On this day in 1833, a party of about forty men, in the command of native Tennesseean, mountain man, and trail blazer par excellence Joseph Walker, were trying desperately to find a way down from the Sierra Nevada mountains, where they had been wandering for almost two weeks, in search of a new and convenient route into central California. The men, exhausted by the steep, snowbound terrain and famished from dwindling supplies and want of game, were inching their way westward along a broad, high ridge between two steep river valleys to the north and south (now known to be the Tuolumne and the Merced, respectively). One member of the party, Zenas Leonard, kept a journal of the expedition and records the day’s events thus:
We travelled…still on the top of the mountain, and our course continually obstructed with snow hills and rocks. Here we began to encounter in our path, many small streams which would shoot out from under these high snow-banks, and after running a short distance in deep chasms which they have through ages cut in the rocks, precipitate themselves from one lofty precipice to another, until they are exhausted in rain below. Some of these precipices appeared to us to be more than a mile high. Some of the men thought that if we could succeed in descending one of these precipices to the bottom, we might thus work our way into the valley below—but on making several attempts we found it utterly impossible for a man to descend, to say nothing of our horses.
Based on the above description, it is concluded that the Walker Party were almost certainly the first non-natives to set eyes upon the incomparable Yosemite Valley, nearly twenty years prior to its official “discovery” by the Mariposa Battalion.
Walker is buried in a small pioneer cemetery, which overlooks an inlet of the San Francisco Bay. Here is a shot of me at the site, taken during a trip to the area several years ago.