I cheerfully concede the fact set forth in the Pioneer article that,
“His were the first white man’s eyes that ever looked upon the Yosemite” above the valley,
and in that sense, he was certainly the original white discoverer. [Lafayette Bunnell]
In the absence of any evidence (traditionary or otherwise) on which to found a hypothesis as to the probable cause of the migration of Captain Walker to the West; within a short time he managed to acquire the nonexistent job as “Official Explorer for the US Government”.
Walker’s gained knowledge from travels, through Indian lands on horseback, was gathered from his years spent exploring the untouched interior, visiting unknown tribes, and making careful observations of native life in a host of territories.
By August of 1833 Captain Joseph R. Walker trekked to California with 58 to 60 of the most vicious, savage & skilled mountain men of the day. Most historians omit the 18 or so...rag-tagged horse thieves lead by Bill Williams who would separate from the main party and head up the Carson River and the Truckee River in October 1833.
The date of our discovery and entrance into the Yosemite was about the 21st of March, 1851 (James Savage). We were afterward assured by Ten-ie-ya and others of his band, that this was the first visit ever made to this valley by white men. Ten-ie-ya said that a small party of white men once crossed the mountains on the North side, but were so guided as not to see it;
The topography of the country over which the Mono Trail ran, and which was followed by Capt. Walker, did not admit of his seeing the valley proper. The depression indicating the valley, and its magnificent surroundings, could alone have been discovered, and in Capt. Walker’s conversations with me at various times while encamped between Coulterville and the Yosemite, he was manly enough to say so. Upon one occasion I (Dr. Lafayette H. Bunnell ) told Capt. Walker that Ten-ie-ya had said that, ‘A small party of white men once crossed the mountains on the north side, but were so guided as not to see the valley proper.’
With a smile the Captain said, “That was my party, but I was not deceived, for the lay of the land showed there was a valley below; but we had become nearly barefooted, our animals poor, and ourselves on the verge of starvation; so we followed down the ridge to Bull Creek, where, killing a deer, we went into camp.”
*Discover is a white man word for finding something that was always there*
"In reality Joe Walker only recorded the existence of what he found"Yosemite Valley was created by the melting Tioga glacier 12,700 years ago forming Lake Yosemite.
Diary of Zenas LeonardCaptain Walker was reported (1881) to have traveled by way of the Humboldt River and the Carson desert.
Both the north & south Carson Lakes, as well as Walker Lake are in the same footprint of the ancient Lake Lahontan which was a large endorheic lake that existed during the ice age 12,700 years ago. Together they were all part of the Lakes. After 5 weeks of exploring and mapping the Walker party arrived at Bridgeport, Mono County, California.
On the 10th of October we left these Indians and built rafts out of rushes to convey us across the river, when we left the Lakes and continued our course in the direction of a large mountain, which was in sight, and which we could see was covered with snow on the summit.
Zenas was talking about the Lakes above Walker Lake...like old Bridgeport Lake, Twin Lakes, Green Creek Lake and perhaps Virginia Lake.
The river they crossed was probably the East Walker River that could flow heavy during the winter months. In 1859 Topog Captain Simpson reported that the Walker River was 100 yards wide and 6 to 10 feet deep near it's mouth.They would have traversed the highest point "Conway Summit" which connects Bridgeport and the East Walker River on the north side of the pass to Mono Lake and Lee Vining to the south. and the snow covered mountain would seem to be the 13,061 foot tall, Mount Dana, the second largest mountain in the area.
In the evening we encamped on the margin of a large Lake formed by a river which heads in this mountain.
This can only be Mono Lake. Crossing the East Walker River it is only around 12 miles to Mono Lake. Several streams from Mount Dana, fed Mono Lake.
This lake, likewise, has no outlet for the water, except that which sinks into the ground.
He uses the word "likewise" because both Walker & Carson lakes have no outlets either & are also sinks.
The water in this lake is similar to lie, and tastes much like pearlash.
Pearlash is Potassium carbonate and used in making soap & glass. Lye is Potassium hydroxide or Sodium hydroxide.
