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Entered according to Act of Congress in the year 1873, by John Erastup Lester, in the 
office of the of Congress at Washington. 











The following paper was prepared for, and read before the Rhode 
Island Historical Society, at their Cabinet, December ITth, 1872. 

Many references and notes have been added to the original text. 

Since these pages were in type, the Supreme Com't of the United States 
has rendered their decision confirming the grant of the Yo-Seraite to the 
State of California as a national park, and thus it would seem all claims 
of private individuals are forever quieted. 

The paper is published at the request of many friends, and into their 
hands it is committed. 

J. E. L. 
February \st, 1873. 


I am aware that my subject seems better fitted for a scien- 
tific society, than one, which, like onrs, seeks to preserve the 
recorded facts of the past. But we all love Nature and she 
addresses us in so varied moods that there is no one, who 
does not at some time find great pleasure in contemplating 
her developments. Nowhere probably upon the whole globe, 
has she given a more sul^lime and grand development, than 
in the valley, the surrounding hills and those magnificent 
waterfalls, which have taken the general name of Yo-Se3Iite. 
My task then shall be to tell }'ou, what I can, in the brief 
time allotted me, of the Yo-Semite, the history of its discovery 
and exploration, its scenery and its future development. 

I rthi also aware, how very far short of satisfaction to 
myself, as well as to you, I shall come in any attempt to 
describe the sublimity and grandeur of this scenery ; I can 
only indicate, leaving your imagination to paint a more per- 
fect picture, and trusting that you all may yet behold, as I 
have, those scenes with your own eyes, and drink in the inspi- 
ration — the voice of God speaking to us through Nature. 

The history of the Yo-Semite is, to a certain extent, the 
history of California, for in this, culminates all the glories of 
her magnificent scenery, and to preserve this place, where 
man is forbidden to build his cities or in great numbers to 
congregate, as a sacred park, she has always labored, aided 
as far as possible l>y the Nation in her Legislative Councils. 
The discovery of gold, gave to California a sudden and almost 


unprecedented popnlarity and hitlier Hocked people l)y the 
thousands to seek that ever hiring, l)ut ever vanishing phan- 
tom — a fortune. The facts conuected with the early settle- 
meuts upon the Paeitic coast of North America, the various 
expeditions, the development under Spanish rule, and the 
wresting of that section now comprising California from the 
Spaniards are familiar to you all.* 

The great extent of the State, its varied climates, the pau- 
city of settlements, and the vast regions even now compara- 
tively unexplored are not comprehended by us in the East, 
and are facts rarely known to others than those who have 
visited the " Golden State." 

In examining that much vexed question as to the origin of 
the name of the State, I chanced upon an earlier mention of 
the existence of gold in that section of country than I have 
ever before seen in print. So curious is the old narrative 
that I deem it worthy of a few Avords here. 

John A. Sutter will probably always be popularly consid- 
ered as the first discoverer of gold in California. True, he 
owned the rancho where it was found, but James W. Mar- 
shall, who was in his employ, was really the person. He 
picked up the first gold, satisfied himself of its purity, and 
then made it known to Sutter. The story of its fii-st discov- 
ery, the spread of the news, the armies of men Avho Hocked 
to the spot, and the vast Avealth Avhich has thus flowed to the 
Nation, all furnish material for an extended essay, but we 
must hasten. 

In June last I was in the pretty town of Golden, seventeen 
miles west of Denver, the capital of the territory of Colorado. 
The hofel-car, in Avhich we had been living for a week past, 
was draAvn up upon a siding. This was our home, and from 
here we set out upon our various excursions among the Kocky 
INIountains. AVe were brought otKcially into relations Avith 
Capt. Edward Berthoud, the Chief Engineer of the Colorado 

* See History of California. Robert Greenhow, Translator and Libra- 
rian to the Department of State, Washington ; also ]\Ienioirs Historical. 
&c., by same. 1810. 


Central Eailroad. A friendship sprang np between us and 
I soon found that Capt. Berthoud was a man learned in many 
things — as botany, geology and history, as well as engineer- 
ing. One day I happened to say to him that I was going 
ov^er that often considered question of the derivation of the 
word California,* and then it was tliat he told me, that he 
had in his possession an old book which contained an early 
mention of the existence of gold in California and proposed 
to show it to me on the morrow. Capt. Berthoudf is a French- 
man, and brought the book with him, many years ago, to this 
country. It belonged to his father before him, and is a rare 
volume. It is not contained in any liljrary in this cit}^ and 
up to this writing I have been unable to find anywhere another 

I give you first the title of the book and then the extract 
verhatim, which contains the curious record. 

" A voyage round the world by the way of the Great South Sea. 
Performed in the years 1719-20-21-22 in the Speedwell of London, 
of 24 guns and 100 men (under His Majefty's Commiffion to cruife on 
the Spaniards in the late war with the Spanifh Crown) till fhe was call 
away on the Ifland of Juan Fernandez in May 1720; and afterwards 
continu'd in the Recovery, the Jefus Maria, and Sacra Familia, &c. By 
Capt. George Shelvocke, Commander of the Speedwell, Recovery &c. 
in this expedition. MDCCXXVI. 

No complaint can be found with this title on the score of 
wanting explicitness. Nowadays we always try to have our 
book titles tell as little as possible of what is within — a sort 
of mania for mystification, but in former times, when print- 
ing was far more tedious, and reading by far less generally 
practised, they used to print titles so that one knew what the 
book treated upon and need not be put to so unpleasant a task 
as reading several chapters to learn what the title should 
have been. 

But to the words of the old book ; 

* See " Annals of San Francisco," &c. Soule, N. Y,, 1855, page 23. 
t Berthoud Pass, in the Eocky Mountains, Avas named after him. 


" As to the bounds and extent of California our Geographers have 
never yet been able to determine either by their own obfervations or 
information from others, whether it is an ifland, or a part of the Con- 
tinent of North America." 

The record then ijoes on to state that they wonld not try to 
determine the fact, bnt if they did, it 

" would be perhaps more a fatisfaction to the curious, than any real 
advantage to us ; fince it would be much the fame to us whether it be 
an Ifland, or a part of the Continent, if we had any advantageous views 
of making any fettlements there." 

The record then continues : 

"The Eailern coaft of that part of California, which I had a fight 
of, appears to be mountaineous, barren, and fandy and very like fome 
parts of Peru ; but neverthelefs the foil about Puerto Seguro, and 
(very likely in moll of the vallies) is a rich black mould, which as you 
turn it frefh up to the fun appears as if intermingled with gold-duil, 
fome of which we endeavor'd to wafli and purify from the dirt ; but 
tho' we were a little prejudic'd againil the thoughts that it would be 
poffible that this metal fhould be so promifcuoufly and univerfally min- 
gled with common earth, yet we endeavor'd to cl^anfe and wafh the 
earth from fome of it, and the more wc did, the more it appear'd like 
gold ; but in order to be further fatisfied, I brought away fome of it 
which we loft in our confufions in China But be that as it will, it is 
very probable that this country abounds in metals of all forts, though 
the inhabitants had no utensils or ornaments of any metal whatfover, 
which is no wonder, fince they are fo perfectly ignorant in all arts." 

Tliose "confusions in China" of wliich our author speaks, 
may have saved for us the State, for had tlic "gold-dust" 
reached England, her people would have found their Avay 
over the oceans to this far-otF land, driven out the Spaniards 
and natives and made a history for our consideration — the 
life of a State for our contemplation. But it was for Ameri- 
cans in later days to found a State, and advance it to jiros- 
perity and stability. It was for Americans to explore the 
mountain fastnesses and acquaint us with their grand and 


awful scenery, and it was to be the crowning gloiy of Ameri- 
cans to lay down a track over tlie rugged Sierras and drive 
over it the iron-horse, dragging precious freiglits — a traclv 
wliich should be a link in the iron bands which now hold the 
two oceans together. 

In the development of this State, and the exploration of 
the mountain-wilds, that famous valley was discovered, of 
which I shall speak. Let us first describe in general terms 
the immediate country, and then trace the history of its dis- 

That range of mountains known as "Sierra Nevada" is 
limited to California, and extends from Mt. Shasta in the 
north to Tejon pass in the south, a length as estimated of 550 
miles. Beyond Mt. Shasta this range with greatly diminished 
elevations stretches away through Oregon and Washington 
Territory imder the name of the "Cascade Range," while 
from Tejon pass they become assimilated with the Coast 
Range geographically, but still to the geologist the two ranges 
retain their respective characteristics. 

Eighty miles is given as the average width of this moun- 
tain range, whose western slope by a gradual descent finds its 
level on the shores of the Pacific, while the eastern is more 
abrupt, rising from the great basin up to the lofty peaks,, 
within a space of a few miles. Deep gorges have been 
ploughed through this range, which are denominated "passes." 

I will give you the elevation of some of the principal of 
these passes : 

Mono, - _ . 10,765 feet above the sea. 

