History of the Wishon Trail

The Wishon Trail follows the North Fork of the Middle Fork of the Tule River to spectacular groves of Giant Sequoias at Balch Park. Indians made the first footpaths that follow the North Fork. Later, gold miners during the the 1850s forged the Dennison, Farley and Jacobson trails that crossed the river to reach new "diggings" on the far side of the Sierras. All these routes fell into disrepair in the 1880s when toll roads provided more reliable routes across the mountains. Another generation of miners at the turn of the century resurrected the old Indian footpaths as the Doyle Trail, and a fledging Pacific Gas and Electric Company, the utility known today as PG&E, named the area Camp Wishon Wishon Fork to honor two brothers that oversaw company operations in the area.

  • Long before the White Man arrived, the North Fork belonged to a Yokuts Indian tribe known as the Yaudanchi. These Indians spoke a dialect similar to their Yokuts cousins the Yowlumne Indians of Bakersfield. Even though other Yokuts tribes separated the Yowlumne and Yaudanchi, and battles between the two were not unknown, many Yowlumne and Yaudanchi families were related by marriage. Backpackers and fishermen who frequent the North Fork often refer to it as the Wishon Fork, but this name meant nothing to the Yaudanchi whose own name for the river has long been forgotten. Yaudanchi footpaths paths originally led upstream, on both sides of the river, to the Giant Sequoia groves at Balch Park that we know as Mountain Home State Forest. Although, the Yaudanchi died out long ago, victims of disease and land-hungry pioneers, mortar holes and the strange "Indian bathtubs" that grace many boulders and rock ledges along the river remind us of their presence.

  • The first white men to explore the North Fork were gold miners, who began working south from the Mother Lode in search of new claims when they became discouraged with the "northern diggings". The "Kern River Gold Rush" of 1854, and another gold rush in 1857, brought a flood of prospectors to the area. One of these prospectors, Dr. Samuel George of Porterville, found a mineralized belt with rich copper and galena (lead ore) deposits that crosses the North Fork. This belt is located along the contact where a mass of granite intrudes the limestone. To reach the ore deposits, miners took the Yaudanchi footpaths that followed the east bank of the river. Later shafts and tunnels of the Wishon copper mines were driven into the mineralized limestone belt that Samuel George had found, but George and his contemporaries most likely did some digging too, in addition to panning the river in search of gold flakes.

  • The Wishon mines are located where another Gold Rush trail, the Dennison or Coso Trail drops down from the site of the old Shake Camp lumber mill in Mountain Home Forest and crosses the river on a path that leads east over the Sierras to the Mojave Desert. This trail was first named after a mountain man who lived in Visalia and could travel "into the mountains any time [he] needed money to bring back enough gold for his bacon and beans". When word of a rich silver strike in the Coso Mountains near Owens Lake reached prospectors living in Porterville and Visalia in July, 1860, Dennison's path was the route they took to the Coso diggings. Dennison supposedly met his demise when he accidently tripped a gun trap that he had rigged himself to protect one of his claims.

  • Although the early trail that crossed the Sierras from Porterville to the Coso diggings was known to the miners who followed it as the Dennison or Coso Trail, a map published in 1861 introduced it to the rest of the world as the Farley Trail. This name derived from a September 14, 1860 article by Porterville miner B.W. Farley that appeared in the San Francisco Daily Alta California newspaper. Titled the "Discovery of Mammoth Trees", Farley's article described his adventures on the Dennison Trail and gained him fame as the discoverer of the Mountain Home Sequoia grove. However, Farley was not the first to view the big trees, only the most vocal. Farley is also said to have measured the big tree that once graced the Centennial Stump of Mountain Home. This tree, which in the 1870s was known as the largest tree in the world, met its demise at the hands of loggers who hoped to profit by exhibiting it at an 1876 Independence Day celebration.

  • Let's not forget the Jordan Trail, also called the Jacobson Trail, of trailblazer John Jordan. This route, which was constructed as a toll road, quickly supplanted the Farley Trail, as it was wide enough to accomodate pack trains. Jordan's "road", which was really just a wide horse path, dropped down from the Mountain Home sawmills, crossed the North Fork just upstream from Wishon Springs, switchbacked up and out of the canyon, past Jordan Peak, and on across the Sierras to the Mojave Desert. The Jordan Trail was eclipsed, in turn, in 1864 by a competing toll road, wide enough for wagons, that led from the San Joaquin Valley to Owen's Valley by way of Walker Pass. Highway 178, which leads up Kern River Canyon to the pass, follows parts of this old road.

