July 27, 2005

The Beginning of Yosemite Tourism -- A First-Hand Account

July 27th this year marks the 150th anniversary of the arrival of the first documented  tourist party into Yosemite Valley, led by James Mason Hutchings.  After some 8,000 years of human habitation of the area, it was the Hutchings Party that left the first known published images and description of Yosemite.

 Upon his return to Mariposa, Hutchings’ account of the trip was published in the Mariposa Gazette on August 9, 1855.  The only known copy of this article, pasted into Hutchings’ own scrapbook, was obtained by a grant from the Yosemite Fund for the Yosemite Museum Collections in 1999.

 Hutchings also chronicled the journey with terse daily entries in his diary (now in the Library of Congress).  Hutchings’ daughter, Cosie Hutchings Mills, added a few biographical notes about her father in her typed transcription of his diaries.  The following are excerpts from these primary sources – the original spelling and punctuation has been retained. [tb.]

 After crossing the Plains in 1849, after several years’ hard work in the "diggings", losing the earnings by the failures of a private Bank and Adams Co. Express in which the gold was deposited, it came to the mind of this tall young Englishman of the quiet village of Towcester that he wasn't getting so much of value as he might from his experiences. He resented, too, helping provide riotous living and large estates for unethical Bank functionaries. So he decided to “look about, a bit” in this fascinating, tho rather comfortless, new West — to travel.

 Not wishing to further deplete his remaining store he decided upon a plan for helping pay expenses as he went by selling in the camps "Letter Sheets" — illustrated. For these San Francisco and Sacramento artists made sketches and engravings. One of the letter sheets had a large wood cut of a "Mammoth Tree" of the Calaveras grove — the first to be discovered, and the first picture ever made of it. Another had pictures of different mining processes; another "The Miners Ten Commandments to Miners’ Wives"; another pictured native Indians. Writing paper was a scarce commodity in the mines and these letter sheets were immensely popular. They achieved a two-fold end — encouraging correspondence (much neglected) and furthering exploration.

 This "Journal" records one year's travels through the busiest mining regions. Unfortunately where events of greatest moment were happening, the record is mostly dates and weather.

 Returning post-haste to San Francisco he made prompt decision upon publishing the illustrated magazine which has been some time in the background of his mind. He would let the whole world know what this mythical land of California was in reality.

Cosie Hutchings Mills – from the forward to her transcription of the Diary of James Hutchings


Monday, July 23

Fine and warm


This day was spent chiefly in making preparations for

our journey to the Yohamite Valley and making a

sketch (by Mr. Ayres) of the town of Mariposa

Hutchings’ Diary, 1855


"Armed and equipped as the law directs," with defensive supplies for both the inner and the outer man, not omitting a suspicious looking weapon with a short neck "o correct bad water," our party of four took up their line of march for the above named valley. Mr. Ayres of San Francisco [Ayres is credited with having made “the first drawing of the valley by a professional artist”[i] – tb.], Mr. Stair of Coulterville, Mr. Willard[ii] of San Francisco and your humble servant, composed the company.

Mariposa Gazette, Aug. 9, 1855


Tuesday, July 24

Fine and pretty warm

From Mariposa to Frezno River 25 miles [a horse trail connecting Mariposa and “Coarse Gold Gulch” existed as early as 1851[iii] – tb.]

Hutchings’ Diary, 1855


As past experience had taught us that there are two ways to every place, - a right and a wrong way - and as some chances were against our taking the right one, we took especial pains to find the right one; everybody knew it, but nobody could tell us how to get upon it. At length, through the courtesy of Capt. Boling[iv], we were furnished with an introductory letter to Mr. Hunt of the Fresno, who very kindly procured us with two good Indian guides, one named Hopum, the other Lopin.

Mariposa Gazette, Aug. 9, 1855


Wednesday, July 25

Fine & hot

From Hunts store on the Frezno to — Camp 20 miles [Hunt’s store is said to have been near the “Fresno Crossing,” now at the conjunction of the Fresno River and Raymond Road, southwest of the town of Coarsegold, CA[v] – tb.]    

Hutchings’ Diary, 1855


From Mr. Hunt's store, we kept an east of north course, up the divide between Fresno and Chowchilla vallies . . . [judging by these notes, they might have camped near the present town of Ahwahnee – tb.]