Sonora, - - - 10,115 

Carson. - - - 8,759 

Yuba Gap, - - - 6,642 

Donner, - - - 7,056 

Through this last named the "Central Pacific" finds its way 
over the ever snow-clad hills. 

The peaks just around these passes are very lofty, as for 
instance — 


3It. Wliitiipy, - - 15,000 feet above the sea. 

lied Slate Kuck, - - 13,400 

Dana, - - - 13,227 

Castle Peak. . _ - 12 500 

Wooil's Peak, - - 10.552 ** " 

Pyramid Peak, - - - 10,120 

I state these elevations that you may compare tlicm with 
our highest Xew Eiighind mountain — AVashington — which is 
0,426 feet above the ocean. From tliis comparison you per- 
ceive how much grander must be these granite hills. 

The Sieiras arc so high that they have up their sides well 
marked belts of vegetation. Around the foot hills we tind 
the oak and pines {Piniis mbiniana, Qiiercus Sonomensis) as 
those most characteristic. 

The next the pitch and sugar pines, the spruce and cedar, 
(Pimi.s 2X>nderosa, Phius Lamherliana, Libocedrus decur- 
rens, Abies Douglasii), &c., &c. Next the firs — Plcea 
grandis and P. amabilis, and also the Piniis contorta. In 
the highest belt, the end of all vegetation, we have the Pinus 
Jiexilis and the l*/nas artstata. All these trees arc by far 
larger and taller than those which compose our forests, and 
besides these we have those several groups of the "big trees" 
as they arc called, which rival the world for size. Their 
botanical name is Sequoia gigantea, a twin-sister of the red- 
wood Sequoia seinpervirens, which abounds in the Truckee 
region of the Sierras. 

In vegetation, then, this region is not wanting, but really 
surpasses the Avorld.* 

Besides the passes which I have mentioned, there are great 
depressions and fissures in these mountains, some of which 
arc no doubt the result of glacial action, while others show 
great volcanic upheavals. 

Within this mountain range is located the Yo-Semite Valley. 

After tlie first excitement of gold-hunting was over, those 
who had settled in the State turned their attention to the pur- 

NoTE. — See elevations as given by Prof. J. D. Whitney, " The Govevu- 
ment Siu'veys, «S:c., &c. 

* The Eucalyptus of Australia is taller. 


suit of farming, always called ranching in California. A 
farmer is a rancher — his farm is a ranch, or properly a 
rancho. They toolv up their lands in the great valleys called 
San Joaquin and Sacramento, along the banks of the Merced, 
the Tuolumne and the Frezno. Above the foot hills arc many 
mountain meadows — little dish like valleys, with snow-capped 
mountains all around them. In these little sheltered spots 
the ffrass grov^^s rank and o-reen, offering scrateful feed for the 
flocks and herds which are driven up from the valleys during 
the summer months. As early as 1850 many sturdy pioneers 
had taken up their ranchos, and were driving their cattle and 
sheep up the mountain-sides to pasture. Their great trouble 
was from the Indians, who, scattered about among the moun- 
tains, committed great depredations upon the stock. The 
people were so much annoyed that at last they formed them- 
selves into a sort of military company — a guard for common 

A common danger always raises in us a feeling for mutual 
defence, and its development is that in us which we call mili- 
tary spirit. These are the conditions of revolution. Thus 
has often began a revolt — the result of which has been a 
people's freedom — a tyrant's dethronement. 

Here were wrono-s to be risrhted. True the Indians had 
long held the lands, true the whites were pressing hard upon 
them, but this does not give any plea of right for the Indians 
to steal and murder. I believe the whites had the right — a 
sacred right — to rise up against this oppression, and the 
question of success and power is not a concomitant of the 
right. According to the doctrine laid down by Froude in his 
recent brilliant lectures, if the Indians had proven themselves 
the more powerful, then it would have been right for the 
Indians to continue their oppression, to steal the flocks and 
herds, for they knew not money, and to force the whites into 
paying tribute to their uncivilized customs. Does not the 
mere statement of a case serve sufficiently to disapprove such 
a doctrine? But to our narrative. 



As a natuml result, then, of this common danger, there 
was formed a military company. It was composed of the 
hardy ranchers and sturdy miners from the near-by diggings, 
who avowed their purpose to l)c either to drive the Indians 
from the country or themselves die in the attempt. In the 
country round were many tribes — the Mouos, the Merceds, 
the Yo-Semites, and others,* the latter probably not a distinct 
tribe, but composed of defcatetl parties from several tribes 
who had taken refuge in the great valley. These gave the 
settlers the most trouble and against them their power Avas 
chiefly used. 

Skirmishing and fighting became general along this part of 
the Sierras. The whites would drive the Indians far up into 
the mountains, but they would always lose track of them, the 
Indians taking refuge in some fastness the entrance to Avhich 
they could not discover. Thus for some time went on these 
skirmishes between the parties contending for the mastery. 
The whites became more emboldened and pushing further 
into the mountains discovered that the retreat into which the 
Indians took themselves, was a vast gorge, a sight of which 
they obtained from a near-by peak. Those who had seen this 
place of retreat told wonderful stories about it, upon their 
return to the plains. Undoubtedly this was the first time 
white men had ever o])tained even a glimpse of this wonder- 
ful scenery, and it is not surprising that those who composed 
the company, should have given such a description of the 
oforire as should have led others to desire to see it. This was 
late in the sunmier of 1850. During the rainy or winter 
season the ranchers talked over the discovery, and talking 
only magnified the stories, which spread into the mining 
camps, and at night around the camp-fires many Avcrc the 
wonderful tales related and many were the plans formed for 
exploring that " mountain retreat " the next season. A gi'cat 
excitement was raised in the settlements around, so that when 

* Cliook-chan-cie, Po-to-en-cie, Noot-cho, Po-ho-ne-chee, Ilo-na-ehee, 


spring came, it was no difficult task for Capt. Bolingto orga- 
nize his company of picked men, to make an expedition into 
the momitains both for the purpose of exploring the " valley 
or gorge," and to exterminate the Indians, that they would 
not trouble them during the coming planting time. March, 
1851, saw the company fully organized and equipped and 
read}' to start. They called to their aid Te-nei-ya, an old 
chief, who had always been friendly to the whites. Even 
among Indians there are always some, of such good parts, 
that they make for themselves friends. 

Te -nei-ya led the band of explorers, and knowing the trail, 
a few days' march brought them into that valley, which we 
now know as "Yo-Semite." Imagination can only paint the 
scene, as those hardy ranchers, led by the old and friendly 
Te-nei-ya, stood upon the edge of the mountains which form 
the sides of this wonderful valley. They must have stood 
awe-stricken and mute. The romantic wildness and sublime 
grandeur of the scene spread out before them must have over- 
powered them, even though made of "stern stuff." 

It is related that at one time Te-nei-ya failed the whites, 
and they called to their aid another friendly Indian, Cow- 
chit-ty by name, who led them on and has to this day remained 
true to the whites. This last named Indian I had the pleas- 
ure of seeing. 

On our way to the valley we had proceeded as far as Clark 
and Moore's where we were to stay over Sunday. It ^w as a 
pleasant June day, and after lunch we were all sitting upon the 
piazza listening to Mr. Clark, as he told us of the incidents of 
his earl}' life in these mountains. The sound of a rider was 
heard, and looking up, we saw galloping into the yard an old 
Indian, with a white silk handkerchief about his head, panta- 
loons of great size and white as snow, in a striped shirt, a 
flannel blouse, and without shoes. The horse which he rode 
was a real mustang and his saddle was of Mexican make. 
Dismounting, he walked with uncertain step directly towards 
us, and greeted INIr. Clark, who addressed him as Capt. John, 
with grave yet hearty look and speech. 


This Avas the oiice powerful chief of the powerful Frczuos, 
and he to whom the whites once looked for a safe conduct 
amoniist the dan^^crous fastnesses of those sfreat mountains 
which towered around us, with their snow-capped peaks. 

Mr. Clark with some difficulty and by using some Spanish, 
some Indian, and a little English, made the old chief under- 
stand that I lived " six moons " away, or a distance equal to 
about three thousand miles, and near that " other ocean." 
The old man with a face full of animation raised himself up, 
and exclaimed in his broken English, "Whew ! too much}' 
far, old Injun !" 

No indeed ! he nor any of his tribe will ever see that 
" other ocean " of which the soothsayers have often told them 
around the council fires. These tribes are fast passing away 
and they wmU be soon numbered with their brothers of the 
Atlantic, wdiile the tribes in the grejit middle ground will 
survive but a few years longer, the calamities which have 
overtaken the red men, dwellers by either ocean. 

