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History of the Sierra Nevada

History of the Sierra Nevada by Francis P. Farquhar. Berkeley, University of California Press, 1965. 262 pages, 1 color plate, 48 other illustrations, 5 maps. $10.00.

Who but Francis Farquhar could, or should, write the story of the range that holds first place in the hearts of its devotees? He has done so with authenticity, thoroughness and eloquence, drawing on the matured knowledge of half a century. For twenty years he edited the Sierra Club Bulletin, in which appeared his first article on the subject “Place Names of the High Sierra” in 1923. He has roamed throughout the range; and he made the first ascent of the Middle Palisade in 1921, with Ansel Hall.

His History starts essentially at the beginning of the nineteenth century with the first records of white men. It describes the crossings by the early American pioneers and immigrants, the discoveries of Yosemite Valley and the giant Sequoias. Jedediah Smith, Joseph Walker, and John Frémont have their chapters. The descent in winter, by freeway, from the great snowfields of the main crest to the mild weather and flower gardens of Sacramento has long ago lost its primitive hardships, but beyond the roads the aspens still are buried in the lonely drifts.

He tells of the discovery of gold, followed in a few years by the construction of the railway and its snowsheds across Donner Summit in the 1860’s; of the rescue of Yosemite Valley, led by John Muir, from the hotel-builders and sheepherders; and of the Whitney survey, which was enlivened by the dynamic activities and eloquence of Clarence King, who is commemorated on page 222 by one of the greatest of Ansel Adams’ photographs. The narrative finally ascends briefly into the meadows and peaks of the high country, in the footsteps of Solomons, LeConte, Colby, Starr and Clyde, and leaves us where the first chapter brought us, among lakes and cascades, dazzling sunlight, granite peaks, foxtail and white- bark pines, cassiope and pentstemons, rosy finches, and Clark’s crows, in the splendor of the Sierra in summer. Here let us hope that history will be inscribed never by man and his works but only by the procession of the seasons, the melting of snowbanks, and the slow growth of gnarled trees. Francis has labored long that this might be so. His book will be welcomed by all who love the Sierra Nevada.

Thomas H. Jukes