Beautiful three-domes mountain, 9092 ft / 2771 m, named for Thomas Starr King and visible from almost every point on the Yosemite Valley rim.
Harv Galic:

Earliest Ascents to the Summit of Mt. Starr King in Yosemite:
Story Retold — Wrong Finally Made Right

(Dedicated to Sidney V. Smith, Manuel E. Flores and James D. Schuyler)


Mount Starr King (9092 ft / 2771 m) is visible from almost every point on the Yosemite Valley rim. It features three beautiful domes, the tallest one being also the steepest. On June 25, 1931, two young men from Southern California, Warren A. Loose (20) and Eldon O. Dryer (18) succeeded in reaching its summit {Ref 1}. It was believed to be the first time since 1877 that someone had stood on the highest dome again: a record-long unprecedented span of nearly fifty-four years between two consecutive ascents. Nothing even close to such a long period of inactivity has ever been seen on any other significant Sierra peak. A few days later, Loose and Dryer made it to the top again, this time bringing with them a loose-leaf Sierra Club register and a metal container for it {Ref 2, pp. 19-20}.

Presnall's 1931 list of earliest Starr King ascents.
Presnall's list of early Starr King ascents.

On the first page of the new register, they added a short list of those who—to the best of their knowledge—were the earliest successful climbers of Mt. Starr King:

First Party
1877: Capt. Anderson, Mr. Hutchings, Mrs. Hutchings [and] three others.

Then, they listed their names as the Second Party {Ref 2, pp. 21-22}.

Well, it turns out that the history of the early ascents of Mt. Starr King was more complicated. The first to react was the Yosemite's Junior Park Naturalist, Clifford C. Presnall {Ref 3}. His list of earliest ascents was greatly influenced by two documents he found in the library of the Yosemite Museum in the Valley: Hutchings' unpublished notes covering some of his mountain trips in 1877 {Ref 4}, and an excerpt from Hutchings' 1886 book In the Heart of the Sierras {Ref 5}. Based largely on those two sources, he proposed the chronology shown in the attached graphic. It was clear that Presnall had some reservations about the date of the first ascent (note the question mark following the year "1877", which was favored by Hutchings), but with his limited access to a wider set of information Presnall was unable to offer a better explanation. A few months later, in the article A revival of interest in Mount Starr King, Francis P. Farquhar of the Sierra Club presented his assessment of the situation {Ref 6}. He had access to all Hutchings' writings used by Presnall, but he was in addition familiar with an even earlier report by John Muir {Ref 7}, which plainly dated the first ascent of Mt. Starr King to the summer of 1876. Although aware of some still-unresolved inconsistencies (in his words, "the records are somewhat obscure and in some points contradictory..."), Farquhar ultimately decides that "there is little doubt that George B. Bayley and E. S. Schuyler were the first to stand on the summit [in 1876]" {Ref 6}.

Francis Farquhar was, and still is, an undisputed authority on the history of mountaineering in the Sierra. Therefore, it is no surprise that his conclusion (above) has been repeated ever since 1932, without a single exception, in every book, article, report or webpage dealing with the history of Starr King climbing. But let me make a bold statement right here and now: This was one of the rare instances where Farquhar, without a shadow of a doubt, was mistaken:

Imaginary front-page headlines, announcing new finds on Starr King ascents.
Imaginary newspaper front-page headlines.

First, Bayley's alleged companion in the earliest ascent, a person with the name "E. S. Schuyler", most likely never existed and certainly was never anywhere near Mt. Starr King. Moreover, as we shall see, in the summer of 1876 Bayley was accompanied not by one, but by two climbers. However, those two have never been acknowledged for their participation in this first successful climb of a mountain peak considered unscalable before.

I do not mean to make a big fuss about Farquhar's mistake. While Starr King is a breathtaking mountain offering several exciting routes to its top, it attracts only a relatively small number of specialized rock climbers and peakbaggers. If this was a more popular peak, found on the "must do" list of every mountain enthusiast, I can imagine the front-page headlines in tomorrow's newspapers announcing a "stunning new discovery". In reality, Starr King's first ascent is only a minor event in the grand story of California mountaineering, and these new findings will not generate much publicity. Still, it seems only fair to shed some light on people who, though deserving, have somehow been completely bypassed and forgotten along the way.

List of key sources, with brief commentary

With evidence that has only recently become known, we now have the opportunity to revise the story of the conquests of the summit of Mt. Starr King and make a more accurate list of those who first set foot on its crown. Below are the main sources of information I used in my research. Newly found sources are marked in red.

  1. An entry in the Snow's Hotel register by George B. Bayley, dated July 20, 1876; unpublished (but a copy of the register is available for reading in the Yosemite Research Library, Yosemite Valley).

    small arrow George Bayley's small team makes a brief stop at Snow's on their way from Yosemite Valley to a base camp at Tuolumne Meadows ("Soda Springs"). We learn the names of all team members.

  2. A letter written by John Muir, dated "Yosemite Valley, August 28, 1876" and printed in the Daily Evening Bulletin, San Francisco, September 6, 1876, p. 1, col. 4. (Also reprinted in the Weekly Bulletin, San Francisco, September 14, 1876).   [Read Muir's letter].
    George Bayley in about 1871, several years before his 1876 Starr King climb.
    George Bayley, several years
    before his 1876 Starr King climb

    small arrow Muir reports that an accomplished climber of his acquaintance, returning 'the other day' from an extended excursion into the high Sierra, decided to attempt the ascent of Mt. Starr King. We also learn that this was not a solo climb: "A silk handkerchief of a brave young lawyer who accompanied [our hero]", Muir writes, "now floats over [the peak] on the breeze, proclaiming the small fact that [...] the last of Yosemite inaccessibles has been conquested." The 'hero' in Muir's article is obviously his friend and climbing partner George Bayley, but who was the 'young lawyer' and did any other members of Bayley's team attain the summit?

  3. An article titled The ascent of Mt. Starr King and printed in the Daily Independent, Stockton, July 12, 1877, p. 3. The author is only identified as "S."   [Access the article].

    small arrow "S." meets George Bayley in Yosemite Valley, and "through a piece of foolhardiness no amount of gold could induce me to repeat" he accepts an invitation to take part in Bayley's second trip to the top of Starr King. Along the way, "S." learns from Bayley that a total of three people scaled the mountain during the first ascent: The first group, led by Bayley, also included a "Mr. Smith of San Francisco" (presumably the man identified by Muir as a "young lawyer" in {B}), and an unnamed "Mexican guide" from Yosemite Valley. "S." incorrectly reports that this first ascent took place in 1875, but will change the year to "1876" the next time we hear from him, see document {E} below. "S." then returns to the description of the second expedition, in which he was a participant. After some scary moments on the steep, slippery slope and a lot of anxiety on the part of the newbie, the intrepid pair succeeded. Thus, "that Monday" [more precisely "Monday, June 25, 1877", as we shall see in {E}, below] "S." became only the fourth man to make it to the top! "The view from [there] was extensive", said the writer, "but it was nevertheless disappointing and did not repay the exertion it had cost". They planted their flag "in a conspicuous place", and then began their descent. The whole affair was witnessed by Mrs. Bayley and another lady, who remained at a saddle below the highest dome and nervously awaited their return. The article was printed in a relatively obscure Stockton newspaper, and there was little or no reaction from other mountaineering devotees. It is almost certain that neither Hutchings nor Farquhar (years later) were familiar with that document.

