Hetch Hetchy: A History in Documents
(From the Broadview Sources Series)
  • Publication Date: January 30, 2020
  • ISBN: 9781554814404 / 1554814405
  • 150 pages; 7" x 9"

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Ebook will also be available for purchase upon publication.

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Hetch Hetchy: A History in Documents

(From the Broadview Sources Series)

  • Publication Date: January 30, 2020
  • ISBN: 9781554814404 / 1554814405
  • 150 pages; 7" x 9"

In 1913, President Woodrow Wilson signed legislation approving the construction of the O’Shaughnessy Dam to inundate the Hetch Hetchy Valley inside Yosemite National Park. This decision concluded a decade-long, highly contentious debate over the dam-and-reservoir complex to supply water to post-earthquake San Francisco, a battle that was dramatic, unsettling, and consequential.

Hetch Hetchy: A History in Documents captures the tensions animating the long-running controversy and places them in their historical context. Key to understanding the debate is the prior and violent dispossession of Indigenous Nations from the valley they had stewarded for thousands of years. Their removal by the mid-19th century enabled white elite tourism to take over, setting the stage for the subsequent debate for and against the dam in the early 20th century. That debate contained a Faustian bargain. To secure an essential water supply for San Francisco meant the destruction of the valley John Muir and others praised so highly. This contentious situation continues reverberate, as interest groups now battle over whether to tear down the dam and restore the valley. Hetch Hetchy remains a dramatic flash point in American environmental culture.


“Carefully constructed, brilliantly brought together by design and expert commentary, this collection is a wonder. It will influence how I teach environmental history, the history of California, the history of conservation, and the history of water in the West. … This is what documents collections should all strive to be. Expertly edited, deeply researched, and cast out across thousands of years of history, this Hetch Hetchy collection is a must-have compilation of documents and images. In brilliant case-study fashion, the book works outward from a specific site to tell much broader stories about nature, landscape, and history.” — William Deverell, Director, Huntington-USC Institute on California and the West

Hetch Hetchy: A History in Documents is a much-needed addition to any discussions of public lands in the United States. Char Miller has brought together an impressive collection of documents, not simply outlining the classic Muir-Pinchot debate that is so commonly referenced in environmental literature but also including the origin stories and other narratives of the valley’s original Indigenous inhabitants and the violent history of their expulsion to make way for Yosemite National Park. By encouraging readers to engage with the original materials, rather than simply read someone else’s analysis, the book encourages a renewed and more nuanced look at the Hetch Hetchy Valley and the controversies that continue to arise about the ‘best’ use of this place.” — Laura A. Watt, Sonoma State University

“A treasure of painstakingly gathered and annotated primary historical documents that animate the vibrant history of Hetch Hetchy Valley and Yosemite National Park in the words of those who lived it, this book serves as an invaluable resource for students of the park or of California or U.S. environmental history—or anyone interested in the turbulent history of the valley. The lives of the Indigenous inhabitants and their struggles to remain on the land, the park as tourist object, the landmark early twentieth-century battle between preservationists (chief among them John Muir, who would save the valley) and conservationists (who would dam and flood it), and more recent efforts to restore the valley by tearing down the dam, all come to light through contemporary writings, testimony, diaries, magazine articles, and photographs. Indeed, through this book Hetch Hetchy Valley itself emerges back into daylight. I am excited to use it with my students.” — Kenneth Worthy, University of California, Berkeley

Questions to Consider


  • Origin Stories
    • 1. How the World Grew
    • 2. Origin of the Mountains
    • 3. The Legend of Tu-Tok-A-Nu’-La
    • 4. The Origins of the Present Floor of the Yosemite Valley
    • 5. The Legend of Tis-se’-yak
    • 6. The Spirits of Po-ho-no
  • Expulsion
    • 7. Extracts from Governor Peter Burnett, “State of the State Address” (1851)
    • 8. Extract from James Mason Hutchings, “The Yo-Ham-i-te Valley,” Hutchings’ California Magazine (1856)
    • 9. Extract from L. H. Bunnell, “How the Yo-semite Valley was Discovered and Named,” Hutchings’ California Magazine (1859)
    • 10. Yosemite Indian Petition to the United States (1891)
    • 11. Extracts from John Muir, The Mountains of California (1894)


  • Image Gallery: Visitors’ Views
  • 12. Extracts from James Mason Hutchings, “The Yo-Ham-i-te Valley,” Hutchings’ California Magazine (1856)
  • 13. Extracts from the Diary of Sarah Haight, “Wedding Party in Yosemite,” (1858)
  • 14. The Yosemite Grant Act of 1864
  • 15. Extract from Frederick Law Olmsted, Preliminary Report upon the Yosemite and Big Tree Grove (1865)
  • 16. Extracts from Alice Ives Van Schaak, A Familiar Letter from a daughter to her mother (1871)
  • 17. Extracts from Helen Hunt, Bits of Travel at Home (1878)


