The Tule River - by Carol Zeigler The Tule River is one of the smaller rivers in California. Its headwaters are along the Great Western Divide, a sub-range of mountains that run parallel to the Sierra Crest in Tulare County in Central California. The Tule River flows in a westerly direction and eventually reaches Success Reservoir. It has three main forks, the North, Middle, and South. The North Fork and Middle Fork join together just above the town of Springville. The South Fork joins the two at the reservoir. The river then flows on to Porterville and, in historic times and during rare floods, the river flows on to join the Kings, Kaweah, and Kern Rivers at Tule Lake. Tule Lake was at one time the largest freshwater lake in America west of the Mississippi. Along the shores of this lake are marshlands called tular and the reeds and cattails that grow in them are called tules.
The Tule River originates among high rugged granite peaks including Dennison Peak, Moses Mountain, Maggie Mountain, Jordan Peak, Slate Mountain, Black Mountain, Mule Peak, and Parker Peak. It descends as much as 1,000 for every mile and altogether drops more than 9,000 feet. It flows past several spectacular groves of giant sequoia, the largest trees on the planet. The largest known giant sequoia in the Tule River Watershed is the Stagg Tree, the 6th largest tree on Earth. This tree grows in the Alder Creek Grove on the flanks of Jordan Peak.
After flowing through the majestic conifer forest belt the river enters the chaparral and oak woodland communities with their abundant wildlife. Then it flows into the San Joaquin Valley which is world famous for the quantity and quality of its agricultural products.
Lower elevations in the San Joaquin Valley and foothills may only receive a few inches of rain a year, but the mountains can receive up to 50. In an average year almost 50 billion gallons of water flow through 100 miles of the Tule River and its tributaries. So the Tule River, though relatively small, has a big impact on the area where it flows.
The earliest people in California settled and traveled along rivers and the Tule River was the home of the Yaundanchi Yokuts. As early as 1776 white men visited the area but it wasn’t until the middle of the 19th century that any of them stayed.
The first sawmill was built along the North Fork of the Tule River in 1865. By 1866 farmers were building ditches to help irrigate their lands with Tule River water near Porterville. Then the railroad came through in 1873 and this led to widespread farming and settlement. By 1890 there were nearly 25,000 people settled in the Tule River area.
In 1908 a large portion of the Tule River Watershed was designated as Sequoia National Forest. Another large portion along the South Fork is a part of the Tule River Indian Reservation that was originally established in 1857 and moved to its present location in 1873.
In 1908 another use of the river began when a hydroelectric plant was built. By 1913 another one was operating along the Middle Fork of the Tule River. Among the uses of the electricity was to power irrigation pumps that increased the value of nearby farmland.
Roads that were built to access the power plants led to the development of several home tracts along the Middle Fork of the Tule River. Camp Wishon and Camp Nelson were two popular resorts in the early 20th century. At the height of its popularity, Camp Nelson had a two-story hotel, a six-hole golf course, an outdoor dance platform, and many cabins and stores. Though not as popular today, both places continue to operate. Today there are approximately 1,000 homes in the Upper Tule River Watershed and more than 100 are occupied year-round.
Thousands of people today not only live beside and depend on the water of the Tule River, they also go to the river and Lake Success to play! Fishing, hunting, picnicking, camping, boating, hiking, mountain bike riding, horse-back riding, ATV and snowmobile riding, and even hang-gliding are all popular sports in the Tule River area.
Unfortunately the Tule River area has proven itself popular for other activities such as illegal marijuana cultivation and graffiti spraying. The Forest Service along with several law enforcement agencies fight to clean up areas and keep them safe for the public.
I have lived along the Tule River for over two years now, first in a cabin up at Camp Nelson and now in a small house in Springville. I have explored many of its stretches and have delighted in its many waterfalls. I have searched for pictographs and mortar holes and other signs of early habitants along it. I have hiked and backpacked along most of the Tule River area trails. I have trekked through many of its sequoia groves and in short I enjoy every minute I spend outside near the Tule River.
History of Ponderosa
Situated near the summit of the Upper Tule River of the Sequoia National Forest, Bordering on the eastern side of the Great Western divide Highway, lines one of the most beautiful, well planned, mountain home subdivisions in the high Sierras. The area is well studded with all varieties of fir and pine trees, especially the Ponderosa pine, for which the subdivision was named; interspersed are groves of Quaking Aspen. The subdivision is part of the Kramer meadow property that has been owned by three generations of the Kramer family for a hundred years.
Alexander S. Kramer, born and raised in Pennsylvania, came to California in 1874. He filed for a homestead site about two and a half mils south of Alila, (now Earlimart). He engaged in sheep raising about 1878. His brother, Howard, came to California later and joined him as a partner. Their operation grew to be very large, numbering ten thousand heard of sheep, which fed on open range between Delano and Earlimart. The area was very good feed for most of the year, but the brothers decided they needed summer pasture for their sheep. They found several thousand acres in and around what is now know as the Johnsondale area, which was the private property of George Flitz. At that time, there were no roads beyond Springville. All food and supplies for the sheep herders, including salt for the sheep, had to be packed in on animals, so there was a need for a pasture for the horses and pack animals.