It is related that the Indians were terribly disheartened by 
this to them " unceremonious invasion," and after a little 
skirmishing made peace w^ith the men who had found the way 
into this retreat which had for so lonsr been their secure 

The story of the visit of the Indian chief, Jose Jerez, a 
name more Spanish than Indian, under chai-ge of James D. 
Savage, to San Francisco, the oflfensc given the chief, and 
the manner in which he and his people avenged it, is told 
quite graphically by ISIr. Ilutchings.* To the incidents 
connected with this affair, he gives, I apprehend, too much 
prominence in the train of circumstances Avhicli led to the 
discovery of the valley. 

As the Indians kept their peace, there was no occasion for 
the whites to push so far into the mountains, and for some 
year or more, little was done towards exploring further this 

* See " Scenes of Wonder and Curiosity in California," &c. J. M. 
Hutchings, of Yo-Semile, 1870. N. Y. 


valley. But little seems to have been said about the place 
outside of the country immediatel}^ around. To the renewed 
excitement in the finding of gold all seem to have turned 
their attention, and for a time to have forgotten the wonder- 
ful scenery. 

The killing of two miners in or near the valley in the sum- 
mer oi 1852, led to the fitting out of a second expedition. 
This time the miners from the Mariposa country furnished 
the men, and they styled themselves the "Mariposa Battal- 
ion." They pushed into the valley, attacked the Indians 
without mercy, killed many, and the rest drove out. These 
took refuge with the Monos, avIio dwelt by the hike of the 
same name upon the Eastern side of the Sierras. We are 
told the tril)es afterwards fought among themselves, and that 
the Monos almost entirely exterminated the tribe called "Yo- 

Upon the return of the soldiers, each had his story to tell, 
some of which obtained quite a circulation through the State, 
but were, I am told, generally discredited, being looked upon 
as the "yarns of a traveller." They were not given to exag- 
geration if they were as moderate in all their estimates, as in 
giving the height of the Yo-Semite Fall which they repoi-ted 
as being " more than a thousand feet high," and of the moun- 
tain peaks they gave their height at about half their real 

To find a good reason for the tardiness w^ith which the 
stories of the towering cliffs, the magnificent waterfalls, the 
great trees and the wonderful scenery of this valley, s^jread 
through the State and found their way into the eastern press is 
difiicult. I can only explain it in the extraordinary excite- 
ment which existed about gold, the restlessness of the people^ 
who rushed from place to place as the news of newly-found 
" diggings " reached them, and the general distrust with which 
all the more sober part of the people there, and all Eastern 
men, accepted the stories which were told " of ( Adifornia." 
At all events several years passed away before much was 
known of the Yo-Semite, 


What little had become known with any accuracy was 
coniniunicatcd by Dr. L. II. Bunnell, who had been a mem- 
ber of that celebrated " oMariposa Battalion." He had looked 
upon the scenery with ai-tist-eye, and was a true lover of 
Nature. He was a gentleman of extended knowledge and 
agreeable parts, and wimiing the confidence of the Indians 
who accompanied them, and whom they met, he obtained 
from them, all the information which he could, respecting 
names of the waterfalls, the mountains and the valley itself. 
To him, probably, is due the name given to the valley. His 
accounts of Avhat he had seen gi-aduall^' attracted attention, 
and few names arc so closely connected Avith the history of 
this "wonderful valley" as that of Bunnell's. 

In 1855 Mr. J. M. Ilutchings, with a small party, made the 
first excursion into the vallc}-. He was led to the place hy 
the stories of the Avonderful scenery which had reached him, 
and to obtain material for his series of papers illustrating the 
scenery of California. A second party of sixteen persons 
from the town of ISIariposa made a visit the same year to the 
valley. The reports made by these tourists and the descrip- 
tions which now found their way into the press, made the 
year 185G memorable in opening the travel to the Yo-Semite. 
A trail was cut on the Mariposa side and it may be said that 
by the next year pleasure travel was fairly began. 

Of course these early visitors were forced to carry with 
them a full set of camp equipage, and the condition of the 
roads and the trails up the mountains made the journey one 
of hardship and in many places very dangerous. As tourists 
began to turn their steps towards the valley, persons, Avhose 
aim was "to turn a penny" into their pockets, began to try 
to meet the wants of these travellers. In the autumn of 
1856 the first house was built, and was for many years known 
as the "Lower Hotel." The building is still standing and 
forms a part of the hotel now known as the "New Sentinel," 
and kept by Mr. Black. In the spring of 1857 one Hite 
erected a canvas house some half a mile further up the valley 


than ilie first mentioned. In the spring of 1858 was erected 
the building which now forms "Hutchings' Hotel." Messrs. 
Hite and Beardsley were the owners, and for a season they 
kept it as a lioteL It was continued by different parties, 
Peck, Longhurst and others till 1864, when Mr. Hutchings 
assumed the business which has since been continued by him 
with a sharp eye to the " financial gains." The Lower Hotel 
was kept successively by John Reed in 1857, by one Cun- 
ningham from 1858 to 1861. In 1863 G. F. Leidig took it 
and kept it till 1870. In 1871 Leidig erected a new hotel an 
eighth of a mile further down than his old house, which he 
is no^v keeping. 

In 1857 there was erected a small building t© be used as a 
store-house above the site of the present Hutchings Hotel. 
All these save the Leidig's new hotel, which I have mentioned, 
were rude structures made from rough boards, without plas- 
tering and with partitions made of cloth. Everything at this 
time had to be brought upon the backs of mules or horses 
from fifty to sixty miles and over the roughest of rough 
mountain trails. 

In 1871 ]Mr. John Smith erected a building in which he 
opened a saloon, bath rooms, a barber's shop, &c., for the 
accommodation of guests. This year Mr. Hutchings added 
a new building to his hotel which is used as a dormitory. 
Several small unfinished buildings are scattered througli the 
valley, used for various purposes, as photographic galleries, 
telegraph ofiice, a store, &c. The houses and buildings of 
J. C. Lamon are situated at the upper end of the valley. 
These comprise the buildings so far erected in the valley, and 
all of them are rude structures, serving only for a poor pro- 
tection against storms. 

The first white man who took up his residence in the valley 
was Mr. J. C. Lamon. From his oavu lips I learned the fol- 
lowing facts of his life. He was led to the valley from hear- 
ing the wonderful stories about it. He was at work in the 
mines in the Mariposa country at the time, and after thinking 



the matter over he resolved to make a visit into the valley. 
Ill 1851) he made his tir-st journey into the Yo-Scmite. He 
says he was perfectly enraptured by the place and his first 
impulses were to make his home here. He staid during the 
summer and made some considerable progress in exploring 
different parts of the valley and the country immediately 
around it. He fixes the day that he reached the vallc}- as 
either the 18th or 20th of April, 1859. The next year he 
returned to the valley with the full determination to make it 
his home and began to clear up a piece of land, erect a log 
cabin, set out trees, &c. In the winter he lived among the 
"various towns down among the foot-hills, as Mariposa, Coul- 
terville, and various mining camps. He returned the next 
season and having got his house into complete order, he has 
since resided in tlie valley, Avinter as well as summer. For 
several years he spent the long winter alone in this vast soli- 
tude, with little of animate life around him. Even the 
Indians seek other places to pass the winter — the l)irds tly 
away to the lower valleys — the deer go down nearer the 
dwelling places of man. What thoughts must arise in one 
thus dwelling alone with nature ! He told me that the scenery 
was so grand, so ever-changing that he could not feel lone- 
some. Occasionally as he would think of himself alone in 
this valley, with impassable barriers of snow l)etween him 
and the settlements, he would offer up a prayer that he might 
be protected against sickness and suffering, for with health 
he found ample resources of happiness. For two years he 
had an occasional companion in the person of Henry Wilmer. 
As you come doAvn the jNIariposa trail, just as you reach 
the level of the valley, you pass a large tree, around the 
trunk of which you see some rough boards standing W:th 
inclined sides. You examine the rude strueturc and find 
that the boards cover a great opening in the tree which fire 
had made and that the space within scarcely allows a man to 
lie with extended liml)s. Your guide tells you that the her- 
mit lived here and that he died in the valley and is buried 


near the banks of the swift flowing Merced. This is all he 
'can tell you; of his name, his history, his motives, he can 
tell you nothing. Mr. Lamon furnished me with the facts. 

Poor Wilmer, as he affectionately called him, was from 
New York. There terrible and unrelenting adversities and 
domestic troubles coming upon him, he sought in the great 
mountain solitude escape from his cares. He lived in this 
rudely constructed shelter and spent his time in fishing and 
hunting. All the solicitations of Mr. Lamon that he come 
and share his cabin with him were politely refused, for, said 
]Mr. Lamon, " Wilmer shew his good bringing up, and I 
think he was born a gentleman." At long intervals he would 
come over and spend a day at the cabin and then tell Lamon 
of his past life. Letters would reach him from his friends 
and then he would become very low-spirited, " and act like a 
madman." He grew more and more dejected and sad, ceased 
to find any oblivion in his fishing-rod and rifle, and often told 
Lamon that he had fully resolved to take his own life. 
Lamon had not seen him for a longer time thau usual ; the 
Indians as they came to the cabin said, "White man gone, 
we no see him ;" and so Lamon started for the rude shelter 
with a sad heart. Sure enough, there was no one there and 
nothing to tell where Wilmer had gone. Next day while 
searching the river, he found the body thrown upon its rocky 
bank. Thus ended the life of James Wilmer, whose grave 
made that day was the first for a white man in that weird 
solitude. There is, however, a tradition that the two miners 
killed in 1852 were buried at the foot of the Bridal Veil 
Fall, but I could not learn that this was well authenticated. 
All that is now left to tell of Wilmer is the rude hut which 
he adapted after the fire had almost formed it. Mr. Lamon 
is the only person who knew Wilmer, and the sturdy moun- 
taineer tells you the simple story with such feeling, as comes 
from a sympathetic heart. 