Mariposa Gazette, Aug. 9, 1855


Thursday, July 26

Fine & warm

From Camp to the South Fork of Merced River 18 miles

Hutchings’ Diary, 1855


. . . thence descending towards the South Fork of the Merced River [vi], and winding around a very rocky point . . .

 Mariposa Gazette, Aug. 9, 1855


Friday, July 27

Fine and a little more than warm - yet not very hot  

From South Fork of Merced to Yohamite Valley 22 miles.

Hutchings’ Diary, 1855


. . . we climbed nearly to the ridge of the middle or main fork of the Merced, and then descending towards the Yo-Semity Valley, we came upon a high point, clear of trees, from whence we had our first view of this singular and romantic valley; and as the scene opened in full view before us, we were almost speechless with wondering admiration, at its wild and sublime granduer. "What!" exclaimed one at length, "have we come to the end of all things?" "Can this be the opening of the Seventh Seal?" cried another. "This far, very far exceeds Niagara ," says a third. We had been out from Mariposa about four days and the fatigue of the journey had made us weary and a little pevish, but when our eyes looked upon the almost terrific grandeur of this scene, all, all was forgotten. "I never expected to behold so beautiful a sight. This scene alone amply repays me for the travel." I should have lost the most magnificent sight that I ever saw, had I not witnessed this!" were exclamations of pleasurable surprise that fell from the lips of all, as we sat down to drink in the varied beauties of this intoxicating and enchanting scene.

The fast sinking sun admonished us to descend and camp on that spot of green where we found grass for our animals in any quantity, and as the Indians are said to be numerous, and will bear looking after better than trusting, we set our guard and slept soundly, while the stars, no doubt, (wagishly) winked at us as we lay and dreamed of home.

Mariposa Gazette, Aug. 9, 1855


Saturday, July 28

Fine and warm

Yohamite Valley

Hutchings’ Diary, 1855


Sunday, July 29

Fine & warm

Explored the Yo-Hamite Valley to head — 10 miles

Hutchings’ Diary, 1855


Passing further up the valley, one is struck with the awful grandeur of the immense mountains on either side - some perpendicular, some a little sloping . . . Now we crossed the river, and still advancing up the valley, turned a point, and before us was an indescribable sight - a waterfall two thousand two hundred feet in height . . .

Mariposa Gazette, Aug. 9, 1855


Monday, July 30

Fine & Warm

From Yo-Hamite Valley to Camp – 10 miles

Hutchings’ Diary, 1855


After completing our series of views of this beautiful and wildly romantic valley, we looked a last look upon it, with regret that so fine a scene should be only the abode of wild animals and Indians, and that many months, perhaps years, would elapse before its silence would again be broken by the reverberating echoes of the rifle, or the musical notes of the white man's song.

Mariposa Gazette, Aug. 9, 1855


Tuesday, July 31

Fine & Warm

From - Camp - to - Camp 25 miles

Hutchings’ Diary, 1855


Wednesday, August 1

Fine and Hot

From Camp to Mariposa 20 miles

Hutchings’ Diary, 1855


I have no doubt ere many years have elapsed, this wonderful valley will attract the lovers of the beautiful from all parts of the world; and be as famed as Niagara , for its wild sublimity, and magnificent scenery . . . While to the dyspeptic denizens of our larger cities it offers recreation and medicine, in its pure, free air, and its ice-cold water . . .

Mariposa Gazette, Aug. 9, 1855


“First Accounts” of Yosemite

In 1878 Dr. Lafayette Bunnell wrote to the Mariposa Gazette, “In your issue of [Nov. 23], you speak of Mr. J. M. Hutchings as ‘the pioneer of Yo Semite Valley, who was the first to describe it in print,’ etc . . . . but if there is any merit due for a first public notice of the Valley, I think that you will find that it belongs to Lieut. Moore.  I am under the impression that it was Mr. Moore’s letter that first attracted the attention of Mr. Hutchings himself to the Valley.”[vii]

Bunnell believed the letter had been published in the Mariposa Chronicle (precursor to the Gazette) in 1854; the article has not been found among the remaining copies of the Chronicle (on microfilm) [tb.].

