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Yosemite: the Park and its Resources (1987) by Linda W. Greene


CHAPTER 1: EARLY HABITATION AND EXPLORATION OF THE YOSEMITE REGION

A. The First Inhabitants 1
B. The Joseph Walker Party Skirts Yosemite Valley 13
C. Gold Discoveries Generate Indian-White Conflicts 15

1. Effects of Euro-American Settlement on the northern California Indians 15
2. Formation of the Mariposa Battalion 17
3. Captain John Boling Enters Yosemite Valley 24
4. Lieutenant Tredwell Moore Enters Yosemite Valley 25
D. Decline in Strength of the Yosemites 26
E. Historical Indian Occupation of Yosemite Valley 26
F. Historical Indian Occupation of El Portal 29
G. Remains of Indian Occupation in Yosemite National Park 29
H. Remains of White Exploration in Yosemite Valley 31
I. Tourism to Yosemite Valley Begins 32
1. A Three-Year Lull 32
2. James M. Hutchings inspects Yosemite Valley 32
3. Publicity on Yosemite Valley Reaches the East Coast 33
4. Publicity Encourages Visitation 35
a) Trails and Tourist Facilities on the Way to Yosemite Valley 35
b) Early Hotels in Yosemite Valley 44
5. Discovery of Giant Sequoia Groves 46
a) Tuolumne Grove 46
b) Mariposa Grove 47
c) Merced Grove 49

A. The First Inhabitants

Yosemite National Park lies on the west slope of the Sierra Nevada in central California, between the San Joaquin Valley to the west and the Great Basin to the east. Pleistocene glaciers cut deep gorges and formed broad, U-shaped valleys in the area, which, later filled by stream-deposited sediment, became level and attractive habitation sites. The approximately 1,176 square miles of mountains and meadows included in the park contain an abundance of water sources, including lakes, springs, and the tributaries of two major westward-flowing streams of the Sierra—the Tuolumne and Merced rivers. The five life zones represented in the park, ranging from Upper Sonoran to Arctic-Alpine, support a diversity of flora and fauna that provided the earliest native inhabitants with foodstuffs and trade goods within a relatively small area.

Differences in altitude, temperature, and precipitation produce varied environments in the Sierra, and those variables have determined the duration and extent of human occupancy of the region. Carbon-14 analyses of samples from recent archeological projects in the park indicate occupancy of the Yosemite area between 3,000 and 4,000 years ago.1 Ancestors of the historic Sierra Miwoks probably began entering the foothills and higher elevations of the Sierra from the Central Valley about 2,000 years ago, probably to escape the summer heat and spring floods; to exploit montane resources such as nuts, berries, and large game animals; and to trade with tribes east of the mountains for goods unavailable in the foothills or along the Pacific Coast. Although they probably resulted in some early permanent occupancy of the Sierra, those movements primarily entailed seasonal occupancy of sites such as Yosemite and Hetch Hetchy valleys, Wawona, Crane Flat, and the High Sierra meadows.2 Later population increases in the Sierra may be attributable in some degree to native population displacement as the first Europeans began to exploit the lowlands formerly held by the Indians. The mountains also became a place of refuge from periodic Mexican raiding for slaves and from disease.

[1. Scott L. Carpenter, archeologist, Yosemite National Park, “Review of Historic Resource Study,” 24 September 1986, 2.]

[2. Michael J. Moratto, An Archeological Research Design for Yosemite National Park, Publications in Anthropology No. 19 (Tucson: National Park Service, Western Archeological and Conservation Center, 1981), 32; L. Kyle Napton, Archeological Overview of Yosemite National Park, California (Tucson: National Park Service, Western Archeological Center, 1978), 65.]

Within late prehistoric and early historic times, the Central and Southern Sierra Miwoks constituted the primary inhabitants of the Yosemite National Park area and of the foothills and valleys west of the park, extending their influence over both sides of the mountain range. The Central Sierra Miwoks resided in the foothill and mountain portions of the Stanislaus and Tuolumne river drainages, while the Southern Sierra Miwoks held the upper drainages of the Merced and Chowchilla rivers.3 Within historic times, a tribelet of the Southern Sierra Miwoks, the Ahwahneeches, lived in and around Yosemite Valley. They called their home “Ahwahnee,” from the Indian word for “mouth,” likening the valley’s shape to a huge, gaping mouth. Historical accounts usually refer to them as the Yosemite Indians.

[3. Richard Levy, “Eastern Miwok,” in Robert F. Heizer, ed., California, vol. 8 of William C. Sturtevant, ed., Handbook of North American Indians, (Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1978), 398.]

According to Dr. Lafayette Bunnell, one of the members of the Mariposa Battalion that “discovered” Yosemite Valley in 1851, in the year 1800 a terrible disease inflicted Yosemite Valley’s early residents, perhaps contracted through contact with coastal Indians who had been infected by whites. The Ahwahneeches abandoned their villages and lived with neighboring tribes. The valley remained uninhabited for several years thereafter until Tenaya, the son of a headman of the Ahwahneeches, who had grown up among the Monos along the eastern base of the Sierra, decided to return to the deep, grassy valley that had been his family’s home. Collecting the remnants of his father’s people and some scattered members of other tribes, he reoccupied Yosemite Valley with this group about 1821. Tenaya’s band lived peacefully in Ahwahnee for several years. Bunnell is apparently the only source for this story.4 If accurate, it implies that a very mixed group of Indians occupied Yosemite Valley immediately prior to white penetration.

[Editor’s note: the correct meaning of Ahwahnee is “(gaping) mouth,” not “deep, grassy valley.” See “Origin of the Place Name Yosemite”—dea.]

[4. Lafayette Houghton Bunnell, Discovery of the Yosemite, and the Indian War of 1851, Which Led to That Event (Freeport, New York: Books for Libraries Press, 1971), 64. First published in 1880 in Chicago by Fleming H. Revell.]

The Yosemite area’s isolation, beauty, and abundance of game, fish, plant foods, and water made it an ideal haven for early peoples. There the Miwok hunted grizzly and black bears, deer, and elk, and smaller mammals such as rabbits and grey squirrels. They also utilized several bird species and trout. The Miwoks underwent elaborate ceremonies prior to the hunt, purifying themselves in sweatlodges such as those Bunnell noted in the valley in 1851. The native population gathered clover and bulbs in the spring; seeds and fruits in the summer; acorns, nuts, and manzanita berries in the fall; and mushrooms in the late winter and early spring. Black oak acorns, the preferred starch of the California Indian’s diet, occurred in the Yosemite region in abundance. Each spring and summer the Miwoks journeyed into the high country to hunt deer and to trade. They also moved seasonally up and down the Merced River, frequently passing through the present El Portal area.

Other tribes also occupied and regularly visited the Central Sierra, including the Yosemite region, primarily the Washo, who occupied High Sierran mountain meadows and ranged east and west from Lake Tahoe and Washo Lake, and the Mono Paiutes, living immediately east of Yosemite in

Illustration 1.
Location of Indian tribes in the vicinity of Yosemite National Park.
From James A. Bennyhoff, An Appraisal of the Archaeological Resources of Yosemite National Park, 1956.
Illustration 1. Location of Indian tribes in the vicinity of Yosemite National Park. From James A. Bennyhoff, An Appraisal of the Archaeological Resources of Yosemite National Park, 1956
[click to enlarge]
the western Great Basin in an area including Mono Lake. The Paiutes claimed that occasionally they hunted in Little Yosemite Valley and spent the winter in Yosemite Valley and also inhabited Hetch Hetchy Valley. The Central Sierra Miwoks occupying the higher altitudes of Yosemite had a village in Hetch Hetchy Valley and evidently quarreled over the area with the Paiutes. Most of this Paiute settlement probably occurred after dissemination of the Ahwahneeche population following white penetration and the death of their leader.5 Both the Washos and the Paiutes traded and intermarried with the Miwoks, transmitting Great Basin influences into the Central Sierra and beyond. Yokuts, a stock occupying the San Joaquin Valley and the foothills south of the Fresno River, also traded with the Miwok and extended some Central Valley influence over them.

[5. James A. Bennyhoff, An Appraisal of the Archaeological Resources of Yosemite National Park, Reports of the University of California Archaeological Survey, No. 34 (Berkeley: The University of California Archaeological Survey, Department of Anthropology, 1956), 3, 7.]

These Indian groups jointly visited the Yosemite uplands, such as Tuolumne Meadows, to escape the heat and aridity of the lowlands while at the same time exploiting new food resources and trading while the passes remained free of snow. From the Paiutes the Miwoks obtained baskets, obsidian, finished projectile points, salt “loaves,” rabbitskin blankets, pinon nuts, sinew-backed bows, red and white pigments, buffalo robes, and fly pupae. In return the Paiutes received baskets, clamshell disk beads, arrows, and manzanita berries. The Washos provided the Miwoks with pinon nuts and rabbitskin blankets in addition to dried fish and buffalo skins, in return for acorns, shell disks, soaproot fibers, redbud bark, and manzanita berries. The Miwoks supplied the Yokuts with baskets and bows and arrows in return for shell beads and dog pups. The various Miwok groups also exchanged among themselves. This aboriginal trade across the Sierra constituted an ancient and important part of the subsistence patterns of the Indian groups involved.6

[6. Moratto, Archeological Research Design, 37-38.]

The Miwoks were loosely organized politically. Their foremost political unit was the tribelet, which functioned as an independent nation and lived within a defined territory. Habitation sites within Yosemite Valley consisted of permanent villages, occupied throughout the year although depleted in winter; summer villages, occupied from May to October, after which the Miwoks moved down to the milder climate of the Merced River canyon; and seasonal hunting, fishing, and gathering camps.7 Occupational patterns in those villages depended on the season, the year, and the number of Indians present in the valley at any particular time. Dr. Clinton Hart Merriam noted two classes of villages among the Miwoks, those of the families of the chiefs and those inhabited by commoners. Several of the latter surrounded each of the former. The inhabitants of the adjacent minor villages used the names of the larger villages to designate themselves and the place they lived.8

[7. C. Hart Merriam, “Indian Village and Camp Sites in Yosemite Valley,” Sierra Club Bulletin 10, no. 2 (January 1917): 202.]