  4. Handwritten notes by James M. Hutchings, covering some of his 1877 Sierra trips; unpublished (but a transcript is available in the Yosemite Research Library, Yosemite Valley).   [Access the notes].

    small arrow Several members of the Hutchings-Anderson party climbed Mt. Starr King on two consecutive days, August 23 and 24, 1877. They found two 'monuments' left at the summit plateau, proving that someone had ascended this peak before. Hutchings does not speculate on who might have built the cairns and when. They erected a flagpole and put up a flag painted by J. B. Lembert especially for this climbing expedition.

  5. A letter to the Editors titled Mount Starr King—The true story of its first ascent by the same author as in {C}; dated "Bakersfield, July 11, 1880", and printed in the Bee, Sacramento, on July 14 1880, p. 1; also reprinted in the Weekly Bee, Sacramento, July 17, 1880, p. 1.   [Access the letter].

    small arrow This article is a rebuttal to an earlier text in the Bee by Edwin H. Clough, who suggested, between the lines, that Bayley ("an arrogant boaster") might never have made it to Mt. Starr King. The argument was that the bottle with his name in it, which Bayley allegedly left at the summit, was never found by Anderson and Hutchings. To refute this insinuation, the author of the letter makes it clear that Bayley climbed the mountain not just once but twice, and that both of these achievements preceded Anderson-Hutchings' ascents. The author then adds more details about those two earliest conquests of Mt. Starr King: one by Bayley and two other climbers (first ascent), and one by Bayley and the author (second ascent). The author also corrects a mistake he made earlier in {C} and changes the year of the first ascent from "1875" to "1876". Finally, probably to give the letter more credibility, the writer signs it with his full name, and we find out who has been previously hiding behind the initial "S." Unfortunately, this letter shared the same fate as the author's earlier account in {C}: it was neglected or forgotten, and neither Hutchings nor Farquhar knew about it.

  6. James M. Hutchings, In the Heart of the Sierras, first published in 1886; the Starr King ascent is described on p. 473.   [Access page 473].

    small arrow Nine years have passed since the two ascents of Mt. Starr King by the Hutchings-Anderson party on August 23 and 24, 1877. Hutchings knows that no one else has been able to repeat the feat since then, and he is motivated to add an account of his own experience on that mountain to his new book. However, it seems that at the time he was completing his manuscript (around 1886), for unknown reasons, he no longer had access to his 1877 notes. All he managed to write was a short paragraph from memory. Consequently, some of the names and facts mentioned in his 1886 book differ from those originally reported in 1877 (document {D} above). While in 1877 Hutchings did not even try to guess who the members of the group(s) that beat them in the race to the summit of Starr King were, by 1886 he had somehow determined that the honor of the first ascent belonged to George Bayley and someone named Schuyler. Unfortunately, there was no clarification as to which sources were used to identify the pair. Hutchings wrote: "The first to [climb the mountain] were Mr. Geo. B. Bayley and Mr. E. S. Schuyler, followed by Geo. Anderson and the writer [i.e., Hutchings], a few days afterwards". He therefore implies that the first ascent did not occur until around August 20, 1877. Again, no explanation is given as to why he dated the two climbs so close together.

How many early ascents...?

By 1932, it was generally accepted by those interested in mountain climbing records that only three groups of climbers had scaled Starr King in the nineteenth century. More precisely, two variants of that presumption were circulating at that time, one introduced in 1886 by Hutchings, and another by Farquhar. Hutchings, who systematically and intentionally ignored everything written by Muir, probably never saw or read Muir's newspaper article about Bayley's 1876 ascent. Hutchings' chronology was:

First climb by two people in mid-August 1877; second and third climbs: two teams led by Anderson and Hutchings a few days later.

Farquhar, of course, could not ignore Muir, and thus favored a different arrangement:

First climb led by Bayley in July or August 1876 (per Muir); second and third climbs: two teams led by Anderson and Hutchings a year later.

Farquhar's choice eventually prevailed and has been repeated in mountaineering literature ever since. However, the newly discovered documents, {C} and {E} above, which somehow escaped Francis Farquhar and everyone else interested in the subject, provide strong evidence for four early ascents! This new scenario at the same time resolves all inconsistencies that have been associated with the "three early climbs" picture. The sequence of events thus emerging is:

...And who were the climbers?

First ascent, 1876:

The biggest challenge in this research was to identify the companions of the principal climber during the very first ascent. However, before we get to that, let us try to understand how and why the mountaineering literature has been giving credit to the wrong person for the past 90+ years. It all started with Hutchings. In his 1877 notes, he described that they found clear signs that someone had reached the top before. No doubt, he was surprised and disappointed, but he could not say when or who first conquered the mountain. But a few years later, when his book In the Heart of the Sierras was being prepared for the print (1886), he became convinced that George B. Bayley and E. S. Schuyler were the climbers who built the two cairns found on the summit. How did he come up with those names? Certainly not by using Muir's 1876 article, for Muir did not name anyone. (Besides, Hutchings would not be quoting Muir anyway: their friendship dissolved beyond repair some years before). It is possible that Hutchings was simply relying on some rumors circulating in the Valley at that time, but we may never know the real answer.

Then, after 50 years of silence, we hear again about Mt. Starr King in the early 1930s, when a new generation of climbers appeared on the scene. News of their recent successes on Starr King has also sparked a resurgence of interest in the—now forgotten—first ascents. In 1931, Clifford Presnall {Ref 3} borrowed the event dates and climbers' names [albeit with a typo] from Hutchings' 1886 book {Ref 5}. Presnall has some reservations about using this book as a primary source, but adds the explanation that his list is "complete in so far as we can learn at present". In 1932, Francis Farquhar {Ref 6} may also have been aware of some contradictions in the material of the 1870s and 1880s, but this did not prevent him from declaring without hesitation that "there is little doubt that George B. Bayley and E. S. Schuyler were the first to stand on the summit". In 1965, Farquhar went a step further. He recalls Muir writing about the "brave young lawyer" who accompanied Bayley on the very first ascent. Then, in an attempt to seamlessly conflate Muir's "lawyer" and Hutchings' "Schuyler", Farquhar expands his description of E. S. Schuyler to "a young lawyer named Schuyler" {Ref 8}.

The sequence of events described above is how we arrived at the current 'common knowledge' of who first reached the top of Starr King. But can we do better? In what follows, I will temporarily exclude James Hutchings from our source list (but only in the analysis of the first two climbs), as he may have used some unreliable second-hand information in the Starr King section of his book. It will be interesting to see if such an approach can ultimately make a difference.