The earliest published references to Yosemite found in the Mariposa Chronicle are both amusing and disappointing.  The first one appears as a letter to the editor: “Yo-Semity Valley, March 20, 1854 . . . I came to this place . . . to select a suitable place to which the State Capital can migrate next season . . . All of them being then gathered together in this valley, from which there is but little chance of escape, the whole party could be besieged by a small force posted at the entrance – which is only a few feet in width – and buy cutting off the supplies (of Whisky, &c.) be brought to a proper sense of their unworthiness . . .”[viii] 

The second one,[ix] published August 4, 1854, describes a “subterraneous pass” originating behind a waterfall at the head of Yosemite Valley, leading through to the east side of the Sierra Nevada to the village of “the White Indians, spoken of by Lieut. Moore . . .”  This fantastic account concludes with a description of said “White Indians”: “This village is pleasantly and romantically situated . . . The streets were very regularly laid out in a circular form, shaded by trees . . . The houses are partly Grecian in style . . . That occupied by the Chief . . . is a gigantic structure, built in the form of a pyramid . . .  The Indians . . . are evidently of Asiatic origin; in stature they very much resemble the Hungarians, and speak a language very similar . . .”[x]


More Anniversaries – The Birth of an Industry

The seeds of a Yosemite tourist industry were planted within a year of Hutchings’ visit.  2006 will mark the 150th anniversary of the first official act in the establishment of a Yosemite tourist stop.  On March 19, 1856 , a consumptive unemployed ex-gold miner named Galen Clark filed a pre-emption claim on 160 acres in what is now Wawona.[xi] By July 18, 1856 ,[xii] the first tourist route to Yosemite passed right through Clark ’s claim – a toll horse trail built by the Mann brothers, whose livery stable business in Mariposa gave them the raw materials and thus the incentive to launch the first Yosemite tourist trade.  By May of 1857, Galen Clark was offering free meals and accommodations to Yosemite tourists at his cabin.[xiii] The next month a hotel was opened in Yosemite Valley .[xiv]  By June 30, 1858 , Clark was advertising his accommodations in the Mariposa Gazette[xv] – marking the beginning of the business that has operated under a variety of names, most recently, “The Wawona Hotel.” [tb.]

[i] Yosemite – Its Discovery, Its Wonders and its people” pp. 79 Sanborn, 1989, Yosemite Association, second printing.

[ii] Actually “Walter Millard” according to Johnston, The Yosemite Grant, p. 27

[iii] Mariposa Gazette, Dec. 8, 1877, p. 3, col. 1: “. . . the trail leading by Savages store on Little Mariposa [creek] . . . was no doubt the only practicable trail known to the white settlers leading from Mariposa, and Agua Frio (sic) to the Fresno, and the mines in that vicinity [Coarse Gold Gulch].”

[iv] Boling, then sheriff in Mariposa, had lead the second expedition into Yosemite in May, 1852 (see “ Yosemite – Its Discovery, Its Wonders and its people” pp. 49, 79;  Sanborn, 1989, Yosemite Association, second printing)

[v] Clough and Seacrest Jr. put Hunt’s store “near the junction of Coarse Gold Creek and the Fresno River , known as the ‘Fresno Crossing’ . . .”; those two streams do not connect, but maps show the “Fresno Crossing” at the confluence of Spangle Gold Creek and the Fresno .  The store was opened in 1852 by John Letford and a partner named Carson, and sold shortly afterward to John Lavert Hunt and J. R. Nichols (see “Fresno County – The Pioneer Years” Charles W. Clough and William B. Seacrest Jr., 2nd ed. 1985 pp 54, 84)

[vi] Mentions of the “South Fork” from this period consistently refer either to the confluence of the Merced with its south fork (now on Hwy 140 below El Portal), or as in this case, the area now known as Wawona.

[vii] Mariposa Chronicle, Dec. 28, 1878 , p. 3, col. 3-4

[viii] Mariposa Chronicle, Mar. 24, 1854 , p. 2, col. 4

[ix] Mariposa Chronicle, Aug. 4, 1854 , p. 2, col. 4

[x] Mariposa Chronicle, Aug. 18, 1854 , p. 2, col. 5

[xi]Galen Clark - Yosemite Guardian” p. 52 (Shirley Sargent, 1st ed. 1964 Sierra Club; Sargent cites “Vol. K, Land Claims, p248. Mariposa Courthouse” but no copies of this important document have been found at this writing)

[xii] Mariposa Gazette, Jul. 18, 1856 , p. 2, col. 1

[xiii]Journal of a trip through the southern mines” p.7, and San Francisco Chronicle 2/6/1895 p. 1, col. 4; CA State Library

[xiv] Mariposa Gazette, 6/19/1857 p. 2 col. 2

[xv] Mariposa Gazette, 6/30/1858 p. 3 col. 3