There is another man to whom justice must be done, for in 
speaking of those who have labored to open the Yo-Semite 


to the world, Galen Clark must never be omitted. jSIr. Clark 
formerly lived in New York eity ; the gold exeitement took 
him to California in 1853, and varied circumstances led him 
to the Mariposa country. He was engaired in l)uilding a race 
to carry water to the " diggings " when the company for which 
he was at work failed. Finding himself thus situated in 1855, 
he located in the mountains on the hanks of the south fork of 
the Merced, and upon the trail to the Yo-Semite. He opened 
a liotel which was a canvas tent, afterwards built a log-cabin, 
then a frame house, and now has several buildiuirs and one 
of the most hospitable homes which I found in all the country. 
Mr. Clark has done great service in exploring the mountains 
and locating and enumerating the groves of big trees. At 
l^resent the wagon road ends and the trail Ijcgins at his rancho, 
on the journey to the valley, and from here also the trip to 
the ^Mariposa grove of big trees is made. ]Mr. Clark is a 
man of great intelligence, a true lover of nature, very plain 
and simple in his habits, and to this day preserves the custom 
of nightly lighting a camp-tire before his door. Although 
well advanced in years he is still "hale and hearty" and car- 
ries as true a shot as in his younger days. In the country 
round he has a good name, and the Indians speak of him as 
"Father Clark." 

Thus is told the story of the discovery and exploration of 
the Yo-Semite, and the settlements made therein. But little 
so far has l)een done to mar the valley, the few buildings 
which have been erected are so sliij-ht in their structure that 
they seem built only for the day. 

I come now to speak of the scenery in and around the 
Yo-Semite. It is with caution that I shall do it, ever mind- 
ful of the exaggerated stories which have found their way 
into the press. I shall give you nothing from hearsay, and 
shall only describe what I myself have seen. Where 1 give 
you measurements of altitudes I shall take the last report of 
the surveys under charge of Prof. J. 1). Whitney, State 


I am aware also that even the best authenticated measure- 
ments of the mouutahis, the water-falls, and the " Big Trees " 
will be received by the popular mind reluctantly, for all their 
preconceived notions are associated with the hills just about 

Again, what we know of such objects is by comparison ; 
we associate a tall tree always with a low one, a high moun- 
tain with a hill. So it is, when you are set down in one of 
these great forests of the Sierras, where all the trees are larger 
by far than in New England, we lose sight for the moment of 
their greater size. Bring to 3^our aid a cord, which you can 
stretch around the tree and then lay down by the outstretched 
line a foot-rule, and you will perceive the size by comparison. 
Again, standing upon one side of the valley and lookuig 
across to a granite mountain face, sharply and smoothly cut, 
and it seems not very high, but go to the foot of that rock 
and look up its face and its thousands of feet are perceived. 

Be assured then that I shall not over-state anything, and if 
it should seem quite impossible to imagine even, such grand 
developments of Nature, when compared with our New Eng- 
land scenery, believe that although she has been lavish to us, 
she chose another spot as the arena of her grandest displays. 

A little to the south of east is the direction in which the 
Yo-Semite lies from San Francisco, and at a distance in an 
air line of one hundred and fifty-five miles, but more than 
two hundred and fifty miles must be travelled to reach the 
valley. There are many routes advertised, but really they 
reduce themselves to two, for yon must enter the valley either 
upon the side towards Mariposa, or on the side towards 
Coulterville. From the first named place the wagon road 
terminates at Clark's rancho and thence by saddle train into 
the valley. On the other side the wagon road extends to the 
top of the mountain, to a place called Gentry's, and thence 
by a steep trail down its side. But the best and most simple 
direction to be given to the tourist is to go into the valley on 
one side and out upon the other, for at every step new scen- 
ery is brought into view. 


Wc will follow the trail from Clark's, whose raiicho lies 
upon the South Fork of the Merced, and which is crossed at 
this point by a bridge. The trail follows along a ridge rising 
higher and higher at every advance, now ascending rapidly 
and now winding through a mountain meadow. A few miles 
on we reach a great meadow, famed in the country round and 
which lies at an elevation of 7,100 feet, and a little further 
on we pass the highest point on the trail, 7,400 feet above the 
sea. The great banks of snow over which I rode in June, 
and the structure of the trees and plants all told of the great 
altitude. The Plnus contorta stru":<;led against the ice and 
snows, and the firs scattered about with their green, although 
scanty, foliage, contrasted pleasingly with the l)arren soil and 
snow drifts. Some twenty miles of horse- back ride from 
Clark's brings us to that famous spot called Inspiration Point, 
and Avhere is obtained the first view of the valley. Let me 
try to give you some idea of the view from this point. We 
are at the edge of the valley on a huge rock which juts out 
into it. To the west the valle}^ seems to close up just beyond 
where we stand, to the east we have a view which is unsur- 
passed for beauty and grandeur. The rarity of the air and 
its dryness extends our range of vision over a great space. 

We arrived there just as the sun was sinking behind the 
great mountains, casting lingering rays through the valley, 
reflecting itself in the river and gilding the far-off peaks. 
Just in front of us over a mountain, loAver than where we 
stood, tumbled a stream, and, falling, broke into white foam, 
M'hich floated aAvay in mist. This fall the Indians called 
Po-ho-iio, or the "Night Wind," l)ut which has received the 
popular name of "Bridal Veil." Its height from the valley 
level to the edge of the mountain is 900 feet. It is fed from 
the melting snows, forming a river which flows through a 
depression or canon, tumbling over the sharp wall into the 
valley, and by some lialf a dozen brooks finds its way into 
the Merced. From our situation it has a pretty rather than 
sublime efllbct, the very opposite of Niagara. After we 



entered the valley a few of us made our way up near the foot 
of this fall, and then the noise from the foaming water and 
the swaying of the tall trees gave us that effect Avhich led the 
Indians to see in this place the spirit of the night wind, or 

Far below us the level of the valley is seen, but so far that 
the great trees seem like shrubs and the river which winds 
along looks like a brook. To our left across the valley rises 
the form of that great mountain called El Capitan, by the 
Indians Tu-tock-a-mu-la, or the great chief. The popular 
name is an attempt at affectation and is neither English nor 
Spanish. This is a great granite mountain which seems to 
jut out into the valley, rising from its level almost perpen- 
dicularly 3,300 feet. It is an imposing sight and its size is 
only fully appreciated by riding around its face, and climbing 
upon the talus at its foot and then looking up its smoothly 
cut side. At some distance up the valley the avails seem to 
close together. On the right we have those three great rocks 
which lie one upon the other, and which the Indians called 
Pom-pom-pa-sus, or mountains playing at leap-frog. They 
are called the " Three Brothers " by us. Beyond these we 
have that great and perfect dome like mountain which has 
received the name of North Dome, and which rises 3,568 
feet above the valle3^ This is one of those dome shaped 
masses of rock which Prof. "Whitney tells us is not uncom- 
mon in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, where they are devel- 
oped on a grander scale than in any other, granite region with 
which geologists are familiar. On our left we have South or 
Half Dome, which is the loftiest and most imposing mass of 
rock which belongs to the Yo-Semite. It rises to a height of 
4,737 feet above the valley and stands out a great sentinel 
overlooking all. Beyond these we have the snowy mountains 
rising up grandly against the sky, Cloud's Rest, Mt. Starr 
King, and the peaks of the Obelisk group of granite hills. 
These last named mountains are from thirty to sixty-five 
miles from where wc are standing. With all that I have thus 


liiistily (loseribcd in view, with tho cnrtli around us, clothed 
in niMoiiJHccnt mountain flowers, with the trees tall and <rraud, 
and the atmosphere so clear that you have a ran<,^e of vision 
of sixty miles and more, and you can imairinc the beauty, the 
grandeur and the sublimity of the scene which is spread out 
l)eforc us as wc stand at Inspiration Point. 

This is a spot where one loves to linger and drink in the 
inspiration. The feelinirs which seem uppermost in all are 
those of reverence and humility, and the great mountains 
Avhieh rise one above the other, seem like succeeding steps by 
which we can climb up above and beyond the clouds, which 
rest upon the far-ofi' pe;dis, to still greater beauty. 

