One Hundred Hikes in Yosemite

Humans in Yosemite

The Thursday morning had been icy, and at times the horses of the Mariposa Battalion found themselves chest-deep in snow. Coaxed on by the spurs or verbal commands of their mounted riders, the horses progressed north toward the unknown-but-rumored Yosemite Valley. Descending through deep drifts, the battalion's 50-60 men suddenly emerged from forest cover on the western brink of the Valley's south wall. Early rumors about the Valley had not prepared the men for the breathtaking view now before them. Later recalling that profound moment of discovery, Lafayette Bunnell wrote:

"The grandeur of the scene was but softened by the haze that hung over the valley-light as gossamer-and by the clouds which partially dimmed the higher cliffs and mountains. This obscurity of vision but increased the awe with which I beheld it, and as I looked, a peculiar exalted sensation seemed to fill my whole being, and I found my eyes in tears with emotion." Momentarily forgetting that there were here to round up hostile Indians, the doctor continued: "I have here seen the power and glory of a Supreme being: the majesty of His handy-work is in that 'Testimony of the Rocks.' That mute appeal-pointing to El Capitan-illustrates it, with more convincing eloquence than can the most powerful arguments of surpliced priests." The day was March 27, 1851, and though about 100 million visitors viewed the Valley by the close of the second millennium, many of today's visitors share similar emotions on their first encounter.

Leaving their viewpoint, which they quickly named Mt. Beatitude (today's Old Inspiration Point), the battalion descended to the floor of Yosemite Valley and, after a brief reconnoiter, set up camp near the edge of Bridalveil Meadow. That night, at the suggestion of Dr. Bunnell, the Valley was christened "Yo-sem-i-ty," which the good doctor felt was the name of the tribe of Indians living in it. Later they discovered that the Miwok Indians inhabiting it called it "Ah-wah-nee" and called themselves the "Ah-wah-ne-chee." However, the name "Yo-sem-i-ty" stuck, though its spelling was changed to "Yosemite" in the first published account of the Valley, which was written by Lieutenant Tredwell Moore for the January 20, 1854, issue of the Mariposa Chronicle.

The Mariposa Battalion, under the leadership of Major James D. Savage, was certainly the first group of white men to see and enter the Valley. Joseph Reddeford Walker, crossing the central Sierra Nevada under threatening weather during the autumn of 1833, may have seen the Valley, for his party came to the rim of a deep canyon whose walls appeared to be "more than a mile high." The Valley was certainly viewed and possibly entered by William P. Abrams and his companion on October 18, 1849, for his description accurately portrays some of the Valley's landmarks. Nevertheless, it was members of the Mariposa Battalion who first publicized its existence.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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