Hutchings, the 'Father of Yosemite,' set out to record the West

Born in the tiny town of Towcester in 1820, James Mason Hutchings was the son of a carpenter who likely had little expectation of travel as a youngster.

After attending school for at least eight years, he was apprenticed at age 16 to his father to learn the carpentry trade in the village of some 2,500.

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To read more excerpts from the diary of James Mason Hutchings, check out historian Ben Truwe's Southern Oregon history website at

But in 1843, when Hutchings was 23 years old, colorful paintings of Indians and the Wild West by American artist George Catlin came to nearby Birmingham.

Perhaps prompted by Catlin's art, Hutchings left England in 1848 bound for New York. He was in New Orleans in 1849 when he learned that gold had been discovered in California.

By mid-October, he was among countless gold seekers mining for the precious metal in Northern California. He struck gold, lost his money when a bank failed, then wrote a piece in 1853 titled, "The Miner's Ten Commandments," which sold 100,000 copies.

He then spent two years exploring California and venturing into the Applegate and Rogue River valleys.

Upon returning to California in 1855 after visiting Sterlingville and Jacksonville, he led either the first or second — depending on whose version of history you read — tourist trip into the now famous Yosemite Valley in July of that year.

An illustrator and photographer as well as writer, Hutchings featured Yosemite Valley in the first edition of his Hutchings California Magazine in July 1856.

He also produced a lithograph of Yosemite Falls that was widely distributed. And he wrote a book on Yosemite called "In The Heart of the Sierras."

After the magazine merged with another publication, California Mountaineer, Hutchings stepped down as publisher and editor and moved to Yosemite and opened a hotel. He became known for his promotion of the region.

In 1869, he hired a sheepherder from Scotland named John Muir to build a sawmill in Yosemite Valley. Muir, who later became perhaps the nation's most famous naturalist, led the fight to create Yosemite National Park.

Hutchings became known as the "Father of the Yosemite," albeit he fought unsuccessfully to keep his holdings in the valley before it became a park.

During a return trip to the park on Oct. 31, 1902, Hutchings, 82, was thrown from his buggy after his horse spooked. The traveler was killed. He is buried near the base of his beloved Yosemite Falls.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or email him at

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