To reach the valley level we must descend 2,973 feet, and 
within such a distance as makes the trail in some places very 
steep. New views open at every step, the mountains take on 
new forms, the water-falls come nearer, the Avails of the 
valley seem closing around us. Wc could easily find the 
places from which Rierstadt and Hill each painted his picture, 
which give so truthful representations of the valley and its 

Having now reached the level of the valley, which lies 
4,000 feet above the sea, let us take a general view of this 
great gorge or depression. The vallc}- is situated nearly in 
the centre of California, from north to south, and midway 
between the bases of that range of mountains known as the 
Sierras. At this point of the range its width is given at 
sevent}^ miles. The length of the valley is six miles, its 
width varies from one- naif to a mile and a half in width, 
its surface is nearly level, its walls are of granite almost per- 
pendicular. Take the general level of the surrounding region, 
and the valley level is nearly a mile below it. Prof. AVhitney 
calls it a "gigantic trough." The general direction of the 
valley is north-east by east, until near its upper cud where 
it makes a sharp turn and divides into three canons, the 
northerly Tc-na-ya or Te-nei-ya, the middle one Nevada, 
.and the southerly, Il-lil-lou-ettc. Through each of these 


canons flows a branch of the Merced — the Tenaya in the 
first, the Nevada or main river in the second and the Illillou- 
ette or Sonth Fork in the third, all of which unite in the 
valley and form the Merced river, which flows through the 
Yo-Scmite and finds its way out between almost perpendicu- 
lar granite walls, and flowing across the plain empties into 
the San Joaquin river. At the lower part of the valley it 
narrows in a V shaped canon, giving only space between the 
walls for the river. 

Prof. J. D. Whitney thus sums up the distinguishing fea- 
tures of tlie Yo-Semite Valley, and his words are so truthful 
that I quote them verbatim: 

"The principal features of the Yo-Semite, and those by which it is clis- 
tinguislied from all other known valleys, are : first, the near approach to 
vertioality of its walls ; second, tlieir great height, not only absolutely, 
but as compared with the width of the Valley itself; and, finally, the very 
small amount (if talus or debris at the base of these gigantic clifts. These 
are the gi-eat chai-acteristics of the Yo-Semite throughout its whole length ; 
but besides these, there are many other striking peculiarities and features 
both of sublimity and beauty winch can hardly be surpassed if equalled, 
by those of any mountain valleys in the world. Eitiier the domes or the- 
waterfalls of the Yo-Semite or any single one of them even, would be^ 
sufficient in any European country to attract travellers from far and wide- 
in all directions. Water-falls in the vicinity of the Yo-Semite. surpassing 
in beauty many of those best known and most visited in Europe are actu- 
ally left entirely unnoticed by travellers, because there are so many other- 
objects of interest to be visited that it is impossible to find time for them, 

My plan now will be to take you on an excursion through: 
the valley, observing the points of interest on the right hand 
side and then on the left, from Inspiration Point towards the 
head of the valley. For this purpose we must remount our 
mules, arrange our clothing for rough trails and the fording of 

The first object which rivets our attention is the Bridal 
Veil or Po-ho-no, and seen from the valley level is even more 

See Yo-Semite Guide Book, published by order of the Legislature of. 
California, by Prof. J. D. Whitney, State Geologist, pp. 53-54. 



bcautiiul lliaii -when ^\c looked tloAvii upon it from Inspiration 
Point. This fall in the late summer dries up to a mere trickling: 
of Avater over the side of the mountain. It is formed by a 
creek ^vhich has received the same name, rises near Empire 
Camjoand flowing through the great mountain meadow, Avhich 
we cross in our journey from Clark's to Inspiration Point, 
is at last precipitated into the valley. The sheet of water 
falls 630 feet perpendicularly upon a pile of debris and over 
this it rushes in innumerable cascades, into the various brooks 
which flow into the Merced. The height of this talus is 
about 300 feet, making the height of the cliti' 900 feet. The 
water spreads out into a fleecy veil which sways to and fro in 
the currents of air Avhich itself creates. The effect whether 
near or at some distance is, as you can imagine, quite pleas- 
ing. "We next come to a prominent granite mountain which 
has received the name of Cathedral Rock, but Avhich the 
Indians called Poo-see-nah Chuck-ka, which means the big- 
acorn cache. It is 2,GG0 feet high. Xear by are the Cathe- 
dral spires, which when brought into relief by proper lights 
and shadows, look like two gothic spires of some old cathedral 
hidden behind the great roek whieli has received that name. 
Just along this side of the valley its walls arc formed into 
shapes more fantastic than beautiful, but which all give the 
beholder much pleasure. 

One of the grandest masses of rock in the whole valley is 
the Sentinel, which stands like a huge watch tower of slender 
form a thousand feet above the valley wall. This the Indians 
called this Lo-ya, a place to give a signal. It is 3,043 feet 
above the river. From here the Avail of the valley extends 
quite evenly to Glacier Point, Avhieh has an altitude of 3,200 
feet, and Avhere the valley turns into Illillouette canon. 

Crossing the jNIcrced Ave Avill make a tour of inspection on 
the left hand side. Opposite Inspiration Point stands old 
Tu-tock-a-mu-la, Avhich Avhen looked at from a near point, 
giA^es a striking idea of solid grandeur. It rises 3,300 feet, is 
distinctly seen from the »San Joaquin valley, more than sixty 


miles distant. The debris at the foot of this rock is very 
little, its sides are smoothly cut, entirely free from any kind 
of vegetation. It is said of this monntain "El Capitan im- 
poses on us by its stupendous bulk, -which seems as if hewed 
from the mountains to stand as the type of eternal massive- 
ness. It is doubtful if an3'"\vhere in the world there is pre- 
sented so squarely cut, so lofty and so imposing a face of 

Proceeding on we next come to the fall, which is called the 
Virgin's Tear, and while it lasts is a beautiful sight as the 
water trickles over the side of the mountain for more than a 
thousand feet. It lasts but a few weeks of each reciu'ring 
season. Next we have those three hills called the Three 
Brothers, which are huge rocks, looking somewhat like three 
frogs, one above the other, the highest being 3,830 feet high, 
and which gave the Indian name Pom-pom-pa-sus. 

The next object of interest is that which receives more 
attention than all others, the Yo-Semite Fall. A stream 
heads in Mt. Hoffman, ten miles away, flows over a smooth 
granite bed, receiving the waters of the melted snows, and 
finding its way to the edge of the mountain, tumbles over it 
in its course to the Merced. At the point of breaking over 
the edge of the mountain, Prof. Whitney measui-ed the river 
at a medium stage of water and places its width at twenty 
feet and its average depth two feet, which would be two hun- 
dred and twenty cubic feet of water per second falling over 
the precipice, taking the velocity of the flow at one mile per 
hour. On the 17th day of June, 1865, Mr. J. F. Houghton 
measured the creek below^ the fall and found it, in width thir- 
ty-seven feet, in depth twenty-five inches, and in velocity to 
be one mile per hour, which would give rising five hundred 
thousand cubic feet of water passing over the falls in one 
hour. At times of floods there is probably three or four 
times that amount of water. Looking at this fall directly 
in front it seems to be blended into one harmonious whole, a 
a great leap, a succession of cascades, and then a shorter 


leap when it is lost amid the tall trees which grow around the 
foot of the mountain. Its vertical hei<>ht is jjiven as 2,634 
feet, the measurements varying from 2,537 to 2,641, accord- 
ing to the level assumed as the starting point. The first 
vertical descent is 1,500 feet, to where the water strikes upon 
a shelf, about one-third of a mile in depth hack from the 
outermost clift' over which the water falls at last. From this 
shelf the Avater rushes in a series of cascades down an incli- 
nation equivalent in vertical or perpendicular measurement of 
626 feet, and then over the outer cliff upon the talus at the 
foot, from the top of which to the lip of the cliff is 400 feet. 
It would seem that all the elements of grand l)cauty and 
attractiveness are gathered in this fall and its surroundings, 
and in vertical height it surpasses any other yet found with 
any tiling like the same body of water. Niagara is 164 feet 
high on the American and 150 on the Canadian side, but its 
extreme Avidth is 4,750 feet. 

One of the most attractive features of this fall is its vibra- 
tory motion. The mass of water is so great that it does not 
bieak up into spray, but from less than forty feet where it 
pours over the rock it Avidens out to more than three hundred, 
where it falls upon the shelf, and this great mass swings in a 
space little less than a thousand feet from east to west. As 
the water falls over, rocket-like masses are formed which 
seem to whirl around with great ra[)idity as they descend. 
Tills is said to be due to the action of the strong currents of 
air which are formed. As the air is collected within the fall- 
ing mass of water by this swinging and whirling motion and 
strikes upon the shelf of rock a noise like the report of a 
cannon is heard. 