  • 18. Charles Frederick Hoffmann, “Notes on Hetch-Hetchy Valley,” Proceedings of the California Academy of Sciences (1868)
  • 19. John Muir, “The Hetch Hetchy Valley,” Boston Weekly Transcript (1873)
  • 20. An act to set apart certain tracts of land in the State of California as forest reservations (1890)
  • 21. Joint Resolution Accepting the recession by the State of California of the Yosemite Valley Grant and the Mariposa Big Tree Grove (1906)
  • 22. Letter from John Muir to Theodore Roosevelt, September 9, 1907
  • 23. Letter of Theodore Roosevelt to John Muir, September 16, 1907
  • 24. Petition of Marsden Manson, City Engineer of San Francisco, on Behalf of the City and County of San Francisco, May 7, 1908
  • 25. Decision of the Secretary of the Interior, May 11, 1908
  • 26. Letter of the American Civic Association to the Committee on Public Lands, December 15, 1908
  • 27. Letter of the Appalachian Mountain Club to the Committee on Public Lands, December 15, 1908
  • 28. Telegram from the Sierra Club to the Committee on Public Lands, December 16, 1908
  • Image Gallery: 1910 Resolutions on Hetch Hetchy
    • i. Resolution of the Graffort Club of Portsmouth NH
    • ii. Resolution from the Hypatia Women’s Club of San Francisco
  • 29. John Muir, “Dam Hetch Hetchy” from The Yosemite (1912)
  • 30. AN ACT Granting to the city and county of San Francisco certain rights of way in, over and through certain public lands (1913)
  • 31. Extracts of the Statement of Mr. W.C. Lehane, of California, to the Committee on Public Lands (1913)
  • 32. Extracts of Gifford Pinchot’s Testimony before the Committee on Public Lands, (1913)
  • 33. Extracts of the Statement of Hon. Herbert Parsons, of New York City, before the Committee on Public Lands (1913)
  • 34. Extracts of James Phelan’s testimony before the Committee on Public Lands (1913)
  • 35. Extracts of the Statement of Mt. Richard B. Waltrous, of Washington D.C., Secretary of the American Civic Association, to the Committee on Public Lands (1913)
  • 36. Extracts of the Statement of Mr. John R. Freeman, of Boston, Mass., Engineer in Charge of the Hetch Hetchy Project (1913)
  • 37. Extracts of the Statement of Hon. William Kent, Representative in Congress from California, to the Committee on Public Lands (1913)
  • Image Gallery: 1913 Petitions
    • i. HR 7207: A Bill granting the city of San Francisco…
    • ii. Protest Against the Diversion of Water from Lands Requiring Irrigation
    • iii. Petition from the Widows and Orphans and Mutual Aid Associations of San Francisco
    • iv. Petition from the Society for the Preservation of National Parks Against Granting San Francisco the Hetch Hetchy Valley
    • v. Resolution from the Augusta, Hallowell, and Gardner Central Labor Union of Maine in Favor of the Raker Bill
    • vi. Petition from the University of Oklahoma Professors
    • vii. Telegram from the SF Council of Knights of Columbus 615
    • viii. Resolution of the Massachusetts State Federation of Women’s Clubs
    • ix. San Francisco Examiner Petition to the Senate of the United States


  • 38. Carl Pope, “Undamming Hetch Hetchy,” Sierra Magazine (1987)
  • 39. “Interview with Secretary of the Interior Donald Hodel,” Environs (1988)
  • 40. Extracts from the State of California Hetch Hetchy Restoration Study (2006)
  • 41. San Francisco Proposition F Ballot Measure (2012)
  • 42. Tim Redmond, “Not until we have clean energy,” Earth Island Journal (2012)
  • 43. Spreck Rosekrans, “Hetch Hetchy: A century of occupation in Yosemite National Park,” Maven’s Notebook (2013)

Glossary of Key Figures and Terms
Select Bibliography

Char Miller is the W. M. Keck Professor of Environmental Analysis and History at Pomona College, in Claremont, California. His most recent books include Ogallala: Water for a Dry Land (2018), San Antonio: A Tricentennial History (2018), Where There’s Smoke: The Environmental Science, Public Policy, and Politics of Marijuana (2018), and The Nature of Hope: Grassroots Organizing, Environmental Justice, and Political Change (2019).