History of Sequoia National Park

The Western Mono — or, Monachee — people of the southern Sierra Nevada used the high mountain passes in what is today Sequoia National Park as summertime trade routes that connected them with tribes to the east. The Monachee left archeological evidence of their activities in the form of artifacts and pictographs, which can still be seen at sites near Hospital Rock and Potwisha.

Potwisha, California

By the time Euro-American settlers arrived in the southern Sierra Nevada, indigenous populations in the region had already been diminished by exposure to smallpox. Early settlers set up homesteads in the park. The first homesteader, Hale Tharp, famously built his cabin from the wood of a fallen sequoia, the remains of which you can still see in the park today. Naturalist John Muir, an early advocate for the protection of neighboring Kings Canyon (he said it reminded him of his beloved Yosemite), stayed with Tharp during his visits to the sequoia forest.

Unfortunately, naturalists weren’t the only people who were interested in the giant trees. As Americans came westward in search of gold, mining and other opportunities, boom towns sprung up all over California. Sequoias and other redwoods were eyed as ideal supplies of building materials. While the wood was workable, seemingly plentiful and very profitable — logging became its own boom industry based on high demand — the results of unchecked logging were disastrous. In less than 60 years, millions of acres of old-growth forest were reduced to mere hundreds of thousands of acres. Ironically, redwood timber was later discovered to splinter easily, and therefore was not ideal for building.

Sequoia National Park was founded in 1890 to protect the trees that bear its name, and expanded over the course of its history to include additional land. The first important addition, made the same year the park was founded, was of its majestic Giant Forest, which is home to five of the ten largest trees in the world. In 1978, a Sierra Club-led grassroots movement successfully fought off attempts by the Walt Disney Corporation to purchase land to build a ski resort near the park. The park ended up annexing the proposed former mining site, which became known as Mineral King.