I must leave you to imagine the grandeur of the Yo-Semite 
Fall. It is indescriba1)le in its varied aspects under a full 
noon-day sun, at eventide when soml)re shadows creep through 
the valley, (u- in the light of the full moon. To the Indian 
there was something awful, for he called it Yo-Scmite — 
better Yo-ham-e-ta — or the great grizzly bear, which to him 


is of all things most awful, for after death if he has been a 
bad Indian he becomes a grizzly bear and is doomed to live 
anions: the great snow mountains. 

Some two miles on along the walls of the valley we come 
to the point where the three canons begin, and keeping still 
to the left we have in view a rounded mass of granite which 
has received the name of Washington Column, 1,875 feet 
high. This the Indians called Hun-to, or the watching eye. 

Just beyond we have those peculiarly formed cavities in 
the side of the mountains made no donbt by the falling away 
of a part of some of the concentric plates of which the mass 
is made up. The Indian gave these the poetical name of 
To-coy-ae, or shade to a baby-basket. Above the Arches, 
rises the North Dome to the height of 3,568 feet. From the 
valley it looks like a perfect dome, its sides perfectly inacces- 
sible, but on the back side by a long ridge one can reach the 
summit. Geologists tell us that such dome shaped masses 
composed of concentric plates are common in all granitic 
regions. Up Tenaya canon, we come to Cloud's Rest, which 
can be visited late in the season, and when at the top one is 
quite 10,000 feet above the sea. 

Before leaving this canon let us add a few more words 
about South Dome, which is situated on the right hand side. 
The Indians call it Tis-pa-ack — the goddess of the valley. 
It is perfectly inaccessible to man, and one side is a perfect 
dome, while upon the other it is cut crosswise of the mass, 
smoothly, and is absolutely vertical for some 2,000 feet down 
from the summit, and then shoots off at a sharp angle, with 
very little talus or debris at its foot. If you have ever seen 
one of Watkins' photographs of this mountain taken from the 
meadoA7 in the valley, you will recall the peculiar shape of 
the rock, and gain some idea of the imposing grandeur of this 
huge granite hill. This rock is more unique in its appear- 
ance than any other, for we are told no similar formation has 
been found in the Sierras, and where upon our globe shall we 
find a mountain to compare with it? 


The Illillouotte cauoii h:is no trail yot made up the gorge, 
Ijut is accessible on foot. Fine views are had of the rocks 
and falls which bound the Nevada canon. At the head of 
the gorge is a waterfall, where the South Fork of the Merced 
enters the valley called Il-lil-lou-ette by the Indian — the 
])eautiful — a name which, for a wonder, has been preserved. 
It is a matter of regret that so few of the really appropriate 
Indian names have been retained. 

Now let us take fresh animals for a long and steep climb 
np Nevada Canon, the middle one of the three, and through 
which the main Merced flows. 

The river in coming fi'om the high mountains beyond, down 
to the vallej' level, makes in two miles a descent of more than 
two thousand feet in perpendicular measurement. A\'c follow 
along the right bank of the river, and some two miles from 
Ilutchiugs' cross the South Fork or Illillouette near Avhcre it 
unites with the main river. Just beyond we go over an 
immense deposit of huge angular blocks of granite ])ilc(l u[) 
like a terminal moraine, and which seem to have been torn 
from the walls by a great ice-flow. The trail now rises very 
rapidly to follow the river bank. For some distance the 
river is a wild torrent, and really more fearful to behold than 
the rapids of Niagara. Vty considering the inclination of 
the rocky bed over which it flows, you can form some idea 
of this surging stream, wdiicli plunges down the canon at a 
fearful rate. The rocks, the trees, the shrubs even, all seem 
to be wild and grotesque in shape, in this narrow, but steep 
gorge. It is a weird spot — the home of nymphs and genii. 
"We soon arrive at the tirst fall, called the Accrual, but Avhich 
the Indians called Pi-wy-ack, the sparkling river. Here the 
rainbow is seen in glory, for the rising mist finds every sun- 
beam which creeps into the canon and refracts its rays. The 
fall is 400 feet, with spra}' and foam rising half this height. 
There is a great body of water flowing over this great granite 
step, as it were, which stretches across the canon. The sight 
of this fall is lovely, and to climl) over the rocks amid the 



spray and catch the fleeting bows, repays one for a little exer- 
tion, and perhaps more danger. 

To get over "this step," our trail becomes very steep and 
winds along a precipitous ridge. The river between the two 
falls descends 300 feet of perpendicular height, and this 
together with the height of the Vernal Fall must be sur- 
mounted by a steep climb, which we found tar more difficult 
to climb down than to cUinh up. Reaching the foot of Nevada 
Falls we had a grand sight — a great river precipitated over a 
granite rock 600 feet high. A projection of the rocky edge 
about the centre of the river gives a twirl to the water, and 
foam and mist are thrown in all directions over and among 
the great trees which grow about the foot of the fall. 

To our left rises a peculiarly rounded mass of granite about 
2,000 feet higher than where we stand at the foot of Nevada 
Falls. From this side it is inaccessible, but by going around 
and by a long trail the top can be reached. There is grow- 
ing a tree of considerable size just upon the summit, but its 
gnarled form and shortened branches tell of its hard fight 
with the winter's winds and snows. This mountain is now 
usually called "Cap of Liberty," although it has been desig- 
nated by several other names. For picturesque beauty, lor 
weird spots, for grand waterfalls, the Nevada canon surpasses 
all the others, and is really the most interesting of the excur- 
sions made by tourists. 

Having now spoken of the water-falls which add so much 
to the pleasing effect of the Yo-Semite scenery, if they do 
not, as some have said, add anything to the grandeur, allow 
me to call your attention to some of the more noted water- 
falls with which geographers have made us acquainted. In 
this Avay a better idea is had of those which belong to the 
Yo-Semite. Niagara, with its great volume of water, and 
sublime effect, will always challenge comparison. The Zam- 
bezi, or rather the falls of this river, are described by Dr. 
Livingstone as very grand. He gave the name of Victoria 
to these falls, but which has not become popular. The river 



al)oiit ono-Ii.'ilf mile in width rushes over a precipice one hun 
dred feel hii>-li, and turning almost tit right angles is held by 
two high walls not more than twenty yards apart for some 
thirty miles of its course. Europe has many water-falls 
which tourists seek out with eagerness, especially those of 
Switzerland and Norway. The Stauhhach in the Alps is 
about the height of the Bridal Veil — i)00 feet— but we are 
told that the volume of water is very insigniticant when com- 
pared with Po-ho-no in its glory. The Aar, at Ilandeck, is 
a pretty fall, but cannot compare even with those least noted 
in the Yo-Semite. The Gavarnie in the Pyrenees is the high- 
est in Europe, being 1,2(56 feet, but the volume of water is 
ilacking to this fall to give a grand effect, nevertheless it is a 
very pleasing sight. The finest fall in p]urope as admitted 
on all sides is the VoringFoss in Ncn'wa}^ estimated in height 
850 feet, of good volume, but falls into an inaccessible chasm, 
so that it can be viewed onl}' from above, by which much of 
its beauty is lost. The Kaietenr Falls in British Guiana is 
spoken of by travellers as the finest -water-fall in South 
America. Some of the numerous falls which have been found 
in the Yellowstone country are very pleasing in their aj^pear- 
ance, but none of them have such elements of grandeur in 
them as those of the Yo-Semite. 

There are, of course, some others which might be named, 
but these are sufficient to show you that the Falls which we 
have described as giving so much bcautv to the Yo-Semite 
Valley are superior at least in some of the elements of gran- 
deur and sul>limity to any yet examined and described by 
travellers and geogra})liers. 

Even from this imperfect description of the scener}' of the 
Yo-Semite, I cannot omit to say a few words upon the trees, 
the plants and flowers which adorn and beautify the valley. 
I shall not attempt to give a complete j^oyr?, l)ut only mention 
a few of the more striking plants. 

The surface of the valky is nearly level, contains 1,141 
.acres, of which 745 are meadow, and lies at an elevation of 



4,000 feet aboA^e the level of the ocean. The mean of the 
various observations made by Prof. Whitney Avas 4,046 feet, 
and as this has been the result of several other series of 
observations, the elevation as given may be taken as correct. 
Around the valley just at the foot of the monntains wo have 
the piles of kdits or debris, extending irregularly towards the 
river. Next we have a belt of sand — the washings and 
scourings of the granite debris.' At each end of the valley 
we have meadows of a deep, peaty soil, and along the river 
little strips of this black monld. The meadow just before 
we reach the three canons is by far the larger. The river is 
in v^ idth say seventy feet, but in places at high stages of the 
w^ater it spreads itself out in great lakes. Over these low 
meadow lands grows quite luxuriantly a tree, which is often 
mistaken for the cotton-wood, and which is the best estab- 
lished of any found in thc: valley. It is what is known as the 
Balm of Gilead Poplar — Poj^idus baUamifera. We also see 
the willow and the spruce, and large masses of the azalea 
occidentalis, which gives a charm to the valley with its bright 
and shining white clusters of fragrant flowers. Along the 
river banks we have the yellow flowering plant called ^e/^eniww2 
grandiflorwn. In the narrower portions of the valley where 
the debris and the sand washed therefrom cover the whole 
space Ave have a dense growth of the Alder {Alnus viridis), 
and also small trees of the lihamnus Menziesii. The foliage 
of both of these trees are peculiar in color and seem to take 
on the sombre hues of the gray mountains around them. We 
find also the Douglas spruce, the willow, and occasionally a 
large and lofty sugar-pine. In the drier portions of the 
sandy soil we have trees of the yellow pine (^P. jponderosa,) 
from 125 to 150 feet in height, and cedar trees of noble pro- 
portions. There are also groves of black oak trees (^Quercus' 
sonomensis) scattered about in difierent parts of the valley.. 
The meadows are filled with coarse grasses and sedges* of 
rampant growth. 

