The Embattled Wilderness
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A Note on the Sources

No single bibliography could ever begin to list the many hundreds of books and articles that cite significant events, people, and places in Yosemite's long and involved history. The following is merely suggestive of the major published works and archival sources that must be consulted by every serious writer. My notes, in turn, should also be consulted for detailed evaluations of primary and secondary materials not mentioned in this essay.

The majority of this book has been written from archival collections. These include the records of the Yosemite National Park Research Library, California; Record Group 79, the files of the National Park Service, housed at the National Archives in Washington, D.C.; relevant collections of the Bancroft Library, University of California at Berkeley, especially the Sierra Club Papers; and the Records of the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, also of the University of California at Berkeley. Other collections of importance include the Frederick Law Olmsted and John C. Merriam Papers, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.; the Carl P. Russell Papers, Washington State University, Pullman; and the archives of the Federal Records Center, San Bruno, California.

The richness of these collections is borne out by my notes. However, there are some significant gaps, especially when the subject turns from general management to park science. For this reason, the Records of the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology at Berkeley loom even larger for further research. Joseph Grinnell, the director of the museum between 1908 and 1939, insisted that his students and associates keep meticulous notes, along with copies of everything they wrote as representatives of the university. Grinnell's correspondence by itself is incredibly instructive, containing many insights and much information about the national parks found in no other collection. Clearly, for scientists and historians who wish to understand the origins of national park research, the Records of the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology are a mandatory source.

By themselves, the records of the National Park Service show frustrating gaps. In keeping with the history of the agency itself, research was usually concentrated on sources of controversy. For that very reason, however, the material on bears is excellent, both at the National Archives and the Yosemite National Park Research Library. The record is more sporadic for the so-called lesser animals, such as smaller birds, mammals, amphibians, and reptiles. So too, there is not a great deal on vegetational changes in Yosemite, that is, not unless those changes became noticeable. Like wildlife, vegetation generated the most controversy—and therefore increased investigation—when long-standing perceptions were either challenged or rudely shattered.

Important insights into natural resource issues may also be gleaned from the official monthly and annual reports of the park superintendents and, for the earlier period, the biennial reports of the Yosemite Park Commission. Regrettably, the practice of preparing detailed monthly reports, which began under the military supervision of Yosemite National Park (1891-1913), gradually lost favor by the mid-1960s. Afterward such comprehensive analyses of park affairs and problems were all but discontinued. Accordingly, the more recent the report, the less likely it is to contain the same degree of sophistication and specificity. Generally absent, for example, are the former day-to-day observations about weather, animal movements and sightings, important visitors, and the comings and goings of the superintendent and staff. Granted, there is some compensation in the greater volume of other documentation. The point is that researchers looking at the modern period must now pull together many of the events formerly reported as a matter of course.

One way to follow recent events is through California newspapers. The Fresno Bee, for example, reports almost weekly on activities in nearby Yosemite National Park. So too, the San Francisco Examiner and the San Francisco Chronicle are important sources of park history, both past and present. The same may be said of the Los Angeles Times and, on occasion, the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Christian Science Monitor. Of course, the larger any controversy, the more likely it was to have been covered outside California. Newspapers, in that regard, lend further dramatic proof to Yosemite's nationwide significance.

In general, the secondary literature about Yosemite has not lived up to the park's reputation. Almost without exception, historians and writers have concentrated on the nineteenth century, telling and retelling those already familiar tales about Native Americans, the mountain men, John Muir, and Hetch Hetchy. The standard work in this regard is Carl P. Russell, One Hundred Years in Yosemite: The Story of a Great Park and Its Friends (Yosemite: Yosemite Natural History Association, 1957). Separate chapters also discuss early tourism, transportation, concessions, interpretation, and administration. There is very little, to reemphasize, about natural resource issues. That omission is somewhat puzzling, since Russell, who loved western history, also held a Ph.D. in ecology. Margaret Sanborn, Yosemite: Its Discovery, Its Wonders, and Its People (New York: Random House, 1981), is better organized and more interpretive but still repeats a good deal of the standard information.

Unquestionably, the best human history to date is the massive report by Linda Wedel Greene, Historic Resource Study: Yosemite: The Park and Its Resources: A History of the Discovery, Management, and Physical Development of Yosemite National Park, California 3 vols. (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, 1987). Unlike her predecessors, Greene does not give short shrift to the natural environment. This remains, however, a government-commissioned study. Some historians, accordingly, will undoubtedly take issue with Greene's interpretations, such as her defense of Park Service realignment of the old Tioga Road. Still, what these volumes may lack in critical insight is largely offset by their comprehensiveness and detail. The research is thorough, and therefore of lasting value to future historians.

