SIERRA MEADOWS: HISTORY
8,000-10,000 BC :
Prehistoric occupation phase 1
Hunting of game animals & exploitation of lacustrine (lake- or water-related) resources.
6,000 BC :
Prehistoric occupation phase 2
Food procurement switches from animal to plant resources.
3,000 BC :
Prehistoric occupations phase 3
A variety of plant and animal foods are utilized. hunting game, collecting plant roots and seeds, and fishing became important. Movement of aboriginal groups into different environmental niches becomes more commonplace. population increases are evident during this period.
The acorn becomes the most important dietary commodity. Miwok structures in mountain areas consisted of conical bark houses, an assembly house (either in the form of a circular brush enclosure or semi-subterranean covered lodge) and sweat houses.
Major epidemics such as smallpox resulted in many Miwok deaths.
1848 : Gold Rush
High country of Madera County was not notably rich in mineral wealth. Early settlement became known as Grub Gulch mining district. There are reports that Grub Gulch was a “lively camp” populated primarily by Chinese as early as 1851, but 30 years later it was claimed to be a booming town boasting at least two hotels, two general stores, eight saloons, and a school with as many as 40 students. The school ran until 1935 when it closed with only six students. There were three main gold mines in the Grub Gulch area: Gambetta ($15M), Josephine, and Enterprise. You can get to what used to be Grub Gulch out Road 600.
Major battle in the Mariposa Indian War.
Wassama Roundhouse built in Ahwahnee. 4 more would follow it, the most recent being constructed in 1985.
Fresno Flats (later Oakhurst) is formed.
Work begins on the Miami Creek dam. (Crooks)
Grub Gulch and Yosemite valley were connected by the Yosemite Stage and Turnpike Company’s turnpike road. This eventually became Highway 41. Ahwahnee grew out of the intersections of Yosemite Valley, Madera, Mariposa and Oakhurst/Grub Gulch mining district. Grub Gulch, which no longer exists, was located on the road between Ahwahnee and Raymond.
William H. Crooks established the Four Tears ranch. He bought the land of settlers who could not make an adequate living on their Sierra farms. To assure an adequate water supply, Crooks built a network of irrigation ditches to distribute water from Miami Creek (then called the North Fork of the Fresno River). By 1879 he had built a dam with ditches and flumes to carry the water to two fields enclosed with fences.
Crooks built a house beside a wagon road which lead to the Ahwahnee Hotel. Crooks hired Chinese laborers to build the irrigation system along with Native American workers. Many of the local ranch workers lived at the Indian community now known as Ahwahnee.
A settler named Tom Noreen owned a small farm adjacent to the Four Tears ranch. Although the Four Tears irrigation ditch ran through Norden’s land, he did not own the water rights to the ditch. Still he diverted water into a small orchard planted above the three room cabin he and his mother shared. Norden’s farm did not prosper and when Norden’s mother committed suicide, the Four Tears ranch owners purchased his farm so that they could control the water more effectively. The remains of the Norden farm exist on the Four Tears ranch and consist of a small cluster of dead apple trees. (Sierra Meadows Environmental Impact Report, 1980)
William Crooks starts a sawmill (Miami Mill) with Judge James Grant. Named after Judge Grant’s birthplace, Miami, Ohio. Miami Mountain was named at this time, as well.
Henry Washburn builds a hotel in Wawona, the primary way station en route to Yosemite Valley. Previous lodging facilities in the park were built by Galen Clark who sold (along with his partner) to Washburn.
William Sell, Jr is born in Merced in December. (Madera Tribune, 28 September 1965)
William Sell, Sr. becomes keeper of the Ahwahnee Weather Station. The Sell family lives next door to William Crooks.
Ahwahnee Tavern Stage Stop
The 320 acres of land was originally owned by William Crooks, who later sold it to a man named Grant. Later it was sold again to William Sell.
Albert Henry Washington (1836-1902), owner of the stage company that operated between Raymond & Wawona, bought the property around 1892. In August 1892, Washburn sold the property to William Sell, Sr. (1854-1932). Sell soon built the 2 story Ahwahnee Tavern to serve as a stage and luncheon stop on the Raymond to Wawona road. Sell had earlier been the first person to send a telegraph signal out of Yosemite Valley (not only that, he built the line). Washburn built stables and other buildings and operated the Ahwahnee Tavern in partnership with Sell.
Mrs Sell, a native of Hornitos, gave the area its name. Turning to the native people there, she learned that their word for the type of valley in which the ranch was situated was “ahwahnee.”
William Sell, Sr. named postmaster of the Ahwahnee post office (located in the Ahwahnee Tavern, owned by Sell).
Town name is changed from Gertrude to Ahwahnee, which means “deep, grassy valley.”
Gertrude School is moved to its current location on William Crooks’ Ranch (the one on Rd 600 near River Creek Golf Course).