We will start again with John Muir's report, see {B}. He mentions two people in the article, calling them "San Francisco Short" and a "brave young lawyer". There is no controversy surrounding Mr. Short: he was George B. Bayley, who lived in Oakland but worked full-time as a bank clerk in San Francisco. He was an experienced mountaineer who, e.g., accompanied Muir on a trip to the top of Mount Whitney in July 1875. But how can we find out more about the "lawyer"? The first clue as to who it was comes from the new source {C}. The anonymous author of that article cites his conversations with Bayley and identifies the young attorney as a "Mr. Smith" from San Francisco. Bayley also made it known to "S" that a third climber, an unnamed "Mexican mountain guide" had reached the summit with them. These revelations radically change the narrative, but we still have not learned much. Undoubtedly, there was more than one Mr. Smith practicing law in the San Francisco area at that time. Similarly, there were several guides in the Valley with Latin American names. The new source {E} did not resolve anything. Not a word more about the guide, and Mr. Smith now takes on a new identity: this time, the letter writer refers to him as "H. C. Smith of Oakland" (which will turn out to be a total miss). Have we reached a dead end?

Then, by sheer luck, the decisive clue was found in Snow's register, document {A} (above). According to Muir, Bayley's adventure on Mt. Starr King occurred in the final days of his extended excursion to the High Sierra. One of two ways to reach the high mountains from Yosemite Valley was to follow the Merced River Trail. In a small meadow just below Nevada Fall is where Mr. Snow had his 'hotel', La Casa Nevada, a popular stop for those continuing farther up the river. There was an ever so slight chance that members of Bayley's party (a) took the Merced River Trail rather than the alternate Eagle Peak Trail, and (b) refreshed themselves at Snow's and perhaps even signed up the register at the hotel. Turns out that's exactly what happened! Listed under the date July 20, 1876 is this handwritten note by Bayley:

Entry in Snow's register dated July 20, 1876, lists the following group of people on their way to Soda Springs, Tuolumne Meadows: Geo. B. Bayley and wife, Oakland, Sydney V. Smith Jr, San Rafael, Chas. E. Peregoy, Yosemite, Don Manule Flores, Yosemite
Geo. B. Bayley and wife, Sydney V. Smith Jr, Chas. E. Peregoy, and (guide) Don Manuel Flores
stopped at Snow's on their way to a base camp at Soda Springs (Tuolumne Meadows) on July 20, 1876.

The members of this party of five were: (1) George Bayley; (2) his wife, Gertrude Bayley, also a keen mountain lover. She often went with George on his summer travels; (3) Sydney Smith Jr (actually, Sidney), who happened to be a young attorney working with his father, Sidney Smith Sr (also a lawyer) at firm of S. V. Smith & Son. They lived in San Rafael, but their offices were in San Francisco. Moreover, it was no coincidence that the younger Smith accompanied Bayley. They knew each other well, and both were, e.g., members of San Francisco's Art Association and the Bohemian Club. Sidney Smith Jr was also friends with John Muir; (4) Charles Peregoy of Mariposa who took on the role of gourmet chef for the party; and (5) Manuel Flores, a popular mountain guide from the Valley whose mother and father came to the U.S. from Mexico. Bayley wrote of Manuel in one of his journals: "[He is] the best and about the only intelligent guide for the region about and beyond Yosemite". Peregoy and Flores would make at least one more long Sierra trip with Bayley in the years that followed.

Thanks to Mr. and Mrs. Snow and their legendary hospitality (including cold drinks and good food), our two 'unknowns' thus got their full names! I therefore suggest with a fair amount of confidence that the first team to climb Starr King was:

[Note added: Another source confirms the names found in the Snow's register: The four of them (all except Peregoy) climbed Mount Dana four days later, on July 24, 1876, and signed their names on a piece of paper that they left in a tin can at the top, see {Ref 9} ]

Second ascent:

Bayley's second trip to the summit of Starr King took place on June 25, 1877. His partner on that climb did not want his name to appear in print and signed his article {C} simply as S. However, three years later he was compelled to reveal finally his full name in {E}. So, who was he? Surprise! It was a Mr. Schuyler, but not Hutchings' imaginary "E. S. Schuyler", nor Farquhar's "young lawyer Schuyler". Instead, the fourth climber to reach the highest dome of Mount Starr King was a self-educated civil engineer, James D. Schuyler! In 1877, while looking for a job in his field, he worked temporarily as a writer and co-editor for the Stockton Daily Independent newspaper. Originally from Upstate New York, he seized the opportunity to visit Yosemite Valley for the first time, and describe his impressions and adventures in a series of (anonymous) articles for the readers of his paper. One of those episodes was about his meeting with Bayley and their subsequent ascension to Starr King. Shortly after his trip to Yosemite, his journalism career (and his mountain climbing career) ended when he took a position on the staff of the California State Engineer's office. At the turn of the century, his name was associated with some of the greatest engineering endeavors in the Western Hemisphere, including his work on the board of engineers for the Panama Canal. Find more about the "real" Schuyler below, in the "Biographies" section.

Strongly supported by the evidence, I am convinced that the second team to climb Starr King was:

Third and fourth ascents:

We have only two sources that name the participants in Hutchings' two ascents in the late August 1877. In both cases, the author is Hutchings himself. The portion of his 1877 mountaineering notes describing the scaling of Mt. Starr King was presumably written shortly after the trip, when his memory of the event was still fresh. Therefore, I will rely mostly on that source. These are the people who spent the nights of August 22 and 23 at a base camp near Starr King: George Anderson and John Lembert of Yosemite, Selah Walker (photographer), Mrs. Augusta Sweetland (talented self-taught artist and recent widow of San Francisco) and James Hutchings. Mrs. Sweetland would become the second Mrs. Hutchings three years later, in September 1880.

Anderson and Mrs. Sweetland followed by Hutchings on Starr King.
Anderson and Mrs. Sweetland
followed by Hutchings on Starr King.

The plan was to establish a safe route to the summit on the first day and then help less experienced climbers reach the summit on the second day. The notes listed three men who climbed on Day One (August 23): Anderson, Lembert and Hutchings. The description of the ascent contains the following dramatic dialogue. At one point, Anderson was stuck at the steep southeast face of the mountain:

Fastening about twelve feet of rope to his belt, so that if he slipped he could not fall more than that distance, Anderson proceeded, taking hold of the edge of the shingle, and advancing inch by inch. But he had made the rope too short to allow him to reach the next point of safety. He said composedly,

Anderson: "Now Mr. H., can you come up as far as this?"

I tried, but the rope was small and my fingers long and I couldn't get a good grip.

Anderson: "If you cannot get up I shall have to fall."

Hutchings: "Then I'll come."

Catching the small rope over-handed, I knelt upon the rock and crept along aided by the rope, until I reached the eye-bolt and could just reach to his foot. This I held until he got a grip that enabled him to move his other foot. In a couple of minutes he was in a place of safety. Obstacle after obstacle was overcome, and finally we were standing firmly on the summit of Mount Starr King, 9230 feet above sea-level.

Anderson and Mrs. Sweetland followed by Hutchings on Starr King. Detail.
A detail from
the above photo.

What puzzles me is that although Lembert is shown on the list of climbers on that first day, his name or role is not mentioned anywhere else in the text. It very much sounds as if Anderson and Hutchings were the only two people on the slope. We know that Lembert's painted flag and pole made it to the top, for the fragments were found there in 1931, but it remains unclear whether Lembert himself reached the summit.

