A Short Mineral King History
The Mineral King area encompasses more of man's history in the Sierra than any other one place in the mountains. Long before the Wukchumni people created summer settlements in the valley around three thousand years ago, a trading trail led from the Three Rivers region through Mineral King to the Big Kern and deserts beyond. The Wukchumni occupied the area as a hunting and camping area on a seasonal basis until the advent of Caucasian man in the early 1860s.
The first white men known to have entered the area were American hunters, trappers and stockmen looking for grazing grounds. Primitive trails up the Kaweah canyon and over Farewell Gap were being traveled by 1865. By 1870, the first women were entering the valley.
The minerals extant in the Sawtooth Cirque quickly lured miners to settle in the area. Hundreds and even purported thousands settled in the valley in the boom days of 1873 to 1879. Some lived there on a year-round basis, and wooden structured residences for families began to dot the area.
One of the oldest and longest wagon roads into the Southern Sierra high country was built during those years, the basis for the tortuous, narrow, thirty mile road that still exists over most of the same route today. It was built not only to facilitate the miners, but also the families and friends who spent their summers in Mineral King to escape the heat and diseases of the San Joaquin Valley. By the early 1890s, Mineral King had become a summer residence and recreational community.
Starting with the first mining boom, lumbering became a major enterprise. Stock grazing was begun in earnest with cattle, sheep and hog ranchers bringing their animals into the valley each summer. Recreational hunting and fishing and mountaineering became popular. A major power and water development was engineered in the 1890s and became a reality in the early 1900s. Four dams in the cirques above the valley were built in 1904-1905 to control water carried to innovative flumes and power stations down the Kaweah River.
While avalanches and mining failures radically depleted the population of the valley in the 1880s, families continued to occupy the remaining buildings and campgrounds into the 1890s. A resort was started and packing facilities were offered for hire. Recreationists came in and so did the military, occupying the valley in 1891 as base operations for National Park Service patrols into the back country.
Mineral King has experienced more government control agencies than most places in the Sierra. From public land opened to early unregulated settlement; to protection under the Forest Reserve system; to inclusion in the National Forests; excluded from the Park System because of its multiple-use resources; occupied and regulated by the military; made a National Game Refuge because of its importance to back country deer herds; finally incorporated into Sequoia National Park in 1978.
Because of its accessibility, resources and beauty, it always has been a highly political arena. There have been constant issues to resolve since its settlement ranging from what community a road would be run into it; the testing of government jurisdiction and the intent of homestead and mining laws; the clarification of environmental laws in balance with the rights of private enterprise; now the rights of individuals to maintain historic living communities as an important part of public education and preservation
Since man first discovered it, the valley has been exploited. By hunters and trappers, including prehistoric man. By miners, stockmen lumbermen and recreationists. By business interests. By government agencies vying for the resources with their own agendas and policies. Through it all, the community has survived, a living proof of the evolution of a mountain community and its people.
If the Mineral King Valley has a special aura, it is because of all the fascinating ghosts of the past. But its real historical presence lies in today. This is no crumbling ghost town that holds only decaying shacks and uncertain fables of the past. The tales are there, but they live in a thriving, continuously occupied community that has survived, evolved and grown for over one hundred thirty years with minimal modernization. There is no electricity past Silver City, no modern water treatment system, no sewage treatment facilities and only a single phone line. There are no stores beyond Silver City, no restaurants, no bars, no resorts, no medical facilities. Mineral King is a true mountain community absent from all the luxuries of civilization, its rural character blending in subtle harmony with the ecology of the valley.
Exerpted from "Mineral King Notes: A Short Description and History of the Valley" by Louise Jackson
Copyright© 1997 Louise Jackson