Yosemite Land Grant 

U.S. #740 pictures El Capitan, a 7,564-foot high granite peak.

On June 30, 1864, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Yosemite Land Grant, which made Yosemite Valley the first piece of land set aside by the U.S. government for preservation and public use.

The first humans to visit the Yosemite area arrived about 10,000 years ago, and it was first settled around 3,000 years ago. By 1200 A.D., the area’s main inhabitants were the Sierra Miwoks, though other Miwok, Monos, and Shoshone tribes visited often to trade.

Among the early white visitors was Jim Savage, who ran a mining camp on the Merced River, about 10 miles west of the Yosemite Valley. In December 1850, Native Americans raided his camp and then retreated back to the mountains. Savage’s camp was one of several to be raided. The following year, the California governor organized the 200-man Mariposa Battalion to stop the raids. Jim Savage was placed in charge of the battalion and entered the west end of the Yosemite Valley while following a band of Ahwahneechee led by Chief Tenaya. Letters and articles written by members of the battalion during and after the battle helped bring attention to the little-known valley.

U.S. #2280 pictures the U.S. flag over Yosemite’s 4,850-foot high granite Half Dome.

Eventually, the battalion captured Tenaya’s tribe, and they were escorted to a reservation. Accompanying the battalion was Doctor Lafayette Bunnell, who named several of Yosemite Valley’s features, including the valley itself. He chose to name the valley after a local tribe the Sierra Miwoks feared, the Yooh’meti. Bunnell and Savage pronounced it “Yosemite” and translated it as “full-grown grizzly bear.” Later, more accurate translations found it meant, “they are killers,” referring to the violent tribe who called themselves the Ahwahneechee.

U.S. #4346 – The 8th issue in the American Treasures series, this stamp pictures Albert Bierstadt’s Valley of the Yosemite.

In 1855, entrepreneur James Mason Hutchings and artist Thomas Ayres toured the area with two American Indian guides. Hutchings wanted to see the valley after hearing stories from the Mariposa Battalion about a waterfall “nearly a thousand feet tall.” Upon reaching Inspiration Point, Hutchings wrote in his journal, “We came upon a high point clear of trees from whence we had our first view of the singular and romantic valley; and as the scene opened in full view before us, we were almost speechless with wondering admiration at its wild and sublime grandeur.”

Upon their return, Hutchings wrote several articles and books and Ayres’ sketches were the first accurate drawings of several park features. Hutchings returned to the valley several times, writing more articles and books and began publishing Hutchings’ Illustrated California Magazine, hoping to establish himself as the voice of the Yosemite Valley.

U.S. #C141 is the 9th issue in the Scenic American Landscapes series.

In the mid-1850s, Galen Clark became one of the first Americans to live in the valley.   He discovered the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoia in Wawona, an Indian camp in the Yosemite Valley, and spent the rest of his life trying to protect it. Although Clark was not the first to see the trees, he was likely the first to count and measure them.

Within his first few years in the valley, Clark built a log cabin, constructed roads, and put up a bridge over the Merced River for visitors entering Yosemite. At his cabin (known as Clark’s Station) he offered visitors shelter, meals, and a place to graze their horses.

Item #M11344 was issued for the 150th anniversary of the Yosemite Grant.

Around 1860, Unitarian minister Thomas Starr King visited Yosemite and was amazed at the negative impact of settlement and commercial ventures on the land. He published several articles in the Boston Evening Transcript promoting the establishment of Yosemite as a National Park. He was likely the first person to spread this idea to a large audience. Oliver Wendell Holmes and John Greenleaf Whittier were among his supporters. Frederick Law Olmsted was so interested by his writing that he visited the valley in 1863 to see the damage for himself.

Others concerned about the valley’s safety included Galen Clark and Senator John Conness. The work of these men, plus Olmsted, photos from Carleton Watkins, and geologic reports from an 1863 survey forced legislators to take action. On June 30, 1864 President Abraham Lincoln signed a bill creating the Yosemite Grant. This was the first time a park had been set aside specifically for preservation and public use by the federal government. However, the Yosemite Valley and Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoia Trees were made a California state park.

Item #M11375 pictures Yosemite’s Half Dome, a gray wolf, and mountain lion.

