Be It Enacted . . .

The work of Albert Bierstadt and Carlton Watkins was important in helping the California congressional delegation promote legislation granting control of Yosemite Valley to the state of California. Both artists lobbied Congress with their work. The result in 1864 was the following law granting Yosemite Valley to the protection of the state of California. The law is interesting historically because it reflects struggles over park management that still exist today.

Approved June 30, 1864


Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That there shall be, and is hereby, granted to the State of California the "cleft" or "gorge" in the granite peak of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, situated in the county of Mariposa, in the State aforesaid, and the headwaters of the Merced River, and known as the Yo-Semite Valley, with its branches or spurs, in estimated length fifteen miles, and in average width one mile back from the main edge of the precipice, on each side of the valley, with the stipulation, nevertheless, that the said State shall accept this grant upon the express conditions that the premises shall be held for public use, resort, and recreation; shall be inalienable for all time; but leases not exceeding ten years may be granted for portions of said premises. All incomes derived from leases of privileges to be expended in the preservation and improvement of the property, or the roads leading thereto; the boundaries to be established at the cost of said State by the United States surveyor-general of California, whose official plat, when affirmed by the Commissioner of the General Land Office, shall constitute the evidence of the locus, extent, and limits of the said cleft or gorge; the premises to be managed by the governor of the State with eight other commissioners, to be appointed by the executive of California, and who shall receive no compensation for their services.

SEC. 2. And be it further enacted, That there shall likewise be, and there is hereby, granted to the said State of California the tracts embracing what is known as the "Mariposa Big Tree Grove," not to exceed the area of four sections, and to be taken in legal subdivisions of one quarter section each, with the like stipulation as expressed in the first section of this act as to the State's acceptance, with like conditions as in the first section of this act as to inalienability, yet with same lease privilege; the income to be expended in preservation, improvement, and protection of the property; the premises to be managed by commissioners as stipulated in the first section of this act, and to be taken in legal subdivisions as aforesaid; and the official plat of the United States surveyor general, when affirmed by the Commissioner of the General Land Office, to be the evidence of the locus of the said Mariposa Big Tree Grove.

(U.S.C., title 16, sec. 48.)

To Start You Thinking

1) The fact that Yosemite Valley was set aside as a park in 1864 is in itself remarkable. What other event in U.S. history was occurring at this time?

2) What were the three purposes identified in the law for granting California control of Yosemite Valley?

3) Under the law Yosemite Valley was to be held "for all time" in the public trust by the State of California, but private leases could be granted to provide for "resort and recreation." Describe the major differences you see in the goals of the 1864 law granting control of Yosemite Valley to California and the goals expressed in the Olmstead Report.


from U.S. Statutes at Large, Vol. 13, Chap. 184, p. 325. "An Act authorizing a Grant to the State of California of the Yo-Semite Valley,' and of the Land embracing the Mariposa Big Tree Grove.'" [S. 203; Public Act No. 159].

Last modified in June, 2019 by Rick Thomas