“As the July 4 holiday rapidly approaches, it is interesting to look back 62 years to an Independence Day celebration that will long be remember in the mountain area. On July 3, 4, 5, 1898, some 30,000 people converged at Oak Park (now the Fortier Ranch) near Ahwahnee for three days of horse-racing, gambling, and high merry-making. A quarter-mile circular track was laid out, and a restaurant, saloon, judges stands and dance platform were erected, the latter gaily decorated with bunting and Japanese lanterns. Race horses were brought in from Modesto, Merced, Mariposa, Fresno, O’Neals. Around-the-clock games of chance included Klondike dice and chuck-a-luck, operated by a colored man named Bill Dunn, who will be well-remembered by oldtimers. According to John Westfall, who furnishes the information and the photograph, “there were many black eyes and skinned noses, and one cutting scrape where one man was rushed, by horse and buggy, to the hospital for repairs.”
The celebration was promoted and managed by Jim Westfall and Ed Leonard, the latter owning the ranch at that time.Reading from left in the photo are Gus Hughes, who was trainer and jockey for Jim Westfall. He holds “Nick” a horse owned by Jim Ward of Mariposa. The man to the rear is unidentified, but the man in the middle, Jim Westfall, holds his horse “Sally.” To the right Marty Leonard and father Ed Leonard hold some of their non-racing ranch horses. Pictured is the home stretch of the race track. Judges stands were built at the right, and the dance pavilion, saloon and restaurant at the left. Miami Mountain looms in the rear beyond the group, with Pilot Peak at the right.” (Sierra Star, Page Six, June 23, 1960)
President Theodore Roosevelt arrived in Raymond at 8 AM. There were 1,500 people there to greet him. He talked on a platform that had been made for him on P.T. Bowen’s store. Then he came to Ahwahnee, having lunch at the Ahwahnee Tavern on his way to meet John Muir and visit Yosemite Valley.
Through the years, other famous visitors at the Ahwahnee Tavern included Susan B Anthony, Andrew Carnegie, John D Rockefeller, Crown Prince Albert of Belgium, the Maharajah of Baroda, California Governor Padre, Galen Clark, and Rube Goldberg.
“Then in 1904 Will (Sell Jr.) played professional baseball for a season with Chicago of National League. He used an assumed name, because his parents did not approve of such frivolous activities.”
(Madera Tribune, 28 September 1965)
William Sell moved to El Portal to build the El Portal Hotel. In his absence, Edwin T Huffman leased and ran the tavern. The completion of the 1907 railroad from Merced to El Portal ultimately eliminated the stage route from Raymond and the need for the Ahwahnee Tavern.
Horse-drawn stages were gradually replaced by automobile stages and in 1913 Huffman moved his operations to the Miami Lodge, which he had built in a location better suited for automobile traffic.
The Sells start building their camp in Yosemite. It will have 100 tents on platforms. Each tent will have 2 double beds, a dresser and a wash stand. They are calling it “Camp Ahwahnee.” The camp was located near the foot of what is now Four Mile Trail.
“Wm. M. Sell, Sr., the popular hotel manager at El Portal (for the past two years), has resigned and in future will devote his time to Camp Ahwahnee in Yosemite Valley.” (Mariposa Gazette, 13 November 1909)
Fresno Flats changes its name to Oakhurst.
Crooks sells the land, having purchased it at some point in the 1850’s. Crook’s name lives on with a nearby mountain later named “Crook’s Mountain” and a local stream called “Crooks Creek.”
“William H. Crooks, who has lived in California since 1855. and who, for the past several years has been engaged in stock raising in Madera county, died yesterday afternoon at the home of his daughter, Mrs. E. Ustick, who lives in Westport, death being due to heart trouble. The deceased came to the home of his daughter about ten days ago, coming from Grub Gulch in Madera county, where he had engaged in stock raising. He had been in poor health for some time past and decided to give up the hard work on his ranch. He was a native of New York state and was 76 years of age. He is survived by two sons and three daughters and by his wife. The body is now at the parlors of Bowker & Wood in this city and will be shipped to Raymond, California, on the 3:16 train today. The funeral will be held at Raymond on Friday and interment will take place in the cemetery at that place.” (Modesto Herald, 1 June 1912)
“SELLS WILL RUN CAMP AHWAHNEE
Camp Ahwahnee, operated successfully in Yosemite national park for the past fifteen years by W. M. Sell, Sr., and W. M. Sell, Jr., will be under Desmond service, though managed by the Sell family. The rule, “all lights out early and no music with meals,” will continue at Camp Ahwahnee. Ahwahnee has been known as one of the most restful resorts of the park and in previous years was one of the most popular stop-over places in the valley.” (Mariposa Gazette, 2 June 1917)
“W M. SELL, JR., TO MANAGE CAMP AHWAHNEE
The engagement of W. M. Sell, Jr., as general manager of Camp Ahwahnee has been announced by the Desmond Park Service Company, the United States Government concessionaire in Yosemite National Park. For many years this quaint camp has been conducted either by Sell Sr. or Sell Jr. Camp Ahwahnee is known in every part of the United States, thousands and thousands of tourists having sat before its tremendous fireplace in the evenings. Manager “Billy” Sell enjoys the acquaintanceship of tourists and travelers from all parts of the United States. He is one of the most popular camp managers in any of the national parks. The Desmond interests acquired Camp Ahwahnee last week.”
