ENP 19.3 Yosemite: John Muir and Theodore Roosevelt Camping Trip Told Through Song, An Interview with Tom Bopp
10/07/2019A visit to Yosemite National Park is incomplete without an evening of entertainment listening to musician and historian Tom Bopp perform in the piano lounge of the Wawona Hotel.
View of Tom Bopp performing in the piano lounge from outside the Wawona Hotel. Photo credit: Dino VournasIn episode 19.3, Tom, Bryan and Danielle talk about the famous 1903 three-day wilderness camping trip with President Theodore Roosevelt and John Muir. The camping buddies sidelined the media. Therefore, what we know about the trip is pieced together from research and anecdotes from government ranger Charlie Leidig, who accompanied the gentlemen on this trip. Tom recounts the trip that took the two naturalists from Mariposa Grove to Sentinel Dome and Glacier Point to Yosemite Valley. Tom has spent a lot of time thinking about the songs the two men may have sung together on their rides on horseback in between campsites. Listen to the podcast to hear Tom sing some of these timeless songs.Tom Bopp performing in the piano lounge at the Wawona Hotel. Photo credit: Carol Bliss Sheetz
Tom Bopp has been performing at the Wawona Hotel and The Ahwahnee since 1983. Tom performs an eclectic range of music as well as programs on Wawona history, Theodore Roosevelt and John Muir's 1903 camping trip to Yosemite, Yosemite music and culture, and a film documentary called Vintage Songs of Yosemite.
An Old-Fashioned Lobbying Effort
Nowadays, John Muir would have to hire a lobbying firm to advocate for his conservation interests. In 1903, President Roosevelt met with John Muir not in an office in Washington or San Francisco, but in Yosemite camping for 3 days while keeping the media away and everyone else away except for the 3 people who accompanied them.
Roosevelt and Muir, Two Naturalists, Go On A Camping Trip
President Theodore Roosevelt and John Muir at Glacier Point in May of 1903. Photo credit: NPSPresident Roosevelt’s visit to Yosemite National Park was part of a larger trip across the country. Throughout all of the planning, Roosevelt insisted that John Muir be his guide while he was in Yosemite and that they go camping together rather than stay in hotels. Roosevelt had many public appearances all along his railroad route from Washington, DC to California. Roosevelt was a naturalist himself so he knew that Muir would have a lot of interesting things to say. Roosevelt wanted to interface not with politicians in Yosemite, but with people who are not connected with the government service to get an insider's perspective on what really was going on at Yosemite National Park.
Joining Two Parks Under One Jurisdiction
Muir had an ulterior motive on the trip. At that time, Yosemite Valley and Mariposa Grove were protected public lands under the jurisdiction of the state of California dating back to a grant signed by President Abraham Lincoln in 1864. In 1890, Yosemite National Park was created to protect the surrounding area run by the federal government. Muir felt that the park commissioners appointed by California’s governor were mishandling the land and wanted to see the valley and the grove as part of Yosemite National Park.
Singing As A Past Time
The two men and their coterie traveled by horseback from one site to the next over 3 days. It took many hours to reach each destination. Singing was something that people did naturally 150 years ago. Music was participatory. Roosevelt and Muir were bonding together. It wasn't just talk. It was connecting on a deeper level. These two men were becoming friends. Theodore Roosevelt did everything that a president needs to do, discovering facts from different sides of an issue, but he did in his style, which means having a grand time on the trails in the wilderness.
The five men went from Mariposa Grove to Sentinel Dome on May 16. There must have been some singing to help pass the time. It is well documented that John Muir loved Robert Burns. We can imagine John Muir singing while observing nature, taking notes and enjoying the flowers. In John Muir’s book, The Mountains of California, he describes how he tried singing to a Dougass Squirrel to see how it would react. Tom said, “I love that...he's a scientist and a poet at the same time and he wants to… mess with a squirrel’s head.” Muir sang a Robert Burns’ song called “Bonny Doon”.
Tom can envision Muir singing “Bonny Doon” during the trip and Roosevelt demanding a song that is more manly. Roosevelt loved a song called “Danny Deaver” based on a poem written by Rudyard Kipling and set to music by Walter Damrosch. Tom imagines that Roosevelt sang that song to let Muir know what real music sounds like. Tom loves to concoct the picture of Roosevelt and Muir riding side by side in Yosemite singing another song by Robert Burns, “Scots wa hae”.
A lot of Yosemite songs have been written and published as sheet music going back to the 1870s. People are still writing campfire songs. People should bring their popular culture to places like Yosemite, singing and dancing around campfires goes back in Yosemite Valley, as long as people have been in Yosemite 8000 years. It may be our oldest ongoing cultural tradition. It's primal.