  • At some prominant campsites on a flat of the Wishon Trail where it drops down to the North Fork and enters the Burro Creek Sequoia Grove is the site of Rose's Grave. Apparently, William Rose, whose wife lived at one of the lumber mills in Mountain Home Forest, died suddenly in 1879 at his gold claim many miles from home. His two sons, who were with him at the time, put their father's body on the back of a burro and packed him for three days through the mountains in an attempt to bring Rose home for proper burial. When the old man's body started to smell, one of the sons ran ahead to fetch Mrs. Rose. He and his mother rejoined the son with the burro just below the junction of Burro Creek and the main stream, and there they buried the body.

  • The Wishon Trail that hikers follow today leads upstream from Camp Wishon and follows an older trail, known as the Doyle Trail, as far as the Wishon copper mines. Here the Wishon Trail crosses the North Fork to the east side and continues upriver to Moses Gulch Campground, whereas the older Doyle Trail stays on the west side, merges with the Dennison Trail of Gold Rush fame, and switchbacks steeply up the hillside to continue on to Balch Park. The Doyle Trail is named for John Doyle, a pioneer who prior to 1885 acquired 160 acres in the heart of the Mountain Home Sequoia grove. About the same time, his nephew Wilbur established a homestead known as "Doyle's Soda Springs", which eventually became the community of Doyle Springs. John regularly traveled old Indian footpaths that led upriver on the west side of the North Fork from his nephew's homestead to a cabin that John built in a fallen tree at Mountain Home. This cabin is the famed "Hollow Log" of Balch Park. John enlarged these footpaths to a pack trail in 1891 that led upriver from Doyle Springs to where the Wishon copper mines were later located, and from there followed the old Farley trail up the hill to Doyle's cabin in the Mountain Home hollow log.

  • The Powell brothers, who operated a copper mine on the Tule River at the turn of the century, also had several copper and silver mines on the North Fork, where Samuel George had discovered a minearlized zone back in the Gold Rush days. The Powells seldom worked these propects themselves, but leased them out, and most likely financed the operations, which included most, if not all, of the old mines found on the North Fork today. Either the Powells or their lease holders built the miners cabin on Silver Creek, which was originally called Galena Creek before a cartographer switched names of Silver and Galena Creeks by accident. Whereas Doyle used paths on the west side of the river to pack into Mountain Home, the Powells and their lease holders used paths on the east side to service these copper diggings.

  • The modern Wishon Trail begins at an aqueduct built by Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) in the early 1900s to deliver water to a hydroelectic plant they built on the Tule River. Nearby are the remains of the concrete foundations of Camp Wishon, a construction camp where PG&E housed workers building the acqueduct. This camp was named for A.G. Wishon, who at the time was general manager of the company, and his brother Dave L. Wishon who was chief engineer on the project. Dave's ashes, in fact, are buried at the cabin site at the headworks above the camp. Because of this project, which produces hydroelectric power for the Porterville and Springville areas, the North Fork of the Middle Fork of the Tule is also known as the Wishon Fork. The road that PG&E built up to the Wishon construction camp was completed in 1907, and the power plant began operation in 1914.

  • John Doyle sold his Mountain Home property in 1923 to John Balch for a $20.00 gold piece, and Balch subsequently donated the land to Fresno County for a park. Although John Doyle is the man who brought fame to the hollow log of Mountain Home and saved many of the Mountain Home Sequoias from the lumberman's ax, Balch Park is named for another.

  • The Dennison/Farley trail originally climbed straight up a brutal hill that leads east from the Wishon Fork mines to the Sierra high country. To make this route more friendly to pack animals, Art Griswold, owner of a pack station at Shake Camp in the Balch Park area, put in over 50 switchbacks on the trail in 1930. Since then, this trail has became known as the Griswold Trail.

Copyright © 2006-21 Claud "Sonny" Rouch, all rights reserved. Website by OACYS Technology. Cover photo by Roberts Engineering.