* Calaniagrostis canadensis ; Pragmites communis ; Glyceria nervata, . 
&c., &c. 



Around th-3 Vernnl Falls there are many fine specimens of 
cryptoganious plants, and upon the shelving rocks grow ferns 
Avhich have all the grace of those found in the tropics.* 
Beautiful leaved, and gaudily colored shruhs and flowers are 
found in patches throughout the valley. Among the shrubs 
the man/anita (uircfosf(ijj/(i/h(!< f/hnica) and among the flowers 
the pentsteraons are the most conspicuous. f 

The piles of debris or (ahis have collected in man}' places 
considerable soil, in Avhich are clusters of tr(^es standing 
against the very rocks. The oaks, a few maples and some 
shrubs and flowers which are not found in the meadows and 
sandy places, a))ound on these piles of debris-X The most 
conspicuous shrul) is the ceonotlius, which is one of the niost 
beautiful of this class of plants I have ever seen. A\'ith 
variously colored flowers it is found in at least two belts of 
vegetation in California, and on the mountains bounding Napa 
valley, it covers the hill-sides with its feathery foliage and 
delicate flowers. 

In June the trees are in full leaf, the shrul )s arc in flower, 
and the })lants are either in bud, or covered with fragrant 
blooms. The glories of the vegetable world at this time are 
added, to make the Yo-Semite the famed spot that it is — a 
spot without a parallel — unique in its sublime isolation of 
granite peaks, grand in its water-falls and glorious in its 
drapery of many colored blossoms. 

It would be perhaps profitable, at least it would be very 
interesting, to examine the geological theories of the forma- 

*Atlianlnni pedatiim; Pelloca dcns.a; P. Bndgesii ; P. mucronatn ; 
Cheilanllies gracillima; Polypodinin Califovnicuni ; Aspidium argutum ; 
Cystopteris fragilis, &c. 

fCornus Nuttallii ; llubiis Nntkaniis; Rosablaiula; PentslfinoH laetiis; 
Hosackia grand i flora; Frangula Californic-a ; S])vaquea umljellata; Co- 
mandra umbellata; Silene coiupacta; Chaenactis acliillu'folia. 

i Qunrcus chrysolepis ; Q. vaooinifulia: Acer macrophyllum; A. gla- 
bruni; Ti-trantheraCalifoniica; r)aliiaf()nr('rlin()ra; Ccoiiotluis iiitcgeiTi- 
nius; C. divaiicatus; Pliiladdphus C'alifoniiciis; Rhus divors^iloba; 
hilii, &c., &c. 


tion of this valley. In the discussion the usual division is 
made between the advocates of glacial action and those who 
discard this theoiy for the formation of gorges and valleys 
similar to, if not upon so grand a scale as, the Yo-Semite. 
Prof. Whitney, who holds the position of State Geologist, 
and therefore speaks with some authority, after reviewing the 
various theories, sums them all up in his own which may be 
put into one word — subskJance.* He thinks that tiie area of 
the valley sank about a mile below the general level of the 
surrounding country. To refute this, many tkcts can be 
adduced which seem convincing. 

It seems to me strange that so few eminent geologists have 
ever even visited the Yo-Semite, and no one has ever made a 
complete survey. Prof. Agassiz has promised a visit to this 
region, and from him we should have a candid and plain 
statement of the results of his examination in the light of 
his extended knowledge. We know the Alps, may we not, 
the Sierras? 

There is and has been for two years past, living in the 
valley a gentleman of Scottish parentage, by name John 
Muir, who, Hugh Miller like, is studying the. rocks in and 
around the valley. He told me that he was " trying to read 
the great book spread out before him." He is by himself 
pursuing a course of geological studies, and is making care- 
ful drawings of the different parts of the gorge. No doubt 
he is more thoroughly acquainted wath this valley than any 
one else. lie has been far up the Sierras where glaciers are 
now in action, ploughing deep depressions in the mountains. 
He has made a critical examination of the superincumbent 
rocks, and already -has much material upon which to form a 
correct theory. 

This valley or gorge is upon so much grander scale than 
any other yet found, that geologists have shrunk from advanc- 
ing a theory grand enough to explain it. Until we can 
describe an ice-flow broader and deeper by a thousand times 

*See Repoi-ts, &c., &c., State Geological office, San Francisco. 



than any now known, and shall find its terminal moraine in 
the great valleys of Sacramento and San Joaquin, we shall 
fail in properly contemplating the Yo-Scmite and one of 
Nature's grandest geological disj^lays. 

There has been much discussion as to tlie orijrin of the 
name of the valley. The Indians know the phice as Ah- 
wah-nee and it seems strange that this was not adopted. The 
orthography of the Avord Yo-Semite is still more strange. 
The Indian word spelled as nearly after their pronunciation 
as possible would be Yo-ham-e-ta or Yo-hem-e-ta. The pre- 
sent name seems to have gained currency during the summer 
of 1851 and is retained, although several attempts were early 
macle to change it. Dr. L. H. Bunnell is probal)ly the first 
man who recorded the name of the valley, and his orthogra- 
phy is th;it now in use. In vain I have searched among tiie 
books upon California and the valley, for some solution of 
this problem, but all leave it by saying it is impossible to tell 
how the name came into use. 

All inquiries into the adoption of names of places bring 
to light certain historical fiicts, and to the student it is of 
much interest as Avell as profit to pursue such investigations. 
Let me give you what seems to me a solution of this seem- 
ingly vexed question. The origin of the name, California, 
is by far more obscure. 

It has been suggested that this name was that of the most 
jDowerful tribe of Indians, who had given to the country 
round their name, but this has been disapproved by histori- 
ans of the early wars with the natives, and in fact the Yo- 
Semites were not a distinct tribe,* but the Indians who dwelt 
in the valley were composed of defeated parties from the 
several tribes, and this name has rather been in later days 
given this band of outcast warriors than theirs to the valley. 

It is well known that the Indian sees in every mountain, 
and tree, in the water-fall, and in every weird spot a spirit or 
nymph, whose life is enwrapped in this outward form. In 

*Sec Dr. Bunnell's Indian Wiu-s, Ilutchlngs' Magazine, «&c. 


the water- fall at the entrance to the valley, he saw the spirit 
of the night wind ; in the mountain called South Dome he 
saw the goddess of the valley ; in the trees he found nymphs 
who exercised a certain power over him. The whole race is 
very imaginative, and given to the contemplation of things 
supernatural. Those who have lived among them till they 
have learned their traditions, their customs and habits of 
thought, tell us that certain of them travel from tribe to tribe 
and around a council fire tell the most wonderful stories of 
their origin, the visits of the great-spirit to earth, the great 
battles of their tribe in which the genii which preside over 
their fortune took part. They point you to Mt. Shasta as 
the wigwam where the great spirit dwells, to little INIt. Shasta 
where lives the grizzly bear, the father of all Indians, with 
his r/o(?-wife. He imagines smoke rising from the wigwam 
fires within these mountains, and on their side he sees plainly 
the prints of the feet of the great-spirit, made when he came 
down the mountain. 

It seems perfectly natural then that the Indian should find 
a pervading spirit in the valley. That which struck him as 
the development as it were of this spirit was the great fall 
which seemed grand and awful to his untutored mind, and 
this he called Yo-ham-e-ta, and as this spirit of the grand and 
awful pervaded all the valley, he found Yo-ham-e-ta at every 
step, for mountains and water-falls, all were grand and im- 

It was also in perfect accord with his nature that this spirit 
should be that which to him is the most awful thing: known 
— a great and full-grown grizzly bear. He has implicit 
belief that every Indian who leads a wicked life, is to become 
a grizzly bear doomed to live among the snowy mountains 
where there is no deer for his food. His heaven is a place 
where he can lie all day in his wigwam and deer shall come 
to his door to be made into venison. It was then, I repeat, 
in accord with his nature to find the spirit of the great grizzly 
bear in the valley — to him Yo-ham-e-ta. 