There are no details in Hutchings' notes about the next day's climb (on August 24), only a list of participants: Anderson, Sweetland, Walker and Hutchings. The photographer, S. C. Walker, certainly made it as far as the saddle below the southeast face. From there he took a photo of Anderson, Mrs. Sweetland and Hutchings already high above the saddle. However, I cannot believe that he would then carry his heavy and precious equipment up to the top by himself. Even without his photo gear, it would be too late for him to catch the rest of the climbers. I would be surprised if he actually reached the summit on Day Two, but that possibility cannot be completely ruled out. On the other hand, the ascent of Mrs. Sweetland is confirmed not only by Walker's photograph, but later also in Hutchings' book, where he wrote: "Anderson and the writer (...) having attached ropes over difficult places, enabled Mrs. A. L. Hutchings and our daughter Florence to ascend..."

Regarding that sentence, I have a few comments. First, the "Mrs. A. L. Sweetland" named in Hutchings' notes and the "Mrs. A. L. Hutchings" named in his book are one and the same woman. She was born Augusta Ladd, and she first married Henry Sweetland in 1858. After becoming a widow, she married James Hutchings in 1880. Furthermore, I do not think Hutchings' daughter Florence should be credited with the ascent, as the book tries to do. One strong argument is that she is not seen in Walker's photo. Note also that she was never mentioned in Hutchings' notes for those two days in August 1877, even though her thirteenth birthday was on August 23rd. Surely, the proud father, Mr. Hutchings, would not have forgotten to mention the birthday girl in his notes if she had indeed been with them in their Starr King base camp. An explanation for Hutchings' confusion might be this: Florence and Augusta Sweetland were known to have climbed Half Dome as well as Mt. Dana together, prior to Augusta's Starr King ascent, so perhaps Hutchings simply conflated those three separate events.

Based primarily on Hutchings' 1877 unpublished notes, I suggest that the third and fourth teams to climb Starr King were:

Summary: How many early ascents and who were the climbers?

To summarize this report, four parties of climbers (a total of at least six men and at least one woman) achieved the goal of reaching the summit of Mt. Starr King in the 1870s. There were no other ascents in the 19th century. George Bayley stood on the summit twice, and so did George Anderson and James Hutchings. As fate would have it, Bayley's partners in two earliest ascents had never been correctly identified until now. Sidney Smith's, Manuel Flores' and James Schuyler's accomplishments somehow got bypassed and forgotten. It would not be realistic to expect that all the books and articles giving credit to a wrong person will now be reprinted to correct the errors. Still, any future works on the history of mountaineering and rock climbing in California should be making use of the new facts presented in this essay. Given the strong evidence, it would be only fair to do so.

Those Who've Done It

(In this table, I have listed the approximate age of the climbers at the time of their ascents. Also, Lembert and Walker are marked with asterisks, reflecting my low level of confidence that they actually completed the climb).

Biographical notes on early climbers (alphabetically)

George Anderson (April 13, 1836 - May 10, 1884)

George was the first person to reach the summit of the iconic Half Dome in Yosemite. The date was October 12, 1875.

He was one of nine children born to Margaret and David Anderson. In 1851, at the age of 14, he had already left the family home and was working as a cattleman on the farm of a wealthy landowner in nearby Fettercairn. Many years later, when he became famous for his Half Dome adventure, people would describe him as a 'former sailor', or a '(ship) carpenter', or even a 'captain'. He may indeed have briefly engaged in some kind of maritime activity, but so far I have found no evidence of this. British tourist John Wallace, who had the opportunity to speak with George only a few weeks after the first ascent of Half Dome, left us a few additional details about George: "Anderson is fair, blue eyed, bearded, young looking man of about thirty-eight, thorough sailor in appearance, frank and pleasant. He has been seventeen years in California, chiefly mining, but with no great success..." According to Wallace, George Anderson arrived in California about 1858, probably lured by tales of easy gold and quick riches. But George didn't come to California alone. His older brother came with him. In 1858, George would have been 22 years old and his brother Charles about 33. In September 1860, U.S. Census takers found them both in Tuolumne County, near Don Pedro's Bar. They are described as miners without any property, personal or real. In July 1866, George received American citizenship. At that time he owned a mining claim, a water ditch, as well as a house and a piece of land at Indian Bar. By the late 1860s, the gold and copper deposits on that stretch of the Tuolumne River were nearly exhausted, so the Anderson brothers decided it was time to move. [Note: Indian Bar, where the Andersons once had a home, was completely submerged by Don Pedro Reservoir's water in the 1970s]. During the 1870 Census, George and Charles were living quite close to Yosemite, somewhere near Big Oak Flat. Shortly after that census, George moved again, this time to Mariposa County. All the voting lists (aka Great Registers) for that county from 1872 to 1882 list him as "miner, residing at Hite's Cove". In reality he worked as a laborer on much more profitable construction projects in Yosemite Valley, but Hite's Cove may have been his winter home when Yosemite was inaccessible. His Half Dome ascent in 1875 brought him sudden recognition and admiration, at least among Yosemite tourists and residents, and his future prospects were promising.

George Anderson in 1875.
Geo. Anderson
in 1875.

Yosemite Commissioners allowed him to charge one dollar to those tourists who used his rope to climb Half Dome. However, the number of potential climbers was not enough to cover his expenses, let alone to make any profit. In October 1881 one of the Commissioners (M. C. Briggs) offered him a shady contract to build a new wide trail to Snow's Hotel along the north bank of the Merced River. In 1882 and 1883 he devoted himself entirely to this project, but thanks to Mr. Briggs, he was never adequately paid for his efforts. By April 1884, he was penniless. To cover the cost of his meager meals, he gratefully accepted Adolph Sinning's offer to clean and repaint his woodworking shop in the Valley. A severe winter-like storm hit the Valley before he could complete the task, and so he continued to work outside despite the rain and snow. Mr. Sinning urged him to stop immediately, promising him full pay. George replied he had always earned his living and didn't want a charity or handouts from anyone—he would work for it. Not long after, he developed a fever and chills, and was almost forcibly taken to an empty cabin nearby. He lay in bed there for many days without any care or attention. When it was already too late, he was taken to photographer Fiske's house, where he died on May 10 at the age of 48 from acute pneumonia. [The above paragraph is based on a longer account by Charles D. Robinson, a Yosemite artist, who witnessed the events].

George's brother, Charles Anderson, later testified that George had only $2.50 in cash left at the time of his death. The Yosemite Commission reportedly owed him about $1,500. For the next decade, Charles fought the Commission and the State of California for back wages. In 1889, an Assembly Committee of the Legislature concluded that "although Mr. George Anderson, the subject of the disreputable action by the Yosemite Commission has long since gone to his grave in poverty and destitution, mainly consequent upon that wrong, it is hoped that the State will lose no time in repairing, in some degree at least, the wrong done to Mr. Anderson by paying to his heirs the money to which he was justly entitled". However, two successive Governors of California, Waterman and Markham, blocked any such payment, and Charles Anderson never received a penny of the money that belonged to his brother. Charles died in March 1900 at County Hospital in Sonora.

In 1877, James Schuyler spent a night in Anderson's cabin high in the mountains, near the rope route. Next morning Anderson guided him to the summit of Half Dome. Schuyler later recalled: "Anderson is one of the finest specimens of physical manhood I have ever seen. Strong and active like a lion, he is, withal, as modest and unassuming as a maiden—in short one of Nature's noblemen and a gentleman by instinct".

(Find more about George Anderson and early Half Dome ascents in the accompanying article by this author).