[8. C. Hart Merriam, Ethnographic Notes on California Indian Tribes, comp. and ed. by Robert F. Heizer, in Reports of the University of California Archaeological Survey, No. 68, Part III (Berkeley: University of California Archaeological Research Facility, Department of Anthropology, 1966, 1967), 340.]

Actual population figures for the Yosemite Indians are uncertain. In the disrupted period immediately prior to white contact, there may have been only about 200 Ahwahneeches, less than the prehistoric population. The population of the Yosemite uplands can best be estimated on the basis of aboriginal population densities in the Central Sierra.9 As stated earlier, an epidemic around 1800 might have severely impacted the tribelet. By the contact period, the Ahwahneechees had declined, undoubtedly through a combination of factors including disease, warfare, and the disruption of cultural and subsistence patterns. By 1855 the

[9. Napton, Archeological Overview, 95; Moratto, Archeological Research Design, 51-52.]

James Hutchings tourist party found no Indians in the valley, and indeed Ahwahneechees were rarely seen for several years after that time.

The limited accessibility of the High Sierra region resulted in discovery of the Miwok villages in Yosemite Valley late in the contact period, after mining in the Sierran foothills had led to conflicts between Indians and whites. The Yosemite Valley is one of the few Sierra areas where historic and protohistoric villages have been identified ethnographically. Extant narratives of early visits by whites contain accounts of Miwok lifestyles in the park and the locations and names of some of the village sites. Stephen Powers made the earliest report on Miwok habitation in 1877, identifying nine villages along the Merced River.10 Dr. Bunnell, on a map accompanying his 1880 narrative of the discovery of Yosemite Valley, located five villages and a group of sweathouses in use when the Mariposa Battalion entered the valley in March 1851. The 1878-79 George Wheeler topographical survey recorded only one village. In 1917 Dr. Merriam conducted a pioneer study in Yosemite National Park consisting of fieldwork for ethnographic data. Aided by resident Indians, he located thirty-six Indian habitation sites on the valley floor both north and south of the Merced River and another in Little Yosemite Valley beyond the head of Nevada Fall. Few of the sites were occupied at that time, however. At least six of those sites were occupied in 1898. Merriam located sixteen more sites on the Merced River below El Portal (see Appendix A).11 The variation in the number of village sites recorded in each instance might reflect differing definitions of a “village” and/or difficulties in distinguishing between village and camp sites. Bunnell saw the valley in the winter and thus his description does not include summer villages. Merriam’s study comprises the first accurate, detailed study of pre-white Indian settlements of the area.

[10. Stephen Powers, Tribes of California (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976), 365. Also published as “Tribes of California,” in Contributions to North American Ethnology, vol. III, U. S. Geographical and Geological Survey of the Rocky Mountain Region, Washington, D. C., 1877.]

[11. Napton, Archeological Overview, 88. See Merriam, “Indian Village and Camp Sites In Yosemite Valley.” Merriam devoted his early years to ornithology and the practice of medicine. Later he turned to mammals, but primarily devoted himself to studies of California Indians in an attempt to record information on their lifeways before primary informers passed away. He pursued those studies from 1910 to 1937.]

The largest and most important village in Yosemite Valley, containing a large, earth-covered ceremonial house, stood on the north side of the Merced River just below Yosemite Fall and stretched southwest for three-fourths of a mile. The U. S. Army took possession of that village, known as Koomine, for use as a camp in 1907 and forced out its inhabitants. To the east stood the village of Ahwahne. Because it comprised the largest tract of open, level ground in the area outside Indians applied its name to the entire valley. Another large village, Yowatchke, occupied into the 1930s, stood at the mouth of Indian Canyon.12

[12. Merriam, “Indian Village and Camp Sites in Yosemite Valley,” 205.]

The Miwoks built several kinds of structures in the Yosemite region. They framed umachas, conical-shaped winter dwellings, with several long poles covered with slabs of incense cedar or pine bark. As late as the 1920s, a few of those structures could still be found in use in Yosemite. Impermanent conical brush shelters sufficed in summer. In association with Miwok dwellings, villages contained large, semi-subterranean dance or assembly houses, forty to fifty feet in diameter, dug to a depth of three or four feet. One of the last Miwok dance houses is located near Mariposa, California, and another is near the town of Ahwahnee, southwest of the park. The most recent example of this type of structure was erected by Miwoks and other Indians on the grounds of the park interpretive center. Sweathouses—circular, earth-covered, and between six and fifteen feet in diametei—also commonly appeared in village areas. Bunnell reported several in the Happy Isles locality. Chukahs, granaries for acorn storage, consisted of four tall incense cedar

Illustration 2.
Indian villages and sweathouses in Yosemite Valley noted by Lafayette Houghton Bunnell in 1851.
Frontispiece in Bunnell, Discovery of the Yosemite, and The Indian War of 1851, Which Led to that Event.
Illustration 2. Indian villages and sweathouses in Yosemite Valley noted by Lafayette Houghton Bunnell in 1851. Frontispiece in Bunnell, Discovery of the Yosemite, and The Indian War of 1851, Which Led to that Event
[click to enlarge]
poles supporting elevated basket-like structures that held the acorns. Remains of small, conical grinding houses made of bark slabs are also found. The principal Miwok settlements in Yosemite National Park existed at Wawona and in Yosemite and Hetch Hetchy valleys. Big Meadow, Crane Flat, Mather, and the present Lake Eleanor area also comprised favored activity and habitation sites. The Eleanor Creek valley became a popular summer and fall home for Central Sierra Miwoks and Owens Valley Paiutes.13 Because of Wawona’s high elevation, it might not have been occupied the entire year, but only as a summer camp for a tribelet from the foothills. On the other hand, the availability of resources might have occasionally permitted winter occupancy. It is unclear to what extent the Indian population remained in the present park area throughout the year, but the fact that some of the village sites in Yosemite Valley stood closer to the north wall than to the river, enabling them to take full advantage of the sunshine, indicates possible occupation during at least part of the winter months. The fact that members of the Mariposa Battalion found Indians in Yosemite Valley in March is inconclusive evidence of winter occupation of the area, because by that time the Ahwahneeches used the valley on a full-time basis as a refuge from white reprisals.14

[13. Scott L. Carpenter and Laura A. Kirn, “New ‘Underwater’ Archeological Discoveries at Lake Eleanor,” Yosemite Association (Summer 1986): 8. University of California (Berkeley) archeologists conducted a survey at Lake Eleanor in 1956 and recorded sixteen prehistoric Indian sites. A more extensive 1985 survey found twenty-nine prehistoric and historic cultural sites. These included a large village site as well as numerous small village or large camp sites, most with bedrock mortar outcrops and stone tools. Historic resources found included the site of one of the sawmills used by the city of San Francisco during clear-cutting of the reservoir basin prior to construction of the dam, cabin foundations and a rock-lined well from early homesteading activity, and the original log dam (ca. 1917) at the mouth of Lake Eleanor. Ibid., 9.]

[14. Moratto, Archeological Research Design, 41-42; Napton, Archeological Overview, 91.]

Permanent villages near El Portal received additional people from Yosemite when cold weather came and heavy snows made the higher elevations untenable. In the pre-contact period, the Miwoks may have occupied sites near El Portal and other lowland areas west of the park during the winter and then, as the snow melted, worked their way back into the valleys and high country of Yosemite. The old Indian trails from El Portal and the lower end of Yosemite Valley leading toward the Foresta/Big Meadow area would have intersected the Mono Trail there and provided quick and easy access to Tuolumne Meadows. El Portal, because of its location on the Merced River, its habitable land area, and its proximity to higher elevations such as Crane Flat and Big Meadow, was widely used by prehistoric as well as later historic populations, both Indian and Anglo.

B. The Joseph Walker Party Skirts Yosemite Valley

The Joseph Rutherford Walker expedition became the first party of white explorers to approach Yosemite Valley. Walker had been engaged by Capt. Benjamin Louis Eulalie de Bonneville, a frontier U. S. Army officer who had applied to the War Department for leave to explore the country between the Rocky Mountains and the Pacific Coast. Allegedly he would be collecting geographical information, mapping the area, gathering data on the disposition of Indian tribes, observing the British Hudson’s Bay Company operations in Oregon Territory and the Mexicans in the Southwest, and determining ways America could best utilize that frontier. To finance the expedition, Bonneville entered the Western fur trade and outfitted a party of trappers and hunters in Missouri. Because most of the streams in the Rocky Mountains had already been exhaustively trapped for beaver, Bonneville decided to push his men further afield in search of virgin streams.

As one of Bonneville’s assistants, Walker took a company of men to California and the Pacific Coast in July 1833 to trap beaver and report on the fur trade potential there. According to Bill Gilbert, Walker’s biographer, from the Green River in Utah the party reached the Sierra’s main crest northeast of Tuolumne Canyon. Turning south, they moved west along the crest between the Merced and Tuolumne rivers. After grueling days in the cold with insufficient food and after floundering through snowdrifts and over rough granite ridges, the company finally made its way across the Sierra Nevada into the San Joaquin Valley. Although impressed by the scenery, especially by the “Big Trees” (giant sequoias) they passed through and described as incredibly large specimens of the redwood species, Walker’s party did not immediately make their probable discovery of the valley known, but turned their attention to the primary task of setting traps and hunting for food. As a consequence, the valley’s existence remained generally unknown yet in 1851 when the Mariposa Battalion entered it, although Indians had long hinted of a formidable mountain fortress in that area.15

[15. See Bil Gilbert, Westering Man: The Life of Joseph Walker (New York: Atheneum, 1983), for information on the Walker expedition. Gilbert also discusses the activities of Captain Bonneville, whose fur-trading operations may have masked a covert assignment to gather military and commercial intelligence.]