Only trace amounts of this compound were found in Walker Lake & Carson Lake in 1881, where as Mono was rich in it.
Paoha Island in Mono Lake is a volcanic cone less than 350 years old and was less than 180 years old in 1833. This Rhyolite cone is of "Felsic" composition enriched lighter elements such as silicon, oxygen, aluminium, sodium, and potassium. Some of this rhyolite is highly vesicular ( has cavities) pumice.
If this river was in the vicinity of some city, it would be of inestimable value, as it is admirably calculated to wash clothes without soap, and no doubt could be appropriated to many valuable uses.
William Brewer of the California Geological Survey stated this in 1863:
The waters are clear and very heavy. When still, it looks like oil, it is so thick, and it is not easily disturbed. The water feels slippery to the touch and will wash grease from the hands, even when cold, more readily than common hot water and soap. I washed some woolens in it, and it was easier and quicker than any "suds" I ever saw. . . I took a bath in the lake; one swims very easily in the heavy water, but it feels slippery on the skin and smarts the eyes.
There is also a great quantity of pummice stone floating on the surface of the water, and the shore is covered with them.
Pummice is a volcanic rock that is a solidified frothy lava. Pumice is considered a glass because it has no crystal structure. Pumice varies in density according to the thickness of the solid material between the bubbles; many samples float in water.
The next day we travelled up this river towards the mountain, where we encamped for the night.
There are three small (so-called) rivers that travel up and due west from Mono Lake; Walker Creek, Lee Vining Creek and Mill Creek.
This mountain is very high, as the snow extends down the side nearly half way — the mountain runs North and South.
The Dana Plateau runs North and South.
In the morning we dispatched hunters to the mountain on search of game and also to look out for a pass over the mountain, as our provisions were getting scarce —
our dried buffaloe meat being almost done.
After prowling about all day, our hunters returned in the evening, bringing the unwelcome tidings that they had not seen any signs of game in all their ramblings, and what was equally discouraging, that they had seen no practicable place for crossing the mountain.
They, however, had with them a young colt and camel/mule, which they secured by the natives taking fright and running off, when the hunters came in sight.
The next morning, having eaten the last of our dried buffaloe meat, it was decided that the colt should be killed and divided equally to each man.
That was one lucky mule because you never want to eat your mule
Our situation was growing worse every hour, and something required to be done to extricate ourselves.
Our horses were reduced very much from the fatigues of our journey and light food, having travelled through a poor, sandy country extending from the buffaloe country of the Rocky Mountains, to our present encampment, a distance of about 1200 miles, without encountering a single hill of any consequence, (with the exception of the one in which Barren river heads, and that we went around,) and so poor and bare that nothing can subsist on it with the exception of rabbits — these being the only game we had met with since we had left the buffaloe country, with the exception of one or two antelopes.
1200 miles from the Rocky Mountains
Notwithstanding these plains forbids the support of animals of every description, yet I do not believe that we passed a single day without seeing Indians, or fresh signs, and some days hundreds of them.
Today we sent out several scouting parties to search out a pass over the mountain.
Capt. Walker, Nidever and myself started out together.
After getting part of the way up the mountain we came to a grove of timber, where the mountain was too steep for our horses, and we left them, and travelled on foot.
Nidever was separated from us, when two Indians made their appearance, but as soon as they saw us, they took to flight and run directly towards Nidever, who at once supposed they had been committing some mischief with us, fired, and, as they were running one behind the other, killed them both at one shot.
Good thing Jed Smith was not in charge because 90% of the Americans would have been killed. Walker only lost one man in 50 years.
After this unpleasant circumstance we went back to our horses, and from thence to camp.
Mr. Nidever was very sorry when he discovered what he had done.
Somewhere along the line they hired two Indian guides, 1 Ute/Paiute & 1 Mono
In the evening the balance of our scouting parties returned, but none of them had killed any game.
One of them had found an Indian path, which they thought led over the mountain — whereupon it was resolved that in the morning we would take this path, as it seemed to be our only prospect of preservation.
