The human history of the Yosemite is quickly told. The country north of the Valley was known from early times by explorers and trappers who used the old Mono Indian Trail, now the Tioga Road, which crossed the divide over Mono Pass. But, though the trail approached within a very few miles of the north rim of the Yosemite Valley, the valley was not discovered till 1851, when Captain Boling of the Mariposa Battalion, a volunteer organization for the protection of settlers, entered it from the west in pursuit of Indians who had raided mining settlements in the foot-hills.
These savages were known as the Yosemite or Grizzly Bear Indians. Tenaya, their chief, met their pursuers on the uplands and besought them to come no further. But Captain Boling pushed on through the heavy snows, and on March 21, entered the valley, which proved to be the Indians’ final stronghold. Their villages, however, were deserted.
The original inhabitants of the Valley were called the Ahwahneechees, the Indian name for the Valley being Ahwahnee, meaning a deep grassy canyon. The Ahwahneechees, previous to Captain Boling’s expedition, had been decimated by war and disease. The new tribe, the Yosemites, or Grizzly Bears, was made up of their remainder, with Monos and Piutes added.
Captain Boling’s report of the beauty of the valley having been questioned, he returned during the summer to prove his assertions to a few doubters. Nevertheless, there were no further visitors until 1853, when Robert B. Stinson of Mariposa led in a hunting-party. Two years later J. M. Hutchings, who was engaged in writing up the beauties of California for the California Magazine, brought the first tourists; the second, a party of sixteen, followed later the same year.
Pleasure travel to the Yosemite Valley may be said to have commenced with 1856, the year the first house was built. This house was enlarged in 1858 by Hite and Beardsley and used for a hotel. Sullivan and Cushman secured it for a debt the following year, and it was operated in turn by Peck, Longhurst, and Hutchings until 1871. Meantime J. C. Lamon settled in 186o, the first actual resident of the valley, an honor which he did not share with others for four years.
The fame of the valley spread over the country and in 1864 Congress granted to the State of California “the Cleft or Gorge of the Granite Peak of the Sierra Nevada Mountains ” known as the Yosemite Valley, with the understanding that all income derived from it should be spent for improving the reservation or building a road to it. The Mariposa Big Tree Grove was also granted at the same time. California carefully fulfilled her charge. The Yosemite Valley became world famous, and in 1890 the Yosemite National Park was created.