Although one of the members of the Walker expedition, Zenas Leonard, published an account of the group’s difficult experience crossing the Sierra in 1839, which proves that the party traveled extensively in the mountains north of Yosemite Valley, it is unclear whether they actually gazed down into it.16 At one point Leonard described encountering several small streams that ran through deep chasms before eventually flinging themselves over a precipice into a valley below. The description of that abyss appears to fit Yosemite Valley. Walker also later recounted how he and his men had gazed in amazement from the rim of a huge valley at its towering cliffs and waterfalls. This fatigued group probably also saw the canyon of the Tuolumne River, in addition to being the first white men to see the giant sequoias of the Sierra, in either the Tuolumne or Merced grove.

[Editor’s note: today historians generally believe the Walker party looked down The Cascades, which are just west of Yosemite Valley, instead of Yosemite Valley itself.—dea]

[16. See Milo M. Quaife, ed., Narrative of the Adventures of Zenas Leonard (Chicago: Lakeside Press, 1934). Originally printed and published by D. W. Moore, Clearfield, Pennsylvania, in 1839, as “Narrative of the Adventures of Zenas Leonard.” Two independent researchers in Yosemite National Park—Linda Lee and Steve Spohn—have been actively studying all available Walker party information in an attempt to document their precise route.]

C. Gold Discoveries Generate Indian-White Conflicts

1. Effects of Euro-American Settlement on the Northern California Indians

The Spanish and Mexican occupations of California wreaked havoc on the culture and subsistence patterns of the California Indians. The Spanish mission system of Alta California, beginning in 1769, served several purposes. Although the twenty-one missions supported the Spanish presidios, or military forts, they also proved instrumental in controlling Indian populations, such as the Miwoks, through forced assimilation and conversion to Catholicism. Initially the coastal tribes were most intimately affected by the Spanish presence, which resulted in relocation of Indian families to missions, where the spread of contagious diseases and changes in diet and nutritional standards resulted in a rapid decline of native populations. The initial mission Indian response to Spanish atrocities involved escape into the interior, but occasionally violent, rebellion ensued. By the 1820s the people of the interior valleys, having heard the horrors of mission life, had embarked on a policy of physical resistance, aided as time went on by the acquisition of the horse.

The secularization of the missions in 1834-36 during the Mexican occupation did not lessen the growing conflict. It only resulted in more exploitation of native labor on the large estates created for wealthy Mexican landowners. Many of those Indians formerly under mission influence sought refuge in white settlements, where they quickly suffered a loss of cultural identity and tribal organization. Others became laborers on the private ranchos where they suffered greatly from the forced labor and ill treatment inherent in the peonage system. Others fled to the mountains seeking refuge in their tribal homelands.

The increased settlement of the Sacramento Valley by Mexican colonists in the 1840s exerted more pressure on the Northern California Indians, who suffered periodically from virulent diseases such as smallpox, scarlet fever, cholera, diptheria, and tuberculosis. Conflicts continued as small parties of Mexican soldiers made occasional forays against the Indians to wreak reprisals for stock stealing or to acquire slaves. These raids frequently disturbed the Miwoks, who also began to feel pressure from American colonists entering the Central Valley in the mid-1840s.

The American settlement period proved even more disastrous to the Indians after 1848, when a vast horde of settlers and miners invaded California seeking land and mineral riches. This period marks the most serious penetration of the Miwoks’ mountain territory. Before the Gold Rush of 1849, the Sierra Nevada had been largely undisturbed except for occasional Spanish raids into the foothills after captured horses or fleeing mission fugitives. The Spanish had no interest in the mountain areas and did not even stay long in the interior. During Spanish colonization, the Indian had to a certain extent been able to retain his lifeways and social order and had even appropriated a few features of white civilization and incorporated them into his own system.

Although the Spanish and Mexicans had valued the Indian as a source of cheap labor, the new American settlers considered the Indian population worthless unless assimilated to the ways of the white man. Two centuries of conflict had imbued Americans with a hatred of Indians that made no distinction between tribes or individuals. From the late 1840s on, the Miwoks suffered greatly, both because of the low esteem in which the white man held them and because the principal gold-bearing regions of California lay within their ancestral territory. When the Americans arrived they took over the Indian habitat, penetrating their foothill and mountain retreats in their search for gold. Indians had no civil or legal rights, and their cultural and subsistence activities fell into disarray as miners and settlers burned their villages, felled oak groves, fenced land, slaughtered game, and depleted meadows of grasses and acorns by overgrazing their cattle and hogs. Native economies faltered as mining operations and farming and ranching activities disrupted the Indians’ balanced relationship with their environment.

Many incoming whites found money not only in mining but also in providing food for miners, and the raising of cattle and horses became an important business enterprise. With their own food supplies dwindling, the Miwoks began focusing their food-gathering activities on those herds. Increased frustration due to continuing deprivation of their rights and confiscation of their lands led to more intense raiding.17 That in turn fostered strong resentment on the part of the mining camps, trading posts, and ranches in the area.

[17. Edward D. Castillo, “The Impact of Euro-American Exploration and Settlement,” in Robert F. Heizer, ed., California, vol. 8 of William C. Sturtevant, ed., Handbook of North American Indians (Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1978), 102-9.]

2. Formation of the Mariposa Battalion

Trader James D. Savage, who became a central figure in the history of the Mariposa region from 1849 to 1852, and in the Mariposa Indian War, had come to California in 1846 and served in the Mexican War before becoming a miner and trader. He knew the Indians well, recruiting many of the Southern Sierra Miwok and Yokut tribelets to work for him in his mining operations. He learned their languages, adopted their customs, and, by marrying several of their women, became a powerful man in the Mariposa area, although many Indians resented his exploitive techniques.

By 1849 Savage had established trading posts at Big Oak Flat, at the mouth of Piney Creek on the Merced River, and at the mouth of the South Fork of the Merced River a few miles below Yosemite Valley. In May 1850 Indians attacked his post on the Merced River and then in December destroyed his Fresno River post southwest of Yosemite and killed three clerks. Later, at his Mariposa Creek station, near Agua Fria, another raid took place and more men were murdered in a general outbreak in the Mariposa country and the region to the south. The open conflict of the Mariposa Indian War, centering in the mining district of Mariposa County, consisted primarily of a series of skirmishes in which both sides displayed their anger. The Indians battled dispossession, near-starvation, and exploitation, while the whites protested stock raiding and vented racial animosities.

Following the assaults at Savage’s Fresno post in December 1850, appeals were made to the state government of California and to the U. S. Army for help in preventing a general outbreak of hostilities. The army pleaded lack of authority, while Governor John McDougal, who at one time spoke to the state legislature of the inevitability of the extermination of the Indian race, authorized formation of a local militia to protect property and lives in Mariposa County.18 Composed of 200 mounted men, the Mariposa Battalion was mustered into service 24 January 1851. The governor commissioned Savage major of the battalion, with John J. Kuykendall, John Boling, and William Dill named as captains of the three companies composing the unit. Savage hoped to retaliate for Indian attacks on his trading posts, in which he assumed the Yosemite Indians had played a major role. Others in the battalion had also lost property and friends to the “hostile” Indians. Just as the battalion prepared to commence operations, Governor McDougal ordered the men to suspend their activities momentarily due to the arrival of federal Indian commissioners.

[18. Ibid., 109.]

In 1851 three U. S. Indian commissioners—Redick McKee, George W. Barbour, and O. M. Wozencraft—arrived in California from Washington, D. C., to study California Indian problems, obtain information on tribal customs and manners, and make treaties with the various California tribes as appropriate. The commissioners urged moderation in Indian treatment and had come to the Mariposa region first to try and prevent further bloodshed. A number of tribes in the area sent representatives to talk to the commissioners and sign an agreement to live on designated reservations. Others, including the Ahwahneeches in the mountain fastness of Yosemite Valley, refused to consider leaving their homeland and hoped to stave off invaders from what they considered to be an impregnable stronghold. In response, the state legislature authorized the governor to proceed with local action.

The battalion immediately left for the head of the Merced River to subdue the Yosemites and Nutchus who had not appeared at the camp of the commissioners. Crossing the Chowchilla Mountains via an old Indian trail, along approximately the same route as the present Chowchilla Mountain road, the volunteers surprised and captured a Nutchu rancheria on the South Fork of the Merced River near present-day Wawona. Establishing headquarters probably near Alder Creek or Bishop Creek above the South Fork, Savage sent a messenger ahead demanding the peaceful surrender of Chief Tenaya of the Ahwahneeches and relocation to a reservation on the Fresno River. Tenaya himself came to the camp, arguing unsuccessfully that his people would die on the plains and preferred to stay in the valley where they could protect themselves against their enemies. Savage sent him back to bring in his people, threatening to annihilate the tribe if they resisted further.

On Tenaya’s advice, the Yosemites agreed to make a treaty, and the old chief himself traveled ahead to report to Savage that his people were coming in. After three days with no sign of new Indian arrivals, Savage took part of the battalion and set out for Yosemite Valley with Tenaya as guide. Following an Indian trail, about halfway to the valley they came upon a straggling line of seventy-two Yosemites leaving the valley, mostly old women, mothers, and children, struggling with great difficulty through the snow. Suspicious because there were no young men present, Savage sent Tenaya back to the South Fork camp with the women and children while he and his soldiers continued on in search of the rest of the Yosemites. They probably ascended via Alder Creek, through Peregoy Meadow, to Old Inspiration Point, basically along the route of the later Yosemite Valley-Wawona trail.

