Picture Source

Most residents were sleeping when an earthquake shook San Francisco on April 18, 1906. Ruptured gas mains sparked thirty subsequent fires that destroyed 490 city blocks. Estimates suggest perhaps 2000 people died. For weeks after, the city struggled with an inadequate water supply, prompting municipal officials to search for a more reliable source of water and electricity. They proposed damning the Tuolumne River in Yosemite National Park’s Hetch Hetchy Valley. The proposal generated a national opposition seeking to protect the national parks.

As the debate moved to the U.S. Congress, San Francisco’s advocates emphasized the city’s needs and its large population. Their opponents offered a vision of development grounded in nature, tourism, and recreation. In 1913, Congress passed the Raker Act, granting the city the right to flood the Hetch Hetch Valley. Nonetheless, burgeoning environmental groups gained new constituencies and stirred greater interest in the national parks.

The primary sources below include letters, reports, articles, and congressional testimony on both sides of the debate. The documents also tell much through their silences. Neither side acknowledged that the park encompassed the traditional lands of the Ahwahnechee people. Some Native Americans remained through much of the twentieth century as park managers found them useful for labor or as tourist attractions, but eventually all faced expulsion. –Prof. Kathleen Brosnan

Please note: the links in these kits go to either a source on the web, an OU Libraries’ resource, requiring you to login with your OUNetID (4×4), or a companion Canvas page, requiring you to enroll here before you can access the document. The links open in a new window/tab. Report link problems to lscrivener@ou.edu.

Primary Sources: Original Documents from the Time

Freeman, John, selections from On the Proposed Use of a Portion of Hetch Hetchy, Eleanor and Cherry Valleys for the Water Supply of San Francisco, California and Neighboring Cities (San Francisco: Board of Supervisors, 1912). (Companion Canvas page.)

Gregory, Mary Huston. “Checking the Waste: The Evolution of the Conservation Movement.” In Library of Congress. The Evolution of the Conservation Movement, 1850-1920. Washington D.C.: The Library of Congress, 2002. (Companion Canvas page.)

Lawson, Andrew C. and A.O. Leuschner to: George C. Pardee, Governor of California.  “Preliminary Report of the State Earthquake Investigation Commission, 31 May, 1906.” Berkeley, CA: California State Earthquake Investigation Commission, 1906. Virtual Museum of the City of San Francisco.

Memorandum from John Muir, president the Sierra Club, received May 14, 1908, by J. Horace McFarland, president, American Civic Association and read into the Congressional Record “San Francisco and the Hetch Hetchy reservoir,” Hearing held before the committee on the Public Lands of the House of Representatives, December 16, 1908, Virtual Museum of the City of San Francisco.  (Scroll down to “Hetch Hetchy Damming Scheme.”)

Metcalf, Victor H. Letter from Victor H. Metcalf to Theodore Roosevelt, President of the United States, 26 April, 1906. San Francisco: Headquarters Pacific Division, 1906. Virtual Museum of the City of San Francisco.

Muir, John. “A Brief Statement of the Hetch-Hetchy Case To Date. In Let Everyone Help to Save the Famous Hetch Hetchy Valley and Stop the Commercial Destruction Which Threatens Our National Parks. San Francisco: Society for the Preservation of National Parks, 1909. Virtual Museum of the City of San Francisco.

Muir, John. “A Dozen Sources of Water Supply Are Available for San Francisco.” In Let Everyone Help to Save the Famous Hetch Hetchy Valley and Stop the Commercial Destruction Which Threatens Our National Parks. San Francisco: Society for the Preservation of National Parks, 1909. Virtual Museum of the City of San Francisco.

Muir, John, “The Endangered Valley. The Hetch Hetchy Valley in the Yosemite National Park.” (1909). John Muir: A Reading Bibliography by Kimes. 302. University of the Pacific. Scholarly Commons. John Muir Papers.   

Muir, John. “Map of Yosemite National Park.” In Let Everyone Help to Save the Famous Hetch Hetchy Valley and Stop the Commercial Destruction Which Threatens Our National Parks. San Francisco: Society for the Preservation of National Parks, 1909. Virtual Museum of the City of San Francisco.

Muir, John. “San Francisco Wants Water Power at the Expense of the Nation.” In Let Everyone Help to Save the Famous Hetch Hetchy Valley and Stop the Commercial Destruction Which Threatens Our National Parks. San Francisco: Society for the Preservation of National Parks, 1909. Virtual Museum of the City of San Francisco.

