National Parks

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History of Sequoia

Tunnel Tree on the Cresent Meadow Road, Sequoia National Park July 17, 1940, public domain / National Park Service Historic Photograph Collection

Sequoia National Park, [located in the] southern Sierra Nevada [mountain range] in California, [includes] the tallest mountain in the contiguous United States, Mount Whitney.  Most of the mountains and canyons in the [young] Sierra Nevada are composed of granitic rocks[This rock was formed by a] geologic process known as subduction,...[and the granite rose] with the development of the Great Basin.  During the last 10 million years, at least four ice ages have coated the mountains.  [The glaciers caused by the ice ages slowly] carved deep valleys and craggy peaks [from the granite]. [Many] solutional caves [also formed, and]...the park contains more than 270 known caves, including Lilburn Cave which is California's longest cave.

The region [had] two distinctive [Native American] groups, the Western Mono and the Tubatulabal.  By the time the first European settlers arrived smallpox had already spread to the region, decimating these populations.  The Tubatulabal people of the Kern river valley...[also] survived historical trauma. [During the] Whiskey flats Massacre of 1863, 35 to 40 Tubatulabal [men were killed] by the U.S. Cavalry led by Captain McLaughlin.  McLaughlin...captured nearly 1,000 Indians from the Kern and Owens valleys and escorted them on a merciless six-month march of more than 200 miles to Ft. Tejon and the San Sebastian Indian Reservation.  McLaughlin was court-martialed for his harsh treatment of [Native Americans] and discharged. Later, he committed suicide.

The first European settler to homestead in the area was Hale Tharp...[He]...had respect for the grandeur of the forest and led early battles against logging in the area. He also received visits from John Muir, who was an early advocate for the preservation of wilderness in the U. S.; however, Tharp's attempts to conserve the giant sequoias were at first met with only limited success. In the 1880s, white settlers seeking to create a utopian society founded the Kaweah Colony, which...based its economy on logging.  Giant Sequoia trees, unlike coast redwood, were later discovered to splinter easily [making them] ill-suited to timber harvesting, though thousands of trees were felled [in the process]...[Logging finally ceased] on September 25, 1890, [when] President Benjamin Harrison signed legislation establishing America's second National Park...Sequoia National Park was the first National Park formed to protect a living organism: Sequoiadendron giganteum. One week later, General Grant National Park was created and Sequoia was enlarged.

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