The Journey on Horseback to Mariposa Grove and Glacier PointPresident Theodore Roosevelt and John Muir riding horses along a road in Yosemite Valley, with Half Dome in the distance, accompanied by Park Rangers Archie Leonard and Charles Leidig, followed by unidentified man on foot; left to right, Leonard, Muir, Roosevelt, Leidig. Photo Credit: NPS
Roosevelt and his entourage came in on the train from Oakland across California down what is now highway 99 and then up to the little foothill to the town of Raymond. They got off the train on Friday, May 15 and took horse-drawn stages up to the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias. They were accompanied by the Buffalo Soldiers, the African American ninth cavalry out of the Presidio in San Francisco. Roosevelt had pictures taken with the presidential party and with Muir. According to Ranger Charlie Liedig, Roosevelt dismissed the troops and everybody else and sent them down to the Wawona Hotel for evening festivities. Roosevelt, Muir, two rangers and a packer guide named Alder camped alone that night underneath the Grizzly Giant. It is said that night that Roosevelt quizzed Muir on bird identification. Roosevelt was disappointed with Muir’s answers because Muir didn't know much about birds at all.
Theodore Roosevelt and his distinguished party, before the "Grizzly Giant," big trees of California. Theodore Roosevelt Digital Library. Dickinson State University. Photo Credit: LOC
They got up early the next morning and headed out on horseback. Roosevelt instructed Ranger Charlie Leidig to circumvent the Wawona Hotel to avoid running into the people he snubbed the night before, including the park commissioners. Instead of crossing the famous Wawona covered bridge, Leidig directed them a mile upstream to cross the Merced River. On the evening of Saturday, May 16, they camped somewhere near Glacier Point, nobody knows exactly where.
What would they have sang? There was a song that came out of the Civil War, which very naturally became a favorite campfire song. Tom loves the idea that some of the Yosemite commissioners are off in the distance hearing Roosevelt and Muir having a grand time together and thinking, “Oh no, Muir is going to get us all fired!”
The Camping Trip That Paved The Way For National Parks and Conservation
It was far more than a camping trip, but actually furthered federal policy. We had national parks going back to Yellowstone (1872) and Yosemite (1864 – state park, 1890 – national park) was already a national park. Roosevelt was involved with refining the national park system. Because of their camping trip together, Roosevelt sought to fire all of the Yosemite commissioners and to transfer the valley and Mariposa Grove from state control, back to federal control. Under his leadership Roosevelt protected as much as 230 million acres across the country.
“Hetch Hetchy, I love you”
John Muir succeeded in his lobbying efforts to incorporate Yosemite Valley and Mariposa Grove into Yosemite National Park, but he was not successful a few years later with his lobbying to protect Hetch Hetchy.
Don Neely wrote a song about the obscure Hetch Hetchy valley, called “Hetch Hetchy, I love you”. Many visitors to Yosemite have never heard of this second U-shaped glacial valley in Yosemite National Park. Music is another way of interpreting a visit to the park.
You get a much fuller picture of what the park is really all about, when you combine science, history, experiences, poetry, paintings, photography, and music that is associated with people's impressions of Yosemite.
Where to see Tom Bopp perform at Yosemite National Park
Photo credit: Mark A. VieiraThe Wawona Hotel season goes generally from some time just before spring break until the end of the year. Tom has been performing there five nights a week from 5:30-9:30 PM, Tuesday through Saturday since 1983. He is off Sunday and Monday. Tom says, “I tell people no reason to come to the park on Sunday and Monday.”
In the winter time, from January through March when the Wawona Hotel is typically closed, Tom play at the Ahwahnee Hotel at least one or two nights per week. Check Tom’s schedule online.
If you would like Tom to perform one of his special Yosemite presentations on old Yosemite songs, the Roosevelt - Muir camping trip, or the history of the Wawona Hotel, stop by the piano with your request before 8:00 PM. Tom will usually do the presentation around 8:30 PM.
Songs performed in the episode (Note, all songs are public domain unless otherwise indicated)
“Bonny Doon” by Robert Burns’ song called (18:10)
“Danny Deaver” based on a poem written by Rudyard Kipling and set to music by Walter Damn Mirage. (20:24)
“Scott why Hey” by Robert Burns (21:45)
“Tenting on the Old Camp Ground” by Walter Kittredge (composer)
“Yosemite, O Land of Cliffs and Waterfalls.” (words adapted by Carsten Ahrens; Tune: Traditional) (48:44)
“Hetch Hetchy, I Love You” by Don Neely (40:45) (Note, Don Neely granted us permission to use his song on this podcast)
“Yosemite” by Harry Maybry (58:30)https://www.theodorerooseveltcenter.org/Research/Digital-Library/Record?libID=o274452.