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Pathways: A Story of Trails and Men (1968), by John W. Bingaman


Excerpts from Annual Reports of the Acting Superintendents, Army Officers Captain H. C. Benson, Captain A. E. Wood, Lt. McClure, and Major William Forsyth

When the U. S. Troops took over the protection of the Yosemite National Park in 1891, there were originally the following named well known trails through the Park:

Starting from Wawona
Report by Captain A. E. Wood, 1891

Yosemite was created a National Park on October 1, 1890. Each year between 1891 and 1913, the War Department sent troops of cavalry into Yosemite National Park on patrol duty.

The Army officer in charge acted as the superintendent of the park. The troops would arrive in May and leave in October, returning to the Presidio of San Francisco. Captain A. E. Wood was in command of the first troops assigned to Yosemite. Captain Wood, in command of two troops of Cavalry, Companies I, and K, arrived in Yosemite May 19, 1891, and set up camp at Wawona.

“Starting from Wawona, there was a main trail leading through Crescent Lake, Johnson Lake, Gravelly Ford, thence by Little Granite Creek, 77 Corral, Devils Post Pile, and so on to the east by Mammoth Pass, thence from Devils Post Pile running north through Agnews Pass via Parker Glacier to Bloody Canyon, thence into Nevada.

“A second trail led north from the east end of Yosemite Valley through Sunrise Meadow and past Cathredral Peaks, and through Tuolumne Meadows, and so on north to Mt. Conness, where the State Observatory was for many years.

“Then a small branch road led from Crockers on the Big Oak Flat road via the Tioga Road at Ackersons Ranch to the Hog Ranch. From the Hog Ranch a well known trail led to the Hetch Hetchy Valley. From Hetch Hetchy a trail led to Lake Eleanor. Also a trail led from the Hog Ranch via Poopenant Valley to Lake Eleanor.

“A main trail also led north from Wawona to Glacier Point, crossing the Chinquapin Road at Peregoy’s Meadow, to Glacier Point with a branch leading to the northeast by Mono Meadows and Illilouette Creek to Nevada Falls, connecting with the Sunrise Trail to the Tuloumne River and Mt. Conness.

“Other than these there were no marked or defined trails. Lt. McClure, with Corporal Sadlier in charge, made in June 1895, a trip from Camp A. E. Wood, via Johnson Lake, Jackass Meadow and Granite Creek, and there, getting some sheep herders, had them conduct his detail over a pass named by him, Isberg Pass, to the McClure Fork of the Merced River, thence northeast by Tuolumne Pass, by Rafferty Creek, named by him after Doctor Rafferty, who was the surgeon of the detachment, to the Lyell Fork, thence by trail shown by Dingley Creek, Conness Creek, Alkali Creek, and up Spiller Canyon, across Matterhorn Canyon to Slide Canyon, thence down Slide Canyon to Great Slide up to Rock Island Lake, to Arndt Lake, thence down the Rancheria to Hetch Hetchy Valley, and so back to Camp Wood. He stated, “In the years during his scouting over the mountains, 1895, 6, 7, 9, 1902, 4 and 5, with every detail, that I took out, each member of the detail carried a hand hatchet, hung from the saddle by a leather boot, and whenever there were trees, blazing was done, and where there were no trees, the blazing was done by placing rocks along the route, the rocks being close to be able to be seen from one to another.”

During 1905, 6, 7, and 8, Benson had trails constructed around the entire Park by contract. The Interior Department furnished from eight to ten thousand dollars per year for this purpose. At the time of the U.S. Army’s taking charge of Yosemite Park, the entire country north and east of the Yosemite Valley was unknown country, except to sheepherders. The sheepherders had divided the country up among themselves, and certain canyons were known as the ranges belonging to certain men, and they drove out or killed any sheep herders who attempted to trespass in their particular canyon or on their particular mountains.

Outside of the valley, and the valley of the Hetch Hetchy, there was not a fish in any of the waters inside the park except in Lake Eleanor, where Mr. Kibbie a homesteader at Lake Eleanor had brought in some fish and planted them in 1877.