Illustration 3.
Route of Mariposa Battalion into Yosemite Valley, first expedition, March 1851.
From Elizabeth Godfrey, Yosemite Indians, Yesterday and Today.
Illustration 3. Route of Mariposa Battalion into Yosemite Valley, first expedition, March 1851
[click to enlarge]
From a clearing there, Savage’s small band first viewed the incomparable valley. On 27 March 1851, they became the first white man to descend to the valley floor, successfully negotiating the heretofore unchallenged cliffs. Although the grandeur of the valley must have been overwhelming, only one of the party, Dr. Lafayette Houghton Bunnell, battalion surgeon, seems to have been deeply moved by the overpowering beauty. He suggested that the valley be called “Yosemity,” after its native inhabitants. His companions agreed, too intent on capturing Indians to belabor the point.19

[19. For many years the accepted date for the first view of Yosemite Valley by whites remained 25 March 1851, the date recorded by Dr. Bunnell. The discovery date later became 27 March on the strength of a diary entry of Pvt. Robert Eccleston, another member of the battalion. A final surprise came with discovery of a diary kept by William Penn Abrams, a millwright, who stated that sometime between 7 and 17 October 1849, he and a friend gazed into Yosemite Valley from a spot probably near Old Inspiration Point. Abrams and U. N. Reamer, both of whom worked at Savage’s trading post on the South Fork of the Merced, became lost while hunting and suddenly emerged from the woods to face the amazing vista of Bridalveil Fall, El Capitan, and Half Dome. Despite the belief of some historians that members of the Walker party first viewed the valley, this 1849 date has been accepted by most as the first sighting. Shirley Sargent, Wawona’s Yesterdays, rev. 1973 (Yosemite National Park: Yosemite Natural History Association, 1961), 4.

The precise derivation of the word “Yosemite” is uncertain. (Lieutenant Tredwell Moore, in his report of the 1852 expedition, substituted an “e” as the final letter in the name of the valley, and that spelling was adopted. In 1855 James Hutchings tried to popularize “Yo-Hamite,” which he thought was a more accurate phonetic rendition of the Indian word for grizzly. Bunnell, Discovery of the Yosemite, 63, 67.) Bunnell applied the name to the valley spread” out before him in honor of the Indian tribe who lived there, known to neighboring whites as the Yosemites and to other tribes and among themselves as Ahwahneeches. The exact derivation of the word will probably never be known, for few present-day native Miwok speakers are familiar with the source of many early tribal words. The noted California anthropologist A. L. Kroeber believed that the word Yosemite was derived from uzumati or uhumati, meaning grizzly bear. This seemed to tie in with the tribal ‘ clan system, under which members were divided into either the land or water moiety—social and sometimes ceremonial divisions, with various animals linked to each. The grizzly bear was identified with members of the land moiety. Linguistically, however, the pronunciation of the word becomes Yohemiteh, meaning “they are killers,” and would tend to suggest a warlike attitude on the part of that particular tribe.

Some additional theories have been advanced regarding the choice of the word Yosemite to designate this group of Indians: that the word referred to the fact that the tribe inhabited the mountains and valleys that were favorite haunts of the grizzly bear, which Tenaya’s people reputedly became expert in hunting; that the tribe adopted the name to instill fear in the hearts of its enemies; and that it is associated with an old legend in which a chief of the tribe distinguished himself in combat with an enormous grizzly bear. James E. Cole, “Origin of Name Yosemite,” 1936, typescript, 7 pages, in Yosemite Research Library and Records Center, Yosemite National Park, California; Elizabeth Godfrey, Yosemite Indians, rev. 1977 (Yosemite National Park: Yosemite Natural History Association, 1973), 35; Craig Bates, “Names and Meanings for Yosemite Valley,” Yosemite Nature Notes 47, no. 3 (1978): 42-43. ]

[Editor’s note: Bunnell was not the battalion surgeon and received a M. D. degree from a sham medical school several years later. For the correct origin of the word Yosemite see “Origin of the Word Yosemite.”dea.]

The next day Savage and his men searched the valley floor on both sides of the Merced River, finally scouting up the Tenaya Creek canyon beyond Mirror Lake and ascending the Merced River canyon above Nevada Fall to Little Yosemite Valley, but their search went mostly unrewarded. They found only an old Indian woman, who, unable to keep up with her tribesmen, had been left behind. With supplies running low, Savage and his men remained in the valley only long enough to fire the Indian dwellings and food caches that had been left behind, hoping to starve out the inhabitants and thereby compel them to move to reservations. After Savage’s departure, the Indians returned to salvage what they could from the smoldering ruins of food and clothing.

The Yosemite campaign of the Mariposa Battalion was notably unsuccessful in its primary mission. Not only did it not find the young men of the tribe, but before the troops reached the Indian commissioners’ encampment on Mariposa Creek with those Indians who had agreed to settle on the reservation, Tenaya and the Ahwahneeches and Nutchus who had followed him escaped into the night. The main achievement of the battalion—the discovery of Yosemite Valley—went unheralded.20

[20. See C. Gregory Crampton, ed., The Mariposa Indian War 1850-1851, Diaries of Robert Eccleston: The California Gold Rush, Yosemite, and the High Sierra (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1957) for information on the Mariposa Battalion provided in the personal records of one of its volunteer members and by extensive editorial notes.]

3. Captain John Boling Enters Yosemite Valley

A company of the Mariposa Battalion under the command of Capt. John Boling made a second attempt to surprise and thoroughly subdue the elusive inhabitants of Yosemite Valley in May 1851. Following the same route into the valley pioneered by Savage, Boling established his first camp near the site of present Sentinel Bridge. Initially his men captured five Indians. They subsequently released one son of Tenaya and a son-in-law upon their promise to bring in the elderly chief and all his people. Meanwhile another hostage managed to escape; when the remaining two also worked free of their bonds, they were shot as they tried to break away. Upon his arrival in the camp as a captive, Tenaya was grief-stricken to find his youngest son among the dead. When his band failed to join him in surrendering, Tenaya also attempted unsuccessfully to escape.

Pursuing the rest of the band, numbering some thirty-five people, who seemed to be heading for the land of the Mono Lake Paiutes, Boling and his men surprised them encamped on the shores of present Tenaya Lake. Hungry and exhausted, the Yosemites surrendered. The first expedition into the high country from the west, it was on this occasion that Bunnell applied the name Tenaya to the lake, despite the old chief’s protestations that it already had a name, Py we' ack, “Lake of the Shining Rocks.”21 Tenaya and his people were subsequently assigned to the Fresno River reservation in company with other bands, and the battalion was mustered out of service on 1 July 1851. Unhappy with the lowland humidity, the forced cohabitation with traditional enemies, and the lack of traditional food stuffs, Tenaya repeatedly appealed to return to Yosemite Valley. His wish was granted upon his promise to remain peaceful. Other Indians of the band who managed to quietly leave the reservation later joined him there.

[21. Carl P. Russell, 100 Years in Yosemite: The Story of a Great National Park (Yosemite National Park: Yosemite Natural History Association, 1957), 39.]

4. Lieutenant Tredwell Moore Enters Yosemite Valley

Peace continued until May 1852 when a party of eight prospectors from Coarse Gold Gulch in Mariposa County entered Yosemite Valley. While five of the group were absent from their camp on the Merced River west of Bridalveil Fall hunting and prospecting, the Yosemites attacked and killed two men, the others barely escaping with their lives. The exact cause of the Indian attack is unclear. One version states that an Indian child was murdered shortly after the miners left their camp and that the Indians attacked in retaliation. Another states that the Yosemites had been incited by one of the prospectors who had lured his partners into the valley so that they would be killed and he could take possession of their mine. The two incidents could somehow be related.22

[22. Margaret Sanborn, Yosemite: Its Discovery, Its Wonders, and Its People (New York: Random House, 1981), 57-58; Godfrey, Yosemite Indians, 10.]

Fearing a general Indian outbreak, a detachment of regular army troops under Lt. Tredwell Moore journeyed to the valley from Fort Miller, on the south bank of the San Joaquin River, in June 1852. They shot five Indians found in the valley in possession of. white men’s clothing, suspected to be those of the murdered prospectors. Tenaya and the rest of his band, who might have witnessed the executions, apparently escaped across the Sierra Nevada and took refuge with the Paiutes near Mono Lake. The army unit in pursuit explored around Mono Lake and collected ore samples before returning west again, via Bloody Canyon and Mono Pass, to Tuolumne Meadows and ultimately back to the post through Little Yosemite Valley. Moore’s expedition effectively ended Indian depredations in the area and concluded the “Mariposa Indian War” of the previous three years. Tenaya and his band remained with the Paiutes until late summer 1853, when they again established themselves in their old valley home.

D. Decline in Strength of the Yosemites

Stories differ concerning the breakup of the Yosemites around 1853. According to a member of the original band, it resulted from a hand game between the Yosemites and the Paiutes at Mono Lake. In the excitement of the game, a quarrel developed. In the ensuing fight, the Paiutes stoned to death the old chief and five of his braves. After Tenaya’s death, the remnants of the Yosemite band dispersed. Some stayed on the east side of the Sierra Nevada with the Mono Lake Paiutes, while others joined the Miwok bands along the Tuolumne River. Some possibly moved to Tuolumne Meadows or Pate Valley.23

[23. Different explanations exist for the absence of the Ahwahneeches from Yosemite Valley over the next several years. Another story relates that shortly after the tribe had reestablished itself in the valley, a group of young braves raided the camp of their former protectors, the Mono Lake Paiutes, and stole some horses. In retaliation, a war party descended on the Yosemite camp, attacking with stones. One of the victims was Tenaya. A few of the braves escaped and the older men and women who survived the onslaught were allowed their freedom. The young women and children, however, were enslaved and taken back to Mono Lake. This version was told to Doctor Bunnell by some members of the tribe years later, but was disputed by others. Russell, 100 Years in Yosemite, 46-47, and Sanborn, Yosemite, 59-60.]

