Yosemite National Park Historical Facts

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When discussing President Abraham Lincoln, his list of accomplishments is long. One that is easily forgotten is that he signed into law the Yosemite Grant, on June 30, 1864. The land was set aside to be preserved for the future and used by the public, establishing the precedent for the first national park years later, and leading to the modern park system.

Fact 1: It was the California Gold Rush that brought Europeans into conflict with the native people.  The army was sent in to keep the peace, and Dr. Lafayette Bunnell rode with the company. Highly impressed with the valley, Dr. Bunnell interviewed members of Miwok tribe. They described the residents of the valley as yohhe’meti, or ‘˜they are killers’.

Fact 2: Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove were part of the Yosemite Grant, and this was given to California as a state park. Commissioners were appointed to care for the land, but were not given authority over the homesteaders who already lived there. The Paiute and Sierra Miwok tribes had been moved to reservation years before.

Fact 3: The first tourists to visit Yosemite were led by Robert C. Lamon. No written account of this trip survives, but the year is known to be 1854. The second tourist trip would be the important one, as the participants began promoting Yosemite. James Mason Hutchings recognized that people would pay to see this natural wonder. The artist with him, Thomas Ayres, made drawings that were printed in magazines. Together, they made Yosemite famous.

Fact 4: The Mariposa Grove of giant sequoia trees was discovered by settler Galen Clark in 1857. Clark built roads and lodgings, increasing the tourist trade. The Wawona Hotel was built in 1879, and the first concession was built in 1884.

Fact 5: The Tunnel Tree, a giant sequoia with a tunnel cut through it, was named the Wawona Tree. The tunnel was cut in 1881, and was driven through by everything from horse drawn carriages to automobiles. The Wawona Tree was estimated to have been 2,300 years old when it fell under a heavy snow in 1969.

Fact 6: John Muir, one of the founders of the conservation movement, studied the biology of the area. He theorized that the landforms were the result of alpine glaciers receding from the area, and fought against overgrazing and clear cutting the sequoia forest.

Fact 7: John Muir and other conservationists, including Robert Underwood Johnson, lobbied Congress. They were successful, and on October 1, 1890, Congress created the Yosemite National Park. California State kept control of Mariposa Grove and Yosemite Valley, but Muir was able to convince them to ban grazing.

Fact 8: Yosemite was put under the control of the National Park Service when it was founded in 1916.

Fact 9: In 1984, Yosemite was designated a World Heritage Site.

Fact 10: The Cavalry set up base in Wawona in 1891. Veterans of the 1898 Spanish American War had reblocked their hats to shed the tropical rain, and they wore these hats as they arrived in Yosemite. The park ranger’s hat, to this day, retains the shape of the Cavalry’s modified Stetsons.

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