George Blake Bayley (April 27, 1840 - Apr 30, 1894)

George B. Bayley, at the age of about 54
George B. Bayley, about 1894.

George was born in Massachusetts. At the age of 22, he arrived in the San Francisco Bay Area, where he would live for the rest of his life. At first he stayed at the home of his married sister Caroline in San Francisco. When his brother-in-law Charles Story became the City's Tax Collector in 1864, he appointed George as his deputy, at a salary of $2,100 a year (Charles earned $4,000). In August 1867 George married Gertrude K. Arthur and they spent their honeymoon climbing around Yosemite Valley. The couple would continue to visit Yosemite for the next two decades. About 1871 the Bayleys established their new home in Oakland, but George continued to work as a bookkeeper and note clerk in the San Francisco office of the Bank of California and later at the Nevada Bank of San Francisco. George also became interested in raising premium poultry, perhaps encouraged by his father-in-law who was an importer of agricultural (including poultry) implements. This sideline business soon became so successful that a newspaper article from 1872 called him "the prince of poulterers". Around 1883, he stopped working at the bank and concentrated entirely on the production of poultry incubators. In 1883, he used his Sierra mountaineering experience outside of California, and climbed for the first time Mount Rainier in Washington State. From 1886 until his death he was also a partner and later a director of the Merten Manufacturing Company located at 210 Davis Street in San Francisco. The company was mainly involved in the production of food flavorings. In 1892, George was one of the founding members of the Sierra Club. In the same year he made his second ascent of Mt. Rainier and survived a near-fatal fall while descending the mountain. But two years later he could no longer cheat death. He died in a horrific elevator accident in his office on Davis Street, three days after his 54th birthday. He was survived by his wife (died 1917), son Arthur (died 1941) and daughter Gertrude who would later become Mrs. King. She died in 1918. Evelyn Hyman Case, wife of George's grandson Lionel Bayley King, published an interesting, but now hard-to-find book, entitled Mountain climber, George B. Bayley, 1840-1894 in 1981. The book is based on George's notes and correspondence, and other family records, and covers some of Bayley's mountain climbing adventures in the Sierra and Washington State. The attached drawing was published in a San Francisco newspaper on May 1, 1894, in an article about George's death.

Manuel (Enrique) Flores (June 16, 1855 - December 10, 1933)

Manuel was the only true Californian in the group of Starr King early climbers. He was born near Big Oak Flat, Tuolumne County, in June 1855. His parents were immigrants from Mexico, but all the children in the family were born in California. Sometime in the 1870s, the family opened the Flores Laundry in Yosemite Valley. Manuel and his older brother Anselmo started guiding Yosemite tourists from an early age. In a letter to her mother from Yosemite in 1871, a young woman, Alice Van Schaack, speaks highly of Manuel (whom she called 'Emmanuel'): "A young Spanish boy [was] our guide (...) He was so kind and attentive while we were in the valley, and I was really sorry to part with him. He used to speak quite encouragingly of my improvement, even when you could have seen daylight between me and the saddle..." Manuel was 16 years old at the time. A voter list from August 1876, at the time of his ascent to Starr King, identifies him as a 'laborer at Yosemite'. In 1879 and 1880 he appears to have been employed as a laborer in Benton, a small Mono County mining town ten miles east of Mammoth Lakes. Then, after 1880, he simply disappears. According to a leading genealogy website, in 1891 he is in Mexico, and newly married. He and his wife Mariana lived for the next ten years in Culiacan, in the state of Sinaloa, near the Sea of Cortez. They had several children, but nothing more is known about their family life and Manuel's employment. They all then returned to the U.S. and established their new home near Los Angeles around 1902. Another child was born in Southern California. It is not known if Manuel ever visited Yosemite again. Oddly enough, when his mother died in Hornitos, Mariposa County in 1911, he is not mentioned in the list of surviving children. Manuel died in 1933 at the age of 78. He was survived by many children and grandchildren.

James Mason Hutchings (February 10, 1820 - October 31, 1902)

James M. Hutchings in 1886, at the age of 66
James M. Hutchings in 1886
at the age of 66.

Hutchings' life is impossible to describe concisely. So I'll just select a few random events from his life as an introduction to this Yosemite giant. Readers are encouraged to find much more about him through a Google search. Alternatively, borrow from your library the latest and most complete Hutchings' biography and bibliography by Dennis Kruska {Ref 10}.

James M. Hutchings, an Englishman born in Towcester, was 28 years old when his ship docked in New York in 1848. A year later, still in the early days of the gold rush, he traveled across the Plains to California. He soon realized that publishing, not mining, was his calling. He first visited Yosemite in 1855. He would publicize this wondrous place in his monthly California Magazine and many other publications and lectures throughout his life. In 1860 he married in San Francisco for the first time. His wife Elvira Sproat was half his age. In 1864 he bought Hite's hotel in the Valley and settled there with his family. A few weeks later, President Lincoln signed the Yosemite Grant Act, giving Yosemite Valley to the State of California "to be held exclusively for public use, resort, and recreation." More than 10 years of legal battle between the settlers and the State followed, culminating in 1875, when California legislators canceled all private land holdings in the Valley. The evicted Hutchings family returned to San Francisco. Hutchings continued to travel throughout the U.S. giving promotional speeches about Yosemite in the off-season, while spending summers with his children in the Valley or camping in the High Sierra. He divorced Elvira in 1879 and then married Augusta Sweetland a year later. Five years after he was expelled from the Valley, another change of fortune for him in the fall of 1880: He was appointed Guardian of Yosemite Valley. The eldest of his three children, daughter Florence (Floy) died after a hiking accident in 1881, and death of his wife Augusta was just as sudden a few months later. His guardianship ended in 1884. Hutchings was briefly married to Jennie Edmonds during 1887, but she died a few months after the wedding. Hutchings' fourth marriage, in 1892, was to a British teacher and headmistress, Miss Emily Edmunds (not Edmonds), who had came to San Francisco in 1887. Both were members of the California Botanical Club and probably became well acquainted when Hutchings assisted Emily in preparation of a collection of indigenous plants from the Yosemite Valley. They lived happily ever after... until J. M. Hutchings was killed in October 1902, in a buggy accident on the last segment of the narrow and steep (long since closed by landslides) old Big Oak Flat road from Crane Flat directly to the Valley.