Accordingly, at an early hour the next morning we started on our journey along the foot of the mountain in search of the path discovered on the previous day, and found it.
Most likely Mono Pass especially if Indians with horses were using it. Tioga Pass road is also a possible path.
On examination we found that horses travelled it, and must of course come from the west.
This gave us great encouragement, as we were very fearful we would not be able to get our horses over at all.
Here we encamped for the night.
In the morning we started on our toilsome journey.
Ascending the mountain we found to be very difficult from the rocks and its steepness.
The trail up to Mono Pass, past Walker Lake (named after Jo Walker) is very steep too. They are most likely near South Sardine Lake. The creek from Walker Lake to Mono Lake is called Walker Creek.
This day we made but poor speed, and encamped on the side of the mountain.
October 16. (6 days) Continued our course until in the afternoon, when we arrived at what we took for the top, where we again encamped, but without any thing to eat for our horses, as the ground was covered with a deep snow, which from appearance, lays on the North side of the peaks, the whole year around.
These peaks are generally covered with rocks and sand, — totally incapable of vegetation; except on the South side, where grows a kind of Juniper or Gin shrub, bearing a berry tasting similar to gin.
Here we passed the night without anything to eat except these gin berries, and some of the insects from the lake described above, which our men had got from the Indians.
The insects were most likely the Alkali fly that Paiutes called the pupae “kutsavi,” and during the summer would harvest it and use is as a main source of food and the berries the Western Juniper (Juniperus occidentalis) that are found in this area & grows at 9840 feet.
We had not suffered much from cold for several months previous to this; but this night, surrounded as we were with the everlasting snows on the summit of this mountain, the cold was felt with three fold severity.
In taking a view the next morning of the extensive plains through which we had travelled, its appearance is awfully sublime.
As far as the eye can reach, you can see nothing but an unbroken level, tiresome to the eye to behold.
Looking toward the East with Mono Lake at the bottom.
To the West the aspect is truly wonderful.
The above two pictures are only 4 miles apart. Leonard goes on to explain where they had been.
The sight meets with nothing but a poor sandy plain, extending from the base of the Rocky mountains to the level below — interposed with several rivers winding their way, here and there forming innumerable lakes, having their margins thinly adorned with a few withering and fading cottonwood trees — where the water ceases to flow, and sinks into the sand.
But this is not all.
The rivers which head in this mountain, all lead towards the East, as if to meet those from the Rocky mountains, and likewise empty into the lakes.
This will all change as they head down the meadow and move away from the summit.
The next morning it was with no cheerful prospect that each man prepared himself for travelling, as we had nothing to eat worth mentioning.
As we advanced, in the hollows sometimes we would encounter prodigious quantities of snow.
When we would come to such places, a certain portion of the men would be appointed alternately to go forward and break the road, to enable our horses to get through; and if any of the horses would get swamped, these same men were to get them out.
In this tedious and tiresome manner we spent the whole day without going more than 8 or 10 miles.
In some of these ravines where the snow is drifted from the peaks, it never entirely melts, and may be found at this season of the year, from ten to one hundred feet deep.
From appearance it never melts on the top, but in warm weather the heap sinks by that part melting which lays next the ground.
This day's travel was very severe on our horses, as they had not a particle to eat.
They began to grow stupid and stiff, and we began to despair of getting them over the mountain.
We encamped this night on the south side of one of these peaks or ridges without any thing to eat, and almost without fire.
To add to the troubles and fatigues which we encountered in the day time, in getting over the rocks and through the snow, we had the mortification this evening to find that some of our men had become almost unmanageable, and were desirous of turning back and retracing our steps to the buffaloe country!
The voice of the majority, which always directs the movements of such a company, would not pacify them; nor had the earnest appeals of our captain any effect.
The distance was too great for them to undertake without being well provided, and the only way they could be prevented, was by not letting them have any of the horses or ammunition.
Two of our horses were so much reduced that it was thought they would not be able to travel in the morning at all, whereupon it was agreed that they should be butchered for the use of the men.
This gave our men fresh courage, and we went to bed this night in better spirits than we had done for a long time.
