Yosemite, California, Summer 2013
Web of Personalities, Power and Politics
(Continued from Page 1)
of Missouri. A year later, Fremont
was instrumental in getting the 1864
Yosemite Grant legislation passed.
Olmstead, by now entranced by
Yosemite’s beauty and big trees,
also used his connections back East
to help with the legislation. By 1865,
however, the Mariposa area mines
he managed went bankrupt and
Olmstead left California. Nonetheless, he kept involved with Yosemite
issues the rest of his life.
John Muir, born in Scotland in
1838, was raised on the edge of the
frontier in Wisconsin from age 11
until he left home at the age of 22.
After studying engineering, geology,
botany, and other topics at the University of Wisconsin, he wandered
for a number of years, observing nature, doing different jobs, reading the
works of essayist, lecturer and poet
Ralph Waldo Emerson, and writing
about his experiences. The romantic
movement of the time glorified nature,
especially picturesque and sublime
landscapes. Yosemite became the
“poster child” of the movement, attracting artists and writers.
Inspired by descriptions of Yosemite, Muir set sail from New York
in 1868 and arrived in Yosemite a
few months later. He worked first as
a sheepherder and then as lumberman at the base of Yosemite Falls,
cutting trees and lumber for settler
and tourism developer James Hutchings.
Muir remained in the park for the
next five years, closely observing
nature with his one good self-trained
eye. His explorations of the region
were almost superhuman. Muir’s
detailed scientific observations and
love of nature were documented in
journals. His writings were a syn-
thesis of science, poetry, and spirituality. In 1871, Emerson visited the
park and spent a day with Muir, proclaiming him to be his life’s legacy,
for Muir was living what Emerson
had only advocated in print.
After five years, Muir left Yosemite to marry, raise a family, and run
a ranch near Martinez, CA, but he
continued to write about Yosemite,
influence public opinion and engage
in famous political battles that later
enveloped the park lands and exploded on the American stage.
Private companies were building
roads, overnight accommodations,
and other developments in and
around Yosemite to serve the growing numbers of visitors. Local counties
took over private toll roads and
constructed new roads to increase
tourism and improve the economy.
In 1880, the state fired Park
Guardian Clark and John Hutchings was made guardian. Bitter
controversy plagued the commission
for years. The debate questioned
whether the State of California was
adequately protecting the beauty
of Yosemite Valley and Mariposa
Grove or promoting their demise.
One State Commissioner advocated
the cutting of all young trees in the
Valley. Former commission chair
Olmstead labeled that proposal a
“calamity to the civilized world.”
Muir and others grew frustrated
with the changes in the Valley under
state control, especially overgrazing
by sheep and logging of Sequoia adjacent to the state controlled park. In
1889, Muir and Robert Underwood
Johnson visited the park and worked
on a proposal to expand the park and
return it to federal control. Using the
influence of The Century Magazine,
Yosemite National Park’s local insider source
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John Muir entered the Yosemite Valley in 1869. He first worked as a sheepherder and
later as a lumberman for five years at the base of Yosemite Falls for James Hutchings
who was an early settler and one of the first “tourism” developers in the region.
where Johnson was associate editor,
they were successful in passing legislation the following year for both
the Sequoia and Yosemite Reserves.
Johnson encouraged Muir to form an
organization, which he did two years
later. It was called the Sierra Club.
Olmstead was one of the directors.
But the Valley and Mariposa Grove
remained under California control
for another 16 years, despite Muir’s efforts.
The Yosemite and Sequoia Reservations were to be administered by
the General Land Office (GLO) in
the Department of Interior, but the
Army actually did the hands-on work
for the next 23 years. The Army
quickly ended sheep grazing and the
logging of the big trees. They also
fought fires and constructed roads,
trails, and many other improvements.
The Beginnings of Forestry
After leaving California in the
1860’s, Olmstead spent the next 25
years designing dozens of public
parks and estates. One of Olmstead’s
last projects was the Biltmore Estate
near Asheville, North Carolina.
Owned by America’s wealthiest citizen,
George W. Vanderbilt, Biltmore was
intended to be the most spectacular
country estate in the nation.
In 1892 he hired a young forester,
Gifford Pinchot, to prepare a practical forest management plan for the
vast estate. This became the first forestry plan implemented in America
by its first practicing forester.
Pinchot came from a wealthy and
well-connected family, graduated from
Yale in 1889, and spent a year in
Europe studying the highly-regarded
forest practices there. He had the
encouragement of his influential
father who was disgusted by the
devastation wreaked by cut and run
timber barons of the day.
George Marshall’s landmark
book Man and Nature (1864) had
raised public consciousness about
the disastrous effects of poor resource management. He scientifically
presented how Greek, Roman and
other civilizations had collapsed
following the destruction of their
forests, watersheds, and soil resources
He predicted that the extent of uncontrolled forest cutting and land
clearing in the US would ultimately
lead to the same end. He advocated
the practice of sustainable forestry
as was being done in Europe.
Except for the original thirteen
states and Texas, all other lands
in America were deemed Public
Domain. Under a series of federal
laws intended to encourage citizen
occupation and private development
of the West, the highly political General Land Office in the U.S. Department of the Interior routinely gave
ownership title to those who made
improvements on Public Domain lands.
The general attitude was to get
Public Domain lands in to private
hands as fast as possible. Yet, Congress declined to appropriate enough
funding for officials to ensure land
claims were legitimate, so these laws
were poorly administered, if at all.
Fraud, abuse, and outright theft of
the Public Domain, especially by
large railroad and timber companies
and land fraud profiteers, was notorious, but largely ignored by most citizens, politicians and officials alike.
Editor’s Note: This is the second
of a multi-part series chronicling
the history of Yosemite National
Park and the Stanislaus National
Forest, Sierra Nevada neighbors
sharing miles of common boundaries.
Next issue: the Forest Reserve Act
and creation of the U. S. Forest Service.