Muir, John. “What the Press Thinks.” Various Titles. 1908-1909. In Let Everyone Help to Save the Famous Hetch Hetchy Valley and Stop the Commercial Destruction Which Threatens Our National Parks. San Francisco: Society for the Preservation of National Parks, 1909. Virtual Museum of the City of San Francisco.

Olmsted, Frederick Law. “Yosemite and the Mariposa Grove; A Preliminary Report, 1865.”  Yosemite Online.  (Full report.)  or  Read excerpt. (Excerpt on companion Canvas page.)

Perry, Victor Elmo. “Pass Bearer Through Lines.” San Francisco: Museum of the City of San Francisco, 1906. Virtual Museum of the City of San Francisco.

Pinchot, Gifford. “The Present Battle.” In The Fight for Conservation. New York: Doubleday, 1910.

Pinchot, Gifford. “Principles of Conservation.” In The Fight for Conservation. New York: Doubleday, 1910.

Roosevelt, Theodore, “Conservation as a National Duty,” Opening Address, Conference of Governors, Washington, D.C., May 13, 1908. Voices of Democracy.

U.S. Congress. House of Representatives. An Act Granting to the City and County of San Francisco Certain Rights of Way In, Over, and Through Certain Public Lands, the Yosemite National Park, and Stanislaus National Forest, and the Public Lands in the State of California, and for Other Purposes. 63rd Cong., 2nd Sess. Washington D.C. U.S. Government Printing Office, 1913. Hetch Hetchy: Preservation or Public Utility. Virtual Museum of San Francisco.

U.S. Congress. House of Representatives. Committee on the Public Lands for the House of Representatives. Hearing Held Before the Committee on the Public Lands of the House of Representatives, December 16, 1908 on House J.R. 184-Part IV. Statement from James R. Garfield. 60th Cong., 2nd Sess. Washington D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1908. Virtual Museum of San Francisco.

U.S. Congress. House of Representatives. Committee on the Public Lands for the House of Representatives. Hearing Held Before the Committee on the Public Lands of the House of Representatives, December 16, 1908, on House J.R. 184-Part VIII. Statement of the Honorable Robert Underwood Johnson. 60th Cong., 2nd Sess. Washington D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1908. Virtual Museum of San Francisco.

U.S. Congress. House of Representatives. Committee on the Public Lands of the House of Representatives. Petition of Marsden Mason, City Engineer of San Francisco, on Behalf of the City and County of San Francisco, to the Secretary of the Interior Department, Washington D.C.: to Reopen the Matter of the Application of James D. Phelen for Reservoir Rights of Way in the Hetch Hetchy Valley and Lake Eleanor Sites in the Yosemite National Park. 60th Cong., 2nd Sess. Washington D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1908. Virtual Museum of the City of San Francisco.

U.S. Congress. House of Representatives. Committee on the Public Lands for the House of Representatives. San Francisco and the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir S2575 Hearing Held Before the Committee on the Public Lands of the House of Representatives, H.J. Res. 184. On 16 December, 1908. 60th Cong., 1st Sess. December 16, 1908. Washington D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Offices, December, 1908. The Virtual Museum of the City of San Francisco.

Various Authors. “A Great Civic Drama: A Chronology.” San Francisco: Virtual Museum of the City of San Francisco, 2002. Virtual Museum of the City of San Francisco.

Watt, Rolla V. “Supplementary Particulars Concerning Proposed Auxiliary Water system for San Francisco.” Annual Meeting of the Commonwealth Club of California, 10 April, 1907. San Francisco, 1907. Virtual Museum of the City of San Francisco.

Secondary Sources: What Historians Have Written

Clements, Kendrick A. “Politics and the Park: San Francisco’s Fight for Hetch Hetchy, 1908-1913.” Pacific Historical Review 48, no. 2 (1979): 185–215.

Jackson, Donald C. “The Engineer as Lobbyist: John R. Freeman and the Hetch Hetchy Dam (1910–13).” Environmental History 21, no. 2 (April 1, 2016): 288–314.

Righter, Robert. “The Hetch Hetchy Controversy.” In Natural Protest: Essays on the History of American Environmentalism, edited by Michael Egan and Jeff Crane, 117–35. New York: Routledge, 2009. (Companion Canvas page.)

Spence, Mark David. Dispossessing the Wilderness: Indian Removal and the Making of the National Parks. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999, 101-132. (Companion Canvas page.)

Stoll, Mark. “Milton in Yosemite: ‘Paradise Lost’ and the National Parks Idea.” Environmental History 13, no. 2 (2008): 237–74.

Tyrrell, Ian. “America’s National Parks: The Transnational Creation of National Space in the Progressive Era.” Journal of American Studies 46, no. 1 (2012): 1–21.