Home page Questions or Comments? Home page
The Mineral King Road Corridor Milk Ranch and Oriole Lake Oak Grove Cain's Flat The Flume The New Road River Hill Grade Red Hill Hammond The Trip Up the Road Britten's The Way to Mineral King The Pioneers The First Campers

The Pioneers

There had to be a reason, or reasons, for a road into Mineral King. Trails and roads follow the lines of commerce and human endeavor. The East Fork of the Kaweah River was opened to modern travel only when its commercial promise was discovered.

The Kaweah River region was a slow starter in the settlement patterns of California. Before 1862, there was little to entice settlers to the area. The entire Southern Sierra was a wilderness to the first Euroamericans who explored its foothills. The Spanish government was interested only in finding whatever escaped mission Indians and army deserters might be hiding in the secluded landscape. The first Americans in the area were interested in beaver pelts and routes across the mountains. The earliest miners stayed almost entirely to the north where gold deposits were a recorded fact and civilization lay closer at hand.

Probably the first known American to live in the Kaweah Canyon was a lone adventurer, a southerner by the name of Captain John Moss whom the local Indians called "Long Hair". Sometime in the early 1840s, Moss stumbled down canyon from the mountains into a Waksachi encampment at the confluence of the Main Fork and North Fork of the Kaweah River at what is now the community of Three Rivers. Suffering from starvation and exhaustion, Moss evidently lived with the Indians for several months and remained in the area for years, often visiting the town of Visalia in the 1850s and 1860s.

The first permanent American settler in the area was Hale Dixon Tharp, a young emigrant from Michigan and Illinois. He arrived in California in 1851 with an adopted family and tried mining in the northern gold country for several years. After mining began to affect his health without the benefits of reaping any riches, Tharp decided to try ranching instead. In the summer of 1856, during one of California¹s greatest drought years, he headed south through the nearly uninhabited lands of Tulare County which had been formed just four years earlier. On reaching the fledgling community of Visalia, he turned east to investigate the Kaweah River's foothill lands.

Tharp found a small valley he liked below Three Rivers, at the confluence of the Kaweah River and Horse Creek, an area now damned and flooded to form Lake Kaweah. After befriending the local Wukchumni Indians, he erected a shake and brush shelter to establish a preemption homestead. Then he returned to the northern mines for two more years.

In 1858, Tharp came again to his Kaweah homestead bringing with him his brother-in-law, John Swanson. Together they built a cabin and a barn and explored the surrounding area for summer pasturage for their cattle. In 1858, the Wukchumni Indians led Tharp to the Sequoia groves of Giant Forest and Log, or Crescent, Meadow, where he claimed summer grazing rights for years. In later years, he also claimed to have explored the Kaweah's East Fork in 1860, using an old Indian trail which led to the Mineral King Valley.

The 1860s brought several other families to the Kaweah River foothills, most of them cattle, horse, and hog ranchers. Although homesteading of public land through a preemption system had been an acknowledged American right since 1785, the Homestead Act of 1862 encouraged the settlement of western lands. After its enactment, at least a dozen more families settled in the Kaweah Canyon foothills. Among them was John Lovelace, who reportedly also explored the East Fork of the Kaweah River for grazing land.

During the 1860s, the Works family which included Hopkins, Enoch, Fleming, Pleasant and Robert, built a trail up to their Milk Ranch on a ridge above the present Mineral King road. They also grazed hogs in Hockett Meadow during that decade, and Pleasant Works showed friends a piece of galena he found that was identical to that found at the White Chief Mine years later.

The most celebrated white man to discover the Mineral King Valley made it his summer retreat. This was Harry O'Farrell, alias Harry Parole, who was hired in 1862 as game hunter for a crew building the Hockett Trail from Visalia to the Owens Valley. In 1863, Parole struck out from a trail construction camp on the Little Kern River to explore its canyon along the route of the old Indian trading trail. On reaching Farewell Gap at the Little Kern's headwaters, he discovered the mineral bearing mountains of the Sawtooth Cirque with the Mineral King Valley below it. Parole returned several times through the rest of the 1860s to hunt and prospect the area. He created the first modern camp site in the valley, at the confluence of the main Mineral King stream and Monarch Creek.

In 1872, the small-scale explorations in search of good grazing, hunting and mining lands came to an abrupt end. A group of men from Porterville, led by James Crabtree, discovered promising galena ore in the White Chief cirque above the Mineral King Valley. With the promise of a silver bonanza, a new purpose emerged for access to the valley. Men from Visalia and the surrounding area started forging their way up the East Fork canyon on the old Works and Indian trails to try their luck at prospecting. Within weeks, the Mineral King road corridor was born.

(Information for this article was gleaned from several sources by Louise Jackson. Principal among them are: the Mary Bronzan papers on the history of Three Rivers; several manuscripts for Heritage newspaper articles written by Joe Doctor; a map of early Three Rivers settlers compiled by the Three Rivers Historical Society; "100 years of Three Rivers" articles written by John Elliott for The Kaweah Commonwealth, Dec. 31, 1999; letter to Judge Wallace from Orlando Barton, Aug. 22, 1905; BEULAH: A BIOGRAPHY OF THE MINERAL KING VALLEY by Louise Jackson; "The Discoverer of Log Meadow" in THE WAY IT WAS by Annie Mitchell; THE STORY OF HALE THORP by Norton Tharp; "The story of Hale Tharp" in THE DISCOVERY OF SEQUOIA NATIONAL PARK by Clarence Fry.)

The Mineral King Road Corridor: Historic Points of Interest
Previous article in series: The First Campers
Next article in series: The Way to Mineral King