Yosemite Hidden Secrets
The Yosemite Valley Pioneer Cemetery
While not exactly hidden and secret, the Yosemite Valley Pioneer Cemetery remained unknown to me, even after several summer vacations
spent in the valley. It was only during one of my first winter visits to the valley that I first learned of it. while browsing through books on Yosemite Valley history at the visitors center I came across a reference to it . I asked the person working at the desk for directions to the cemetery and was surprised to learn the it was just a short walk from the visitor center.
They let me borrow a copy of a cemetery map and guide then directed to turn right, after going out the front door, and follow the path until it crossed
the service road beyond the museum.
There, on a still, cold, February day, round marble headstones, narrow granite shafts and modest wooden markers, engraved with both known and unknown names, issued from beneath a light blanket of snow that covered the ground.
Several of the markers identify the final resting place of individuals who came to Yosemite to live and work in hopes that the clean,
dry, mountain air could cure them from tuberculosis or “consumption” as it was known in the 19th century.
Some are the final resting place of people who died from unfortunate accidents like Agnes Leidig who died in December of 1867, before her
second birthday after eating spoiled peaches.
There is Effie Maud Crippen who died on August 31, 1881 at the age of 14 after she stepped on a bottle while wading in Mirror Lake.
She died soon after from loss of blood.
Effies closest friend, Florence Hutchings, the daughter of James Hutchings and the first white child to be born in the valley died a month
later when she was struck by a rock while climbing the Ledge trail (behind Camp Curry to Glacier Point). Her funeral was held in “The Big Tree Room” of her fathers former hotel.
She is buried, in the graveyard near her father and younger sister Cosie.
There is a marker plainly engraved with the words… “A Boy”. This boy, believed to be John Morgan Bennett , drowned while attempting to cross the Merced River in 1870. The “boy” is the first person to have been buried in the graveyard.
Several small redwood crosses mark the remains of Indian people. It is believed that Yosemite pioneers chose this place for a cemetery
because it had been used by the Miwok and Paiute people as a burial ground for centuries before. Remains, believed to be Indian have been discovered well beyond the boundaries of the cemetery and the Park Service erected the current markers at, or near, where remains of native people were found or are believed to be buried. The last marker is that of Louisa Tom, who died in 1956. She asked to be placed with her family,buried here. Her’s will probably be the last burial in this cemetery. Louisa Tom’s passing, at a probable age of more than 100 years, was marked by an old-time Indian “cry” by members of her family.
Several of the biggest names in Yosemite pioneer history, with the exception of John Muir, are buried in the Yosemite Valley Pioneer Cemetery.
James Mason Hutchings (link) who looms large in Yosemite history died on October 31, 1902 when he, and his wife were entering the valley via the Oak Flat Road on their way to camp for a week before returning to San Francisco for the winter. The horses were spooked and both James and his wife were thrown from their buggy. Mrs. Hutchings was relatively uninjured. However, James struck his head on a rock and died within minutes.
Prior to his interment in the cemetery a funeral was held in “The Big Tree Room” of his former hotel.
Hutchings was one of the first visitors to the valley in 1855, returned to live and work there in 1864 after purchasing the bankrupt
“Upper Hotel”. His writings in his illustrated magazine, “Hutchings California Magazine” were instrumental in bringing visitors to his hotel. Hutchings had a sawmill built near the base of lower Yosemite Falls so that he could make needed improvements to his hotel from local lumber. After its completion Hutchings hired a young Scotsman named John Muir to operate it.
In 1880 Hutchings succeeded Galen Clark as the Guardian of the Yosemite Grant. Hutchings operated a hotel outside of Yosemite until his death.
Galen Clark came to what is not called “Wawona” in 1956 in hopes of bettering his chances of surviving tuberculosis which had overtaken him that same year.
He had visited the area in 1955 after reading accounts in Hutchings California Magazine. He filed a claim and built a cabin near theSouth Fork of the Merced River, not far from a grove of Giant Sequoia Trees which he named the Mariposa Grove. He made a living from offering
lodging and supplies to travelers coming to Yosemite via the Mariposa Trail.
In 1866 Clark was named the first Guardian of Yosemite. In later years Clark lived in Summerland California, near Santa Barbara but would return often to the valley.
Years before his death he selected a plot in the Yosemite Valley Pioneer Cemetery and planted 6 Sequoia seedlings from the Mariposa Grove to border the plot. Five of these trees still live and now tower around the granite marker he chose and had his name engraved upon. The granite rocked used for the market is supposed to have been brought down, by Clark, from the Cathedral Rock near the West end of the Valley. Clark died at the age of 92 in 1910 and was buried in his carefully chosen plot by permission of the Department of the Interior.
The most remarkable headstone in the Yosemite Valley Pioneer Cemetery is the towering monument marked “James C. Lamon”. While Lamon (pronounced Lemon) is not a well known name in Yosemite history he was well known by those who lived in Yosemite during his time as a person who made improvements to the area without destroying its beauty.
Lamon was the first Euro American full time resident of the valley. He first visited there in 1859 and moved there permanently in 1862. He built a cabin near what is now the stables and was known for his apple trees which still stand and bear
fruit behind the stable area and the Curry Village parking lot.
Lamon died in 1875 after a short illness. His nieces contracted for the erection of the monument at his grave. The construction and raising of the monument marker was overseen by Galen Clark.
There are several other well known and unknown pioneers buried in th beautiful Yosemite Valley Pioneer Cemetery as well as many Native Americans from the tribes who inhabited the valley before the arrival of Europeans.
Next time you visit the valley set aside a quiet hour and walk among the marked and unmarked stones and learn of their stories.
For more detailed info I would recommend buying the Guide to the Yosemite Cemetery by Hank Johnston and Martha Lee and visiting