History of the Living History Community

The Early Explorers

The Mineral King Valley has had only one break in its cultural continuity, and that was during prehistoric times.

After an apparent Wukchumni abandonment of the valley proper as a summer encampment, the area above the falls leading into the valley evidently had no occupied community. It was not until a new wave of immigrants arrived that Mineral King once again would become home to cultural human endeavors.

Mineral King Valley panorama

When the first Euro-Americans arrived in California they shunned the high mountains of the Sierra Nevada just as the Penutian people had thousands of years before. To the early Caucasian explorers and colonists, the Great Western Divide was nothing more than a barrier that seemed impossible to cross.

But gradually, just as the Yokuts had over 1,000 years earlier, new explorers forged pathways up the steep Sierra canyons in search of trail routes and hunting, trapping and prospecting grounds. 

During the Spanish and Mexican occupation of California, several Caucasian visitors were reported in the Kaweah area. The Wukchumni told of Spanish speaking men who had come up the river to prospect and explore long before any Americans arrived. There were also Spanish and then Mexican parties that came into the foothills in search of Indians who had escaped from the coastal mission system or who had stolen mission horses.

It was not until trapper Jedediah Smith led his men through the Sierra foothills in 1827, that the Kaweah Indians met the first Americans. In February of that year Smith and an Indian guide explored the Kaweah River for trapping potentials and “visited some Indians that were up near the foot of the Mt. and at a distance of about 15 miles,” probably the Wukchumni winter encampment near present day Lemon Cove.

In what has been estimated as June of 1840, the “White Coyote” arrived. This was a mountain man who stumbled into the Waksachi village at the confluence of the Kaweah’s north and middle forks after crossing the Sierra from the east. Half starved and too weak to cross the river, the village took him in until he was able to complete his journey. 

In 1856, the first American settler arrived with Hale Tharp claiming a homestead near the confluence of Horse Creek. Two years later, he and his brother-in-law, John Swanson, began to explore the headwaters of the Kaweah for summer grazing and hunting grounds. In 1858, Tharp was guided into the Giant Forest by the local Patwisha people. In 1860, he and Swanson visited the grove again. As Tharp recounted in later years, after their return from that trip they ventured “up the East Fork to Mineral King and back down the South Fork by way of Hockett Meadow.”

In 1863, Harry O’Farrell, alias Harry Parole, entered the Mineral King Valley from Farewell Gap while on a hunting expedition for the Hockett trail crew. Noting the mineral colorations of the mountains, he returned in following summers, prospecting and setting up a campsite at the confluence of Monarch Creek. It was the valley’s first occupied living site since its abandonment by the Wukchumni people.

Other hunters, stockmen and prospectors also found their way into the area. With the onset of a severe drought in 1864, lowland ranchers went in search of higher meadows. The Works family grazed hogs in Hockett Meadows and Pleasant Works showed several of his friends a piece of Galena that replicated ore taken later from the White Chief Mine. The Blossom, Homer and Lovelace families also prowled the Kaweah’s canyons in search of grazing meadows. And each year during the late1860s, John Crabtree, a White River rancher out of Porterville, prospected the mountains during slack seasons.

In 1870, John Lovelace and his family built a stock trail up to the Milk Ranch on the Kaweah’s East Fork and from there they worked their way into Mineral King. Following them were several parties which included at least two women, who used the rough scratch of a trail to reach camp sites in the valley. The first recreationists had arrived.

The next summer the Lovelaces camped in the Atwell Mill area for “some six weeks” while improving the upper trail for stock travel. Then in 1872, they drove over 400 cattle into the valley and constructed a fence across the narrow entrance near what is now called Faculty Flats.

That summer of 1872 brought a new era to Mineral King . Grazing and recreation continued into August when John Crabtree finally made his long sought strike. With two of his friends, he discovered the White Chief Mine.

The 1870s were hard years and when news of the discovery reached the San Joaquin Valley towns, several men saw new opportunity. By summer’s end, Charles Beldon, George and Ashel Loup, Bill Anderson, J.P. Ford, Marcus Sinn, John and Newton Crabtree, and Peter (Suel) Goodhue had joined the Lovelace family and Harry O’Farrell in campsites along the valley floor. For the first time an actual cabin was built and a town began to grow.

This was the nucleus of a community that would burgeon to an estimated 500 people in the next year. It was the beginning of a community that was never to be abandoned again.