Challenge of the Big Trees
NPS Arrowhead logo

Chapter Four:
Parks and Forests: Protection Begins


The Campaign to Create Sequoia National Park

The General Land Office confirmed all of Stewart's worst fears when, on May 23, the agency canceled the suspension on township 17, range 30, and opened the area once again to land purchase. Eager land claimants immediately filed on portions of the township, which contained most of the timber land adjacent to the Mineral King Road, and several large sequoia groves. [9] Soon rumors circulated that township 18, range 30, would also be put back on the market. This tract, in the timber belt of the South Fork of the Kaweah, contained several large sequoia groves including the spectacular Garfield Grove on the north side of Dennison Mountain. Stewart responded with a strong telegram of protest to the secretary of the interior and with a change in his strategy. For the time being he would defer his goal of large-scale protection for the southern Sierra and concentrate on protection of township 18, range 30. Stewart perceived that this single township represented the last chance to preserve a large tract of sequoia land in permanent federal ownership. Title to all the other major groves, including Giant Forest, was impaired in one way or another. With the nearly full-time help of Frank Walker, another interested Tulare County man, Stewart initiated a campaign to protect the critical township. Early July saw a shower of editorials in the Delta and letters to Secretary Noble. Over the next few weeks Stewart's proposal shifted slightly when he discovered that a bribery dispute between a surveyor and a squatter stockman had resulted in the extensive Hockett Meadows not being declared Swamp and Overflow land. Since the meadows formed the heart of the township immediately east of the one Stewart was fighting for, he added the second township to his scheme, thinking that it would make an excellent summering area for mountain visitors. When it was discovered that four sections in the township to the north also contained sequoias and had not yet been claimed, Stewart also added those sections to his proposal.

Having initiated the publicity effort, Stewart now turned to the political arena. On July 28 General William Vandever, representative of California's Sixth Congressional District, introduced H.R. 11570, based closely on Stewart's proposals. Why Stewart worked through Representative Vandever remains a mystery. Vandever, from Ventura, was not Tulare County's congressman. Interestingly, Vandever had already that same year introduced a bill to create Yosemite National Park, an area even farther removed from his district. With a bill in place, Stewart and Frank Walker next worked to broaden support. Soon, they undertook a media campaign that involved sending materials to newspapers and magazines across the country. They managed to get a supportive editorial in the New York Tribune and gained the ear of Robert Underwood Johnson, editor of Century Magazine. By August 5, they even had the public support of California Governor S. W. Waterman.

With the end of the congressional session not far off, it was important that the bill proceed quickly. On August 23, Lewis E. Payson of Illinois, chairman of the House Committee on Public Lands, received permission to bring the bill before the House of Representatives. With his support, and no organized opposition, the bill passed the House on a voice vote and was referred to the Senate Committee on Public Lands. [10] As September began, support continued to build. The California Academy of Sciences entered the effort early in the month, led by Gustavus Eisen. Other support came from the San Francisco Chronicle, the San Francisco Examiner, the San Francisco Bulletin, the Oakland Tribune, the Sacramento Bee, and the Fresno Expositor. In Tulare County, papers in Porterville and Traver opposed the bill, while the Delta's chief Visalia rival, the Tulare County Times, remained silent. Organized local opposition was limited mostly to the mountain grazing interests, a relatively small group. The limited nature of Stewart's goals and the general feeling of the valley people that it was time to control grazing, logging, and fires in the mountains, prevented the bill from becoming locally controversial.

On September 8 Senator Preston Plumb of Kansas, chairman of the Senate Committee on Public Lands, received unanimous consent for the immediate consideration of H.R. 11570. Following his favorable report, and without debate or amendment, the Senate passed the bill. A bit more than two weeks later, on September 25, 1890, President Benjamin Harrison signed it into law. Jubilant, the Delta editorialized that "the first step in a great work" had been accomplished. [11] His immediate goal of protecting one township of sequoias achieved, Stewart could now return to the larger effort of ending timber land sales in the southern Sierra Nevada.

Stewart, Walker, and a number of other Tulare County men and women had succeeded in permanently withdrawing from sale some seventy-six square miles of Sierran forest containing one large and truly first-class sequoia grove and another half dozen smaller groves. In the eastern part of the new reservation, along the Hockett Trail, they also had taken away from the grazing interests a series of extensive mountain meadows which would henceforth be available for recreational purposes. The bill did not specifically designate the area a "national park" but it did state that the lands in question were to be "set apart as a public park, or pleasure ground, for the benefit and enjoyment of the people..." The act assigned responsibility for protecting the new park to the secretary of the interior, together with the authority to make and publish necessary rules. Included in the bill were instructions that required the secretary to "provide for the preservation from injury of all timber, mineral deposits, natural curiosities or wonders within said park, and their retention in their natural state." The "wanton destruction" of fish and game was to be prevented and leases of up to ten years were allowed for the "accommodation of visitors."

In retrospect, with only Yellowstone as a possible model and with the concept of a true national park only beginning to appear even there, Vandevers bill was an effective and innovative charter. And through the efforts of George Stewart and Frank Walker, it had all been accomplished in only four months.


Challenge of the Big Trees
©1990, Sequoia Natural History Association
dilsaver-tweed/chap4b.htm — 12-Jul-2004