Monday, September 12, 2016

Archie C. Leonard Early Yosemite Park Ranger

Yosemite was created a National Park on October 1, 1890. Each year between 1891 and 1913, the War Department sent troops of cavalry into Yosemite National Park on patrol duty. Sequoia and Yellowstone Parks also received military protection.

The Army Officer in charge acted as the Superintendent of the Park. The troops would arrive in May and leave about October, returning to the Presidio of San Francisco. Captain A. E. Wood was in Command of the first Troops assigned to Yosemite. Captain Wood, in command of two Troops of Cavalry, Companies I and K arrived in Yosemite May 19, 1891, and set up camp at Wawona.

During the Spanish American War in 1898 the U.S. Troops assigned to Yosemite were recalled to the Presidio. The protection of the Parks, until the Troops could again assume their duties, was assigned to the General Land Office of the U.S. Department of the Interior. A Special Land Inspector was made Acting Superintendent of three Parks. He employed assistant forest agents during the summer to eject sheep trespass and fight forest fires. The General Land Office therefore became involved in the early administration of both the National Parks and the Forest Reserves in California.
Original Park Rangers posing by Yosemite Falls, Archie C. Leonard is on far right.
By June 25, 1898, Special Inspector J. W. Zevely of the General Land Office had hired eleven men from the Yosemite region to be temporary Forest Agents. These men were assigned to two special agents. Special Agent A. W. Buick was in charge of five men: The men were, Archie C. Leonard, George R. Byde, Henry A. Skelton, Charles A. Leidig, Arthur L. Thurman, and they took over the northern part of Yosemite. Special Agent Cullom was given six men: George G. MacKenzie, Thomas S. Carter, David Lackton, Darwin S. Lewis, Joel J. Westfall, Joseph R. Borden, and this group were assigned to the southern part of Yosemite.

Two months later on August 25, 1898, the U.S. Troops returned to the Park, and the Forest Agents were relieved of their duties. However, in September of that year, the Acting Superintendent received authorization to appoint forest rangers at fifty dollars a month for temporary service. These men were to assist the Troops on their patrols. Two forest agents, Archie Leonard and Charles Leidig were hired at that time. In the late fall when the Troops were preparing to leave Yosemite, it was recommended that the two forest agents be kept on for the winter to protect the Park. This was authorized and they remained on as rangers for many years.

The Army reports to the Secretary of the Interior referred to these rangers as “Park Rangers.” This was probably the first usage of the “Park Ranger" title. The forest rangers in California National Parks, officially became park rangers in 1905. 

Archibald Campbell Leonard

Archie was born in West Virginia in 1846. He came across the Plains with his parents, Owen (born in Ireland) and Sarah (born in Scotland) during the latter part of the gold rush period and the family settled in the Mother Lode Country. The 1860 census lists him as twelve years old living with his parents (father and oldest brother worked as miners) and six siblings in Jamestown, Tuolumne County, California. As he grew older, he worked around Jamestown as a miner for a few years. In the 1880’s he came to Yosemite and worked a while for the Washburns in Wawona as a ranch foreman. 

In 1881 he married Susan M. Laurence, the daughter of James Laurence, born in Arkansas, and Telefina “Pa-nah-hah” Dick, a Southern Miwok whose family had lived in the Mariposa/Yosemite Valley region for generations.

The above picture shows on the far left Susan as a young girl holding a rifle. Next to her is her brother Johnny who is holding the violin. On the right are two Dick cousins. The Miwoks by tradition did not use surnames. Once they came in contact with Europeans who expected a surname, they used the European first name of an ancestor as their surname.

