Yosemite Park's First Guardian, Galen Clark

By Courtney Holden,
Galen Clark, First White Man in Yosemite

Before Yosemite became a national park in 1890, it was protected. In 1864, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Yosemite Land Grant, which gave the Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove of giant sequoias to the state of California as a park "for public use, resort and recreation."

Galen Clark was officially appointed the first Guardian of the Yosemite Grant, a position that he held for most of the next 35 years. During his tenure as Yosemite's guardian, Clark accompanied John Muir, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and other well-known scientists, writers, painters, and tourists on outings around the park.

Clark was famous for his hospitality, at first running a stagecoach rest stop called Clark's Station, where tourists could get meals, stay overnight, and water and feed their horses. Even when his business failed, Clark remained active in Yosemite, guiding visitors and serving as its guardian until 1897.

Clark first visited the Yosemite region in 1855 as a tourist himself. Just two years later, he quit his job and sought a cure for his ailing health in Yosemite's pure mountain air. He built a cabin along the road that passed by Wawona Meadow en route from the Mariposa Grove to Yosemite Valley. Soon, Clark started campaigning to have the giant sequoia trees protected by Congress, and his writings continued to publicize Yosemite's natural wonders for the rest of his life.

Instrumental in preserving Yosemite for future generations, Galen Clark died in 1910 at the age of 96 in Oakland, California. Today, you can visit his gravesite in Yosemite Valley's historical cemetery, where Clark planted a few giant sequoia seedlings that still survive today.

Galen Clark on Glacier Point in Yosemite National Park