The California Fish Commission built a hatchery at Wawona in 1893 and distributed fish in and about Wawona. The U.S. Fish Commission had sent some fish down to Captain Wood at Camp A. E. Wood in 1891 and 92, and the planting of these fish in small streams in that vicinity furnished the hatchery with eastern brook trout. From time to time Benson netted out young fish and transported them further out into the mountains continuously until 1909. The amount of labor expended by Captain Benson and his details in improving the trails was very great. The successful working out of the trails and the continuation of developing them are due largely to the loyalty and efficiency of the Army officers in the field.

So far as the development of trails and the policing of Yosemite Park by troops were concerned, very little was done during the first two or three years that the park was occupied by the troops, that is, before the arrival of Troop K, 4th Cavalry, under Captain Alexander Rodgers. This is accounted for by the fact that Captain A. E. Wood, who was first in charge of the Park, suffered dreadfully and eventually died from cancer of the tongue. He was desperately ill himself and suffered the tortures of the damned. He kept one of the officers, Lt. Nolan, constantly with him, so there was very little opportunity for any work being done beyond the Tuolumne River. With the arrival however, of Captain Rodgers things took on a different aspect. No sheep herders had been interfered with whatever up to 1895; in fact, the Commanding Officer in 1894 had permitted sheep to range over the immediate territory between Wawona and Yosemite Valley. The result was that no sheepmen had any idea of complying with the regulations which required them to keep outside the limits of the Park.

Captain Wood devoted the main attention of his troops under Lt. Milton F. Davis to keeping cattle, mainly those of the Curtin, and Cattle Company, controlled by J. B. Curtin, from trespassing upon the park. When, however, Captain Rodgers, with Troop I of the 4th Cavalry, took charge of the Park, a new era was instituted. During the next three years he waged incessant war against all trespassers, both cattlemen and sheepmen. Up to this time no trails had been developed, except the main trails which were already in existence, as indicated in a previous note.

Almost all of the trails that were developed within the next three years were developed by Captain Benson. When a detail was out. inspecting the mountains, as soon as the days march was over and evening meal finished, Benson would start out over the country on foot and prospect in the vicinity of the camp for several miles around. In this way he became acquainted with the mountains and streams. He had been trained to track in his Army training. He would find a trail of the sheep herders who were taking supplies out to the herds already in the mountains. Once a month supplies were carried out on mules to the sheep herders who, accompanied by goats and burros, were in the mountains with their herds. The owners packed out once a month, to some point previously agreed upon, the rations which were to last during the next few weeks. By getting on the trail of these big pack animals Benson followed them through the mountains, blazing trees as he went, until he came upon herds of sheep. Immediately on getting to these sheep herders, he had the sheep turned over to a few of the soldiers. Then Benson took all the herders and made them lead him out by another route, which he blazed, so that he was able at once to get through that part of the country without difficulty. Benson was the only officer with the command who did this sort of thing and hence was practically and only man, except Captain Rodgers, who ever caught any herders. In so doing he was able to get into the northern part of the Park, and by prospecting on foot and blazing the w’ay he was able to make trails covering that part of the Park. These trail enagles the other details of troops to follow with safety through that portion of the Park. The old “H’s” on all the trees throughout the park north of the Tuolumne River, were those cut by Benson and his details.

The successful working out of trails and the continuation of developing them were due largely to the loyalty and hard work of Sergeant Gabriel Sovulewski. Too much credit cannot be given to this man for the development of the Yosemite National Park; he was a faithful worker, a man who knew no hours and who never spared himself. He for years faithfully carried out the wishes and ideas of the officers under whose command he was serving and made it possible for the later building of trails when the Government saw fit to appropriate money for that purpose. Just as Sergeant Joseph Fernandez did so much toward assisting in the work of planting fish throughout the Park, so did Mr. Sovulewski in development of the trails, which made the travel over and through the Park possible.