(Mariposa Gazette, 16 June 1917)
William Sell, Jr became assistant manager of Yosemite National Park. (Madera Tribune, 28 September 1965)
William Sell sold the Ahwahnee Tavern property for $20,000 to Madera, Merced and Stanislaus counties for a tuberculosis sanitarium. Mr Fletcher sold 160 acres that bordered the sanatorium to the north for $4,600. This purchase increased the sanitarium land to 480 acres. The old Ahwahnee Tavern was used for hospital administration, kitchen and employee dining room until it burned in 1937.
“Miss Eleanor Sell, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. William Sell, Sr., and George H. Crooks were married on March 7 in Berkeley.” (Madera Tribune, 19 March 1956)
William Sell, Jr buys the ranch: “Will (Sell Jr) returned to Ahwahnee in 1938 and went into the cattle business.” (Madera Tribune, 28 September 1965)
William H Crooks Jr, ran for Supervisor of the 4th District of Madera County.
Waldo J Fortier married Agnes Wall.
“William Sell, Jr is appointed by Governor Earl Warren to serve on the Madera County Board of Supervisors, and served for seven years.” (Madera Tribune, 28 September 1965)
“Desiring to retire in 1956, (William Sell, Jr) sold his ranch to W. J. Fortier of Fresno.” (Madera Tribune, 28 September 1965)
“Mr and Mrs. Warren Stevens and family moved to the Fortier Ranch where he will be the foreman of operations there. They formerly lived in Reedley and in the Sacramento Valley.” (Madera Tribune, 13 November 1956)
Harlow Fire started in Mariposa and burned 44,000 acres, traveling at 50 mph. It burned “a good deal” of the Four Tears Ranch.
Heavy rains in the area: “…the bridge on the Fortier Ranch near Ahwahnee, across Peterson Creek, was reported already out.” (Madera Tribune, 1 February 1963)
Louis Eichner, Fresno livestock broker, announced today the purchase of the 1660 acre Halindee Apah Ranch between Oakhurst and Ahwahnee, Madera County, from Waldo. J. Fortier by Ernest, Frank and Edward Sagouspe, Madera dairymen and miners (?). [Fresno Bee]
FOUR TEARS RANCH. 1660 acres, four large lakes, many springs, 3 large ones, devel. Ranch house, foremans house, large hay cattle barn, fenced 8, cross fenced, holding corrals, 2 mile white ba. fence, elec. power the length of the ranch. One of the most colorful ranches In the Sierras. $840,000. (Fresno Bee)
California incorporated the section of Bootjack Road between Mariposa and Oakhurst to Highway 49.
Alan Thomas & John Jamison buy the Four Tears Ranch from an investment syndicate for $1.2M.
With significant opposition from the community, Thomas & Jamison’s plan is shot down by the Planning Commission and appealed to the Board of Supervisors. The project is renamed “Sierra Oaks” and was approved by the Supervisors.
The video game company Sierra Online is created in Oakhurst. This innovative video game company would go on to produce titles such as the King’s Quest series, the You Don’t Know Jack series, the Ultima series, the Space Quest series, The Dark Crystal, The Black Cauldron, and Leisure Suit Larry in the Land of the Lounge Lizards. They are now owned by Activision and continue to re-release their old games.
Initial plans for Thomas & Jamison’s Shadow Ridge Ranch project, including an Environmental Impact Report, are completed
The project stalls due to high interest rates and inability to raise capital.
The first nine holes of the Ahwahnee Country Club on Road 621 are scheduled to open and is the central part of a $15 million Ahwahnee Resort and Country Club project.
Developer Allan Thomas of Bass Lake said the entire 18-hole golf course will open next spring. This development was a cattle ranch in the 1900s and belonged to the area’s pioneer family, the Sells, and later known as the Four Tears Ranch. (Sierra Star)
18 hole course opens.
[different owner? bankruptcy?]
Property sold. Golf course and clubhouse remodel. Facility reopens as Sierra Meadows Ranch Country Club.
Announcement made that Sierra Meadows Country Club will close Dec 15. Closure is called off on Dec 14.
After 23 months on the market, the property is sold on June 30. The golf course remains open on a trial basis but, with only 28 full country club members, eventually announces that the course will close on Oct 31.
Facility reopens as lodging & event center.
Fresno Bee newspaper articles found online
Sierra Star archives (courtesy of Fresno Flats Research Library)
William H. Crooks, California Rancher (book written by local students)