The name of tlie locus or the place then -svas Ah-wah-nce, 
and the spirit of Ah-wah-nee was Yo-liam-G-ta. 

For the orthography it is more diflicult to account. AVe 
knoAV that the Spaniards as they gradually spread themselves 
over the country mingled with the native tribes and that there 
grew up a race, in California called ^lexicans, which show the 
characteristics of their progenitors. Their language is mostly 
Spanish, but somewhat modified l)y the Indian. Long inter- 
course with the Spaniards also had taught the Indians many 
new words. The children of the minjrlino: of these races 
speak to-day peculiar dialects. Since settlements were made 
by Americans this race has died out or been driven out of 
most of the towns. You can see that all these circumstances 
had much influence upon the language of the several i)eoples. 
The s and z sounds are quite wanting in the Indian dialects, 
and in the words now used by the Indians which have these 
sounds they have been modified by or taken entire from the 
Spanish. It is one of the most difHcult tasks to put into 
English letters the words and names of the Indians, for 
among the members of a single tribe, each individual has a 
pronmiciation different from the other. This influence of the 
Spanish \\\wn the speech of the natives is very a})parent, and 
the difKculty in spelling Indian words is forcibly proven by a 
single trial. 

It is said that when the Americans made their way over 
into the valley, the Indians in their despair cried out what 
seemed like Yo-sem-i-te. Dr. Bunnell first gave this ortlio- 
graph}', and he supposed it to be the Indian name of the 
valley. Later investigations showed it to be not the name of 
the valley, but of the Avater-fall, which is the highest, or 
rather a corruption of that name. 

All through the State we see the labored attempts on the 
part of the whites to entirely ignore all the Indian names. 
They early began to hate the natives and this hatred became 
so fierce that they would not even allow a name to remain 
to remind them of the Indian or any of his race. All that 


Avas Spanish they retained and cherished and even if any 
Indian name became early attached to any place, later years 
would see the word so changed that little of the original 
would be left. The Indian name Yo-ham-c-ta may have been 
thus treated, although the car]y date at ^vhich we find the 
present orthography given, seems to point to its origin in an 
attempt to put into English letters the spoken word of the 

It was, it seems to me, the vei-}- thing that those natives of 
the forests, who for so long had found a secure retreat in this, 
to them Ah-wah-nee where the sjJirit, Yo ham-e-ta, found its 
home, would do when, with ruthless march, the invaders came 
upon them, to cry to that S2yirit to protect them and the place 
where they dwelt. The white men caught the word and put 
it as nearly as they could into English letters, so that upon 
their return to the settlements they gave the name, each pro- 
nouncing it, as nearly as he could, as they had heard it. AIL 
have now acquiesced in this orthography, and there "« ould be- 
little use to try to make current another name, if indeed any 
other would be better. Let it remain forever ! In it per- 
petuate the traditions of the poor Indian who saw in this- 
awful and sublime scenery, that might)' spirit which was ever- 
before him — the dread grizzly bear ! 

I now come to speak briefly of the developmeut of this 
famed valley. It will serve us to first see what has been 
done by Congress and the State of California towards this 
object. In 1864 Congress enacted that the " (vleft or Gorge " 
in the Granite Peak of the Sierras, estimated in length fifteen 
miles, with its various spurs and canons and one mile back 
from the edge of the precipice on all sides be granted to the 
State of California " that the said State shall accept this grant 
upon the express conditions that the premises shall be held 
for public use, resort and recreation ; shall be inalienable for 
all time, but leases not exceeding ten years may be granted 
for portions of said premises."* The signature of the Presi- 

* See Statutes at Large, 1864, and Congi-essional Globe same year. 


dent of the United States, approving the act was given June 
30, 1804, and in accordance with this act Governor Low 
issued his prochunation taking possession of said territor}' for 
the purposes specified. The following named gentlemen Averc 
appointed Commissioners : F. Law Olmstead, J. D. "Whitney, 
William Ashburner, L AV. Eaymond, Alexander Deering, 
George W. Coulter and Galen Clark. Henry AV. Cleveland 
has since been appointed in place of ]Mr. Olmstead, who 
resigned. These arc the Commissioners at present. The 
necessary surveys to establish "the locus, extent and limits 
of the said Cleft or Gorge " were at once began and now have 
been completed and filed at AVashington. To complete the 
dedication of this ])ortion of the Sierras as a place of "resort 
and recreation " the State Legislature by public act accepted 
the trust, confirmed the Commissioners and gave them certain 
powers to enable them to properly protect the valley. A 
guardian of the valley, as he is called, was appointed, further 
surveys made, the roads and trails improved, a map of the 
valley level completed, and in 18G7 a report was made to the 
Legislature, and further appropriations were asked for, to 
carry out their plans. 

At the time the Connnissioners took possession of the valley 
there were several persons already settled in the valley and 
many claimants, all of whom the Commissioners proposed to 
treat liberally. Messrs. Ilutchings and Lamon were foremost 
in their opposition to the Commissioners and persisted in 
their claims to a fee-simple of IGO acres each. They sought 
redress in the courts and before the Legislature. Mr. Laraon 
it is said, would have yielded his claim to the fee in the land, 
upon payment of a smn to be agreed upon for the improve- 
ments which he had made, for all of which it seems he should 
have received a fair compensation. lie was an actual settler, 
the first in the valley, and had really ploughed and tilled the 
soil. Not so with Mr. Ilutchings ; he came to the valley, 
bought a house and opened a Jiotel, which means in such a 
place, a medium of making large charges for the least that 


can be given. At the Legislature of 1867-8 they appeared 
and pressed their claims with so much tact and energy that a 
bill was proposed giving them 160 acres each, and so far as 
votes of the members were needed it became a law. At the 
Fortieth Congress this bill was presented for ratification, and 
an act of approval was passed by the House, but failed in 
the Senate. At the second session of the Forty-first Con- 
gress a bill was again introduced but failed. Thus matters 
have rested. 

It is no wonder that the press, with almost universal voice, 
opposed any action of Congress whereby any portion of the 
valley should be given in fee to any person. Every citizen 
in the United States has acquired a kind of right in and to 
this national play ground. It was a shame, yea almost a 
fraud uj)on the rights of the people, to thus attempt to set 
aside a solemn compact entered into by the nation and the 
State of California. Those discussions are still fresh in your 
memories and although they resulted in a defeat of the bills 
proposed in Congress, the partial success of the claimants 
paralyzed the efforts of the Commissioners, and the natural 
consequences have flown from this inaction. There might 
have been long ago a carriage-road built into the valley on 
the Mariposa side, suitable hotel accommodations might have 
been provided, trails to the various points of interest could 
have been made, and all done under the direction of the 
Commissioners and used by the people under proper restric- 
tions. Now the valley is a haunt for people who are unprin- 
cipled in their treatment of tourists. I know of many per- 
sons abandoning the trip to the Yo-Semite after reaching San 
Francisco, upon hearing the story of returned tourists. 
Cliques and interests combine to make the most money that 
they can, and these too strong to be opposed, luxuriate in 
their gains. I would not include all in my indictment, for 
there are on the road and in the valley gentlemen of high- 
toned principles, and moral rectitude, but the few are only 
brought out in fuller relief by the many against whom so 
many complaints are made. 



There arc now poiuling suits involving the eolkiteral (|;!0>i- 
tions in the })rocceclings to procure decisions upon the claim.^ 
of Mr. Iliitehings, but if the Court holds, as it undoubtedly 
Avill, to its former rulings, then there need be no fear that 
any private individual will have in fee any part of that 
domain, which God himself set apart, and forbade man to 
build his cities and haliitations upon. 

The people of California having accepted the trust, ought 
to cany it out in good faith, and to them to-day the nation 
is looking for such action as shall make this, as the Art f 
Congress intended, a place " for public use, resort, and recre- 

The Central Pacific Rrilroad Company, which is the great 
power at present in California, has not by any means done 
what they could and ought in making the travel to the Yo- 
Semite easy and exijeditious. True they have laid their track 
down the San Joaquin valley and tourists are landed at their 
new hotel — El Capitan — in their new city of Merced, but 
towards putting the stage-roads in order, or making a car- 
riage-road into the valley, they have done nothing. You 
may ask, why should they. I can only reply because at the 
end of the great roads across the continent lies this famed 
valley — the place to which every tourist looks with longing 
eye, and this company owns the complete monopoly of laying 
a track nearest to the mountains in which lies the Yo-Semite. 

Like all other wrongs suffered by a people, this will in 
time be righted. A new era in the history of the Yo-Semite 
will begin, the course of which an abler pen shall trace. The 
gi'and scenery, the everlasting mountains, the magnificent 
water-falls will remain, and each recurring season the trees, 
the plants and flowers shall have their time of bud and bloom, 
for do what he will, man can but slightly mar the grandeur 
and beauty of the valley, while the suldime isolation of those 
.granite hills, he can never change. 



Its History, its Scenery, its Development. 

By John Erastus Lester. 

1 873. 

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