Hetch Hetchy: A History in Documents
(From the Broadview Sources Series)
  • Publication Date: January 27, 2020
  • ISBN: 9781554814404 / 1554814405
  • 216 pages; 7" x 9"

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Hetch Hetchy: A History in Documents

(From the Broadview Sources Series)

  • Publication Date: January 27, 2020
  • ISBN: 9781554814404 / 1554814405
  • 216 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-nineteenth century enabled white elite tourism to take over, setting the stage for the subsequent debate for and against the dam in the early twentieth century. That debate contained a Faustian bargain: to secure an essential water supply for San Francisco meant the destruction of the valley that John Muir and others praised so highly. This contentious situation continues to reverberate, as interest groups now battle over whether to tear down the dam and restore the valley. Hetch Hetchy remains a dramatic flashpoint 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


    • 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 Ah-wah’-nee Valley
    • 5. The Legend of Tis-se’-yak
    • 6. The Spirits of Po-ho-no
    • 7. Extract from Governor Peter Burnett, “State of the State Address” (speech, 6 January 1851)
    • 8. Extracts from James Mason Hutchings, “The Yo-Ham-i-te Valley,” Hutchings’ California Magazine (July 1856)
    • 9. Extract from L.H. Bunnell, “How the Yo-Semite Valley Was Discovered and Named,” Hutchings’ California Magazine (May 1859)
    • 10. Petition of the Former Tribes of the Yosemite Indians to the United States (1891)
    • 11. Extract from John Muir, The Mountains of California (1894)


    • i. Tourists on Horseback
    • ii. Descending into Yosemite Valley
    • iii. Yosemite Valley Panorama
    • iv. El Capitan
    • v. Pohono or Bridalveil Falls
    • vi. Yosemite Falls
    • vii. Carleton Watkins, Mirror Lake, 1865
  • 12. Extracts from James Mason Hutchings, “The Yo-Ham-i-te Valley,” Hutchings’ California Magazine (1856)
  • 13. Extracts from the Diary of Sarah Haight (20–25 May 1858)
  • 14. The Yosemite Grant Act (1864)
  • 15. Extract from Frederick Law Olmsted, Preliminary Report upon the Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Big Tree Grove (1865)
  • 16. Extracts from Alice Ives Van Schaack, “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 (25 March 1873)
  • 20. An Act to Set Apart Certain Tracts of Land in the State of California as Forest Reservations (1890)
  • 21. Letter from John Muir to Theodore Roosevelt (9 September 1907)
  • 22. Letter of Theodore Roosevelt to John Muir (16 September 1907)
  • 23. Petition of Marsden Manson, City Engineer of San Francisco, on Behalf of the City and County of San Francisco (7 May 1908)
  • 24. Decision of the Secretary of the Interior (11 May 1908)
  • 25. Letter of the American Civic Association to the Committee on Public Lands (15 December 1908)
  • 26. Letter of the Appalachian Mountain Club to the Committee on Public Lands (15 December 1908)
  • 27. Telegram from the Sierra Club to the Committee on Public Lands (16 December 1908)
    • i. Resolution of the Graffort Club of Portsmouth, NH
    • ii. Resolution from the Hypatia Women’s Club of San Francisco
  • 28. Extract from John Muir, The Yosemite (1912)
  • 29. AN ACT Granting to the city and county of San Francisco certain rights of way in, over and through certain public lands (1913)
  • 30. Extracts from the Statement of Mr. W.C. Lehane, of California, to the Committee on Public Lands (1913)
  • 31. Extracts from Gifford Pinchot’s Testimony before the Committee on Public Lands (1913)
  • 32. Extracts from the Statement of Hon. Herbert Parsons, of New York City, before the Committee on Public Lands (1913)
  • 33. Extracts from James Phelan’s Testimony before the Committee on Public Lands (1913)
  • 34. Extracts from the Statement of Mr. Richard B. Watrous, of Washington, DC, Secretary of the American Civic Association, to the Committee on Public Lands (1913)
  • 35. Extracts from the Statement of Mr. John R. Freeman, of Boston, Mass., Engineer in Charge of the Hetch Hetchy Project (1913)
  • 36. Extracts from the Statement of Hon. William Kent, Representative in Congress from California, to the Committee on Public Lands (1913)
    • i. HR 7207: A Bill Granting the City of San Francisco …
    • ii. Protest against Diversion of Water from Lands Requiring Irrigation
    • iii. Petition from the Widows and Orphans and Mutual Aid Associations of the San Francisco Fire Department
    • iv. Petition from the Society for the Preservation of National Parks against Granting San Francisco the Hetch Hetchy Valley
    • v. Petition from the University of Oklahoma Professors
    • vi. Resolution of the Massachusetts State Federation of Women’s Clubs
    • vii. Resolution from the Augusta, Hallowell, and Gardner Central Labor Union of Maine in Favor of the Raker Bill
    • viii. Telegram from the San Francisco Council of Knights of Columbus 615
    • ix. San Francisco Examiner Petition to the Senate of the United States


  • 37. Carl Pope, “Undamming Hetch Hetchy,” Sierra Magazine (November/ December 1987)
  • 38. “Interview with Secretary of the Interior Donald Hodel,” Environs (1987–88)
  • 39. Extracts from the State of California Hetch Hetchy Restoration Study (2006)
  • 40. San Francisco Proposition F Ballot Measure (2012)
  • 41. Tim Redmond, “Not Until We Have a Clean Energy System,” Earth Island Journal (Summer 2012)
  • 42. Spreck Rosekrans, “Hetch Hetchy: A Century of Occupation in Yosemite National Park,” Maven’s Notebook (19 December 2013)

Glossary of Key Figures and Terms
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Permissions Acknowledgements

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).