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Friday, June 30, 2017

“Yo-Semite Valley” Was Made A California State Park On This Day

Above, the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum depiction of President Lincoln
reading the Emancipation Proclamation to his cabinet. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Today in history, in 1864 to be exact, the first step in making Yosemite National Park a national park took place. It began with a stroke of a pen by President Abraham Lincoln.

According to the Smithsonian Magazine:
On June 30, 1864, President Abraham Lincoln put his signature on the Yosemite Grant Act. This represented an important precursor to the national parks system, because it was the first time the American government had taken the lead on preserving a wilderness area in a way that would become typical of the national parks.

The Act granted the “Yo-Semite Valley” and the nearby Mariposa Big Tree Grove to the state of California. But there were a few important provisions: “...that the said State shall accept this grant upon the express conditions that the premises shall be held for public use, resort, and recreation; shall be inalienable for all time,” the Act reads. In plain English, what was happening was that Lincoln was charging California with taking care of Yosemite–already a burgeoning tourist destination–as well as developing it by putting in things like roads, so more people could come to view its dramatic vistas and towering sequoias.
This moment has been heralded as an important precedent for the national park system. But creating Yosemite was also an act of erasure. “Native Americans were the main residents of the Yosemite Valley… until the 1849 gold rush brought thousands of non-Indian miners and settlers to the region,” writes History.com. “The crown jewels of the U.S. national parks system, including Yellowstone, Yosemite, Glacier and Grand Canyon, are all customary indigenous territories,” writes Stan Stevens in Indigenous Peoples, National Parks, and Protected Areas: A New Paradigm.
Above, Yosemite Valley from Tunnel View. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

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