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Camp Wolverton - History - pre 1939   
jump to  >  Sherman Tree Sequoia National Park    1920's    1930's
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Native American Inhabitants & European Settlement

          Camp Wolverton was located in an area of Sequoia National Park that had a long history of habitation before the arrival of the Boy Scouts. Monachee (or Western Mono) Native Americans, resided mainly in the Kaweah River drainage of the Foothills region of the park, with evidence beginning 500-600 years ago of seasonal habitation as high as the Giant Forest and Camp Wolverton area. In the summertime after the snows had melted, Native Americans would travel over the high mountain passes to trade with tribes to the East. To this day, pictographs can be found at several sites within the park and a bedrock mortar used to process acorns, a staple food for the Monachee people, was discovered in the 1960's pioneering and Order of the Arrow area at the upper end of the Camp.
          By the time the first European settlers arrived in the area, smallpox had already spread to the region, decimating Native American populations. The first European settler to homestead in the area was Hale Tharp, who famously built a home out of a hollowed-out fallen giant Sequoia log in the Giant Forest next to Log Meadow. Tharp allowed his cattle to graze the meadow, but at the same time had a respect for the grandeur of the forest and led early battles against logging in the area.

         Sherman Tree, Sequoia National Park & Development

          In July, 1875, conservationist John Muir stayed in the mountains with Hale Tharp's "hired hand", James Wolverton.  Tharp or Wolverton or both had served in the Civil War
Original Postcard
General Sherman Tree
circa 1921

NOTE: Sign on tree saying GEN. SHERMAN was placed by the National Park Service in 1921. It
signified the tree had been officially named after
the Civil War General.
under General William Sherman and Wolverton is credited with naming the largest living tree on earth after his Civil War commander in 1879. (The Sherman Tree is located about a mile from the former Camp Wolverton). 
          However, research attempting to document James Wolverton's claim-to-fame in Sequoia National Park has failed to unearth evidence supporting the folklore surrounding his involvement in naming the tree. It is now thought the Sherman Tree was originally called the Karl Marx Tree by members of the Kaweah Colony, a group of Socialists from San Francisco who settled in the Giant Forest to create a utopian society in the 1880's. Members of the Kaweah Colony were cutting Sequoia timber to support themselves and only Federal protection as a National Park could protect the forests and surrounding areas from devastation.
          Tharp and Muir went on to successfully lead efforts to conserve the giant Sequoias from logging.  Fortunately, Sequoia trees, unlike their coast redwood relatives, were found to splinter easily and therefore ill-suited for timber harvesting. The economic incentive to cut the trees diminished but not before thousands of trees were felled.
         Following the designation of Sequoia National Park by Congress in 1890, the U.S. Army removed the Kaweah Colony. The Army also began referring to "the tree" as General Sherman around 1897.   
          None-the-less, Wolverton has become memorialized as the namesake of the area that would ultimately become the location and name of Crescent Bay's High Sierra camp.
          Between 1905 and 1915, the Mt. Whitney Power Company built roads, including the first road past the future site of Camp Wolverton. They also made an unsuccessful attempt to build a dam nearby. The staging area for the dam was in an old logging camp downstream which turned out to be the upper end of the future Boy Scout Camp.
          The last grizzly bear in the Wolverton Area reportedly died in 1922, leaving only the California Black Bear to roam this part of the Sierra. Hundreds of black bears remain in Sequoia National Park, some of them seen almost daily at Camp Wolverton during the summers. 
          In 1923, a 4-inch diameter redwood pipeline was run through the future Boy Scout Camp from Wolverton Meadow to Giant Forest, delivering up to 350,000 gallons of water per day. This old pipeline was discovered a few feet below the surface in 1987 while the camp staff was installing a new pipe line to the Boy Scout's Main Lodge.
          A "New Deal" program enacted by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1933 called the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), apparently used the future Camp Wolverton site as one of eleven CCC camps within Sequoia National Park. CCC programs around the country recruited unemployed young men from predominately urban areas during the Great Depression. Rusty nails can still be found in the ground of former Camp Wolverton, left behind from the 1930's CCC construction camp.

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Late 1920's and Beginning of High Sierra Camp
         Following two very successful summer camps at Emerald Bay on Catalina Island in 1925 and 1926, new Scout Executive F.R. Hill thought of expanding the Crescent Bay Council camping experience into the High Sierra. At that point, the Council was already operating Summer Camp at Emerald Bay; the Troop weekend camp at
Camp Slauson in Topanga Canyon;  and Camp Trefoil, the winter weekend camp at Fraser Park. Additionally, the camping area in Temescal Canyon was being used again for the first time since the Council held its first summer camp there in 1922. None-the-less, Hill sought a location in Sequoia National Park for an additional summer camp to follow Catalina Camp (Emerald Bay) in 1927. 