John Muir arrived in the Yosemite Valley in 1868 and was so taken with its natural beauty that he lived there for several years. Growing concerned over the area’s protection, he frequently invited people to camp there with him to share his ideas on preservation. One of these visitors was Robert Underwood Johnson, editor of The Century Magazine. Johnson gave Muir a national audience for his writing. Together, they lobbied Congress to establish Yosemite as a National Park. On October 1, 1890, their efforts paid off, and President Benjamin Harrison officially declared Yosemite a National Park. The Yosemite Valley and Mariposa Grove were added to the park in 1906.

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  1. Great article. Ken Burns did a nice job covering this and more for PBS in his documetary series on National Parks.

    1. My wife and I think Yosemite National Park is very dear to our hearts; we worked there for a few years, met there, married, and our oldest daughter is among the recorded births and one the the four hundred or so of Lewis Memorial Hospital (gone for a number of years. We go to see how it has changed every so often . And now as much as we want. We were there when John Kennedy made his visit and have film of his trip in the park. It was many memories both in the Valley and also the high country. Includi9ng the old Tioga Road to Tuolumne Meadows, and on to Lee Vining Canyon. Yes many happy memories.

    1. Hi Donald,

      Yosemite National Park is located in the Sierra Nevada mountains, which lie in east-central California about 200 miles east of San Francisco.

      Happy Collecting!

  2. I think #740, the first stamp in the article, is gorgeous. That stamp reminds me why I because a collector in the first place.

  3. It is every bit as impressive as what you might have heard. I now live in TX and while wearing one of the park’s T-shirts in my local post office, the attendant also asked, “Where is Yos-emite (with a Spanish accent). I corrected her by stating it was an Indian not a Spanish name, then told her where it was located. P.S. I still love holding and viewing those early postal stamps of the valley.

  4. I am considering making the entire list of National Parks our bucket list. It is one thing to collect these topicals but to actually stand in the same spot these images were taken sounds like lots of fun and enjoyment. Happy Birthday America – Long May Your Banner Wave!

  5. My wife and I met in Yosemite, fell in love, still going after more then fifty years, made Yosemite our home and our oldest daughter was born there. We have the memories of the old stage coach roads, the hidden meadows of Miller, the Tuolumne Meadows river valley, the old Tioga Road that when beyond to Lee Vining Canyon, the high county camps and trails, She was one of four hundred recorded births of the Lewis Memorial Hospital that was in The Yosemite valley. We were lucky enough to have Ansel Adams as a baby sister (while we went to the old movie theater near the church. My wife and I have so many memories of the Valley and trips in and around it that we can not find enough time to return there and see the changes. The old stagecoach road is gone, the corrals behind the Three Bros. gone, and lost are the statue in the woods by Blackburn springs, the three mile trail to Glacier Point Hotel, and the caves by Bridalveil Falls. We have the good memories that last and the time to enjoy them.

  6. America is blessed with so much natural beauty, first discovered by humans more than ten thousand years ago. As citizens of this great land, it is our responsibility to keep it that way and out of the hands of greedy corporations who only have dollar signs in their eyes. Happy birthday, America!

  7. I have a 23-piece collection of Yosemite exonumia (coins, stamps, medals, hiking staff medallions, John Muir stories) with comments, that I’ve kept in an old defunct silverware cabinet that I’ve treasured for years. But I had no idea that so many individuals played such key roles in Yosemite’s history before John Muir (& Teddy Roosevelt) ever set foot in the valley. Thanks Mystic Stamp Company for enriching my knowledge of the Valley and its history! Honest Abe would be proud!

  8. We live in the San Joaquin Valley about 100 miles from Yosemite and about the same distance from Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, and we visit them often…lucky us. Incidentally, Yosemite is located in the Sierra Nevada, not the Sierra Nevada “Mountains.” Sierra means mountain range in Spanish (Nevada means snowy) so adding the word mountains in redundant. But back to the point, the signing of the Yosemite Land Grant by President Lincoln in 1864 (during the Civil War), was the first step in creating National Parks, and this year is the 100th anniversary of the National Park System and the National Park Service. This is something we can all be proud of. As author Wallace Stegner once wrote, National Parks are the best idea America ever had.”

  9. We now have a president that would strip all protections from federal lands and hand them over to the mining and oil corporations. Fortunately, he’s been blocked in court so far. Times have changed and not for the better.

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