E. Historical Indian Occupation of Yosemite Valley

The only known direct ethnographic observations of Yosemite’s early Indian villages come from Bunnell, who described one as it appeared at the moment of white contact, and from James Hutchings, who described a village and Indian daily life in 1886. Throughout the early white period in Yosemite Valley, references appear to its Indian inhabitants, the Central and Southern Miwok, the Paiute, and the mixed-blood descendants of the early Ahwahneeches who had maintained villages in the park area in the pre-contact period. No aboveground remains of the first Indian settlements and sweathouses reported by Bunnell exist. The Indians living in Yosemite Valley during its early settlement by whites occupied three main villages off and on up until the 1930s. One stood near the present Lewis Hospital at the mouth of Indian Canyon, one near the National Park Service maintenance yard, and one near Sentinel Rock, used by visiting Indians from Mariposa and Mono Lake.24

[24. Craig Bates, “A History of the Indian People of Mariposa County,” ms. no. 10937, 1975, 30, in Yosemite Research Library and Records Center, Yosemite National Park. See Bennyhoff, Appraisal of the Archaeological Resources of Yosemite National Park, 8-9, for a discussion of valley village sites.]

During the pioneer period, Indians were part of the daily life of Yosemite, working for concessioners and later the federal government. The control of Yosemite Valley and its resources by the whites meant the end of the traditional Indian way of life. The native population, once able to roam the valley at will, harvesting acorns and hunting game, became dependent on the white man for food and money to support themselves. The women served as maids and cooks and sold baskets to tourists, while the men worked on trail and road crews and at small jobs such as woodcutting and fishing. Two shacks inhabited by Indian woodcutters existed at Wawona and an Indian camp of shacks and more traditional dwellings lay across the South Fork from the Wawona Hotel in the 1800s.25

[ 25. John C. Whittaker, Archeology in Yosemite National Park: The Wawona Testing Project, Publications in Anthropology, No. 18 (Tucson: National Park Service, Western Archeological and Conservation Center, 1981), 67.]

Acting Superintendent A. E. Wood reported that about thirty-five Indians lived within the park in 1891. In summer they fished, chopped wood, harvested hay, washed clothes, and worked about the hotels for a living. In winter they hunted, placer mined, and performed whatever odd jobs they could find. In that year the chiefs and headmen of the existing members of the Yosemite tribe sent a petition to the President of the United States declaring that they had been unfairly deprived of their land and compelled to witness the daily encroachment of white men on their valley. They complained that the state of California was turning the valley into a hay farm and cattle range rather than a park, and that a few whites who desired only to make money controlled the lands. The destruction of trees and the extensive grazing by large herds of horses and cattle restricted the gathering of acorns and nuts and the hunting of game. These conditions, plus the decimation of fish in the river, were slowly driving the small Indian population away. The Indians petitioned the U. S. Government for one million dollars, for which amount they would convey all their natural right and title to Yosemite Valley and its environs. (It should be remembered that the Ahwahneeches had never signed a treaty giving up their tribal lands.) Not surprisingly, the Indians proved unsuccessful in this attempt at reimbursement for the loss of tribal lands.26

[26. “Petition to the Senators and Representatives of the Congress of the United States. In behalf of the remnants of the Former Tribes of the Yosemite Indians Praying for Aid and Assistance,” in Letters Received by the Office of the Secretary of the Interior Relating to National Parks, 1872-1907 (Yosemite), Record Group (RG) 79, National Archives (NA), Washington, D. C.]

By the 1920s, most of the Indian population in Yosemite Valley had settled in the village at the mouth of Indian Canyon in semi-aboriginal houses with boards and canvas added. Their children attended boarding school in Nevada to learn English, and many of the old customs, such as dancing, acorn harvesting, and basketry, began to die out. At that time the Park Service attempted to recreate Indian culture and crafts by encouraging basket making and through such means as the short-lived Indian Field Days. In 1933 the Park Service established a new Indian Village in the valley, just west of Camp Sunnyside—the last village of Indian people in the Yosemite region. As the older members died, their children were not allowed to take over the homes and ultimately moved away. In 1969 the Park Serviced moved the one remaining family in the Indian Village to a residential section and burned the village.27

[27. Bates, “History of the Indian People of Mariposa County,” 30-33.]

F. Historical Indian Occupation of El Portal

It is known that Indians occupied Rancheria Flat at El Portal, north of the Merced River, during the 1850s and 1880s.28 Little information exists on Indians in the area until the early 1900s, when several Indian people lived at scattered sites in the Merced River canyon. A few individuals stayed at El Portal Rancheria south of the Merced, mostly in tents. They earned money during this time in a variety of ways. The native women sold traditional basketry and beadwork and did laundry, while the men worked in the former Hennessey ranch garden or cultivated their own orchards. Occasionally the El Portal native population hosted Indian celebrations of two to three days’ duration, attracting people from as far away as Mono Lake.

[28. Craig D. Bates and Karen P. Wells, Late Aboriginal and Early Anglo Occupation of El Portal, Yosemite National Park, California (Tucson: National Park Service, Western Archeological and Conservation Center, 1981), 5.]

In the late 1920s, Indians from Yosemite Valley still came to El Portal in the winter, although some journeyed east across the mountains to the Paiute camps. By the 1930s, most of the Indian population of El Portal lived near Crane Creek. Other individuals briefly occupied Indian Flat in the 1930s, though later some moved to Yosemite Valley on a permanent or part-time basis, many to find employment, returning to El Portal in the winter. After World War II, a few people still lived on Crane Creek, but by the late 1940s the last Indian village in El Portal had been abandoned.29

[29. Ibid., 6-12.]

G. Remains of Indian Occupation in Yosemite National Park

Recent archeological work in Yosemite National Park during 1985-86 has revealed over 100 sites in Yosemite Valley alone. Archeological’ remains there, at El Portal, at Wawona, and in other park areas consist of habitation sites; bedrock mortars, hammerstones, manos, and pestles for grinding acorns and vegetable materials into meal; midden deposits, containing artifacts and food by-products; rock shelters; lithic scatters; petroglyphs; and pictographs. Some isolated burials have been found. The Yosemite Valley Archeological District was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1978, comprising 8,100 acres of valley floor and ninety-eight sites. Other significant cultural areas listed in the register are: Wawona Archeological District, forty-two sites; Foresta-Big Meadow Archeological District, twenty-two sites; Tuolumne Meadows Archeological District, fifty-nine sites; and the El Portal Archeological District, eleven sites. Determinations of eligibility have been acquired for archeological districts at Aspen Valley, five sites; Crane Flat, seven sites; Eagle Peak, three sites; Hetch Hetchy, two sites; Mariposa Grove, three sites; Snow Creek/Mt. Watkins, four sites; White Wolf, four sites; and Yosemite Creek, five sites.

El Portal contains settlement sites at Rancheria Flat and El Portal Rancheria, where a few historic frame Indian houses stood until the 1930s. Upslope from the latter site is a Native American cemetery used during the early twentieth century. It contains an undetermined number of unmarked graves and one marked grave (1930). The historic and prehistoric settlement at Rancheria Flat is important for the data it provides on both aboriginal and early Anglo occupation.

Many of the known archeological resources in Yosemite have been damaged or destroyed by visitor pothunting; by construction of roads, trails, parking lots, sewage treatment facilities, and buildings; by excavations for utility trenches; by the digging of borrow pits; and by landscaping activities. These impede the detailed recordation of features, the collection and analysis of artifacts, and the professional excavation work necessary to acquire valuable information for archeological and environmental studies. The importance of archeological and historical archeological resources in Yosemite National Park is in providing data on the prehistoric and early historic environment and occupation of the Yosemite region. Information in aboveground remains and subsurface deposits can aid in the formulation of a cultural chronology of tribal development in the Central Sierra and can serve as a comparative base for regional studies dealing with Central Valley, Great Basin, and Sierra populations, environment, settlement and trading patterns, and other interrelationships. A more immediate management need is a continuing basic inventory of archeological resources to facilitate the cultural resources management process. (See Appendix B for a chronological overview of archeological investigations in Yosemite National Park.)

H. Remains of White Exploration in Yosemite Valley

No tangible remains exist from the Mariposa Battalion passage through Yosemite Valley or from the expeditions under Captain Boling or Lieutenant Moore. The old Indian trail troops followed over Chowchilla Mountain approximated the later route of the Chowchilla Mountain road to Wawona. Their route into Yosemite Valley became the saddle trail used by early tourists and eventually evolved into the Wawona-Yosemite Valley wagon road. It met the present road above Bridalveil Fall. Savage’s overlook into the valley, Old Inspiration Point, can be reached by a hike up the Pohono Trail from the new road.

On entering Yosemite Valley, the members of the first expedition of the Mariposa Battalion camped near the foot of Bridalveil Fall, probably in Bridalveil Meadow; they pitched their second camp at the mouth of Indian Canyon. According to Bunnell, their longest encampment occupied an area near the later site of Barnard’s Hotel.30 Captain John Boling and his company followed Savage’s route, establishing their first camp near present Sentinel Bridge. The site of the 1852 prospector’s camp lay probably on or near Bridalveil Meadow. The marked graves of the two murdered miners—Sherburn (Shurbon, according to Bunnell) and Rose—lay close to Bridalveil Fall.31 An early valley resident stated that one of the men, however, possibly fled as far east as the terminal moraine at El Capitan, upon which he was buried. A large stone and crude marker, both later removed, marked that site.32

[30. L. H. Bunnell, in Biennial Report of the Commissioners to Manage Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Big Tree Grove, For the Years 1889-90 (Sacramento: State Printing Office, 1890), 12.]