In the NE¼ of the NE½ of Section 16, Township 21 South, Range 32, the Kramers found forty acres which were ideal for their pasture needs. This land, which had been granted to the state for schools was patented to the Kramers on May 25, 1884. It became known as Kramer Meadow and still retains that name.
The Kramer brothers dissolved their partnership in 1903, and afterward, Alex bought two hundred eighty acres in the same Section 16, which was patented on March 18, 1904. The present Ponderosa subdivision is part of this acreage.
The area around Kramer Meadow is fairly level and is known as bench land. It was a camping area for Indian tribes who come to the high mountains to get out of the hot valley for the summer, and by tribes migrating between the Owens and San Joaquin Valleys. Many mortar holes used by the Indians for grinding grain and acorns are still visible west of Kramer Creek, east of the old cabin site, and in other areas near Kramer Meadow. The ample pasture and adequate water made it ideal as a stopping place for trappers and explorers crossing the Sierras between San Joaquin and Owens Valleys as early as 1851.
The Flitz property, where Kramers pastured their sheep for may years, was traded to the National Forest Service and the Kramers were issued a permit for grazing in Upper Little Kern basin, between Little Kern east to the Big Kern to the south of what is now the Sequoia National Park. Kramers brought their sheep up to the mountains through the Indian Reservation east of Porterville, leaving there about May 1st., then on to higher range, coming in on the south side of Slate Mountain and following a designated trail laid out by the Forest Service, arriving at Kramer Meadow about July 1st., and using the meadow as a stop over for the bands of sheep before into the Little Kern area.
Alex Kramer discontinued bringing his sheep to the mountains in 1925 due to two factors: the Sequoia National Park area was closed to sheep grazing, and the drought of the 1920's reduced the desirability of the pasture land.
In 1932, Harvey Slade, of Delano, leased the meadow area of Kramer Meadow for his trotting horses and young colts. He fenced the area and built the first cabin on the property, which stood on the hill east of Kramer Creek. After the death of Slade, his wife gave the cabin to Mr. Henry Muller of Terra Bella. It was then moved further east near a good spring on National Forest Service property. Mr Muller and his family used the cabin, and pastured their horses on the meadow until Mr. Muller's death. The cabin was again moved back to the west of its present site just west of Kramer Creek, overlooking the meadow.
Alex S. Kramer died July, 1936, and his three sons, Alexander J., Clarence A., of Bakersfield, and Herbert H., of Earlimart, inherited the property.
In 1940, John Bateman, of Tulare, leased a portion of Kramer Meadow and established a saw mill. He logged the area west of Kramer Creek and as far north as what is now Snowflake Drive. The saw mill site was just east of Kramer Drive and south of the present Langston cabin. He built two large cabins, one for his family and the other a kitchen and dining room for his help. He also built five small cabins to house the help. The kitchen cabin was later destroyed by heavy snow, but the five smaller cabins remained for many years. Early residents of Ponderosa remember these very well. These small cabins were later removed to other areas or torn down. The family cabin was eventually remodeled and is being used by the Herbert Kramer family.
Mr. Bateman also established a water system, developing a spring that lies just west of the present Muller cabin, and piping water to his mill and cabins using a gasoline engine for pumping. After closing the mill, he removed the equipment and water system.
About the same time that Mr. Bateman had the saw mill, a partnership consisting of Harris, McHart, and Bowden, leased ten acres on the north end of the property, in the area where Fox Drive is now. They raised silver foxes for safe of fur. They built a cabin and some animal runs for the foxes. The project was short lived, being abandoned when the U.S. entered World War II and gas rationing made it difficult to obtain the proper food for the foxes. The cabin and runs later collapsed due to heavy snow.
In 1951, Lyman Lumber Company of Springville did some selective logging on the west side of Kramer Meadow and to the north boundary, taking out many mature trees and transporting the logs to a mill in Springville.
After the death of Clarence Kramer, his widow, Ona, sold her interest in Kramer Meadow to Don Carter, a real estate developer from Santa Barbara. This entailed dividing the property into three portions. At the time of the division of the property, A. J. Kramer sold his interest in Kramer Meadow to Herbert and Anna Kramer, retaining five acres that borders the Great Western Divide Highway south of the Ponderosa Lodge. Don Carter started subdividing his portion and the Ponderosa was born. The first subdivision tract map #391 was recorded May 1, 1963.
(NOTE: This above history was compiled and written by Anna Kramer, July 1984)
Prior to 1920 there wasn't a road into Camp Nelson and you had to pack in from the Wishon Forks by horseback. During the winter of 1938, the closest one could get to Camp Nelson was the Wishon Forks due to the snow and from there on it was snowshoes.