Two women dance on an overhanging rock
Kitty Tatch and Katherine Hazelston, waitresses at Yosemite National Park hotels, dance on Overhanging Rock at Glacier Point in 1900. These pictures were later made into postcards, autographed and sold for years.

George Fiske

The history of people in Yosemite goes back thousands of years. American Indians traveled and used this area since Ice Age glaciers receded providing an environment for plants, animals, and people to survive. Their descendents remain a part of Yosemite’s history to the present day.

In 1849, the discovery of gold in California meant new groups of people arriving in California. Competition for land and resources brought many of these groups into conflict, and, often, into violent confrontations. The first non-native group to enter Yosemite was the Mariposa Battalion, a Euro-American militia formed to drive the native Ahwahneechee people onto reservations. After the Mariposa Indian War came to a close, Yosemite was now open to settlement and speculation.

Through the work of illustrators, authors, painters, and photographers, word spread of the magnificent valley in the heart of the Sierra Nevada and giant trees. Many pioneers became tourist operators, building hotels and inns and starting stagecoach companies to bring the interested early tourists on the long journey to Yosemite. By 1864, the value of Yosemite was recognized by the federal government when Abraham Lincoln signed the Yosemite Grant, placing Yosemite under the protection of the state of California.

The growth of the national park and the surrounding areas has seen a large cast of characters. Some are famous worldwide, like John Muir and Ansel Adams, while others are significant at a smaller scale.

Individual and group contributions to Yosemite abound and help shape how we learn about and experience the park today.

  • Yosemite Indians
    Yosemite Indians

    Learn about the culture of the Southern Sierra Miwok, one of seven tribes traditionally associated with Yosemite.

  • Yosemite's Women
    Yosemite's Women

    Women have played an important—though often hidden—part in Yosemite.

  • Chef Tie Sing in an apron surrounded by a mountain party of men in the wilderness
    Chinese History in Yosemite

    Learn more about how early Chinese immigrants played an important role in shaping the Yosemite that we know today.

  • James and Elvira Hutchings
    James and Elvira Hutchings

    James and Elvira Hutchings offered a soft bed to Yosemite’s earliest travelers and James was one of Yosemite's earliest publicists.

  • Galen Clark
    Galen Clark

    Galen Clark spent the last 50 years of his life publicizing and protecting the Big Trees and Yosemite.

  • Thomas Hill
    Thomas Hill

    After visiting Yosemite in 1865, Thomas Hill spent the rest of his life painting, and sometimes living, in Yosemite.

  • John Muir
    John Muir

    Just a few years of living in Yosemite inspired naturalist John Muir to become an early publicist and fierce defender of Yosemite.

  • Albert and Emily Snow
    Albert and Emily Snow

    For close to 20 years, the Snows welcomed guests to their picture-perfect La Casa Nevada hotel, near the base of Nevada Fall.

  • Therese Yelverton
    Therese Yelverton

    Author Maria Thérèse Longworth Yelverton, (Viscountess Avonmore), visited Yosemite in 1870, befriending Muir and the Hutchings family.

  • John and Bridget Degnan
    John and Bridget Degnan

    Hard-working immigrants Bridget and John Degnan journeyed to California in 1884 to build a life in the picturesque Yosemite Valley.

  • Five African-American mounted infantrymen posing on horseback in a forest
    Buffalo Soldiers

    Buffalo Soldiers, like their white counterparts in U.S. Army regiments, were among the first park rangers.

  • Ansel Adams
    Ansel Adams

    When photographer Ansel Adams looked through his camera lens, he saw more than Yosemite's rocks, trees, and rivers. He saw art.

  • George M. Wright
    George Melendez Wright

    Despite a brief career, George M. Wright’s many contributions to the National Park Service are as valuable today as they were a century ago.

Last updated: October 25, 2022

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