[31. Carl P. Russell, “The Geography of the Mariposa Indian War (No. 3),” Yosemite Nature Notes 30, no. 6 (June 1951): 54.]

[32. E. Beatty, “Early Historical Sites and Information Obtained from a Personal Tour with Charles Leidig,” 21 July 1933, in Separates File, Yosemite Research Library and Records Center, Yosemite National Park, 2.]

I. Tourism to Yosemite Valley Begins

1. A Three-Year Lull

In the fall of 1853 more prospectors entered Yosemite Valley, but, despite finding some promising ore along the Merced River, did not attempt to stay and explore further for fear of Indian attack. The next year James Capen Adams, a hunter and wild animal trainer, visited the valley to capture grizzly bears. Despite those occasional visits and the resulting brief allusions to the valley’s stupendous rock formations, impressive waterfalls, and magnificent forest scenery, general knowledge of the valley did not spread quickly. Gold deposits held more interest for Californians of that day than scenery, and so the spectacular valley remained practically undisturbed.

2. James M. Hutchings Inspects Yosemite Valley

By 1855 several accounts written by members of the three military expeditions to Yosemite had been published in San Francisco newspapers. One entry by the only other member of the Mariposa Battalion who felt compelled to mention the amazing sights he had seen, including a 1,000-foot-high waterfall, caught the attention of James Mason Hutchings. Hutchings had come to America from England and gradually worked his way across the plains to the California mines during the Gold Rush. At that time a magazine publisher, Hutchings remained always on the lookout for new material, and besides, his curiosity to see such a marvel was piqued.

In 1855, therefore, he organized the first tourist party to journey to the mysterious valley. The group comprised Hutchings, the pioneer artist/illustrator Thomas A. Ayres, Wesley Millard, and Alexander Stair. Some difficulty arose in finding reliable guides, but finally two Yosemite Indians living on the Fresno River agreed to perform that service. They followed the route of the earlier Mariposa Battalion, from Mariposa, over the Chowchilla Mountains to present Wawona, and then along the Alder Creek Indian trail to Yosemite Valley via Old Inspiration Point. Thrilled almost beyond words by the panorama of peaks, meadows, creeks, and waterfalls spread out below him, Hutchings became an instant Yosemite devotee. He gathered copious notes on the scenery while Ayers tried to capture on paper the cliffs, domes, and falls—the first sketches ever made in Yosemite—and Millard and Stair hunted and fished to sustain the expedition.

After five days of glorious vistas and frantic note-taking, Hutchings’s party turned back toward San Francisco, stopping briefly in Mariposa. As a result of his description of the trip to the editor of the Mariposa Gazette, on 12 July 1855 [Editor’s note: the correct publication date is 9 August 1855 —dea.] the first printed description of Yosemite Valley appeared, written by an enthusiastic sightseer not the least concerned with looking for gold or hunting for elusive Yosemites. Additional articles illustrated with Ayres’s lithographs appeared in Hutchings’s California Magazine, which were copied and republished by papers throughout California and the rest of the country. It may fairly be said that public knowledge and appreciation of Yosemite Valley began with the 1855 Hutchings visit.

3. Publicity on Yosemite Valley Reaches the East Coast

During the ten years after Hutchings’s first descriptions of Yosemite Valley appeared, both local and national interest in the area and the nearby Big Tree Grove grew rapidly. Only a year after Hutchings’s introductory article appeared in the Mariposa Gazette, the East was provocatively informed of the striking natural wonder on the Pacific Coast through an article in the California Christian Advocate republished in Country Gentleman.33 In the summer of 1859 Horace Greeley, owner and editor of the New York Tribune visited Yosemite, unfortunately on a very hurried trip. Exhausted and saddlesore from a sixty-mile nonstop mule ride from Bear Valley, Greeley was in a foul mood by the time he reached Yosemite Valley. He stayed only one day, grumbling most of the time, but wrote later that Yosemite was truly the most amazing of nature’s marvels.

[33. Hans Huth, “Yosemite: The Story of an Idea,” reprinted by Yosemite Natural History Association from the Sierra Club Bulletin (March 1948): 26.]

The first descriptions of Yosemite to reach the East were sketchy, written by people without particular literary abilities. Easterners read the articles, therefore, with interest, but also with a grain of salt. The best descriptions of Yosemite, and those which carried the most weight with Eastern readers, comprised those submitted by Thomas Starr King, the noted Unitarian minister and lecturer and author of several books on the American landscape. The series of eight articles that he sent to the Boston Evening Transcript, from 1 December 1860 to 9 February 1861, acquainted Eastern readers with the beauties of Yosemite as nothing had previously. Because he was widely respected, the East took King’s comments seriously. His eight letters printed in the Transcript “constituted the first thorough description of the Yosemite Valley to obtain widespread national circulation.”34 Yosemite’s attributes were finally nationally accepted as scenically outstanding when praised by writers of the repute of King and Greeley.

[34. Stanford E. Demars, “The Triumph of Tradition: A Study of Tourism in Yosemite National Park, California” (Ph. D. diss., University of Oregon, 1970), 32.]

Publicists also helped arouse national support for preservation of Yosemite Valley by introducing readers to the wonders of the West in popular works that enjoyed tremendous followings. Samuel Bowles, editor and publisher of the Springfield (Mass.) Republican and one of the most influential newspaper editors of his time, published important essays in Across the Continent (Springfield, Mass.: Samuel Bowles & Co., 1865) and Our New West (Hartford, Conn., 1869), while Albert D. Richardson, correspondent for the New York Tribune, produced Beyond the Mississippi in 1867. Each of these publications helped promote fascination with the American West.

In addition to written reports, landscape painters and photographers produced pictures that were equally important in arousing public interest in America’s scenic values by showing visually what was being written about and dramatizing what would be lost without proper concern for natural resources. Albert Bierstadt and Thomas Moran stimulated the public appreciation of Yosemite with their beautiful if somewhat exaggerated replications of its grandeur. The photos of C. L. Weed displayed in California in 1859 and others taken by Carleton E. Watkins in 1863 and constantly exhibited in New York galleries also helped spread the word of the beauties of the valley and the Big Trees and contributed to an understanding and appreciation of their values in Congress. These photographic efforts seem especially superb when viewed in light of the tremendous difficulties involved in hauling cumbersome equipment around on pack animals. Israel W. Raymond, one of the proponents of the Yosemite Grant, wisely supplied Sen. John Conness of California with a collection of Watkins’s Yosemite views to use when he submitted his draft for the Yosemite Act.

4. Publicity Encourages Visitation

a) Trails and Tourist Facilities on the Way to Yosemite Valley

Not surprisingly, Hutchings’s accounts of the wonders of Yosemite Valley stimulated excited interest in nearby mining camps, such as Mariposa, and even farther away in the larger cities of San Francisco, Stockton, and Sacramento. Tourist travel to Yosemite began as those readers became Interested in viewing such extraordinary grandeur for themselves. A few crude trails worn by the Indians as they followed game into the mountain wilderness, pursued trade, or visited neighboring tribes constituted the only means of entering the valley, and the way was long and arduous. Regularly used Indian paths were not initially recorded but memorized by all who needed them and rerouted periodically as conditions dictated. Gradually extended use “improved” the footpaths, which became passable horse trails for visitors. These did not form a trail system as we know it today, but were merely direct routes running up and down hills. Seldom marked other than with sticks or pine needles, and therefore difficult to discern, those rough trails served early travelers well, although they often required Indian guides. By the time the first tourist parties entered the valley, most of the trails earlier white explorers had followed had been almost obliterated due to lack of use.

In the foothills regions west and south of the park a number of ancient Indian paths provided a network through the hills over which miners and packers threaded their way east across the Sierra Nevada. Sheepherders driving their flocks into the high country during the summer also followed some of those trails as well as pioneering their own. All Indian trails leading over the mountains from the south toward Yosemite Valley converged at the South Fork of the Merced near the former Nutchu camp at present Wawona. From there two routes went north. The easier trail followed Alder Creek to its source on the plateau and led from there across to the rim of Yosemite Valley. The other trail, more passable in winter but also more difficult, followed further down the South Fork before cutting over to the predecessor of the later Hennessey trail into Yosemite Valley, which cut south from El Portal and then ran east toward Grouse Creek.35

[35. Hazel M. Whedon, “The History of the Roads, Trails, and Hotels in and Near Yosemite National Park” (M. A. thesis, University of Southern California, 1934), 10-11.]

The Ahwahneeches could climb up out of Yosemite Valley through Indian Canyon, possibly by following Yosemite Creek, or via the Vernal and Nevada falls’ gorge of the Merced River. The Foresta/Big Meadow area and the Mono Trail could be reached from near El Portal via Crane Creek. The Old Inspiration Point-Wawona-Fresno Flats (Oakhurst)-Coarse Gold route gave access to the foothills to the west. The Merced River gorge seldom served as access to the valley. Other ancient routes in and around Yosemite Valley were probably only periodically used by Indians and were inaccessible to the average white tourist.

One of the primary prehistoric lanes of travel across the Sierra Nevada north of Yosemite Valley was the Mono Trail, which, on its way west from the Mono Lake area, passed up present Bloody Canyon, over Mono Pass, down the Dana Fork of the Tuolumne River, through Tuolumne Meadows to Cathedral Pass, and past Tenaya Lake. It left the present Tioga Road corridor near Porcupine Flat, headed west-southwest to Yosemite Creek, then south to Bluejay Creek, which it followed west to Ribbon and Big meadows. There, at a major Indian settlement, it connected with routes to Big Oak Flat, the Merced River, and other points in the San Joaquin Valley. Current archeological and historical data indicates that this is one of the oldest continuously used trails in the Sierra Nevada and possibly the western United States, having been used first probably by game animals and then successively by Indians, explorers, sheepherders, miners, poachers, the U. S. Army, early High Sierra tourists, and finally by trans-Sierra auto travelers. As mentioned previously, Walker probably followed portions of this route, as did Lieutenant Moore in his pursuit of the fleeing band of Yosemites in 1852. Later, around 1857, Tom McGee, a businessman of Big Oak Flat, further blazed the trail, joining it to the Big Oak Flat Trail to facilitate passage by miners and packers to the mining towns east of the Sierra.

