that year, J. M. Hutchings and Thomas Ayres went to the valley, the former to take notes, and the latter to take sketches. They soon gave notoriety to it, and the next year it began to be a place of resort, although the visitors were few. Several years later, a shanty was erected on Crane Flat and another in the valley, and Lamon, a bachelor, planted an orchard in the valley near its head. This orchard now produces fine fruit. Lamon, and afterwards Hutchings, spent the summers in the valley and the winters elsewhere, but the family of Hutchings remained through the winter of 1867–8 in the hotel, thus showing that the valley may be inhabited throughout the year, though its residents are cut off from all communication with people elsewhere for weeks or months at a time.

The number of visitors to the valley in 1864 was two hundred and forty; in 1865, three hundred and sixty; in 1866, six hundred and twenty; and in 1867, four hundred and fifty.

On the 30th of June, 1864, Congress gave the valley to the State by the following act:

An Act Authorizing a Grant to the State of California of the Yo-Semite Valley, and of the Land embracing the Mariposa Big Tree Grove.

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 Mountains, situated in the County of Mariposa, in the State aforesaid, and the headwaters of the Merced River, and known as the Yo-Semite Valley, with its branches or 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, [and] shall be inalienable for all time, but lesses not exceeding ten years may be granted for portions of said premises. All incomes derived from lessee of privileges to be expended in the preservation and improvement of the property, or the roads leading thereto; the boundary 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 he managed by the Governor and 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, 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 an area of four sections, and to be taken in legal subdivisions of one-quarter section each, with the like stipulation as expressed in the first section of this Act as to the State’s acceptance, with like conditions as in the first section of this Act as to inalienability, yet with same privilege; the income to be expended in preservation, improvement, and protection of the property; the premises to be managed by Commissioners as stipulated in the first section of the Act, and to be taken in legal subdivisions 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 said Mariposa Big Tree Grove.

The language of this statute deserves no commendation; it is not elegant in grammar nor correct in topography. No place deserves to be called “the granite peak of the Sierra Nevada;” Yosemite is not situated in a peak; it is not a cleft, and the name is not spelled properly “Yo-Semite.” In the first clause of the second sentence the subject noun in the nominative has no verb agreeing with it in number and person as it should. However, its faults are mere trifles.

Under the authority of the Act, the Governor appointed J. D. Whitney, Wm. Ashburner, F. L. Olmstead, L. W. Raymond, E. S. Holden, G. W, Coulter, Alexander Deering, and Galen Clark, Commissioners, but as no funds had been provided for paying expenses, and as the Legislature had given no instructions in regard to their duties, they did nothing till the summer of 1866. The survey, however, was made in 1866, and the Yosemite tract, as surveyed, is about sixteen miles by three wide, and includes the descent into the valley and all the points from which the best views of it can be obtained.

On the second of April, 1866, the Legislature of California passed an Act accepting the donation and organizing the Governor and the eight Commissioners whom he had appointed, as a Board, to be styled “The Commissioners to manage the Yosemite Valley and Mariposa, Big Tree Grove with fall power to make and adopt all rules, regulations and by-laws for their own government, and the government, improvement and preservation of said premises, not inconsistent with the Constitution of the United States, or of this State, or of said Act making the grant, or of any law of Congress or of the Legislature.

The preamble, enacting clause, and first section of the Act are as follows:

“Whereas, by Act of Congress, entitled ‘An Act authorizing a grant to the State of California of the Yosemite Valley and of the land embracing the Big Tree Grove,’ approved June 13th, 1864, there was granted to the State of California in the terms of said Act, said valley and the lands embracing said grove, upon certain conditions and specifications therein expressed; now, therefore, the people of the State of California, represented in Senate and Assembly, do enact as follows: Section 1. The State of California does hereby accept said grant upon the conditions, reservations and stipulations contained in said Act of Congress.”

The fifth section says:

“The State Geologist is hereby authorized to make such further explorations on the said tracts and in the adjoining regions of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, as may be necessary to enable him to prepare a full description and accurate statistical report of the same, and the same shall be published in connection with the reports of the State Geological Survey.”

The sixth section provides that:

“Any person who shall cut down or girdle any tree, deface or injure any natural object, set fire to any wood or grass, or destroy or injure any bridge or other structure on the premises, shall be deemed guilty of misdemeanor, and be liable to a fine of five hundred dollars, or imprisonment for six: months, or to both."

Soon after the passage of this Act, the Board entered upon their duties, and took charge of the valley. But they were not received in the most friendly manner by some of the occupants. Hutchings and Lamon held each one hundred and sixty acres under the preŽmption law, by titles which, as they claimed, had vested in them before the passage of the Congressional Act of June 30th, 1864. Besides these claims to land, there were ferries, bridges and ladders, on which tolls were charged without license from the State. The Commissioners claimed that in some ones the tolls were too high, and that in others, the persons in possession had no right of property in the improvements, which had been erected by travelers and dedicated by them to the public. The Commissioners and these claimants could not agree. The valley was surveyed, several bridges were erected, (though carried away since by the extraordinarily high water of 1867-68) and leases for ten years were offered to the settlers at nominal rates. These offers were rejected, and suits were commenced to eject them. Before they came to trial, however, the Legislature, notwithstanding the Governor’s veto, passed an act granting to Hutchings and Lamon the lands which they had claimed, respectively, one hundred and sixty acres each, subject to the condition that Congress should consent to the alienation. A memorial was also adopted praying Congress to consent. Congress has taken no action in the matter as yet, and it is generally supposed never will consent to the alienation.

H. W. Cleaveland has been appointed Commissioner, in the place of Olmstead, who has left the State, and no one has been named yet to succeed Whitney, who has also gone.

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