Some of the men had fasted so long, and were so much in want of nourishment, that they did not know when they had satisfied the demands of nature, and eat as much and as eagerly of this black, tough, lean, horse flesh, as if it had been the choicest piece of beef steak.
In the morning, after freely partaking of the horse meat, and sharing the remainder to each man, we renewed our journey, now and then coming onto an Indian path, but as they did not lead in the direction we were going, we did not follow them — but the most of the distance we this day travelled, we had to encounter hills, rocks and deep snows.
This is where the Tuolumne River heads northwest near Lembert Dome toward Glen Aulin. As Joe Walker's obituary stated it: "
The snow in most of the hollows we this day passed through, looks as if it had remained here all summer, as eight or ten inches from the top it was packed close and firm — the top being loose and light, having fell only a day or two previous.
About the middle of the afternoon we arrived at a small Lake or pond, where we concluded to encamp, as at this pond we found a small quantity of very indifferent grass, but which our horses cropped off with great eagerness.
Tenaya Lake area
Here we spent the night, having yet seen nothing to create a hope that we had arrived near the opposite side of the mountain — and what was equally as melancholy, having yet discovered no signs of game.
The next morning we resumed our labour, fortunately finding less snow and more timber, besides a number of small lakes, and some prospect of getting into a country that produced some kind of vegetation.
Lukens Lake, Siesta Lake area
The timber is principally pine, cedar and red wood, mostly of a scrubby and knotty quality.
After travelling a few miles, further however, than any other day since we had reached the top of the mountain, we again encamped on the margin of another small lake, where we also had the good fortune to find some pasture for our horses.
This evening it was again decided to kill three more of our horses which had grown entirely worthless from severe travelling and little food.
The next morning several parties were dispatched on search of a pass over the mountain, and to make search for game; but they all returned in the evening without finding either.
The prospect at this time began to grow some-what gloomy and threaten us with hard times again.
We were at a complete stand.
No one was acquainted with the country, nor no person knew how wide the summit of this mountain was.
Possibly near Olmsted Point between Mt. Watkins & Mt Hoffman, they will stay on the Mono trail.
October 21st. — We had travelled for five days since we arrived at what we supposed to be the summit — were now still surrounded with snow and rugged peaks — the vigour of every man almost exhausted - nothing to give our poor horses, which were no longer any assistance to us in travelling, but a burthen, for we had to help the most of them along as we would an old and feeble man.
This is about 20 miles or 4 miles a day
This mountain must be near as high as the main chain of the Rocky mountains — at least a person would judge so from the vast quantity of snow with which it is covered, and the coldness of the air.
The descent from the Rocky mountains to this is but trifling and supposed by all the company not to be greater than we had ascended this mountain from the plain — though we had no means of ascertaining the fact.
It is true, however, that the vast plain through which we had travelled was almost perfectly level, on part of which the water gradually descended to the West, and on the other towards the East.
This is traveling down Tuolumne Meadows
Our situation was growing more distressing every hour, and all we now thought of, was to extricate ourselves from this inhospit-able region; and, as we were perfectly aware, that to travel on foot was the only way of succeeding, we spent no time in idleness — scarcely stopping in our journey to view an occasional specimen of the wonders of nature's handy-work.
We travelled a few miles every day, still on the top of the mountain, and our course continually obstructed with snow hills and rocks.
Here we began to encounter in our path, many small streams which would shoot out from under these high snow-banks, and after running a short distance in deep chasms which they have through ages cut in the rocks, precipitate themselves from one lofty precipice to another, until they are exhausted in rain below.They see water falls but could not have seen the valley floor.
- Some of these precipices appeared to us to be more than a mile high.
Some of the men thought that if we could succeed in descending one of these precipices to the bottom, we might thus work our way into the valley below — but on making several attempts we found it utterly impossible for a man to descend, to say nothing of our horses.
We were then obliged to keep along the top of the dividing ridge between two of these chasms which seemed to lead pretty near in the direction we were going — which was West, — in passing over the mountain, supposing it to run north & south.
As you can see the entire Yosemite Ridge is between two chasms; one being the "Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne and the other Yosemite Valley.