          A site selection trip to Sequoia National Park was scheduled during Easter vacation by Council leaders including 21 year old Bernarr Bates, Camp Director. As a result, a location within Sequoia National Forest was chosen and it was decided to hold a second summer camp for Crescent Bay Scouts during the Summer of 1927.
Santa Monica Outlook Article
April 9, 1927  pg. 1

Santa Monica Outlook
May 15, 1927  pg. 18

                      Crescent Bay Council announced the program for Sierra Camp in May, 1927, as one that would give the scout a totally different view of camping from that of Southern California. It was said to be essentially the same as the Catalina Camp but there were several fundamental differences. Only older scouts attaining the rank of First Class or higher where eligible. And unlike campers at Emerald Bay who stayed in Crescent Bay Council's eight-man pyramid tents, camping at Sierra Camp was in individual tents assembled by the scouts. Further, the campsite itself was not fixed for the entire 10 day session, instead available to be moved to different locations based on the "will of the majority".
        Sierra Camp was truly a wilderness experience with a pioneering program. Scouts were on their own with light supervision, cooking their own food, hiking, packing, fishing and making their own decisions in the mountain forests. The first of three sessions, comprising twenty Scouts, left Santa Monica by truck on August 1, 1927 and arrived in Sequoia two days later. Two additional sessions were held, bringing the total to about sixty scout campers the first season. The exact location of the first base camp within Sequoia National Park is not known.

                                                              First High Sierra Camp in Sequoia

          These photos, taken by camper Spencer Houser, are the only known images of Crescent Bay District Council's first summer camp in Sequoia National Park. Spencer described taking many of the forest scenes by clicking the shutter four or more times to allow enough light into the camera. (Quite a difference between camera's of the 1920s and today's smart phones).

Tent Camp

  Sequoia Trees
  Fallen Giants
  Stream at Camp


  Campers paired up in small pup tents. A partial view of a Crescent Bay pyramid tent
can be seen on the very left. The light colored tent could have been used by the staff.
Looking up into majestic Sequoia trees must have
been quite a sight for the beach scouts of Santa Monica and Venice.
Fallen Giant Sequoia trees surely added to the
dramatic scenery around
the High Sierra Camp.

According to Spencer Houser, this stream ran along side the tent camp although the exact location remains unknown.

          Scout Executive F. R. Hill served as first Camp Director of High Sierra Camp and returned again in that capacity for 1928. This time, there was an actual campsite chosen at the bridge crossing the Marble Fork of the Kaweah River within Sequoia National Park.
Like the previous summer, Emerald Bay Camp staff also ran the Sierra Camp after the Catalina camping sessions closed.

          High Sierra Campsite at Marble Fork Bridge
Santa Monica Outlook Photo
August 26, 1928  pg. 2

    Marble Fork Bridge
Sequoia National Park
circa Late 1920's
Only known image of the Crescent Bay encampment at Marble Fork Bridge.
Individual pup tents can be seen amongst the Pines and Sequoia trees
encircling a flat central area where a table or benches are erected.
Scouts teamed up with a buddy, two to a tent.
Wooden bridge across the
Marble Fork of the Kaweah River. Originally built in 1919 with a trestle span that is no longer present in this late 1920's photo.

                        A remarkable and detailed record of the 1928 season,written by
     Bernaar Bates
, was published as part of a full page spread in the local newspaper.

                                                                                   Santa Monica Outlook Article
                                                                     August 26, 1928  pg. 2


Santa Monica Outlook Photo
August 26, 1928  pg. 2


Camp staff man feeding a bear at
High Sierra Camp. (Not a good idea)


          In addition to F.R. Hill, the High Sierra Camp staff included Crescent Bay Council's first Eagle Scout, Carl Fossett as Assistant Director • Earnest Wagner, Quartermaster • Dr. C.H. McKay, Camp Doctor • Onward Cochran, Morale & Campfire Director • Ray Burdick, Merit Badge Examiner; & Felix Giroux who ran the camp store & distributed the mail. Groups of boys were assigned to collecting wood, preparing & cooking meals and K.P.
          Provisions were brought to camp at the start of each period. Fresh vegetables and meats came from the little town of Three Rivers, California, 26 miles away.
          By the close of the 1928 season, High Sierra Camp was considered a huge success. Transportation was seen as the greatest problem to future expansion since the Council was dependent on the generosity of volunteer drivers to

shuttle the Scouts from Santa Monica to Sequoia Park.

Santa Monica Outlook
June 7, 1929  pg. 13

         Interest grew quickly in early 1929 for purchasing
a  Council truck that could bring the boys to what was becoming among the best Scout camping programs in the United States.  In June, a new six cylinder truck built by the REO Motor Company, called the "Speedwagon", was purchased by Crescent Bay for $2,600. The two ton truck with room for twenty-five passengers and luggage even had a removable canvass top.

