The Establishment of Yosemite National Park – 10/1/1890

US History |


On October 1st of 1890, Congress passed an act that created Yosemite National Park. Yosemite Valley, which is located in the Sierra Nevada mountain range of the central eastern part of California, is home to such natural wonders as the giant waterfall, the giant sequoia trees, El Capitan, and Half Dome, as well as many clear blue lakes and glaciers, with much biodiversity in the ecosystem. In fact, roughly 20 percent of California's 7,000 plant species can be found in the Yosemite Valley. Almost 95 percent of Yosemite National park is a designated wilderness. 

Pioneering environmentalist John Muir and his team had campaigned for the action by Congress, which was eventually signed into law by President Benjamin Harrison.

The Native American people who used to live in the Yosemite Valley had already been forced to evacuate during the California Gold Rush, when wagon teams by the many thousands ate up all the grasses and scared the game away. Yosemite is the Miwok word for “killer,” probably referring to an enemy (of the Miwoks) tribe that was driven out of the region, and possibly annihilated. Before then, Yosemite was known to the indigenous people as Ahwahnee (meaning “big mouth”). According to archeological studies, the area of Yosemite Valley has been populated for more than 3,000 years. The indigenous natives who dwelled there named themselves Ahwahneechee, after the place where they had settled.

The food in the region then was pretty much the same as it is today. The Ahwahneechee diet consisted mostly of deer, salmon, plants, and acorns. The Ahwahneechee were related to the Northern Paiute and Mono tribes. Many other tribes also visited the area to trade, as a major trade route ran through Mono Pass.

In 1864, due to extreme commercialization, a group of conservationists persuaded Abraham Lincoln to declare the Yosemite Valley (and the Mariposa Grove) a “public trust of the state of California.” With this in mind, President Lincoln signed the Yosemite Grant. This was the first time the United States government protected land for public enjoyment. This set the foundation for the National and State Park systems. America's first National Park was Yellowstone, established in 1872. 

In 1889, John Muir noticed that the lush, green valley’s surrounding Yosemite were being destroyed by domestic sheep grazing. So Muir and others lobbied for Yosemite to attain National Park status. That's why on October 1st of 1890, Congress set aside a chunk of land about the size of Rhode Island (more than 1,500 square miles), and named it Yosemite National Park. Yosemite became the third National Park in America. In 1926, the Yosemite Valley and the whole Mariposa Grove were also protected, under the same jurisdiction as the park itself.

Photographer Ansel Adams (1902 - 1984) lived in the park for several years, and immortalized the landscape in his black and white photographs.

These days, more than three million people visit Yosemite National Park each year. Yosemite also now has a museum, with a reconstructed Ahwahneechee village located behind the building. 

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Nancy Reyes

Senior Writer

One of our top senior writers, Nancy came to us wanting to break away from the politics that comes with major news corporations. She leads our team of historical writers in creating the best engaging content out there that keeps our readers coming back for more. She is an enthusiast of all things medieval and has been a member of her renaissance fair group for 15 years. She received her degree in International Relations from the University of Southern California and hopes to one day travel the world.