Indian people have lived in the Yosemite region for as long as 8,000
years. By the mid-nineteenth century, when native residents had their
first contact with non-Indian people, they were primarily of Southern
Miwok ancestry. However, trade with the Mono Paiutes from the east side
of the Sierra for pinyon pine nuts, obsidian, and other materials from
the Mono Basin resulted in many unions between the two tribes.
native people of Yosemite developed a complex culture rich in tradition,
religion, songs, and political affiliations. Making use of the varied
local ecosystems, they used plant and animal resources to the best of
their abilities. The pattern of oaks and grassland noted by early
visitors to Yosemite Valley is probably a direct result of the
intentional burning of underbrush practiced by native people.
Mariposa Battalion Enters Yosemite Valley
Although the first sighting of Yosemite Valley by non-Indian people
was probably by members of the Joseph Walker Party in 1833, the first
actual known entry into the Valley was not until nearly 20 years later.
After the discovery of gold in the Sierra Nevada foothills in 1849,
thousands of miners came to the Sierra to seek their fortune. Their
arrival resulted in conflict with local native people who fought to
protect their homelands. Because of such interaction, the Mariposa
Battalion was organized as a punitive expedition under the authority of
the State of California to bring an end to the "Mariposa Indian War."
The Battalion entered Yosemite Valley while searching for Indians on
March 27, 1851.
Early Tourists and Settlers
Writers, artists, and photographers spread the fame of "the Incomparable
Valley" throughout the world. A steadily increasing stream of visitors
came on foot and horseback, and later by stage. Realizing he could make
money off the tourism, James Hutchings became one of Yosemite's first
entrepreneurs. Hotels and residences were constructed, livestock grazed
in meadows, orchards were planted, and as a result, Yosemite Valley's
Protection is Sought for Yosemite
Inspired by the scenic beauty of Yosemite and spurred on by the specter
of private exploitation of Yosemite's natural wonders, conservationists
appealed to Senator John Conness of California. On June 30, 1864,
President Abraham Lincoln signed a bill granting Yosemite Valley and the
Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias to the State of California as an
inalienable public trust. This was the first time in history that a
federal government had set aside scenic lands simply to protect them and
to allow for their enjoyment by all people. This idea was the spark that
allowed for Yellowstone becoming the first official national park a few years
later, in 1872.
Later, John Muir's struggle against the devastation of the sub alpine
meadows surrounding Yosemite Valley resulted in the creation of Yosemite
National Park on October 1, 1890. Military units with headquarters in
Wawona administered the park while the State of California continued to
govern the area covered by the original 1864 grant. Dual control of
Yosemite came to an end in 1906, when the State of California receded
Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove to the federal government.
Civilian park rangers took over from the military in 1914. Two years
later, on August 25, 1916, through the persistent efforts of Steven
Mather and Horace Albright, Congress authorized the creation of the
National Park Service to administer all national parks "in such manner
and by such means as to leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of
Around the turn of the century, Hetch Hetchy Valley became the center
of a bitter political struggle when the City of San Francisco wanted to
dam the Tuolumne River inside Yosemite National Park as a source of
drinking water and hydroelectric power. In 1913, conservationists led by
John Muir lost the battle when Congress passed the Raker Act,
authorizing the construction of O'Shaughnessy Dam.
Increasing Visitation Requires Management Plans
The day of the horse-drawn stage drew to a close in 1907 with the
construction of the Yosemite Valley Railroad from Merced to El Portal.
While a few automobiles entered the park in 1900 and 1901, they were not
officially permitted until 1913.
In 1925, two major concessionaires were consolidated into the Yosemite
Park and Curry Company in order to reduce competitive expansion of
facilities in the park.
Impacts resulting from increasing visitation in Yosemite Valley
became apparent. People camped throughout meadows and dramatically
increasing automobile traffic driving on unpaved roads left the Valley
dull with dust each summer. As visitation and need for year-round
services increased, Yosemite Village was relocated from a location in
the floodplain on the south side of the Merced River to the present
Yosemite Village site to the north.
Visitation exceeded one million in 1954 for the first time, and by
1976 over two million people visited Yosemite. In the mid-1990s,
visitation topped four million. In the early 1970s, the National Park
Service established one-way road traffic patterns, eliminated cars in
the far east end of the Valley, offered free shuttle bus transportation
in the Valley, converted the parking lot in front of the Valley Visitor
Center to a pedestrian mall, and generally encouraged visitors to enjoy
the park by walking or using public transportation.