Francis P. Farquhar, History of the Sierra Nevada (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1965), is also widely cited for Yosemite's early years. The role of pioneer artists and photographers in Yosemite is another popular topic. David Robertson, West of Eden: A History of the Art and Literature of Yosemite (Berkeley, Calif.: Yosemite Natural History Association and Wilderness Press, 1984), is among the more recent compilations and interpretations. Peter E. Palmquist, Carleton E. Watkins: Photographer ofthe American West (Albuquerque: Amon Carter Museum and the University of New Mexico Press, 1983), is also instructive, whereas Gordon Hendricks, Albert Bierstadt: Painter of the American West (New York: Henry N. Abrams, 1974), concentrates on the first artist to bring Yosemite worldwide acclaim. Ted Orland, Man and Yosemite: A Photographer's View of the Early Years (Santa Cruz, Calif.: Image Continuum Press, 1985), is another book that stays comfortably locked in the earlier period. In other words, the subject is still wide open for additional interpretation, perhaps modeled after Barbara Novak, Nature and Culture: American Landscape and Painting, 1825-1875 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1980). Giving further attention to the natural environment, Novak masterfully demonstrates what a truly comprehensive history of the art and photography of Yosemite would have to include.

Meanwhile, any history of Yosemite inevitably invites comparison with the history of other national parks. The obvious counterpart is Yellowstone, which shares with Yosemite both longevity and fame. Richard A. Bartlett, Yellowstone: A Wilderness Besieged (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1985), is the latest professional scholarship. Alston Chase, Playing God in Yellowstone: The Destruction of America's First National Park (Boston: Atlantic Monthly Press, 1986), may also invite comparisons with my work and that of Bartlett. Exact comparisons, however, would ignore great differences in style and purpose. A major book with application to both Yosemite and Yellowstone is Stephen J. Pyne, Fire in America: A Cultural History of Wildland and Rural Fire (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1982). Similarly, Susan R. Schrepfer, The Fight to Save the Redwoods: A History of Environmental Reform, 1917-1978 (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1983), contributes to our understanding of natural resource problems and controversies.

Interpretive insights also improve with a discussion of Yosemite's establishment as a state and national park. Hans Huth, Nature and the American: Three Centuries of Changing Attitudes (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1957), and also his "Yosemite: The Story of an Idea," Sierra Club Bulletin 33 (March 1948): 47-78, broke important ground regarding Americans' perceptions that eventually inspired scenic preservation. Likewise, Roderick Nash, Wilderness and the American Mind, 3d ed. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1982), is standard in this regard. My own National Parks: The American Experience, 2d ed. (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1987), is also a social, cultural, and intellectual history of the parks and, inevitably, contains much on Yosemite. John Ise, Our National Park Policy: A Critical History (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1961), should also be consulted for management issues in Yosemite and its counterparts.

Traditionally, the Hetch Hetchy debate is the one controversy that always comes to mind. A comprehensive account is Holway R. Jones, John Muir and the Sierra Club: The Battle for Yosemite (San Francisco: Sierra Club, 1965). Jones should be supplemented with Elmo R. Richardson, The Politics of Conservation: Crusades and Controversies, 1897-1913 (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1962), along with individual chapters in many of the above-mentioned works, particularly those of John Ise, Roderick Nash, and Linda Wedel Greene. Stephen Fox, John Muir and His Legacy: The American Conservation Movement (Boston and Toronto: Little, Brown and Co., 1981), also devotes several pages to the controversy and, in the process, reinterprets the importance of John Muir as America's most renowned preservationist.

Other writings by and about Muir are further mentioned in my notes. For Yosemite's early period I have chosen to concentrate on Frederick Law Olmsted, who preceded Muir into Yosemite Valley, both as a philosopher and as a preservationist. Two important biographies are Laura Wood Roper, FLO: A Biography of Frederick Law Olmsted (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1973), and Elizabeth Stevenson, Park Maker: A Life of Frederick Law Olmsted (New York: Macmillan, 1977). Charles Beveridge, et al., eds., The Papers of Frederick Law Olmsted, 3 vols. (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1977-1983), provide another superb introduction to Olmsted and his contributions.

Important biographies of Park Service personnel also yield material on Yosemite. These include Robert Shankland, Steve Mather of the National Parks, 3d ed. (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1970); Donald C. Swain, Wilderness Defender: Horace M. Albright and Conservation (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1970); and Horace M. Albright as told to Robert Cahn, The Birth of the National Park Service: The Founding Years, 1913-1933 (Salt Lake City and Chicago: Howe Brothers, 1985). Biographies, understandably, deal essentially with administration. Similarly, the more autobiographical such volumes tend to be, the more self-serving and less critical they also tend to become. Conrad L. Wirth, for example, in Parks, Politics, and the People (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1980), defends his role as director of the Park Service (1951-64), especially his support of internal improvements, including widening and straightening Yosemite's Tioga Road. In much the same genre is George B. Hartzog, Jr., Battling for the National Parks (Mount Kisco, N.Y.: Moyer Bell Limited, 1988). Memoirs, in the final analysis, are a very personal perspective on events.