                            Santa Monica Outlook Photo
                                          July 27, 1929  pg. 13

          With transportation to Sequoia under control, Crescent Bay Council prepared for an influx of Scouts to the 3rd and best summer at Camp High Sierra in 1929. Base camp was still at Marble Fork Bridge. Everyone
from the 1928 staff returned in 1929 along with Mart Bushnell and Verne Phillips who extended their staff duties to join High Sierra after Emerald Bay closed for the summer.
          In addition to the usual activities, Scouts also participated in several building and clean-up projects around the camp. Pack trips utilizing burros supplied by the National Park Service were organized allowing campers to head into the back country. These outings proved very popular and continued into the Camp Wolverton era. And the Good Camper program started at Camp Emerald Bay in 1929, was exported to High Sierra by the same staff who were running both camps.

                                              Santa Monica Outlook Article
                                     September 8, 1929  pg. 3

First Good Camper Patch

Crescent Bay Scouts built bridges over   

Awarded at Camp Emerald Bay
  the Marble Fork River, concrete camp   ovens for auto tourists and cleared
land for additional camp grounds.

Pack burros were used to make 3-day
 treks to Twin Lakes. Hikes were required
to qualify for the Good Camper badge.

 and now believed to also have been used at Camp High Sierra in 1929.

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                         High Sierra Camp During the 1930's
          A return to High Sierra Camp was planned for 1930. Scouts began signing up for the session in the late Spring. But as the summer progressed, interest in the Sequoia Camp waned while demand for Camp Emerald Bay grew. The Catalina Camp had initially been scheduled for four sessions, after which the staff would move Council camping operations up to High Sierra. But Emerald Bay proved so popular in 1930 that Scout Executive and Camp Director F. R. Hill gave up on his plans to camp in Sequoia National Park that summer, instead opting for an extra fifth period at Emerald Bay.
          However, it is known that Camp High Sierra was open the following summer. The Crescent Bay Council Annual Report from 1931 documents scouts attending High Sierra but the importance of the camp seemed

Santa Monica Outlook Article
August 8, 1930  pg.11

significantly diminished from previous years.
           The major camping experiences that year were focused on Camp Emerald Bay and Camp Slauson. High Sierra was only one of several mountain summer camps used by Crescent Bay Scouts in 1931. Others included Yosemite and Camp Radford, a facility in the San Bernardino Mountains operated by the Los Angeles Department of Parks & Recreation.

                                    Excerpt from 1931 Crescent Bay Council Annual Report, pg. 9


          Possibly in an effort to boost interest, Crescent Bay Council moved the 1932 High Sierra summer Camp from Sequoia National Park to Mammoth Lakes. However, the Camp was so poorly attended that the camping committee was not even willing to report the exact numbers.

                                  Excerpt from 1932 Crescent Bay Council Annual Report, pg. 6


          Summer 1933 saw a return to High Sierra Camp in a new form. Crescent Bay teamed up with Los Angeles and San Antonio Councils to conduct a       1933
Summer Camp Program
Los Angeles & San Antonio Councils

single 10-day session for older Scouts. Emerald Bay and High Sierra staff man Mart Bushnell, served as Associate Director of the 1933 Sequoia National Park adventure trip. The program appears to have been similar to previous Sierra Camps, open to scouts 14 years of age or older having achieved first class rank.

        Excerpt from 1933 Summer Camp Program, pg. 9

          The cost was $15 per person which covered all meals and included round-trip transportation from Los Angeles. Activities included seeing the General Sherman Tree and boasted "thrilling trail trips" and "splendid fishing", all while "camping in the open".  It is unknown if the location of the 1933 joint High Sierra Camp was in or near Marble Fork Bridge or Wolverton Meadow, future site of Camp Wolverton six years later.

                    Crescent Bay Scouts Camp at Wolverton

          What became of the joint Los Angeles-Crescent Bay High Sierra Camp after 1933 is unclear. Historical documentation for Crescent Bay summer camping is not available for 1934 or 1935. The 1936 and 1938 Crescent Bay Annual Reports make no mention of any Council camping in the Sierra during those summers although it is now well documented that Troop 34 Venice, opted to hold its 1936 summer camp in Sequoia National Park in the area of Wolverton Corrals or Meadow.

Sequoia National Park Souvenir Post Card Set
Sent by Troop 34 Scoutmaster, Bill Van Slyke

Postmarked August 25, 1936 and sent by Bill Van Slyke to his mother.
Inside contains 18 hand colored images of famous Sequoia National Park attractions. (jump to >  images and photos from Wolverton High Sierra 1940)

           It is thought this may be the first time Crescent Bay Council scouts camped at the Wolverton location. Based on an enthusiastically successful trip, Troop 34 may have promoted using the Wolverton camping location to Council leaders, ultimately leading to the creation of  High Sierra Camp Wolverton in 1939.

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