The main Mono Trail had several branches to Yosemite Valley and other parts of the high country. In addition to taking travelers west, the trail divided at Cathedral Pass, with one branch

Illustration 4. Historical Base Map No. 1. Early trails, Yosemite National Park (compiled by author). DSC, #104 25013, May 1987.
Illustration 4. Historical Base Map No. 1. Early trails, Yosemite National Park (compiled by author)
[click to enlarge]
passing Tenaya Lake and entering Yosemite Valley near Mirror Lake. The other branch came down north of Cathedral Peak and south of Half Dome to Little Yosemite Valley and continued southwest across Illilouette and Bridalveil creeks. There the trail forked again, one branch dropping via Old Inspiration Point to the lower end of the valley floor while the other crossed the divide to Alder Creek and continued south.

Although miners, who comprised most of the early visitors, were not deterred by the hardships involved in following barely discernible Indian trails, few less hardy individuals were likely to attempt the journey. Two participants in an early sightseeing trip, Milton and Houston Mann, began to envision the large number of tourists that might be attracted if an easier way into Yosemite Valley existed. In 1856 Andrew A., Houston, and Milton Mann, livery stable owners from Mariposa, obtained permission from the Mariposa County Board of Supervisors to construct a trail or toll road for horse and foot traffic

commencing near the Mormon Bar on the Mariposa Creek, and thence eastwardly and to the left of the ranch known as the ranch of McVicar & Co. continuing thence in the same general direction to an intersection with the wagon road leading to the Saw Mill of McNeil & Co. Thence to a Ranch on the middle fork of the Chowchilla—known as the Potato Ranch. Thence eastwardly to the south fork of the Chowchilla, then northwardly, crossing the divide between the Chowchilla and the South Fork of the Merced River. Thence crossing the heads of Alder Creek to the lower end of the YoHamite Valley, thence through the said Valley to the upper end thereof near the great Natural Falls. The entire distance being about Forty miles. . . .36

[ 36. Court of Sessions, Mariposa County, C:129, in Separates file, Yosemite—Roads, #20, Yosemite Research Library and Records Center, ]

The Mann brothers obtained authority to collect toll on this route for twenty years and immediately commenced building. Upon completion of the trail in 1856, at a cost of $700.00, foot travelers paid $1.00 and horseback riders $2.00 each way. The trail ran east of the Yosemite National Park. present Wawona highway. Midway along the trail, travelers arrived at a scenic meadow at the South Fork of the Merced River. There another early visitor, Galen Clark, settled and established a simple hotel. A Canadian by birth, and plagued by tuberculosis most of his life, Clark had resided in New Hampshire, Missouri, and Pennsylvania before journeying to the California goldfields in 1853, where he mined and surveyed. In 1855 he accompanied a tourist party to Yosemite Valley, and still in poor health and believing that he had only a short time to live, in 1856 filed a claim on the site of the 1851 camp of the Mariposa Battalion at the South Fork of the Merced River. By 1857 he had built a twelve-by-sixteen-foot cabin on the west end of the meadow, an area that is now part of the Wawona Hotel golf course. His rude hostelry became known as Clark’s Station or Clark’s Crossing and functioned as a rest stop for travelers journeying from Mariposa to Yosemite Valley. In 1857, or perhaps 1858, Clark constructed a bridge across the South Fork of the Merced River as part of an early road to the valley. Originally an open frame structure, it consisted of heavy handhewn logs.37

[ 37. The Wawona covered bridge measures 15 feet wide and 125 feet long. After the Washburn brothers purchased Clark’s interests in 1875, they roofed the bridge and enclosed the sides to keep water and snow off the trestles. Lumber for the covering came from their nearby sawmill. In 1900 approach spans were added to each end of this bridge. It was used until 1931 and then replaced by a modern concrete bridge on the new Wawona Road. The Civilian Conservation Corps completed general repair work, including the addition of stone masonry to the substructure, in 1937. The flood of December 1955 damaged the bridge, and, as a result, Superintendent John Preston received an order from National Park Service Director Conrad Wirth to pull the structure ashore pending a decision as to whether money could be found to reconstruct it. MISSION 66 envisioned developing an interpretive center at Wawona, and the Park Service determined that the bridge could be an important part of that endeavor. A crew built a trestle beneath the bridge, raised it and placed it on rollers, and pulled it ashore with cables from a bulldozer-powered winch. The Park Service dismantled and reconstructed the bridge in 1956-57 utilizing many original members. Some timbers were replaced in 1961 and again in 1983 when the Park Service corrected structural safety hazards following an inspection of the structure. The Wawona covered bridge is the only one in the Yosemite region and one of the few in the West. It is used daily by horses and visitors as a central feature of the Pioneer Yosemite History Center. Such structures are uncommon now in California, most having burned, rotted, or been swept away by floods. Lonnie E. Moss, Western Inspection Unit Coordinator, “Summary of Findings, Bridge Safety Inspection Report, S. F. Merced River Bridge (Wawona Service Road), Structure No. 8800-015T,” inspected 16 October 1977, in Maintenance Office files, Valley Administration Building, Yosemite National Park. ]

Sometime prior to June 1859, Clark relocated to the eastern side of the meadow, where the present Wawona Hotel stands. He began his small hotel as a tent tavern, where guests slept around an open fire. He later built a log cabin as a dining facility and used tents as dormitories. A simple and kindly host, although never much of a businessman, Clark became an expert on the geography, geology, and botany of the Yosemite region and an influential advocate of the preservation of Yosemite Valley as well as its state Guardian for many years.

The toll for the Mann brothers’ trail was collected at White and Hatch’s, a farm and sawmill about twelve miles from Mariposa that later became an inn. Those miles were rough, and the track on to Clark’s Station even more difficult. From there, the scenic trail ascended Alder Creek to its headwaters in Westfall Meadows, crossed over to the Bridalveil Creek drainage, and ultimately reached Old Inspiration Point on the south rim of Yosemite Valley. From that summit it dropped abruptly to the valley floor near the foot of Bridalveil Fall. The Mann brothers were forced in 1859 to sell their trail at one-third its original cost to Mariposa County, which made it a free route. Sometime during the next few years sheepherders established camps in the lush meadows crossed by the Mann brothers’ trail. Westfall Meadows contained two rough shelters, Westfall’s and Ostrander’s cabins, that were sometimes used by travelers who did not wish to complete the exhausting trip to Yosemite Valley in one day. Harvey J. Ostrander settled near Bridalveil Creek in the early 1860s.

From the 1850s to the early 1870s, Stockton served as a major point of departure for Yosemite tourists, so that routes entering the valley from the north appeared more convenient and highly desirable. In addition, the amount of business that had been generated along the Mariposa route for hotelkeepers and liverymen prompted the businessmen of Coulterville and Big Oak Flat to seek similar patronage. In 1857 Lafayette Bunnell, George W. Coulter, and others began construction of the Coulterville Free Trail, which ran to Bull Creek, and passed through Deer Flat, Hazel Green, Crane Flat, and Tamarack Flat to Gentry, before descending to the valley floor. The route stretched for forty-eight miles, only seventeen of which could be traveled by carriage.38

[38. A Belgian miner, Jean-Nicolas Perlot, stated later that because of his familiarity with the approaches to Yosemite Valley, Coulter and his associates hired him to open the trail from Coulterville to Yosemite. Perlot claimed he directed ten Indians in hacking out the trail for pack mules. See his interesting account of the opening of the Coulterville Free Trail in Gold Seeker: Adventures of a Belgian Argonaut during the Gold Rush Years, trans, by Helen Harding Bretnor, ed. by Howard R. Lamar (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1985), 292-300, and compare to that of Bunnell, Discovery of the Yosemite, 315-16.]

Another early free horse trail entering Yosemite Valley from the north began at the village of Big Oak Flat, six miles north of Coulterville, and followed a thirty-two-mile-long route north of the Coulterville Trail through Garrote in Tuolumne County, via Sprague’s and Hardin’s ranches on the South Fork of the Tuolumne River, to a junction with the Coulterville Trail between Crane and Tamarack flats.

According to J. D. Whitney’s guidebook of 1868, the Hetch Hetchy Valley could be reached from Big Oak Flat via the trail to Yosemite, passing by Sprague’s ranch and continuing on to that of Hardin, where, about eighteen miles from Big Oak Flat, the trail ran to the north, crossing the Middle Fork of the Tuolumne to Hog Ranch, then following up the divide between the Middle Fork and main river to another small ranch called “the Canon.” From there the trail wound d9wn for six miles to the Tuolumne River.39

[39. Irene D. Paden and Margaret E. Schlictmann, The Big Oak Flat Road: An Account of Freighting from Stockton to Yosemite Valley (Yosemite National Park: Yosemite Natural History Association, 1959), 309-10.]

b) Early Hotels in Yosemite Valley

According to James Hutchings, between 1855 and 1864 the number of visitors to Yosemite Valley totalled 653. By 1874, with the completion of the first stage roads into the valley, travel had increased to more than 2,700 visitors annually. Because of the vast distances involved and the slow progress of the journey due to the ruggedness of the terrain, early travelers to Yosemite did not just come for a one-day visit. The necessity for tourist accommodations in the valley became obvious. Most early visitors expected to rough it and, because they were hardy frontiersmen, could accept the crude accommodations so hurriedly provided. Hotel keeping played an important part in Yosemite’s history from the very beginning.

