History of Yosemite National Park

Buffalo Soldiers

Unfortunately, Yosemite’s history is marred with violence between European settlers and native peoples, which concluded in the displacement of the latter population. Buffalo Soldiers — African-American army regiments formed after the Civil War — fought in many of these conflicts, and were eventually responsible for stewardship duties in the park, ranging from evicting poachers to extinguishing forest fires. In that respect, they were some of the park’s first rangers. Some 500 Buffalo Soldiers served in Yosemite and nearby Sequoia National Parks, which fell under the administration of the United States Army from 1891 to 1913.

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“The Incomparable Valley”

Many of the Yosemite area’s early white settlers became enamored with the valley’s natural beauty, and soon writers, photographers and artists flocked there to find their own inspiration amid the valley’s stately cascades and granite precipices. James Hutchings, an  enterprising Englishman with business interests as diverse as publishing, gold mining and hospitality, was an early booster of the Yosemite region. He and his wife built and maintained one of nine small inns that populated the valley floor by 1864. Theirs and other hostelries served as expedition bases for explorers, who came in search of the ideal natural wonderland publicized in Hutchings’ own writings. Legend has it that it was Hutchings’ 496-page ode to Yosemite, “In the Heart of the Sierras,” published 1886, that lured a young Ansel Adams to the valley. Adams would later gain critical acclaim for his landscape photography of Yosemite and other natural vistas.

John Muir

Hutchings was not alone in singing the praises of Yosemite. In fact, he reportedly had a tense relationship with the renowned naturalist John Muir, taking exception to his celebrity and popular mantle as “official” Yosemite spokesman. It probably bothered Hutchings even more that Muir was a worker at his valley saw mill.

But despite Hutchings’ ire, Muir certainly had claims to that the title. His poetic observations on the High Sierra, Yosemite, and the natural world at large gained a broad following in newspapers, receiving the backing of noted American literary and scientific figures of the day. With that support Muir’s scope — not to mention his popularity — grew even broader, and he began to rally readers around the cause of conservation, with a particular eye on the abuse of natural resources of the Yosemite land grant by livestock. His exposes culminated in a bill before Congress that expanded the grant and created Yosemite National Park in 1890.

Galen Clark

Another important figure in Yosemite’s history, Galen Clark, is credited with popularizing the Mariposa Grove of giant sequoias from his Wawona ranch. Remembered as much for his hospitality as for his stewardship of the Yosemite land grant, Clark met Muir during his first visit to the Sierras, and accompanied the famous naturalist on mountaineering and glacial survey expeditions.