John Baptist Lembert (about 1840 - Winter/Spring 1896)

John was born in New York State around 1840, to a family of immigrants from Prussia. His last name was often (but incorrectly) quoted as Lambert. John arrived in California probably in 1868. He is listed as a 'farmer' in the San Francisco directories. He was a registered voter in Marysville, Yuba County (1871-1873) and in Buttes, Sierra County (1873, 1875). A recently found entry in a Yosemite hotel register, added November 1, 1875, bears the name "John B. Lembert, Soda Springs", suggesting that he resided at Soda Springs (Tuolumne Meadows), near Yosemite Valley, at least as early as 1875. In 1877, he climbed Starr King with Hutchings and Anderson. A few weeks before that ascent, in August 1877, John Lemmon met Lembert on the Half Dome trail and described him as a "co-worker of Anderson's". Lemmon adds, "Learning that I was a botanist, Lembert questioned me closely concerning the trees in the vicinity." From 1882 until his death, Lembert was a registered voter in Mariposa County, and was described alternately as a miner, rancher, or laborer in Yosemite. John Ferretti met Lembert at Soda Springs in the early 1880s. Many years later, he wrote, "A hermit named Lembert had quite a piece of land fenced in [at Tuolumne Meadows] where he kept some goats. His hut looked more like a bear trap than a place for human habitation... He was about six feet four inches tall, giving him the appearance of an unkempt patriarch of old." Ferretti may have been too impressed: one of electoral rolls from that time states that Lembert's height was "only" 5 feet 10 inches. Furthermore, we learn that Lembert was blue-eyed. One 1882 newspaper article informs readers that "John B. Lembert's soda springs at Tuolumne Meadows, the largest of which is housed in, are the source of the most palatable natural soda water in the world[!]" The beautiful meadows of the High Sierra were summer pastures for Lembert's herd of Angora goats, and in winter, he would lead them down to the foothills of the lower Merced. In the summer of 1883, Charles Robinson, a painter from San Francisco, was surprised to see that the interior of Lembert's cabin was "ornamented by some amateurish, but not at all discreditable attempts of art". Robinson also saw on the wall a sketch of a pack mule by another San Francisco painter, bearing the legend in one corner, "A mon ami Lembert — Jules Tavernier", revealing that Lembert appreciated visits from professional artists.

John Baptist Lembert, probably around 1880.
John Baptist Lembert
(unknown date, probably around 1880).

In August 1885, Lembert officially homesteaded 160 acres of meadow that he had fenced off earlier. Note that Tuolumne Meadows were not part of the Yosemite Grant and therefore were not controlled by the State of California. In 1886 Hutchings wrote: "Here at the Soda Springs we may meet a hermit-artist named Lembert who annually brings his Angora goats to feed upon the succulent pastures whilst he makes sketches". A student from Berkeley met Lembert in the summer of 1889 and wrote, "The Soda Springs property is owned by Mr. Jno. B. Lembert, a handsome and rather intellectual, but peculiar personage who has lived a hermit here for nearly 16 years. His mind is filled with the beauties of the scenery and the objects about him... The scenery from the Springs is indeed magnificent, and must ever inspire his simple, poetic mind." In the fall of 1889, disaster struck: Lembert was caught off guard by a series of early snowstorms that eventually forced him to abandon his goats and flee to Yosemite Valley. In October 1890, Yosemite National Park was established and the Tuolumne Meadows were now within the Park. Lembert had still not received a patent for his homestead and was fully aware that his claim could be invalidated at any moment. Not only had he lost his flock, but also he was now faced with the possible loss of his entire estate and livelihood just as he turned fifty. The spring of the following year brought him a small sign of hope: Harrison Dyar, an East Coast entomologist, spent several months in Yosemite. He arrived in May 1891 and at the end of his visit hired Lembert as his guide in the highest mountains of the new Park. With Dyar's encouragement, Lembert began collecting butterflies and plants in the higher reaches of Yosemite, and soon became quite successful in selling these specimens to universities and natural history museums across the country and even abroad. At least two High Sierra plants and three insects are named after him. In June and July 1894, several students from Berkeley camped near Lembert's cabin on Tuolumne Meadows. One of them, William Colby, later recalled being impressed by Lembert's general intelligence. He reportedly had no advanced schooling, but according to Colby, was always eager to learn.

The following year, in June 1895, quite a surprise: The U.S. Patent Office granted Lembert title to the previously disputed 160 acres of land near Soda Springs. In the late fall of 1895, Lembert, as always, returned from Soda Springs to his winter cabin in the Merced River Canyon, just below Yosemite Valley. At the beginning of April 1896, some of his friends from the Valley began to worry because no one had heard from him for many weeks. He was found dead in his cabin with a gunshot wound to the head. It was clear that he had not committed suicide: the killer had locked the cabin door with a padlock from the outside. An official investigation failed to establish a motive for the murder, and suspects were never named. However, one dark secret, which Lembert mentioned only to a few of his acquaintances, may have cost him his life in the end.

James Dix Schuyler (May 11, 1848 - September 13, 1912)

James D. Schuyler in about 1896.
James Schuyler in about 1896.

Professionally, James Schuyler was by far the most accomplished of all the early Starr King climbers. Born in Ithaca, N.Y., in 1848, he was the youngest child in a family of 5 boys and 4 girls. He received a solid general education at Friends' College in nearby Union Spring, but was essentially self-educated in civil engineering that would become his passion. On his way to the West, he first stayed in Colorado from 1869 to 1873 with his brother Howard, a railroad engineer, and got engaged in railroad construction and surveying. He would later recall that he "enjoyed some of the grandest scenes in the Rocky Mountains and climbed with painful labor many of the highest peaks there". In June 1873, the brothers moved to California. James continued to work with Howard, and then independently, on various railway projects. In 1877, while he was Chief Engineer of the Stockton and Ione Railroad, the company collapsed and he decided to work temporarily as a writer for the Stockton Daily Independent. That summer he climbed Half Dome with Anderson and Starr King with Bayley. By the end of that year he was appointed Assistant State Engineer, and his career began a meteoric rise. Over time, he became the best known consulting hydraulic engineer in the Pacific Coast States, involved in countless construction and consulting projects, both in the U.S. and abroad, e.g., in Mexico, Canada, Brazil, Japan and Panama. He was a recognized authority on dams and other water works and played a key role in the construction of, e.g., the Sweetwater and Hemet Dams in California. His book Reservoirs for Irrigation, Water Power and Domestic Water Supply, John Wiley & Sons, 1909, was richly illustrated with nearly 400 photographs, most of which he took. The book presented the state-of-the-art techniques and ideas on the construction of dams. Among other honors, Schuyler was for a time vice-president of the American Society of Civil Engineers and a fellow of the Institution of Civil Engineers, London. In the summer of 1912, he was confined to his home in Ocean Park, near Los Angeles, for several weeks due to illness. His health was reportedly improving until a forest fire raging near his residence forced him to leave. As a result of the fire and all the excitement caused by the hurried preparations to leave the house, his condition rapidly deteriorated and he died a few days later at the age of 64. He was married but had no children.

James Schuyler was physically a large man of impressive appearance. At the time of his Starr King ascent he was reportedly tipping the scales at 250 pounds. Was Bayley fully aware of that? During their climb, Bayley would loop the rope around his wrist, brace himself against a rock, then call Schuyler, on the other end of the rope, to continue climbing up (or down) assuring him that he could handle the situation if Schuyler slipped. Here is what happened on their way down from the summit, according to Schuyler's 1877 newspaper article: "Bayley was a small man, but very muscular, and I trusted in him implicitly... We started down without mishap, until we reached the diagonal descent, when I slipped, sliding down the full length of the rope, fifty feet, finally fetching up with my toes in a friendly ledge. This was very serious, as I came very near pulling my companion out of his position. As it was, he afterwards exhibited a black and blue mark encircling his arm where the rope had cut into the flesh..."

Another episode related to Schuyler's size and weight is from June 1896, when he was a consulting engineer for the San Diego Flume Company. San Diego's mayor at the time, Carlson, preferred another water supplier, and gave a speech at a public meeting hoping to convince voters to support his choice. When he ran out of arguments against the owners of the Flume Company, he continued by making fun of their engineer. According to a local newspaper, he said: "[They've hired] J. D. Schuyler, a man with a stomach as big as this (illustrating), a stomach so big that he dare not sit at a table unless it is two feet way from him... (laughter). The size of a man's stomach does not indicate his ability as an engineer. It is brains, and quality, not quantity... I'll keep track of the big, fat man."

