1833 – Joseph Walker sees Yosemite Valley

Half Dome – Yosemite Musing
     On Saturday I attended the Pleasanton Library’s presentation by John Hiskes about the above subject. He and his son have written “The Discovery of Yosemite in 1833,” to record this event that occurred a full 2 decades before the well document Mariposa Battalion arrived.


      This sighting gets very little publicity with 1851 being the date that most books credit. Walker’s beaver trapping party was going from Wyoming to the Pacific. Luckily a journal by Zenas Leonard was kept to record the terrain and confirm that the party had indeed passed through what is now Yosemite.  An annual event of the era, called the Rendezvous was held at Ft. Bonneville, Utah was a “trade market expo” for fur trappers. After the 1833 event, Walker proceeded to head west thru Nevada. The time was October and they continued through the Carson area and met the huge eastern slope of the Sierra. He decided not to take the southern (Arizona) route laid out by Jedediah Smith in 1824 as a way to avoid the steep eastern wall. Continuing west they skirted Mono Lake then entered today’s park boundary near Summit Lake and on down “Return Creek” to Glen Aulin and Tenaya Lake. They sustained themselves by cooking and eating their horses one by one. From there they approached Snow Creek and looked into the Tenaya Canyon. They elected not to attempt to descend in light of the steep walls. They skirted the valley and stayed at the northwest valley until they arrived at Yosemite Creek and Yosemite Falls. So the official first sighting of the Yosemite Valley was from today’s Yosemite Point. They continued west snaking through the forest past Crane Flat and the Merced Grove until they could see the Central Valley. They traveled north up the San Joaquin river and towards the SF Bay. From there they continued down past Gilroy, San Juan Bautista and on to Monterey in November.
     To get the book click <HERE>. $15. It’s well written with a lot of topo maps showing the route Walker and his band of 40 took. Also included is a lively piece about the conflicts in accuracy laid out between the Leonard account and that of Dr Lafayette Bunnell who was with the 1851 Mariposa Battalion. Good reading for students of Yosemite. 
Unrelated thought worth quoting: “We were talking…about the space between us all. And the people who hide themselves behind a wall of illusion. Never glimpse the truth when it’s far too late…when they pass away…..” – Within You Without You, The Beatles
*Mr. Half Dome – Rick Deutsch – www.HikeHalfDome.com

About Mr Half Dome - Rick Deutsch

Mr Half Dome. Has written the only half dome hiking guide, One Best Hike: Yosemite's Half Dome. Has hiked it 31 times to day. Lives in San Jose, CA Available for presentations. Carpe Diem Experience, LLC
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4 Responses to 1833 – Joseph Walker sees Yosemite Valley

  1. mrhalfdome says:

    I suggest you get and read the 2009 Hiskes book for the latest research into this

    • Bob Graham says:

      Walker was never anywhere near Yosemite–the Leonard description of the deep chasm was the upper Mokelumne R, deepest canyon in the Sierra Nevada.
      Walker went up the Carson R, and descended the interfluve of the Mokelumne and Stanislaus Rivers.
      By the Yosemite discovery date Nov. 13, 1833 published by Walker’s nephew on Walker’s headstone, the party has already reached tidewater, and recorded the well documented great Leonid meteor shower of the night of Nov. 12th/13th.

      See A Way Across the Mountain: Joseph Walker’s 1833 Trans-Sierran Passage and the Myth of Yosemite’s Discovery, Scott Stine, published by Arthur H. Clark, San Francisco, and the University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, 2015

      • Bob,

        Thanks for the comment. A lot of the early pioneer history is dubious as CNN was not on the scene – so many of the “facts” can be misinterpreted.

        Did you read the referenced work by Grant and John Hiskes? Through their research they retraced the route that Walker took – step for step – and concluded as described. I suggest you contact them to debate their information. jrhiskes@dorbooks.com


  2. John Lauer says:

    Interesting! However, everything I have ever read states that the Walker party never saw Yosemite Valley. Supposedly, they followed what would today be the general course of Tioga Road, and never sent anyone to the Valley`s edge, though they did believe a deep valley was near. I thought Walker himself even said so. All the area Indians said none of these explorers saw the valley.

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