Challenge of the Big Trees
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Chapter Four:
Parks and Forests: Protection Begins


Expansion of Sequoia and Creation of General Grant

Stewart made no secret of his intention to protect more of the Tulare County mountain lands. But the next move in this direction, which occurred within a week of the signing of the act he had worked to create, came as a total surprise to Stewart and almost everyone else in Tulare County. On October 1, 1890, President Harrison signed another national park bill that had been introduced by Vandever. This one had been introduced in the House on March 18 as H.R. 8350, to create a Yosemite National Park to surround the existing state reservations which protected Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove of Big Trees. The bill, supported by a group of northern Californians almost totally separate from Stewart's group, had moved slowly, and not until September 30, near the end of the session, did it come before the entire House. As was the case with the Sequoia bill, Representative Payson of the House Committee on Public Lands represented the bill on the floor of the House. Paysons recommendation, however, was not that the House pass H. R 8350, but rather that the House agree instead to consider a substitute bill, H.R. 12187, also sponsored by Vandever. The substitute differed radically from Vandever's original bill. It still contained provisions for a Yosemite National Park, but would create a reservation five times larger than that called for in H. R. 8350. Vandever's original Yosemite scheme outlined a relatively small federal reservation surrounding the state park; the new bill called for an extensive federal park very similar to that proposed the previous year by John Muir. The substitute bill also contained an entirely new section, which would add five townships to Sequoia National Park as well as permanently preserve the four sections of land surrounding the Grant Grove that had first been withdrawn from sale nearly a decade earlier. [12] Within the five townships proposed for addition to Sequoia were all the Timber and Stone Act claims of the Kaweah colonists.

As historian Douglas Strong later noted, there is little evidence that the congressmen who passed H. R. 12187 understood what they were doing. [13] The Yosemite portions of the bill were relatively clear, but section three, which affected the Tulare County mountains, was a model of evasion. The lands in question were to be "reserved and withdrawn from settlement, occupancy, or sale under the laws of the United States, and . . . set apart as reserved forest lands . . ." subject to the same management provisions as were included within the Yosemite Park section of the bill. Nowhere was there any mention of H. R. 11570, passed a week earlier, or Sequoia National Park, Tulare County, or even the Kaweah watershed.

Despite some grumbling from the floor over the substitution, Payson read the bill and got it through the House that day with no recorded debate. The following day, the penultimate of the session, Senator Plumb of Kansas brought H. R. 12187 to the floor of the Senate. After the bill was read, Senator George Edmunds of Vermont complained that it could not be understood and should be printed. Then someone spoke quietly to Edmunds, and he withdrew his objections. The bill passed the Senate without further debate and was signed by President Harrison the following day, October 1, 1890. [14]

map of Sequoia and General Grant NP
(click on image for an enlargement in a new window)

To this day, the origins of and motivations behind H. R. 12187 have never been adequately explained. No one ever admitted drafting the substitute bill. Congressional archives contain nothing, not even the original bill. So the question remains, who was behind the political intrigue that increased Yosemite's acreage by 500 per cent over what Vandever had proposed the previous March, nearly tripled the acreage of the newly created Sequoia National Park, and created a third entirely new national park—soon to be named after General Grant? In the early 1960s two historians, Holway R. Jones and Oscar Berland, tackled the question. Berland focused on the question of Sequoia's enlargement. First he followed Stewart's trail, when, late in his life, he undertook a prolonged and unsuccessful attempt to answer the question himself. Eventually Berland pieced together a circumstantial case focusing on the organization that in 1890 was arguably the most influential and powerful in California—the Southern Pacific Railroad. Berland found only one hard piece of evidence connecting the enlargement with the railroad, a map drafted by the company showing the revised boundaries of Sequoia Park and the presence of the new General Grant reservation and dated "San Francisco, October 10, 1890." At this date no one else in California yet knew of the enlargement; Stewart and his friends did not realize what had happened until October 21. Beyond the map, Berland looked for likely connections and found one in Daniel K. Zumwalt, a Tulare County lawyer who had regularly represented the railroad in its local affairs. Zumwalt also knew the mountains; during the summer of 1889 he had made a trip to Kings Canyon in the company, among others, of the same William B. Wallace who had first proposed a Mt. Whitney national reserve back in 1881. Moreover, Zumwalt was in Washington during early September, as a personal guest of Vandever. [15]

Berland's research proved that the Southern Pacific (alone at the time) was fully aware of what H. R. 12187 implied, and that it had an agent on the ground who knew the situation. But what was the railroad's likely motive? Here, only speculation remains. Certainly the railroad would profit from development of tourist enterprises along its lines, and, in fact, the railroad sent a photographic party to the new Sequoia National Park during the park's first month of existence. Probably more important, however, according to Berland's speculations, was the railroad's deep involvement in the California lumber industry. On its northern California lands Southern Pacific controlled enormous amounts of saw timber, and it made a substantial profit transporting wood products to central and southern California. Southern Pacific also owned major tracts of agricultural lands in Tulare County, and thus would benefit from the same watershed protection efforts that the county's independent land owners had supported. Finally, it was rumored that the railroad was involved financially in the Smith and Moore lumbering enterprises active in sequoia groves immediately north and south of the new park. Perhaps, Berland implied, the ultimate goal of the Southern Pacific was to destroy the Kaweah Colony and its competitive lumbering potential. Holway Jones, studying the Yosemite aspects of H. R. 12187, found the same trail of confusion and deceit. He was unable to provide more than suggestions as to who was actually behind the substitute bill. [16] But one more hint does exist, according to Berland. In 1913 Zumwalt, by then an old man, took credit for helping create General Grant National Park; he never said anything, however, about his relationship with the remainder of the same bill. [17]

The full story of how Sequoia National Park came to include the Giant Forest, how General Grant National Park came into existence, and how Yosemite National Park blossomed to include much of the central Sierra, will probably never be known. What is obvious is that through the use of a cooperative congressman who undertook to sponsor several local causes, and then through the very careful and quiet substitution of carefully thought out alternative legislation, some unknown agents created or enlarged three national parks for reasons that can only be surmised. probably the agent was the Southern Pacific Railroad, representing its own interests and possibly also those of some of its individual local representatives, presumably the motivation was nothing less than corporate greed—an irony seldom appreciated by modern students of the Sierran national parks.


Challenge of the Big Trees
©1990, Sequoia Natural History Association
dilsaver-tweed/chap4c.htm — 12-Jul-2004