Early Trails of Yosemite

The early trails of Yosemite largely followed those of the Miwok and Paiute natives who traveled routes into Yosemite Valley and across the Sierra Nevada Mountains to trade. Early visitors finished their trip into the valley on horseback down either the Pohono or Oak Flat trail. Sheep ranchers brought their flocks into Yosemite's high meadows from both the east and west following one of the branches of the Mono trail. And Army troopers assigned to protect the new Yosemite National Park ushered shepherds and their flocks out of the park (usually in opposite directions1) following and building on trails first traveled by Yosemite natives.

Indian Wars
Click map to enlarge

In March, 1851 Major James Savage of the newly commissioned Mariposa Battalion led troops after natives who had raided several area mining camps, including three of Savage's trading posts. The company went west from Mariposa in the Sierra foothills to Wawona and then north in pursuit of the Indians. They entered Yosemite Valley on March 25, becoming the first Europeans to visit the valley itself. This first entry into Yosemite Valley was followed two months later by another of Savage's units led by Capt. John Boling and then again in June, 1852 by U.S. infantry troops under the command of Lt. Tredwell Moore. Each of these expeditions, of what became known as the Mariposa Indian Wars, broadened awareness of the Yosemite region as you can see in the reports from the field. An interactive map allows you to explore with these first European visitors. Open the Early Trails of Yosemite map.

Google Earth
•To use the map feature you will need to make sure that a Google Earth plug-in is available to your internet browser. The plugin may be downloaded at: Google Earth Plug-in.

•Simply click on the Mariposa Indian War checkbox to show the routes taken into and through Yosemite.You can click the Topographic Map on and off as well.



•The Google Earth controls allow you to zoom in and out on the map, pan in any direction, rotate the map, and to tilt the map to enhance the 3-D effect:


To Start You Thinking -

1) You can use the scale to estimate distance in miles along any path on the map. Estimate the distance traveled by Major Savage's Battalion from Mariposa to the floor of Yosemite Valley.

2) The entry of Major Savage's group into Yosemite Valley was recorded in the journal of the company's doctor, Lafayette H. Bunnell. The doctor described the company's descent into Yosemite Valley down the Pohono Trail, opposite El Capitan. You can use the available link beneath the map to view Thomas Hill Painting of the sight that Dr. Bunnell described. Imagine that you were part of the first company of Europeans to descend into Yosemite Valley. Use the various map tools, the Bunnell journal, and Hill's painting and write your own description of the descent from the rim of Yosemite Valley to the valley floor.

3) Continue your exploration of Yosemite with the Early Trails worksheet and the other early descriptions of travels in the park. Enjoy your trip.

1H. Duane Hampton, How the Calvary Saved Our National Parks, Bloomington, Indiana: University of Indiana Press, 1971.

Last modified in February, 2011 by Rick Thomas