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Every region has its Grand Old Men who have shaped its histories and shared in its fortunes, and in Yosemite the roster is a long and illustrious one.
Among the first of these was J. M. Hutchings, for forty-seven years one of the Park’s most enthusiastic publicists. Besides organizing the first tourist party into the Valley, he owned and operated a hotel there, Hutchings House, which he made famous in his day. A part of this building still stands, now called Cedar Cottage, oldest building in the Valley. Its hand-hewn timbers were put up during Lincoln’s administration in 1858, and one room completely encloses the trunk of a large, growing cedar tree, where Hutchings and his guests used to gather in the evening to discuss the Civil War, the height of Half Dome, and the fish they would catch on the morrow.
It was in Hutchings’ sawmill, which he erected to cut lumber to replace the flimsy curtains which partitioned off his bedrooms, that John Muir once worked. Hutchings was one of the most famous and enthusiastic guides the Valley has ever known and he wrote one of the earliest books on Yosemite. Another living reminder of him today is the row of elm trees which border the road crossing Sentinel Meadows. He planted these from Massachusetts seeds and they are one of the few exotic species permitted in the Park today. He was killed in the Valley he loved so well, on the zigzags of the Big Oak Flat road while driving with his wife, and now lies in the little cemetery in the Valley.
Another planter of trees in Yosemite was J. C. Lamon, who laid out the first orchard and garden patch in this Indian retreat. Many had come to look, but Lamon was the first who remained to live. The smoke curling up from the chimney of his log cabin near the Camp Curry stables was the first sign of permanent human habitation in the Valley since the desertion of the Indian villages and the destruction of their wigwams. He helped build Cedar Cottage and while so engaged built his own cabin in 1859 and became Yosemite’s first winter resident. That winter he spent entirely alone in the Valley, without even a dog for companionship. Curious to think now, with all the gayety and excitement of winter sport enthusiasts in the Valley, what that lone winter must have been like, with even the waterfalls hushed and not a human being within miles and miles of the Valley.
The apple orchards Lamon set out in that early day still bear fruit. Abloom in the springtime, or weighted with snow on a moonlight night, those trees add a human touch to the grandeur of their setting which has endeared them to generations of tourists. Visitors were always welcome in Lamon’s gardens. If the proprietor was not at home to sell his fruit it was understood that any comer might pick and eat as much as he could stow away inside, but not carry any off the premises otherwise, leaving a silver quarter or half dollar on the window sill, according to his capacity!
For fourteen years Lamon lived in Yosemite, first homesteader and neighbor, and when he died, he too was laid to rest in the little cemetery in the good fellowship of Galen Clark, Hutchings, and other Yosemite pioneers.
Perhaps Galen Clark, more than any other, deserves the title of The Grand Old Man of Yosemite. He was first Guardian of the Valley, and held that post for fourteen years, and for twenty-four years he served on the Board of Commissioners who were custodians of the Park.
He visited Yosemite the same year Hutchings did, and seeing the possibilities of tourist trade he established a camp at Wawona, known then as Clark’s Station, where he accommodated travelers on their way in and out of the Valley. Suffering from a serious infection of the lungs he built his cabin in the forest in 1857, hoping to prolong his life. He succeeded quite admirably in this, living to the vigorous old age of ninety-six.
At ninety years of age he turned author, and wrote three authoritative books about Yosemite and the Mariposa Grove of Big Trees, which, undoubtedly, he knew and loved better than anyone of his time. Though not the actual discoverer of the Mariposa Grove, he made it known to the world. He built the trail from his camp to the grove, and conducted hundreds of people to the Big Trees, which were one of the absorbing elements of his life, and from which he drew great peace and quiet strength.
He lived for fifty years in the Valley of Wawona, and spent twenty summers in Yosemite Valley, knowing it first as public lands, then as a State Park, and finally as a National Park. He lies now in a plot he selected in the Yosemite cemetery, shaded by the sequoia seedlings he himself planted twenty years before he was laid to rest beneath them. Neither rude nor crude, he was a “very perfect gentle knight” of the High Sierras. Across the meadows from the Sentinel Hotel, commanding a fine view of Yosemite Falls, a stone bench has been placed as a memorial to him.
The bard of Yosemite was John Muir. Just as he made Yosemite his, so does Yosemite claim him for her own. A man who could ride on snow avalanches and explore behind waterfalls! Who roamed through the Sierras with a piece of dry bread in his pocket, adventuring where no man had ventured before. He was an explorer and discoverer of the first order, who left behind him for posterity a thrilling record of what he read there in that “great page of mountain manuscript.”
He first came to Yosemite in 1868 for a brief visit, tending sheep in the lowlands for a living, working when he could in Hutchings’ sawmill to provide bread for his long jaunts in the Sierras when the day’s work was done. As president of the Sierra Club for twenty-two years, he fought constantly to save Yosemite and all the wilderness from wanton destruction by mining, lumber, and sheep interests.
He had something of the physical endurance of the Sierra peaks, something of the mental energy and crystal clearness of Yosemite Falls. The spot where his cabin stood on the Lost Arrow trail, near the foot of Yosemite Falls, is now a shrine to all lovers of John Muir, all lovers of the out-of-doors. Not content merely to live by the side of the stream, he deflected it a bit so it might flow through one corner of his cabin, that he might listen more closely to its song.
