Note: Hale Tharp, the first non-Native American
settler in what John Muir named the "Giant Forest" in 1875, established
a cattle ranch among the Big Trees. He built a simple summer cabin
from a fallen, fire-hollowed sequoia log in the 1860s. It is the oldest
pioneer cabin remaining in Sequoia National Park. John Muir visited
the area in 1875, and describes meeting a settler there. Although Muir
never identified Hale Tharp by name, from his description it seems
clear that the following vignette describes Hale Tharp quite well.
You can visit "Tharp's
Log" today, on the Crescent Meadow trail in Sequoia National Park.
awhile ... it
seemed impossible that any other forest picture in the world could rival
it. There lay the grassy, flowery lawn, three fourths of a mile long,
smoothly outspread, basking in mellow autumn light, colored brown and
yellow and purple, streaked with lines of green along the streams, and
ruffled here and there with patches of ledum and scarlet vaccinium. Around
the margin there is first a fringe of azalea and willow bushes, colored
orange yellow, enlivened with vivid dashes of red cornel, as if painted.
Then up spring the mighty walls of verdure three hundred feet high,
the brown fluted pillars so thick and tall and strong they seem fit
to uphold the sky; the dense foliage, swelling forward in rounded bosses
on the upper half, variously shaded and tinted, that of the young trees
dark green, of the old yellowish. An aged lightning-smitten patriarch
standing a little forward beyond the general line with knotty arms
outspread was covered with gray and yellow lichens and surrounded by
a group of saplings whose slender spires seemed to lack not a single
leaf or spray in their wondrous perfection.
Such was the Kaweah meadow
picture that golden afternoon, and as I gazed every color seemed to
deepen and glow as if the progress of the fresh sun-work were visible
from hour to hour, while every tree seemed religious and conscious
of the presence of God.
A free man revels in a scene like this and
time goes by unmeasured. I stood fixed in silent wonder or sauntered
about shifting my points of view, studying the physiognomy of separate
trees, and going out to the different color patches to see how they
were put on and what they were made of, giving free expression to my
joy, exulting in Nature's wild immortal vigor and beauty, never dreaming
any other human being was near.
Suddenly the spell was broken by dull
bumping, thudding sounds, and a man and horse came in sight at the
farther end of the meadow, where they seemed sadly out of place. A
good big bear or mastodon or megatherium would have been more in keeping
with the old mammoth forest. Nevertheless, it is always pleasant to meet
one of our own species after solitary rambles, and I stepped out where
I could be seen and shouted, when the rider reined in his galloping mustang
and waited my approach. He seemed too much surprised to speak until,
laughing in his puzzled face, I said I was glad to meet a fellow mountaineer
in so lonely a place. Then he abruptly asked, "What are you doing?
How did you get here?" I explained that I came across the cañons
from Yosemite and was only looking at the trees. "Oh then, I know," he
said, greatly to my surprise, "you must be John Muir."
herding a band of horses that had been driven up a rough trail from the
lowlands to feed on these forest meadows. A few handfuls of crumb detritus
was all that was left in my bread sack, so I told him that I was nearly
out of provision and asked whether he could spare me a little flour. "Oh
yes, of course you can have anything I've got," he said. "Just
take my track and it will lead you to my camp in a big hollow log on
the side of a meadow two or three miles from here. I must ride after
some strayed horses, but I'll be back before night; in the mean time
make yourself at home."
He galloped away to the northward, I returned
to my own camp, saddled Brownie, and by the middle of the afternoon discovered
his noble den in a fallen Sequoia hollowed by fire-a spacious loghouse
of one log, carbon-lined, centuries old yet sweet and fresh, weather
proof, earthquake proof, likely to outlast the most durable stone castle,
and commanding views of garden and grove grander far than the richest
king ever enjoyed. Brownie found plenty of grass and I found bread, which
I ate with views from the big round, ever-open door. Soon the good Samaritan
mountaineer came in, and I enjoyed a famous rest listening to his observations
on trees, animals, adventures, etc., while he was busily preparing supper.
In answer to inquiries concerning the distribution of the Big Trees he
gave a good deal of particular information of the forest we were in,
and he had heard that the species extended a long way south, he knew
not now far.
I wandered about for several days within a radius of six
or seven miles of the camp, surveying boundaries, measuring trees, and
climbing the highest points for general views. From the south side of
the divide I saw telling ranks of Sequoia-crowned headlands stretching
far into the hazy distance, and plunging vaguely down into profound cañon
depths foreshadowing weeks of good work. I had now been out on the trip
more than a month, and I began to fear my studies would be interrupted
by snow, for winter was drawing nigh. "Where there isn't a way make
a way," is easily said when no way at the time is needed, but to
the Sierra explorer with a mule traveling across the cañon lines
of drainage the brave old phrase becomes heavy with meaning. There are
ways across the Sierra graded by glaciers, well marked, and followed
by men and beasts and birds, and one of them even by locomotives; but
none natural or artificial along the range, and the explorer who would
thus travel at right angles to the glacial ways must traverse cañons
and ridges extending side by side in endless succession, roughened by
side gorges and gulches and stubborn chaparral, and defended by innumerable
Bidding good-by to the kind Sequoia cave-dweller, we vanished again
in the wilderness, drifting slowly southward, Sequoias on every ridge-top
beckoning and pointing the way.