March 27, 1851 – Yosemite Discovered

On this day, over 160 years ago, white Europeans first saw and entered the Yosemite Valley.

Lafayette Bunnell was a member of the Mariposa Battalion who became the white discoverers of the Yosemite Valley in 1851 when they were in search of Native American tribes involved in raids on settlements. Although not having a medical degree, he was called “doctor” and was their “medicine man.” (Dr. Bunnell later served as a surgeon in the Civil War.) We know most of the early history from his 1892 seminal work: “Discovery of the Yosemite, and the Indian war of 1851, which led to that event.”

Note that he wrote it 30 years after he came into the valley. He said he was seeing too much wrong info being written in magazines and had to set the record straight. He states that the entry was on March 21 – later historians feel it was really March 27. Close enough. You can hike to the overlook from which he described the scene. They called it Mt. Beatitude. Today it’s believed to be Old Inspiration Point. It’s on maps and you can get there off the Glacier Point Road and a couple of miles west of Dewey Point. Note that there is an “Inspiration Point” marked above the Tunnel View area and is “modern” with the classic view of El Cap and the valley. It’s not there.


Vantage of First view of Valley

Bunnell’s words upon gazing down at first seeing El Cap and the Valley beyond:

“It has been said that “it is not easy to describe in words the precise impressions which great objects make upon us. I cannot describe how completely I realized this truth. None but those who have visited this most wonderful valley can even imagine the feelings with which I looked upon the view that was there presented. The grandeur of the scene was but softened by the haze that hung over the valley – light as gossamer – and by the clouds which partially dimmed the higher cliffs and mountains. This obscurity of vision but increased the awe with which I beheld it, and as I looked, a peculiar exalted sensation seemed to fill my whole being, and I found my eyes in tears with emotion.”

Register for the Merced River Plan Preliminary Alternatives, WEBINAR on March 27 10 am at

Related thought worth quoting: “See Yosemite and die! I shall not attempt to describe it; the subject is too large and my capacity too small.” –  Albert D. Richardson, 1869 

*MrHalfDome™ – Rick Deutsch –

One Best Hike: Yosemite’s Half Dome

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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2 Responses to March 27, 1851 – Yosemite Discovered

  1. Maureen L says:

    others credit Joseph Walker 1833, as the first of European descent.

    not for entering the Valley, but seeing it from the cliff tops, or maybe seeing the Cascades west of the Valley.

    • Mr Half Dome - Rick Deutsch says:

      Yes…but he did not enter the valley – they did. Others could have been earlier there including James Savage … I go into all this in the 2nd edition. Out soon.

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