President Garfield's 1875 Trip to Yosemite

President Garfield's 1875 Trip to Yosemite


Enroute to Yosemite, Garfield stayed at Galen Clarke's ranch, 5 miles from the Mariposa Grove. He noted that that his guides were Mexican and that the trout he ate for breakfast were caught by Indians and prepared by a Chinese cook.


Galen Clarke, the first European American to discover the Mariposa Grove, served as "Guardian" of Yosemite for 24 years.


James A. Garfield of Ohio was elected to Congress in 1862. In his first term he voted on the unprecedented 1864 Yosemite Grant, later signed by President Lincoln, to cede Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove to California “upon the express conditions that the premises shall be held for public use, resort and recreation.”

In 1871, with the Republican Party in control of both houses of Congress as well as the Presidency, Garfield was named head of the Appropriations Committee. (For those who may not know, the Appropriations Committee controls where the money goes.) James Garfield was one of the most powerful men in Washington.

That all changed during the midterm elections of 1874. In the biggest ever "flip" of the House, the Republicans lost 96 of their 203 seats. Garfield suddenly went from being one of the most powerful men in Washington to being just one of 293 Congressmen.

So what did James Garfield do?

He went to Yosemite!


Garfield hopped aboard the transcontinental railroad, completed only six years earlier, and traveled to California. He then took another train to Merced, a stagecoach to Mariposa and finally traveled by horseback to what is now Yosemite National Park.

James A. Garfield was impressed by what he saw, but felt he was unable to put it all in words: “(Yosemite) is one of the few things I have ever examined which has not been over praised. All description fails adequately to exhibit its greatness."



Upon visiting the Mariposa Grove, Garfield wrote: "To look upon a tree that antedates the Christian Era; that was in lusty vigor when Rome was founded; that is older than the Iliad, is a thing not to be passed over lightly. I came down from the mountain feeling as thought I had communed with the monarchs of the classic days."

Photo: Grant Ordelheide




Garfield's view of Yosemite Valley came as a snow flurry subsided. He wrote: "After a sharp shower of ten minutes the sun burst forth in full splendor disclosing the wonderful beauty of Bridal Veil Fall and the grand doorway to the Yosemite formed by the El Capitan on the left and the Cathedral Rocks on the right."

Photo: Gretchen Roecker Yosemite Conservancy 


In a letter to his family Garfield wrote: "Tell Mamma that in my late letters I have spelled it as two words, but I was wrong. It is only one word, Yosemite, and is pronounced Yo-sem-i-te, four syllables, accented on the second.

Drawing: James A. Garfield

James A. Garfield traveled to Yosemite in 1875, five years before he was elected president of the United States. Many Presidents have visited Yosemite while in office, including Rutherford Hayes, Theodore Roosevelt, William Taft, Franklin Roosevelt, John Kennedy and Barack Obama.

No Presidents have visited Yosemite's Hetch Hetchy Valley, but several Secretaries of the Interior have, including Richard Ballinger (Taft), Donald Hodel (Reagan) and Ryan Zinke (Reagan). Secretaries James R. Garfield (Roosevelt, and son of President James A. Garfield) and Franklin Lane (Wilson, and former City Attorney for San Francisco), both of whom played key roles in damming Hetch Hetchy, never visited Hetch Hetchy.

Yosemite, including Hetch Hetchy, is rich in American History. Restore Hetch Hetchy is committed to writing the next chapter.

Much of the information above was derived from material posted on the internet by Ephriam Dickson, who researched Garfield's trip via the Library of Congress. Our thanks to Mr. Dickson.