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


From the beginning of the 16th century people of all nations wanted to reach California. The Spanish approached it from the south, the Russians from the north, the French via the Mississippi River and the St. Lawrance River, the English from Canada, and the Dutch around the Horn. The Americans approached in an ever advancing wedge.

Pioneers approaching from the east encountered several barriers, the Rocky Mountains, the deserts, and the Sierras. Those from the northeast crossed the Rockies, and those approaching from the middle crossed the Utah desert to the Sierras. The Yosemite region was the last portion of the Sierra to be crossed.

Trails were opened at both ends of the Sierra long before this region was known. The opening of trails to this region was not done by the 49’ers. The Spanish opened trails across the mountains at various passes from Panama to Tehachapi. In 1774, Anza explored a route across the Colorado Desert to the Sierras, thence to San Jacinto Valley and Mission San Gabriel. In 1775-76, Father Garcias, a friend of Anza, ascended the Colorado River to Mojave Desert, following thence along the line of the Cajon Pass, and south to San Bernardino and San Gabriel. He crossed Tejon Pass to Tulare County and then made his way across Arizona to its northeast corner, visiting the Hopi Indians.

Tehachapi Pass was the most northerly pass opened by the Spanish. The Spaniards’ northern trails were cut off in the beginning of the 18th century. The Yumas rebelled in 1781, cutting off the Anza Trail. The hostility of the Hopi and Navajo prevented the development of the Mojave trail which Anza had explored. By 1812, the northern passes had been discovered by British and American fur traders. Alexander Mackenzie crossed the continent in the far north. There was a race between the “Northwesters” and the Hudson Bay men, the former generally in advance. The Americans came just behind them.

Lewis and Clark on their expedition to the Pacific Coast had explored as far south as the Snake River in southern Washington, leaving an unknown gap almost the full length of the Sierras. As time went on the Spanish found no new passes but explored and named Mariposa and Merced.

Gabriel Moraga, who came to California when very young with Anza, and who succeeded his father in the command of the Presidio of San Francisco, explored the interior valleys of California between 1800 and 1820, Visalia was a favorite spot and was destined to be the site of the capital of the new territory, but, no doubt, the discovery of gold in 1848 changed all this. Sacramento grew rapidly and became the State Capital.

Moraga made more than forty expeditions to the interior. In 1806 he discovered the Merced River. On this expedition he started from San Juan Bautista, making his way eastward via Pacheco Pass, striking the San Joaquin Valley near the Mariposa and Merced Rivers.

The name “La Mariposas” comes from the Butterflies which Moraga’s party found in abundance. One of Moraga’s corporals of the expedition had one in his ear and mentioned the fact that the butterflies followed them.

This party divided into three groups, one of which discovered and named the Merced River. Here they found many Indians.

There was a fairly large American population in California before the 49’ers came. The explorers were fur traders, but they were later followed by homeseekers.

Next: Mountain MenContentsPrevious: Table of Contents

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