[Fortunately, today's politicians no longer use such coarse language and personal attacks in their public appearances].

Sidney Vanuxem Smith (March 27, 1845 - September 19, 1925)

Sydney V. Smith in his later years, around 1921. Passport photo.
Sydney Smith in his
later years (~1921).

Sidney V. Smith (Jr), who bore his father's full name was born in Philadelphia in 1845, in a family of a young lawyer. The family moved to the San Francisco area in 1852, where his father was at first associated with several other attorneys and then worked alone until Sidney (Jr) became his partner. Young Sidney was admitted to practice around 1869, and he soon became known and respected for his lucid arguments before the Supreme Court. One of his early biographies praises his "profound knowledge of the law and his brilliant powers of mind". Now we know he was just as good at mountain climbing. Hittell's book "Bancroft's Pacific coast guide" (1882), lists him (as well as George Bayley) "among the men who (...) have spent much time in the mountains for pleasure or study" (see p. 150). Sid must have met John Muir on one of those mountain trips, and became good friends with him. There are several mentions of Sid Smith in Muir's correspondence, the earliest one I could find was from 1881. Here is a fragment from an enchanting letter he wrote to Muir in July 1882. One evening, after attending court proceedings at Martinez, Sidney tried to visit Muir's home, which at the time was far out of town. He addressed the letter to "My dear Muir", and continued:

...The lower part of [your] house was already in darkness, lights were only to be seen at the upper windows, the dogs were baying in the farm yard, and the front gate was pad-locked. I did not like to jump the fence, I respected the dogs, and I did not care to bring you downstairs in what might seem to country people the middle of the night, so I turned my horse (...) and silently stole away, disappointed at not being able to see you and your wife, and your [newborn] baby (...) Perhaps some day you will drop into my office and receive my assurance that I am still, Very Truly Yours,

Sidney V. Smith, Jr.

He married in 1884. His practice was more diversified and larger than his father's. In 1897, the family moved from San Rafael to San Francisco, but his residence at 1230 Jones as well as his office in Mills Building were destroyed in the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire. He retired in 1908 and died of angina pectoris in 1925. Three of his four children survived him: Sidney V. Smith, 3rd (born 1886), Felix T. Smith (1887), and daughter Cora H. B. Smith (1890), later married to Herbert S. Goold.

Augusta Ladd Sweetland (March 14, 1827 - November 6, 1881)

Augusta was born in New Hampshire, but in her early years her widowed mother often moved from place to place. Augusta is first mentioned in a newspaper in February 1855, when she and her mother were living in Washington, D.C. She sent an embroidered handkerchief and a drawing to an exhibition of arts and crafts organized by the Metropolitan Mechanics' Institute in Washington. She was honorably mentioned and awarded with a 'cream ladle' for landscape rendering in pencil, and she also received a 'golden thimble' for embroidery. The following year she is living in Kanawha County near Charleston, [West] Virginia. In November 1856, "Miss Augusta Ladd of Kanawha" sent several items to the Virginia Mechanics' Institute Exhibition. This time she was awarded a gold pen for her beautifully embroidered pocket handkerchief. I have no other information about Augusta's early life or her education. In December 1857, a successful gold miner from Nevada County, California, Henry Preston Sweetland, takes a break from his daily mining job and begins the long journey through Arizona and Texas back east to Botetourt County, Virginia, where many members of his large family live. Botetourt is almost 200 miles from Charleston, but somehow Henry and Augusta met and after a brief courtship decided to marry. Both are around 30 years old. The details of their love story are lost forever. In early May 1858, Augusta became Mrs. A. L. Sweetland.

Augusta's oil on canvas, Along the Riverbank, New Hampshire, year 1875.
Augusta's oil on canvas,
Along the Riverbank, N.H., 1875.

They returned to California via Panama and arrived in San Francisco at the end of January 1859. A few days later they reached the small mining town of Sweetland (named after Henry!) perched on a ridge between two tributaries of the Yuba River. With a lot of free time on hand, Augusta is busy honing her needlework skills and learning about various painting and drawing techniques. In 1860 she was confident enough to submit a drawing and two oils to an art exhibit at the annual State Fair in Sacramento. She won the first prize for the work entitled "Woodland scene". This was a "pencil drawing of an oak forest, executed on tinted paper in a very exquisite manner", the jury members said. She also received the "first premium" for her embroidery. A series of 'gray' years follow when we do not find any information about Augusta or Henry. They are not in Sweetland during the 1870 Census. A Grass Valley paper in October 1874 reported that Henry was "soon leaving for San Francisco, where he will in future reside". Augusta does become a resident of San Francisco, probably in January 1875, but there is no sign of Henry in the City directories. There are speculations that he was very ill, perhaps suffering from tuberculosis. If so, he may have been confined to a hospital immediately after leaving Sweetland. According to conflicting newspaper reports, he died in either San Francisco or Stockton on April 20, 1877.

Even before Henry's death, Augusta participated in some of Hutchings' excursions in Yosemite region. She climbed Mt. Dana with Hutchings and his daughter Florence in September 1876, and made ascents of Half Dome and Mt. Starr King with Hutchings' group in 1877. Between 1877 and 1880, she was listed as a "landscape and marine" painter in San Francisco directories. Hutchings was clearly impressed by her art and her mountaineering. At that time, he filed for divorce from his first wife, who had left the family. The divorce was granted in December 1879. Nine months later Augusta (age 53) and Hutchings (age 60) were married. This coincided with his appointment as Guardian of Yosemite Valley. The new job meant that he would stay in the Valley even in winter seasons, and Augusta decided to be there with him. His office in the Valley was adorned with some of her artworks. Particularly prominent was her oil on canvas named "[Yosemite] Indian Scene". When James Hutchings died in 1902, his fourth wife, Emily, took the painting with her to England. Emily died in London in 1928. Ten years later, Elizabeth Spon, granddaughter of Emily's sister Matilda, returned the painting to the Yosemite Museum. Another oil on canvas, "Along the Riverbank", from 1875, is believed to be Augusta's work. It was last sold in 2009 for $3,000 at an art auction.

In September 1881, Hutchings' eldest daughter, Florence, died in a tragic hiking accident on the Glacier Point Trail. Just a few months later, Augusta died. Her death was equally unexpected and shocking. On the morning of November 6, she suddenly started showing acute breathing problems and died before the end of the day. There were no doctors in the Valley in the off-season to help her. Newspapers reported that the cause of death was a pulmonary hemorrhage. She was buried in Yosemite Cemetery.