The first shelter constructed by white men in Yosemite Valley consisted of a flimsy plank shack erected in 1855 by a party of surveyors. Interested in the valley as a supplementary source of water for Mariposa and for the huge Mexican grant known as the Mariposa Estate, being developed by John C. Fremont, the survey party probably assumed that a claim in the valley would ensure water privileges.

The first permanent hotel structure in the valley, begun in 1856 by Messrs. Anderson, Ramsdell, Coward, and Walsworth, and finished by Buck Beardsley and Stephen M. Cunningham, stood on the south side of the Merced River near the foot of the later Four-Mile Trail to Glacier Point. The hewn-pine-board structure known as the Lower Hotel functioned more as a saloon until crushed by snow during the winter of 1857-58. It reopened the next year as an inn, run by John H. Neal and his wife Jean for Cunningham, who had ended his business association with Beardsley in the fall of 1857. The structure

looked like a barn, and its “rooms” resembled stalls. Windows were glassless, floors of dirt or pine boughs, and beds springless. Mattresses were ticking stuffed with hay, bracken, or some other soft material, and sanitary facilities consisted of a wash pan and a path. Chickens and cows outnumbered wild animals, and meadows had been planted to hay and grain. Comforts were at a minimum—but surrounding beauty so great that few lodgers complained.40
Cunningham kept the lodge himself during the 1859-60 season. In 1861 he sold the Lower Hotel to Mrs. Alex G. Black, who rented it to Peter Longhurst, and to others; eventually G. F. Leidig took it over in 1866.

[ 40. Shirley Sargent, Yosemite & Its Innkeepers (Yosemite, Calif.: Flying Spur Press, 1975), 12. ]

Prior to their interest in the Lower Hotel, Cunningham and Beardsley had attempted to start a store and tent shelter on the site of the later Cedar Cottage. After Cunningham dropped the venture, Buck Beardsley and his new partner, Gustavus Adolphus Hite, older brother of the millionaire miner John R. Hite of Hite’s Cove, erected a canvas-covered hostelry a mile east of Neal’s hotel in the later Old Village area in the fall of 1857. They replaced it in 1859 with a two-story wooden structure whose timbers, rafters, joists, and siding were hewn and whipsawed from local timber. The first photograph in Yosemite Valley, of Beardsley and Hite’s new Upper Hotel, was taken that year by pioneer photographer Charles L. Weed. [Editor’s note: Charles Leander Weed’s first photograph, taken June 18, 1859 was of Yosemite Falls, not Beardsley and Hite’s new Upper Hotel, which was photographed 3 days later—dea.] The business did not prosper, however, and ultimately Sullivan and Cashman, creditors in San Francisco, took it over. Charles Peck leased the hotel from 1860 to 1861 and then Peter Longhurst took over before James Hutchings finally purchased it.41

[41. It is interesting to note that each new hotel on the valley floor took form upriver from the previous ones. This undoubtedly was due largely to the fact that those hotels dumped their sewage directly into the Merced River. The only clean water after development began existed upstream.]

5. Discovery of Giant Sequoia Groves

a) Tuolumne Grove

As mentioned earlier, Joseph Rutherford Walker may have seen the Tuolumne Grove in 1833 as he made his way over the Sierra Nevada into the San Joaquin Valley. Whether the giant “Red-wood species” he and his men noted stood in the Tuolumne or Merced groves is uncertain. This particular grove consists of some twenty-five Big Trees beside the present Big Oak Flat Road. The grove remained unknown and unvisited for years.

Dr. J. L. Cogswell stated in 1910 that he and eight others discovered the grove on 10 May 1858. Their party had left Garrote, near Big Oak Flat, for a sightseeing trip to Yosemite Valley. While encamped at Crane Flat, one of the party shot a deer, but the wounded animal ran away. The next day the party set out on the trail of the deer and came by accident upon a group of magnificent trees. So overawed were they that they forgot the deer and spent the day exploring the area.

They particularly noted a giant tree with its interior hollowed out by fire. They named it King Solomon’s Temple, although it later came to be called the Dead Giant. Cogswell immediately reported his discovery to the San Francisco, Daily Evening Bulletin, and the grove quickly became a regular stop for tourists on their way to the valley.42

[42. John Adam Hussey, “Discovery of the Tuolumne Grove of Big Trees,” Yosemite Nature Notes, 16, no. 8 (August 1937): 60-63.]

William McCarthy, Dave Lumsden, and James J. Lumsden carved out the Dead Giant Tree in 1878, creating a tunnel through which stages passed for many years.43 According to Hutchings, this was the first giant sequoia tree cut through. W. G. Marshall, who visited the Big Tree groves and Yosemite Valley in June of that year, related:

We came to the Tuolumne Big Tree Grove, [and came upon] . . . a tunnel through the stump of one of the largest sequoias in the grove, through which the road passes, and the stagecoach is driven. . . . The tunnel measures 12 feet, and it is 10 1/2 feet wide at the top. . . . The tunnel had only been completed a week before our visit to the grove, the first coachful having passed through the stump on the afternoon of Tuesday, June 18.44

[43. J. B. DeMartini to Carl P. Russell, 20 January 1950, in Separates File, Y-4b, #18, Yosemite Research Library and Records Center, Yosemite National Park.]

[44. W. G. Marshall, Through America, or Nine Months in the United States, cited in William C. Godfrey, “Tunnelled Big Trees,” Yosemite Nature Notes 10, no. 6 (June 1931): 54.]

At Crane Flat, Yosemite visitors have a chance to drive not only one of the original sections of the old Big Oak Flat Road, but also through a tunnel tree. A 0.1-mile spur leads into the Tuolumne Grove and passes through the Dead Giant, returning to the old Big Oak Flat Road just below that point. This is the only tree in Yosemite that one can still drive through and has special interest because it contains several carved signatures of early visitors.

b) Mariposa Grove

Several hundred giant sequoias were discovered possibly as early as 1849 in this famous grove of Big Trees. L. H. Bunnell recorded that in 1851 a laborer declared he had seen Big Trees in the vicinity of the Mariposa Grove two years earlier. Stephen F. Grover, a member of the prospecting party that entered Yosemite Valley in 1852, wrote of passing through the grove in that year. In 1857 Galen Clark and Milton Mann explored the grove of giant sequoias six miles southeast of Wawona, whose size and age made them an additional highlight of a sightseeing tour to Yosemite Valley, especially after Mann built a horse trail to the site.45

[45. Grover’s manuscript states that the prospectors followed up Coarse Gold Gulch into the Sierra Nevada and took an Indian trail through the Mariposa Big Tree Grove and on along the South Fork of the Merced into the valley. Those men probably comprised the first party of whites to enter the Mariposa Grove of Big Trees. Russell, 100 Years in Yosemite, 40. According to James Hutchings, a Mr. Hogg first discovered the Mariposa Grove in late summer 1855. He passed by the trees but did not stop to thoroughly investigate them. On hearing of his discovery, Clark and Mann determined in 1856 to visit and explore the grove; they were definitely the first to publicize the area. James M. Hutchings, In the Heart of the Sierras (Oakland, Calif.: Pacific Press Publishing Co., 1886), 256.]

At first few visited the grove because no wagon road reached it or continued on from there to Yosemite Valley. After the Washburns constructed those roads, the grove became a popular stopping place on the way to the valley. It is almost two groves within one, because there is a lower section containing the Grizzly Giant and an upper one with the Wawona Tunnel Tree and the scenic overlook at Wawona Point. Altogether the grove contains about 500 mature giant sequoias spread over 250 acres.

The grove came under state protection in 1864 along with Yosemite Valley. The giant sequoias are not as tall as the coast redwood, but are older and more massive. Some are more than 3,500 years old. In the late 1800s, thousands of sequoias were logged in the Sierra, even though their lumber is brittle. This activity continued until 1890 when the expansion of Yosemite and the creation of Sequoia National Park protected some of the remaining groves.

When Caroline Churchill visited the Mariposa Grove in 1881, she noted that many of the Big Trees bore the names of various states, e. g., Indiana, Ohio, Iowa, and Illinois. At that time, any person could name a tree. Parties desiring a permanent designation were required to donate a sign with the name painted on it. Some people sent white marble name plates and others metal ones. Most were jappaned tin and placed high on the tree to avoid vandalism.46

[46. Caroline M. Churchill, Over the Purple Hills, or Sketches of Travel in California (Denver: Mrs. C M. Churchill, publ., 1884), 203. By 1930 it was no longer park practice to identify trees by tablets or signs. All of those remaining were removed in 1929. ]

The Wawona Tree was tunnelled in 1881. Again according to W. G. Marshall:

The Wawona tree is the most conspicuous of all the big trees. . . . the tunnel was cut . . . by two brothers named Scribner, who were paid $75, for their labor by the Yosemite Stage and Turnpike Company shortly after completion of the first road into the Mariposa Grove.47

[47. Marshall, cited in Godfrey, “Tunnelled Big Trees,” 54.]

The Scribner brothers enlarged an old burn scar to a tunnel size of 6 1/2 to 8 feet wide, 9 feet high, and 26 feet long. The Wawona Tunnel Tree fell in 1969 under a heavy snow load in its upper branches.

About 100 yards along the path beyond the Grizzly Giant is the California Tree, the other of the two sequoias in Mariposa Grove that have been tunnelled. Cut through in 1895, it served as a substitute during periods when heavy snows made the Wawona Tunnel Tree inaccessible. The Park Service abandoned the access through the California Tree in 1932 during realignment of the grove road.

c) Merced Grove

As stated, this small grove of Big Trees might have been seen by the Joseph Walker expedition in 1833. During survey work for the Coulterville and Yosemite Turnpike Road in 1871-72, Dr. John T. McLean discovered the grove and named it for its proximity to the Merced River.



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