In this manner we continued until the 25th October, without any particular occurrence, except that of our horses dying daily — the flesh of which we preserved for food.
Our course was very rough & tiresome, having to encounter one hill of snow and one ledge of rocks after another.
On the 25th October every man appeared to be more discouraged and down-spirited than ever, and I thought that our situation would soon be beyond hope if no prospect of getting from the mountain would now be discovered.
This day we sent out several parties on discoveries, who returned in the evening without bringing the least good news, except one man, who was last coming, having separated from his companions, brought a basket full of acorns, to camp.
This would be in the area of Yosemite Creek
These were the first had seen since we left the State of Missouri.
These nuts our hunter had got from an Indian who had them on his back travelling as though he was on a journey across the mountain, to the East side.
— When the Indian seen our hunter he dropped his basket of provision and run for life.
These nuts caused no little rejoicing in our camp, not only on account of their value as food, but because they gave us the gratifying evidence that a country mild and salubrious enough to produce acorns was not far distant, which must be vastly different from any we had passed through for a long time.
We now felt agreeably surprised that we had succeeded so far and so prosperously, in a region of many miles in extent where a native Indian could find nothing to eat in traversing the same route, but acorns.
These nuts are quite different from those in Missouri — being much larger and more palatable.
They are from 1 1/2 to 3 inches in length, and about 3/4 in diameter, and when roasted in the ashes or broiled, are superior to any chestnuts I ever eat — (though a person subsisting upon very lean horse meat for several days is hardly capable of judging with precision in a case of this kind.)
The next morning we resumed our journey somewhat revived with the strong expectation that after a few days more tedious travelling, we would find ourselves in a country producing some kind of game by which we might recruit our languid frames, and pasture to resuscitate the famished condition of our horses.
We still found snow in abundance, but our course was not so much obstructed with rocks as formerly.
In two or three days we arrived at the brink of the mountain. (October 27-28)
This at first was a happy sight, but when we approached close, it seemed to be so near perpendicular that it would be folly to attempt a descent.
In looking on the plain below with the naked eye, you have one of the most singular prospects in nature; from the great height of the mountain the plain presents a dim yellow appearance; — but on taking a view with the spy glass we found it to be a beautiful plain stretched out towards the west until the horizon presents a barrier to the sight.
The plain is to the west and northwest, so he is not looking down the Yosemite Valley which is to the south.
From the spot where we stood to the plain beneath, must at least be a distance of three miles, as it is almost perpendicular, a person cannot look down without feeling as if he was wafted to and fro in the air, from the giddy height.
A great many were the surmises as to the distance and direction to the nearest point of the Pacific.
Captain Walker, who was a man well acquainted with geography, was of the opinion that it was not much further than we could see with the aid of our glass, as the plain had the appearance of a sea shore.
Here we encamped for the night, and sent men out to discover some convenient passage down towards the plain — who returned after an absence of a few hours and reported that they had discovered a pass or Indian trail which they thought would answer our purpose, and also some signs of deer and bear, which was equally as joyful news — as we longed to have a taste of some palatable food at the path.
The next morning after pursuing our course a few miles along the edge of the mountain top we arrived at the path discovered by our men, and immediately commenced the descent, gladly leaving the cold and famished region of snow behind.
The mountain was extremely steep and difficult to descend, and the only way we could come any speed was by taking a zigzag direction, first climbing along one side and then turning to the other, until we arrived at a ledge or precipice of rocks, of great height, and extending eight or ten miles along the mountain — where we halted and sent men in each direction to ascertain if there was any possibility of getting over this obstruction.
In the afternoon of the same day our men returned without finding any safe passage thro' the rocks — but one man had succeeded in killing a small deer, which he carried all the way to camp on his back — this was dressed, cooked and eat in less time than a hungry wolf would devour a lamb.
[Captain Joe Walker, for whom “Walker’s Pass” is named, told me that he once passed quite near the valley on one of his mountain trips; but that his Ute and Mono guides gave such a dismal account of the caņons of both rivers, that he kept his course near to the divide until reaching Bull Creek, he descended and went into camp, not seeing the valley proper.]