Major Benson gave much credit to one cattleman, Timothy Carlon who lived up to all the rules and regulations of the Interior Department. During all the years that the troops were in charge of the Park, Mr. Carlon never once knowingly violated a single law. He was a man who was ever ready to do what he could to assist the troops in any way possible. In this he differed absolutely from Ex State Senator Curtin, who did everything in his power to violate every rule and regulation of the Interior Department on the ground that these rules were unconstitutional. This eventually led to law suits, in which Benson was personally concerned, but which not only caused him no trouble but lead to his advancement.

Army Trails Built and Improved During the
Administration of the Army 1891 - 1913

Lieutenant N. F. McClure reported the following new routes within the Yosemite National Park, discovered, and traversed by him during the summer of 1895; from Tuolumne Meadows to Lake Eleanor via Stublefield Canyon, and from Tuolumne Meadows to Hetch Hetchy via Slide Canyon and Jack Main Canyon. These routes were much used by the troops in 1895 and were quite well marked all the way with the distinctive government blaze, which is a T.

Reports by E. F. Willcox, Captain 6th Cavalry, 1899

“Numerous repairs were recommended.

Rebuilding bridge over the Tuolumne River in Hetch Hetchy.
Rebuilding bridge over Rancheria Creek in Hetch Hetchy.
Rebuilding bridge over Falls River in Hetch Hetchy.
Repairing trail above bluff, north side of Tuolumne River in Hetch Hetchy.
Building bridge over North Fork San Joaquin River.
Repairing trail up Chilnualna Creek.
Repairing and changing trail into Hetch Hetchy.
Building trail from Granite Creek to Merced Lake Basin.
Repairing trail up Rancheria Mountain.
Building bridge over Slide Creek at Pleasant Valley.
Repairing trail from Pleasant Valley to Rodgers Meadow.
Building bridge over Tuolumne River at Soda Springs.”

In the early 1900’s the Army officers recommended trail construction and maintenance. Only limited amounts were appropriated for this work. Estimated amount needed for the construction and repairs of trails in the park for the fiscal year ending June 30, 1904, was approximately $8,850.00.

Contracts let for building and repairing trails in 1903 progressed satisfactorily, and the soldiers on duty in the park, with ax, hatchet and saw, opened up 60 miles of trails that were well nigh impassable because of fallen trees and the growth of underbrush.

Colonel Joseph Gerrard of the Fourteenth Cavalry gave the matter of trail construction his personal supervision. Most of the trails that had been constructed had very little work done on them. Two or three excellent trails were constructed under Col. Gerrards’ supervision, but it was noted that the trail from Hetch Hetchy over Rancheria Mountain to the “Sink”, thence over Pleasant Valley to Rodgers Lake, was so poorly built that in his report he recommended the immediate repair of this trail. The work was done by Newton J. Phillips and D. A. Lumsdon, at a cost of $1,850.

Estimates for repairs and construction of trails totaled $26,100 in 1907.

Thomas H. Carter of Wawona, in 1906, did contract trail building in the Hetch Hetchy Valley, Rancheria Mt., and thence north to Kerrick Canyon, for as little as $3,500.

It was earnestly recommended that the trail from Hog Ranch to Hetch Hetchy, which was in deplorable condition, be the first to be repaired. It was mentioned again that a wagon road should be constructed into this beautiful valley, the cost not to exceed $10,000 per mile.

Major Win. W. Forsyth, 6th Cavalry, 1911

Reports the new trail from Mirror Lake to Lake Tenaya has been completed at a cost of $6,641.43. The trip from Yosemite Valley to Lake Tenaya over this trail is attractive and the trail was much traveled this season.

The trail from Yosemite Valley to Merced Lake was made about 4 miles shorter. In 1912 a new trail branching off from the Mirror Lake - Tenaya Lake trail at Snow Creek was built to the North Dome, and thence to Yosemite Point. Also a new trail from Tenaya Lake to Clouds Rest, passing between Clouds Rest and Sunrise Mountain.

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