Perhaps least known among Yosemite's defenders is Joseph Grinnell. His life is nonetheless pivotal for understanding the evolution of park management in the twentieth century. Grinnell's most important publication on the park, with Tracy I. Storer, is Animal Life in the Yosemite: An Account of the Mammals, Birds, Reptiles, and Amphibians in a Cross Section of the Sierra Nevada (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1924). Also instructive is Joseph Grinnell's Philosophy of Nature: Selected Writings of a Western Naturalist (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1943), a collection of original essays assembled by his friends and associates as a memorial to his career.

Regrettably, few naturalists since Grinnell and Storer have matched the sweep and comprehensiveness of Animal Life in the Yosemite. Most of the natural history written in recent times appears in smaller volumes and pamphlets discussing trees, wildflowers, birdlife, or geology. California at large has been somewhat more fortunate. A recent natural history of the state is Elna Barker, An Island Called California: An Ecological Introduction to Its Natural Communities, 2d ed. (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1984). Barker, though covering the entire state, still gives Yosemite its due. Her bibliography of relevant works is also an important checklist for literacy in the biological sciences and includes texts by E. J. Kormondy, E. P. and Howard Odum, and Victor E. Shelford. To her selection I would add Raymond F. Dasmann, Environmental Conservation, 4th ed. (New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1976), as well as a broad range of specialized journals, such as Ambio, Bioscience, Ecology, Journal of Mammalogy, and Journal of Wildlife Management.

Outside the natural sciences, historians of the environment continue to work their favorite themes. Walter L. Creese, The Crowning of the American Landscape: Eight Great Spaces and Their Buildings (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1985), devotes an entire chapter to development in Yosemite Valley. But again, much as his title implies, Creese is not overly critical of the park's early structures. More controversial, and therefore harder hitting, is Michael P. Cohen, The History of the Sierra Club, 1892-1970 (San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1988). Cohen provides a long awaited sequel to the work by Holway R. Jones, who dropped the discussion of the Sierra Club after the struggle for Hetch Hetchy. Accordingly, although development in Yosemite National Park is just one of Cohen's important topics, there is much that is new here, not only about Yosemite but also about the Sierra Club, definitely the park's strongest advocate in the twentieth century.

In Yosemite and other parks, future trends may be suggested by work still in progress. Scientific research, it appears, is definitely on the rise. Suggestive examples would include David Murry Graber, "Ecology and Management of Black Bears in Yosemite National Park" (Ph.D. dissertation, University of California at Berkeley, 1981); and Theodore C. Foin, ed., "Visitor Impacts on National Parks: The Yosemite Ecological Impact Study" (bound report, Institute of Ecology, University of California at Davis, 1977). Another model study is Richard J. Hartesveldt, "Effects of Human Impact upon Sequoia gigantea and Its Environment in the Mariposa Grove, Yosemite National Park, California" (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Michigan, 1962). Normal L. Christensen, et al., "Review of Fire Management Program for Sequoia-Mixed Conifer Forests of Yosemite, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks" (special report to the Western Region, National Park Service, 1987), is another example suggestive of future cooperation between park managers and resource scientists. Allegedly, prescribed burning in the sequoia groves has needlessly scarred many trees, a criticism that led, in 1987, to the Christensen study. Finally, Michael L. Smith, Pacific Visions: California Scientists and the Environment, 1850-1915 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1987), reexamines the origins of scientific debate and includes further discussions of Yosemite, although the book is mostly about geology.

Debate about visitation in national parks also continues to sharpen. Don Hummel, for example, in Stealing the National Parks: The Destruction of Concessions and Public Access (Bellevue, Wash.: Free Press, 1987), argues that preservationists are closing out the general public and, in the process, excluding necessary services. Hummel, not surprisingly, is a former concessionaire. A less strident view, although no less committed to the opposite argument, is Joseph L. Sax, Mountains Without Handrails: Reflections on the National Parks (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1980). Sax maintains that national parks are in fact for preservation. Every visitor, accordingly, must be conscious of the need to protect the environment.

Yosemite, in every case, remains central to these and many other debates, suggesting its continuing importance as a field of investigation into the management of the national park system at large.


Yosemite: The Embattled Wilderness
©1990, University of Nebraska Press
runte2/bibliography.htm — 17-Mar-2004