On September 23, 1898, Archie was one of the two local men appointed as Assistant Special Forest Agents who made up the first civilian protection force for the Yosemite National Park. He was assigned to patrol the southern part of the Park which was not far from his home in Wawona.
1899-About 40 soldiers of the Sixth Cavalry, Troop F in Yosemite Park
When the U. S. Troops came in to take over the protection of the Park, he was assigned as scout and guide for the Troops during the summer months. He reported to the Commanding, Officer at Camp A. E. Wood, and was given instructions to handle the sheepmen in a tough manner. Orders were to scatter the sheep, take off the bells and bring in the herders and sheepmen to headquarters. There was a great deal of trouble over the trespass of grazing in the Park.

During the winter months when the U. S. Troops were out of the Park, Archie and Charles Leidig, took over the responsibilities of patrolling and keeping law and order until the troops returned the next summer.

Allan Sproul, a seasonal ranger assigned to the Mariposa Grove of Big Trees in the year 1914, says this about Archie.
“Archie was not very communicative but he was always pleasant, and I should say tolerant of the college boy rangers. He knew the Park from years of travel over the trails. His hair was gray and rather long and his mustache drooped, his uniform consisted of a dirty slouch hat, a grayish colored shirt, which wouldn’t show the dirt of a season, and overalls worn low on the belt. He spoke in a soft voice and had a pleasant smile.”
Archie C. Leonard, one of two Park Rangers with President Theodore Roosevelt in 1903.

Archie was one of two park rangers that served as guides and guards for President Theodore Roosevelt when he visited the Yosemite Park in May 1903. To read more about President Theodore Roosevelt’s visit to Yosemite National Park, CLICK HERE.

Susan and Archie C. Leonard
In 1917, changes took place on the ranger force. Due to his advancing age, Archie could no longer handle full time ranger duties. He was changed from a permanent park ranger to a temporary first class ranger. This reduction in status occurred in September, and two months later he was furloughed. He was not recalled to service in the Park in 1918,  but was discontinued with out prejudice from the Yosemite Ranger Force. He died in Stockton, California in 1921 at the age of 75.

According to family tradition, Archie and Susan homesteaded land in the vicinity of the Hetch-Hetchy Valley on the west side of Yosemite National Park. After Archie died, the state of California decided it wanted to dam the Tuolumne River through this valley. Archie and Susan were married according to “Indian custom.” Even though the family shows up on census and other records, the marriage was not filed in the county courthouse. Native tribes in California were beaten back and not given much consideration in the courts in the early part of the twentieth century. With Susan being half Miwok and her children being quarter Miwok, they fought an uphill battle.  California declared the children unable to inherit and grabbed the land from them for the dam project which today provides power for Pacific Gas & Electric.
Hetch-Hetchy Valley before the 1923 dam.
I give sincere thanks and appreciation to Lucille Davenport and Joyce Hammer, descendants of Archie C. and Susan M. Laurence Leonard, for providing the family information to me and for giving me permission to share the story of their ancestors.

1.  Family records of the descendants of Archibald Campbell Leonard and Susan M. Laurence [Laurance] Leonard.


3.  Wikipedia


Zina Abbott is the pen name used by Robyn Echols who lives near the “Gateway to Yosemite” for her historical novels. The first four novellas in the Eastern Sierra Brides 1884 series, Big Meadows Valentine,  A Resurrected Heart, Her Independent Spirit, and Haunted by Love are now available.  


  1. Truly fascinating history of Yosemite National Park. I had the privilege of visiting there once, many years ago. The more I learn about Yosemite (from you, recently), the grander the memories of that majestic place on earth. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Thank you, Kristin. I enjoyed putting this post together, combining information from a family descended from one of the first park ranger with information to help us celebrate 100 years of the park service.

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  4. A fascinating story. These types of history are so important. Thank you. Doris

  5. Question the Southern Miwok Identification, documents identify as Casson's Yokuts. Will share page with others who are researching ..

  6. My name is Christopher Escalante, my grandfather Pedro Escalante was married to May Leonard daughter of Archie C Leonard and Susan Lawrence. First time inquiring about my great-grandparents. I believe that Archie's records of being in the army was destroyed by the federal government along with her marriage license??