Thursday, January 11, 2018

HGB Ep. 240 - Yosemite National Park

Moment in Oddity - The White Death Sniper

The deadliest sniper in world history was a Finnish man named Simo Hayha. He racked up his unbelievable record of 505 kills during the Winter War. World War II had just broken out when the Soviet Union invaded Finland. The Finnish people were not about to go quietly and they put up a fierce fight that lasted three and a half months. Simo dealt the Soviets a heavy blow with his prowess as a sniper. The Soviets were soon calling him Belaya Smert, which translates to "White Death." Simo made his kills in just 100 days meaning that he averaged 5.5 kills per day. His record days were 23, 25, and 40 confirmed kills. The only thing that stopped him was a bullet. The Soviets sent out counter-snipers and one finally got lucky and hit Simo with an exploding bullet. It blew the lower half of his face away, but he survived and had reconstructive surgery. What is really amazing is that Simo made his kills while seated rather than lying down and he had no scope on his rifle and that certainly is odd!

This Month in History - The Russians Surrendered to the Japanese After the Battle of Port Arthur

In the month of January, on the 2nd, in 1905, the Russians surrendered to the Japanese after the Battle of Port Arthur during the Russian-Japanese War. The Russo-Japanese War was fought from 1904 to 1905 and was a military conflict in which Japan fought against Russia for dominance in Korea and Manchuria. There had been an agreement by Russia to withdraw its troops from Manchuria in 1903, but it reneged and Japan decided it was time to attack. It defeated Russia, becoming the first Asian power in modern times to defeat a European power. President Theodore Roosevelt later mediated a peace conference in September of 1905 held at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, Maine, where the Russians agreed to the Treaty of Portsmouth. This treaty gave Port Arthur and the Liaodong Peninsula to Japan and it also had an agreement by Russia to evacuate Manchuria. They also had to recognize Japan's interests in Korea.

Yosemite National Park

In the United States, there are 59 separate natural protected areas known as National Parks. The Department of the Interior oversees these parks under the National Park Service and each area has been dedicated by an act of Congress. The effort to set aside these areas was initiated to prevent the expanding population from destroying distinct natural areas, so they could be preserved for future generations. Yosemite National Park was one of the first parks designated for special protection. The park covers an area of 747,956 acres in the Western Sierra Nevada of Northern California.  It was designated as a World Heritage Site in 1984.  Known for it’s granite cliffs, waterfalls, giant sequoia groves, lakes, mountains, and glaciers it is the source of not only beauty but of an amazing history and great stories including those of curses, cryptids, and ghosts.  Join us as we explore the history and the hauntings of Yosemite National Park.

The California Gold Rush of 1849 brought thousands of miners to the Sierra Nevada.  Many miners were ruthless in their search for gold and thousands of the native people were killed or died of starvation.  In 1851 the Yosemite Valley was entered by the Mariposa Battalion, a state sponsored militia.  They made two attempts to remove the native people to the Fresno River Reservation but were unsuccessful. When non-native people began settling in the Yosemite area, life for the native people changed drastically.  Euro-American clothing styles and food were adopted.  The native people started working for the new arrivals doing jobs, such as, guides, wranglers, and wood cutters for the men with the women taking care of children, housekeeping, and making woven baskets to sell.
The population began to shrink and eventually in 1969 the final houses of the native people were razed.  Today many of the descendants of Yosemite’s native people live both nearby and scattered throughout the world.

Yosemite was central to the development of the National Park System.  Galen Clark and others lobbied to protect Yosemite Valley from development.  This lead to President Abraham Lincoln signing the Yosemite Grant in 1864.  Later, John Muir, who was a naturalist and environmental activist, led a successful movement to establish a larger national park that included not just the valley, but the surrounding mountains and forests as well.  The area was called “Ahwahnee” (big mouth) by the indigenous people, who called themselves the Ahwahneechee. Muir had been born in Scotland and immigrated to America with his family when he was a child. He loved nature and studied botany in college. It was after an accident caused him to go temporarily blind, that he dedicated himself to nature and walked from Indiana to Florida, sketching the terrain as he went. He wrote articles and essays and his efforts eventually not only led to the creation of Yosemite, but also the Grand Canyon and Sequoia National Parks.

Another group that had a huge impact on Yosemite were the Buffalo Soldiers.  They were among the first park rangers, especially in the back country.  The Buffalo Soldiers were formed shortly after the Civil War when African-American army regiments were dispatched westward to fight in the Indian Wars.  They were given the name Buffalo Soldiers by the Cheyenne and other Plains tribes who saw a resemblance between their short curly hair to that of the hair between the horns on a buffalo.
Even though the Buffalo Soldiers wore the uniform of the US Army they had to overcome much racial prejudice and were often abused and even killed for the smallest perceived offense.  They were considered the bottom rung of the ladder, but in spite of that, they performed their duties well protecting and building the area and became a huge part of building the infrastructure of Yosemite National Park.

Women also played a crucial role in the development of the park.  In the 1800s, women were expected to play a traditional role in the family and the home. When the railroad came in and as the Gold Rush drew people to California in the late 1800s, pioneering women found ways to broaden traditional roles. The advent of "bloomers," allowed women to participate in outdoor pursuits, while women writing about their adventures in the West inspired the imagination of others. Some women expanded traditional roles because of an adventurous spirit while others branched out from the necessity of supporting the family. In the West, women's domestic skills sometimes became the basis for a profitable business. The early women became Yosemite’s concessioners, adventurers, rangers, naturalists, cultural demonstrators, and artists that helped expand women's roles.

