Living History in King’s Canyon National Park

Recently, I spent a week camping in the Sierra Nevada Mountains – King’s Canyon National Park, to be precise. These mountains are one of my favorite places, but until recently I’d always been a little disappointed by the “lack of history.”

Well, this trip I attended a living history presentation by Park Ranger Phyllis Wilson. She did an outstanding job portraying Viola Kanawyer, an early pioneer to the canyon.

Viola Kanawyer, portrayed by Park Ranger Phyllis Wilson

Viola Kanawyer, portrayed by Park Ranger Phyllis Wilson

Viola, also called “Auntie Vi”, came to King’s Canyon in the 1880’s with her husband who was experimenting with copper mining. Vi was a hospitable woman and she invited travelers to stay with the family. She could hunt and fish better than any man in the region and, best of all, she was a great cook. Auntie Vi’s apricot, apple, and berry pies were canyon famous. Naturalist John Muir enjoyed visiting the Kanawyers and brought his friends to eat at the cabin.

In 1896 the Kanawyers opened Camp Kanawyer, which eventually consisted of a general store, post office, and two story hotel. Mr. Kanawyers opened a packing business (copper mining just wasn’t that profitable) and brought people into the canyon for “adventurous vacationing.” When Mr. Kanawyer died in 1908, Vi continued running the camp for nine years and it was a successful enterprise.

Ranger Wilson, who was doing the living history presentation, concluded by reminding us that Viola Kanawyer did not know the importance of her actions. Decades later, politicians wanted to make Kings Canyon into a water reservoir dam, and leading the fight against it were people who had visited the beautiful canyon and stayed at Camp Kanawyer. We don’t know how our simple day to day actions may provide the influence or opportunity for great effects.

After the presentation, we took a short walk and saw the overgrown ruins of Camp Kanawyer.

Ryder Cabin, near original Camp Kanawyer

Ryder Cabin, near original Camp Kanawyer

I’m very glad I was able to attend this living history program. It gave me a new appreciation for the early pioneers in King’s Canyon.

Your Historian,
Miss Sarah

P.S. Have you been to Kings Canyon or another National Park? If, so what was your favorite thing? I like the hiking and hope to do some longer hikes the next time I go back to the mountains.

 

About Sarah Kay Bierle

I’m Sarah Kay Bierle, historian, living history enthusiast, and historical fiction writer. When sharing history, I try to keep the facts interesting and understandable. History is about real people, real actions, real effects and it should inspire us today.
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5 Responses to Living History in King’s Canyon National Park

  1. fly1200 says:

    Yes I’ve been there. Imagine if they had made it a reservoir – unthinkable. Got to have a lot of respect for those early outdoorsmen (and women!). I love the hikes there; some of the best around.

  2. Cheryl Pretty Teramoto says:

    Viola Kanawyer was my great-great grandma. We went up and visited the camp and the copper mine many, many years ago. I wish I had much more info regarding the camp and mine. If you have any info, could you please share it?

    • Hi Cheryl,
      So nice to hear this information prompted good memories. I took notes during the presentation and I will check those to see if I have another addition facts that didn’t make it in the blog post. May I email you the information later in the week?

  3. Andy says:

    This is cool I have a friend named Jerry Kanawyer and these are his relatives!

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