W. P. Bartlett, in “An Afternoon With John Muir,” tells of how this poet of the Sierras once kidnapped President Theodore Roosevelt from under the noses of an official party and played hookey with him in the woods.
When Roosevelt announced his intentions of visiting Yosemite a committee hastily prepared an elaborate program for him—banqueting, speeches, and all. It was even proposed to light up Yosemite Falls, but Roosevelt vetoed that as “nature-faking.”
All went according to plan until the stages bearing the President and his party arrived at Chinquapin summit, where all alighted for a rest. But when the stages went on again, the President was missing. Each auto load supposed he was in the car ahead, and not until they were well out of sight did Mr. Roosevelt and John Muir emerge from behind a stable where two horses and a packed mule had been waiting for them, and like mischievous schoolboys they galloped off on the trail for Glacier Point.
The President was not missed until the party arrived in the Valley, and while the chagrined banqueters solemnly ate without their guest of honor, he and John Muir were squatting happily about a campfire in the forests, reveling in thick porterhouse steaks and corn pones buttered in the pan.
“This is bully!” chuckled Roosevelt, thinking delightedly of the pompous party in the Valley below.
For three and a half days the two of them wandered contentedly through the Sierras before rejoining the party. And as a result of this clandestine outing, Roosevelt during his term in office set aside vast areas of virgin timber for forest reserves and doubled the number of National Parks.
Mr. and Mrs. D. A. Curry were Mine Hosts of Yosemite. With the establishment of Camp Curry, known the world over, they became the founders of a new hotel system, an informal camp entertainment which has become one of the attractions of Yosemite.
Their beginning was humble. “D. A.” and his wife were both school-teachers, who had learned to make their vacations pay by managing small camping tours in the summer. One of their first experiments was made in Yellowstone Park. The following year they decided to try the system nearer home, and in 1899 they ventured into Yosemite, bearing with them seven tents, a paid cook, and a brand-new idea in camp hotels. Despite the many difficulties of transportation, for it took freight wagons two weeks to make the round trip from Merced, the experiment succeeded beyond their fondest hopes. Two hundred and ninety-two guests registered that first year.
The famous Camp Curry bonfire is still built on the very spot of that first fire. Although the entertainment is more elaborate now than those earlier faggot parties, where a guest threw a small piece of wood on the fire and told a story while it burned, there is still a friendliness and ease about those gatherings which dates back to the beginning.
Though “D. A.” did not originate the firefall, he was the first to use it regularly. At the end of the evening’s entertainment he would raise his prodigious voice, which earned him the name of the Stentor, and call to the Irishman on the cliff above:
“Let ‘er go, Gallagher!” which is the origin of that well-known phrase.
Camp Curry grew until it had accommodations for about 1,300 guests. In 1925 the “Curry Camping Company” consolidated with the “Yosemite National Park Company” to form the “Yosemite Park and Curry Company,” which company now operates all hotels in the Park as well as transportation lines, stables, stores, etc. The Curry family continue in the active management of the consolidated company, and in the last year they have purchased the hotel at Wawona and have built a new lodge in the Mariposa Grove of Big Trees where Galen Clark’s humble cabin once stood.
“Mother Curry,” as she is affectionately known to hundreds of thousands of Camp Curry guests, still carries on where David Curry left off. In spite of its mushroom growth, Camp Curry is still her especial interest, which she continues to supervise and manage. When there is any matter of importance to take up with the authorities in Washington, D. C., Mother Curry is first consulted. Small, gentle, and white-haired, she is beloved by all, and reigns undisputedly as Yosemite’s one and only Grand Lady.
Last of the Grand Old Men who belong definitely to Yosemite, and only survivor today, is Gabriel Sovulewski, trail-blazer! In the push of civilization to the edge of a continent, and the top of a mountain range, Mr. Sovulewski has played an important and thrilling part. Under his supervision were built most of the six hundred miles of trails which now spider-web Yosemite Park.
Mr. Sovulewski first came to Yosemite in 1895 as quartermaster-sergeant in the United States Army. In 1906 he returned to the Park as a civilian employe of the United States Army. In 1908-09 and again in 1914 he was acting Superintendent of the Park. For twenty-eight years he has been actively engaged in making all parts of Yosemite’s 1,125 square miles accessible, and in keeping them so. He came into that thousand square miles of wilderness with no maps, and few reliable guides, with only cattle and sheep trails, and burro passes zigzagging through the forests, threading their way over granite peaks. From these bare beginnings he has constructed veritable mountain highways, half a hundred avenues by which city-wearied people can escape on horseback, or afoot, into such glamorous realms as Cloud’s Rest, Ten Lakes, Pate Valley, and Forsythe Pass. A trail-blazer who pushes his way around mountains and across rivers, overcoming insurmountable obstacles, cajoling his crews, loved by his men, that is Gabriel Sovulewski, who has earned the gratitude of thousands who travel the trails of Yosemite each year.
When his work is done, Gabriel Sovulewski will need no momument, for his trails and roads will go marching on.
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