This was the first game larger than a rabbit we had killed since the 4th of August when we killed the last buffaloe near the Great Salt Lake, and the first we had eat since our dried meat was exhausted, (being 14 days,) during which time we lived on stale and forbidden horse flesh.
I was conscious that it was not such meat as a dog would feast on, but we were driven to extremes and had either to do this or die.
It was the most unwholesome as well as the most unpleasant food I ever eat or ever expect to eat — and I hope that no other person will ever be compelled to go through the same.
It seemed to be the greatest cruelty to take your rifle, when your horse sinks to the ground from starvation, but still manifests a desire and willingness to follow you, to shoot him in the head and then cut him up & take such parts of their flesh as extreme hunger alone will render it possible for a human being to eat. This we done several times and it was the only thing that saved us from death.
24 of our horses died since we arrived on top of the mountain — 17 of which we eat the best parts.
When our men returned without finding any passage over the rocks, we searched for a place that was as smooth and gradual in the descent as possible, and after finding one we brought our horses, and by fastening ropes round them let them down one at a time without doing them any injury.
Near the Bull Creek camp site
After we got our horses and baggage all over the rocks we continued our course down the mountain, which still continued very steep and difficult.
The circumstance of one of our men killing a deer greatly cheered the languid spirits of our hunters, and after we got safely over the rocks several of the men started out on search of game, although it was then near night.
The main body continued on down until we arrived at some green oak bushes, where we encamped for the night, to wait for our hunters, - who returned soon after dark well paid for their labour, having killed two large black tailed deer and a black bear, and all very fat and in good eating order.
Bull Creek camp site
This night we passed more cheerful and in better heart than any we had spent for a long time. Our meat was dressed and well cooked, and every man felt in good order to partake of it.
In descending the mountain this far we have found but little snow, and began to emerge into a country which had some signs of vegetation — having passed thro' several groves of green oak bushes, &c.
The principal timber which we came a cross, is Red-Wood, White Cedar and the Balsom tree.
We continued down the side of the mountain at our leisure, finding the timber much larger and better, game more abundant and the soil more fertile.
Here we found plenty of oak timber, bearing a large quantity of acorns, though of a different kind from those taken from the Indian on the mountain top.
In the evening of the 30th October we arrived at the foot or base of this mountain — having spent almost a month in crossing over.
Along the base of this mountain it is quite romantic — the soil is very productive — the timber is immensely large and plenty, and game, such as deer, elk, grizzly bear and antelopes are remarkably plenty.
— From the mountain out to the plain, a distance varying from 10 to 20 miles, the timber stands as thick as it could grow and the land is well watered by a number of small streams rising here and there along the mountain.
In the last two days travelling we have found some trees of the Red-wood species, incredibly large — some of which would measure from 16 to 18 fathoms round the trunk at the height of a man's head from the ground.
Zenas is talking about the past two days
On the 31st October we pursued our course towards the plain in a western direction.
— Now, that we had reached a country thickly filled with almost all kinds of game, our men and particularly those fond of hunting, were in fine spirits.
This day our company was much scattered, and we could hardly tell which was the main body, as the men were stretched over a large space of ground, all moving within each others hearing towards the plain.
After a walk of about fifteen miles we arrived at the margin of the woods, where we concluded to spend the remainder of the day and night.
When our men all gathered together it was astonishing to see the quantity of game which they had collected — principally deer and bear.
Our hunters complained very much because there was no buffaloe here — as killing these animals afford the hunter such fine sport; and they would not believe anything else than that buffaloe inhabited this region until they had made several unsuccessful hunts — as the climate and soil is about the same, the grass equally as good and plenty, and the prairies and forests as extensive as those of the region of the Rocky Mountains.
But none of these animals have ever been found west of the Great Salt Lake, which is about three hundred miles west of the summit of the Rocky mountains.
On the following morning we directed our course across or rather along the plain, until we came to a large river heading in the mountain and wending its way through the plain.
This river presents more wonderful curiosities than any other stream we passed.