Yosemite National Park History

Yosemite National Park Cultural History

History of Yosemite
Yosemite has a long and diverse cultural  history that helped to shape the region, country, and even the world. Click below to expand our Yosemite history topics and catch a glimpse into the various times in the history of this beautiful place.

The History of Yosemite's First Peoples

Yosemite's first residents were Native Americans who may have first inhabited the region as many as 10,000 years ago. The area's most recent tribe (comprised mostly of Miwok, but also Paiute and others) named Yosemite Valley "Ahwahnee" or "place of the gaping mouth," and thus they called themselves the Ahwahneechee. These Native Americans had a rich culture and were frequent traders with tribes from the eastern side of the Sierra.

Pioneers, Conflict, and Yosemite

The discovery of gold in California's foothills brought the first non-native settlers to Yosemite Valley around 1850. Unfortunately, conflict developed between the newcomers and the native population over resources.  In 1851, a battalion of troops entered Yosemite during a mission to search for Native Americans and end the conflict. The doctor of the expedition, Lafayette Bunnell, returned with stories of Yosemite Valley's beauty and grandeur, and soon word spread of this inspiring place.

Tourists and Homesteaders of Yosemite's History

In 1855, the first tourists visited Yosemite. As more visitors came to Yosemite via horseback and stagecoach, entrepreneurs saw an opportunity to provide goods and services in this remote destination. Soon, lodging and homes were built and meadows became home to livestock and orchards.  By 1864, there were residents living in Yosemite Valley all year long.

Yosemite Grant

Also around 1855, a homesteader in southern Yosemite, came across the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias.  The homesteader, Galen Clark, was so impressed with the trees, that he would start a fight to preserve them from logging.  Soon after, that fight would include preserving Yosemite Valley.  After gathering support from photographer Carlton Watkins, and U.S. Senator John Conness, the Yosemite Grant was drafted and submitted to Congress.   In 1864, during the heat of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln signed the Yosemite Grant that protected Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias as the first territory ever set aside by Congress for public use and preservation (although in its initial years it was a California State Park).

Yosemite National Park - Beginnings

In 1889, John Muir, America's most famous and influential naturalist and conservationist, and Robert Underwood Johnson, editor of Century Magazine, had growing concerns about the devastating effects of sheep grazing in the high country. They launched a successful campaign to persuade Congress to set aside this area as a national park in 1890. On October 1, 1890, the U.S. Congress set aside more than 1,500 square miles of reserved forest lands, soon to be known as Yosemite National Park.

Yosemite National Park – The Early Years

In the early 1900s, two dates hold significance for Yosemite.  First, in 1906, Yosemite National Park would incorporate the “Yosemite Grant” into its borders.  Second, after years of management of our National Parks by the United States Cavalry, in 1916 the newly created National Park Service would take over the role.  Today, the NPS oversees over 400 national treasures across the country, including Yosemite.

Yosemite National Park – Today

Yosemite continues to hold the rank as one of the “crown jewels” of the national parks. Yosemite now gets over 3.5 million visitors a year, offering a challenge never experienced in the region’s early years – how to protect one of the world’s scenic treasures, but also allow for the enjoyment and inspiration of millions of visitors.   Delaware North Companies Parks and Resorts proudly embraces our role in helping to meet this challenge head on.
For more information about Yosemite History, please the Visitor Center, Yosemite Museum, as well as our numerous bookstores in the park during your stay.