Selah Clarence Walker (about 1852 - October 28, 1897)

Selah was born in Rhode Island, one of several children of Jeremiah and Marcelia (nee Hopkins) Walker. Shortly after his birth, the family moved to California, where Selah's father worked as a miner near Campo Seco. At least two more children were born in California. When Selah was about seventeen, a terrible tragedy struck his family in the early hours of New Year's Day 1869. His father, while in a fit of insanity caused by "hallucinations of jealousy" (says the medical report), attempted to kill his two youngest children by breaking their skulls with a hammer. His daughter was seriously injured but survived, while his youngest son, about five years old, died two weeks later. Father spent nine months in the State Insane Asylum at Stockton and was then released. He worked on his brother's farm in Alameda for a while, then moved to Washington State, where he died in 1902. I don't know if Selah witnessed this tragic event directly or if he had already left the family home, but there is no doubt that he was deeply affected and scarred for life by what happened. During the 1870 Census he was living in San Francisco with the family of his sister Arlette, now Mrs. Stratton. In the City directory, Selah, who is now 18 years old, is listed as a photographer. Some experts believe he learned the trade while an assistant to John J. Reilly, a Stockton photographer. Another of Reilly's assistants, Gustav Fagersteen [originally Fagerstein], became his friend. The two worked together in the early to mid 1870s, creating dozens of stereoviews from California gold mines and hundreds of stereoviews in their popular "Photographic Views of Yosemite and Mammoth Trees" series. The only surviving (although mislabeled!) photograph from Walker's trip to Mt. Starr King with Hutchings and Anderson (1877) was published in that series, as were several of his pictures from the summit of Half Dome (also 1877).

Selah Clarence Walker, around 1897. Newspaper sketch.
Selah Clarence Walker
at about 1897.

Selah took the trip to Starr King in late August 1877. On November 14 of that year, he married Mrs. Lillian E. West, an eighteen-year old widow or divorcee from Garrot(t)e, now Groveland. Lillian (nee Reid) first married a certain Mr. John West in October 1874 in Sonora, within days of her 15th birthday! Yes, that was legal at that time. Nothing more is known about her first marriage. Lillian's family, like Selah's, was from Rhode Island, but she was born in California. During the 1880 Census, Lillian, now Mrs. Walker, and two young sons are residing in Groveland, while Selah is listed as a [Yosemite] photographer living in Hite's Cove, just south of the Valley. Another son was born in 1881, but died shortly after birth.

A few years later the whole family moved to San Francisco, where S. C. Walker began working as a printer and assistant manager for the "Elite Photograph Gallery" on Market Street. In November 1890, Lillian was granted a divorce from Selah, on the grounds of his "extreme cruelty". He became increasingly desperate after the divorce. For the last few years of his life, he lived in a small room above the photo gallery. His body was found there one October morning in 1897. He took his own life by taking a large dose of potassium cyanide. San Francisco newspapers reported that he had recently noticed that his eyesight was failing and feared that "his defective vision would interfere with the excellence of his workmanship, and imperil his ability to earn a livelihood". He was about 45 years old at the time of death. The attached drawing was published in a San Francisco newspaper in an article about Selah's death.

S. C. Walker's older son, also named Selah (full name: Selah Eugene Walker), was briefly married and had a daughter and a son, but left the family shortly after their births. He died in 1924 in San Francisco. His younger brother, Clarence Reid Walker, had three children (Frances, William and Doris). Clarence died in October 1971 in Sacramento. It is not likely that any of S. C. Walker's grandchildren are still alive.

Bits and pieces

A few items might be worth looking into further, but I just have not found the time to do it yet:

small arrow Was the first ascent in 1876 really via the northeast side of Starr King as several mountain climbing books suggest? I do not think so! I believe all the early ascents were made from the saddle below the southeast face of the highest dome.

small arrow What happened to Lembert's flagpole found in 1931?

small arrow What did Woodruff write to Farquhar? It seems that one of the 1930s climbers found some old handwritten notes on top of Mt. Starr King and sent them (or mentioned them) to Farquhar, but I couldn't find any other details.

small arrowSeveral people claimed to have reached the top of Starr King years before Loose and Dryer. Some of these claims can be easily dismissed, but two look more serious. Charles Vandervort and Willard Grinnell contacted Richard Leonard, a well-known rock climber and a member of the Sierra Club, informing him of their alleged ascents {Ref 2, pp. 47-48 and pp. 53-54}. Vandervort also wrote in a letter to the Editor of the San Francisco Chronicle: "I climbed Starr King once in 1915 and once in 1916 on the way to the summit of Mt. Clark" {Ref 11}. Similarly, as stated in another newspaper article, Grinnell related to Enid and Charles Michael that he had made an ascent around 1925 {Ref 12}.

small arrow Walker's stereoview showing the Starr King ascent in 1877 is actually mislabeled as "Up the South Dome"! How did this happen?!


{Ref 1} See, for example, the Oakland Tribune, July 6, 1931, p. 18, cols. 6-7. [Read this article]

{Ref 2} Bill Amborn, Mt. Starr King 1931-1982; The Peak Registers: Original Pages with Transcriptions and Comments; a (PDF) document. [Read this PDF]

{Ref 3} C[lifford] C. Presnall in the Stockton Evening and Sunday Record, August 8, 1931, see "Out-o-Doors Section (Automobiles)": Mt. Starr King is Conquered by Duo of Youths. Reprinted in the Yosemite Nature Notes, Volume 10, August 1931 (Number 8), p. 67: Ascent of Mt. Starr King; a (PDF) document. [Read this PDF]

{Ref 4} James M. Hutchings, several loose pages of handwritten notes about his 1877 trip to Yosemite, including a segment on the Starr King ascent. (Some authors called this collection of notes a 'journal' or 'diary'). The notes, as well as their transcript, are available for reading in the Yosemite Museum.

{Ref 5} James M. Hutchings, In the Heart of the Sierras, Pacific Press Publishing House, Oakland, Cal., 1886, p. 473. There were several printings of the book between 1886 and 1889, with small variations between them, but the Starr King page remained unchanged. [Read the book, 1886 version, first printing, at Internet Archive]   [Read the book, 1888 version, at Google Books]

{Ref 6} Francis P. Farquhar, A revival of interest in Mount Starr King; published in the Sierra Club Bulletin, vol. 17, no. 1 (February 1932), pp. 115-118. [Read this article]

{Ref 7} John Muir, Summering in the Sierra, printed in the Daily Evening Bulletin, San Francisco, September 6, 1876, p. 1, col. 4; also reprinted in the Weekly Bulletin, San Francisco, September 14, 1876. (Find the section "A Persistent Mountain Climber"). [Read this article]

{Ref 8} Francis P. Farquhar, History of the Sierra Nevada, University of California Press, 1965, p. 194. [Read this page].

{Ref 9} Francis P. Farquhar, Some Early Ascents of Mount Dana; published in the Sierra Club Bulletin, vol. 16, no. 1 (February 1931), pp. 108-111. (If you look at this article, you will find a few more familiar names among the early climbers of Mt. Dana). [Read this article]

{Ref 10} Dennis Kruska, James Mason Hutchings of Yo Semite, The book club of California, San Francisco, 2009.

{Ref 11} Charles T. Vandervort in the San Francisco Chronicle, August 13, 1932, p. 12.

{Ref 12} Enid Michael, Tackling Mt. Starr King, Sierra's Most Perfect Dome, printed in the Stockton Evening and Sunday Record, October 6, 1928, p. 25. (Grinnell is mentioned towards the end of the article). [Read the paragraph about Grinnell ]

By the same author: Chronicles of Early Ascents of Half Dome.
Fine Print: © 2023 by H. Galic
No part of this online document, photos included, may be reproduced without written permission of the author.