A bill reached Congress early last week about renaming Yosemite National Park’s Mammoth Peak in honor of 19th century female preservationist Jessie Benton Fremont. The measure would be a tribute to a woman who worked doggedly to preserve the land that would become Yosemite in 1890.
If the bill passes, Mammoth Peak (not to be confused with ski resort Mammoth Mountain) would be renamed Mt. Jessie Benton Fremont.
Jessie’s Connection with Yosemite
Although Fremont isn’t as well known today, her 1902 obituary called her “the most famous woman in Los Angeles.” The daughter of influential Democratic Sen. Thomas Hart Benton of Missouri and married to famed Democrat “Pathfinder” John C. Fremont, one of the first two U.S. senators from California and a Republican presidential candidate in 1856, she had access to high-ranking political figures. She also loved her beautiful surroundings.
The California Department of Parks and Recreation notes that while living in Bear Valley, she “became enchanted with local giant sequoias and the granite crags of nearby Yosemite Valley, and became concerned that the settlers flooding the new state of California would overrun Yosemite.”
With strong ties to Washington, Fremont leveraged her connections for the benefit of Yosemite. She urged Lincoln to preserve the land—although he dismissed her as “a female politician, recounts a 1999 LA Times story—and invited other powerful figures to dine with her in her homes in Mariposa County and San Fransisco, among them newspaper editor Horace Greeley.
“Women in the 19th century often weren’t recognized for the great deeds that they really did,” Craig MacDonald, a California historian from Orange County who has pushed for the recognition, told the LA Times. “I think it’s high time that Jessie gets her due.”
The National Park Service, however, does not agree
“Though Jessie Benton Fremont was an important figure in the advocacy for and establishment of the Yosemite Grant, there is no direct or long-term association between her work and Mammoth peak,” Victor Knox, the park service’s associate director for park planning, facilities and lands, said at a congressional hearing.
As of now, Congress has not yet made a final decision on whether the peak’s name will change or remain the same. What do you think?
To learn more about Jessie Benton Fremont and her husband John “Pathfinder” Fremont, watch the 1986 TV Mini-series “Dream West” available on DVD and streaming services.