Clearly, the shaping of Yosemite is thanks to a wide variety of people from all walks of life, which is really symbolic of a National Park that is such a tapestry of different wild areas. These include vast wilderness areas, waterfalls, deep valleys, lush meadows and ancient giant sequoias. And the park offers a variety of things to do to get people closer to nature. Yosemite is one of the most popular parks and is very crowded during peak season with visitors all seeking to write their story of adventure. There are many stories from the park that are of a different nature as well. For those into the bizarre, unexplained and supernatural, Yosemite seems to have experiences that touch upon it all including ghosts, curses, legends and cryptids.

The first one we would like to share is the Curse of Tenaya Canyon.  The canyon is beautiful and calls to the heart of those that love nature and adventure.  There is a 10 mile hike through the canyon for those that dare to attempt it.  It has rough terrain, mandatory swims, dangerous climbs, and numerous waterfalls and slippery glacier polished granite rocks -dangerous for even experienced hikers.  In the 1850s, Chief Tenaya of the Ahwahnechee tribe placed a curse on the canyon as revenge for the death of his son at the hands of a battalion.  The troops had been sent by the state of California to relocate the tribe. The Yosemite Indian Petition to Congress of 1891 describes what happened as "The action of the Mariposa Battalion towards our chief at that time, Tenaya, and his tribe was wantonly unjust and outrageous. Our only quarrel with the whites then was owing to our determination not to go upon a reservation being established on the Fresno, and give up to the whites this magnificent valley, which was to us reservation and all that we desired and that for a few paltry blankets, gewgaws and indifferent supplies of rations, that might be furnished us or not, at the discretion of any appointed Indian Agent. Our fathers had the sorrow to see their tribe conquered, their dignified and honored chief Tenaya led out by a halter, like a beast, into a green field to eat grass, amid the wonder and laughter of our pursuers; and his youngest son shot dead for no other reason than that he had tried to escape the unjust thraldom of our persecutors. For proof of these statements, you are referred to Dr. Bunnell’s History of the Discovery of the Yosemite. He was himself attached to this battalion, and was an eye witness to all the facts related. Those who were left of our fathers were taken with their chief, however, to the reservation on the Fresno, from which place hunger and destitution finally forced them to run away; after which, we have been informed, the reservation was broken up, having shed disgrace upon all connected with its management."

Rangers sometimes refer to Tenaya Canyon as the “Bermuda Triangle” of Yosemite as they have to do dozens of rescues there every year. Many hikers have disappeared over the years. John Muir himself claimed to be a victim to the curse, "I was ascending a precipitous rock front, smoothed by glacial action, when I suddenly fell—for the first time since I touched foot to Sierra rocks. After several somersaults, I became insensible from the shock, and when consciousness returned I found myself wedged among short, stiff bushes… I could not remember what made me fall, or where I had fallen from; but I saw that if I had rolled a little further, my mountain climbing would have been finished, for just beyond the bushes the canyon wall steepened and I might have fallen to the bottom.” The native people also believed that this area was home to the Monah or Yosemites whom they considered to be similar to witches.

Next is the Spirit of Ahwahnee.  The Ahwahnee Hotel is one of the most historic and luxurious hotels in Yosemite.  Mary Curry Tresidder (who was crucial to the development of the hotel) lived in an apartment on the hotel’s 6th floor until her death in the 1970s.  Ever since her passing, apparitions and strange activity have been reported on the floor.  There are also claims that the ghost of John F. Kennedy show up from time to time.  He stayed on the 3rd floor during a 1962 visit.  He was brought a rocking chair to alleviate some of his back pain.  Guests have reported seeing a phantom rocking chair on the floor despite the fact that no room has been furnished with such a chair for years.

Po-Ho-No and Bridalveil Falls has it’s own creepy story.  Some people translate Po-Ho-No as “Puffing Wind” but many translate it as “The Spirit of the Evil Wind”, a demon who attempts to lure people over the park’s Bridalveil Falls.  There are a couple of variations to the Native American legend:  young women are picking berries or grass to weave baskets near the falls, when one of them is lured to the edge by a hypnotic, misty rainbow…the wind comes and attempt to pull her off the falls.  The other version is that the Po-Ho-No lures young women to the falls and all the way over the edge.  The chief of the tribe warns the tribe to never approach the falls or they will be lured to their death by Po-Ho-No.  As legend has it no son or daughter of the Ahwahnee have ever gone over the falls but it has not protected other people from being lured to their death by the spirit.

The Ghost of Grouse Lake goes back to the first park ranger.  In 1857 he experienced a wailing sound coming from Grouse Lake.  It sounded like a puppy in distress.  He reported it to the local tribe who warned him not to go into the lake or to the edge.  The story goes that there was a young boy from their tribe who drowned in the lake.  He lures victims into the water with his cries and then pulls them into the lake to drown them.

The immense wilderness of Yosemite National Park makes it a perfect place for cryptids.  There have been dozens of sightings of Big Foot across the park and surrounding areas.  There have also been reports of Nightcrawlers (and we aren’t talking about the ones you use for bait).  They look like a walking pair of pants.  The local tribe believe them to be aliens – there are images of them in statues and totem poles that confirm the beings have been here for a long time.

Is Yosemite National Park just a beautiful wilderness area for people to come and enjoy nature?  Are the legends and stories just made up as warnings from the native people to keep their young people in line?  Are the spirits of the people who loved the park still there in the afterlife?  Is Yosemite National Park haunted?  That is for you to decide!

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