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Arnold Arboretum

Galen Clark and the Mariposa Grove

March 31, 2014 by Library Staff

Galen Clark

Quercus chrysolepis. Galen Clark, first white man to see the big trees. California. Photo. by Geo. R. King, 1908. [Information from label on verso of mount.]

Mariposa Grove

Sequoia gigantea. Mariposa Grove, California. Photo. by Geo. R. King, 1909. [Information from label on verso of mount.]

By chance this morning, while searching for a photograph of Quercus by Alfred Rehder, I stumbled upon this 1908 image by George R. King of Galen Clark posed with a large specimen of Quercus chrysolepis. The label on the back of the mount says in part, “Galen Clark, first white man to see the big trees.”

Galen Clark (1814-1910) was born in Quebec and immigrated to Missouri as a young man. There he married but after the early death of his wife he moved with his children to California, probably during the gold rush of 1849. After a bout of severe illness in 1853, which his doctors diagnosed as Tuberculosis, Clark decided to go up to the mountains, to the town of Wawona, for a cure in the clear air and natural environment. While exploring the area in 1857 with Milton Mann, they became the first people of European descent to see the grove of giant Sequoia trees which Clark later named the Mariposa Grove. The grove, which is now part of Yosemite National Park, contains approximately 500 Sequoia trees, some of which may be as much as 3000 years old. Clark’s advocacy, along with that of Frederick Law Olmsted, was instrumental in the creation of the Yosemite Grant–signed into law by Abraham Lincoln in 1864–which protected the Yosemite Valley and appointed Clark as the park’s guardian. In the following years he ran a hotel in the park and acted as a guide but spent his later years in poverty. In his 90s he wrote three books, Indians of the Yosemite valley and vicinity, their history, customs and traditions (1904), The big trees of California, their history and characteristics (1907), and The Yosemite Valley, its history, characteristic features, and theories regarding its origin (1910). Clark died at age of 96 at the home of his daughter, Dr. Elvira M. Lee, in Oakland, California, in 1910. He is buried at the Yosemite Cemetery.

I have included a second photograph, also by George R. King, of a portion of the Mariposa Grove, taken a year after that of Galen Clark. The library has a rich collection of historical photographs of the Big Trees. We will be featuring others on Library Leaves in the future.

Lisa Pearson, Head of Library and Archives


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