A Hockett Trail Guide: 2. Kaweah River Valley

Today, much of this segment of the Hockett Trail is under the high water line of Lake Kaweah, but Sierra Drive (California State Route 198) follows the route faithfully along the south side of the lake to the South Fork, which is the stream that the Hockett Trail followed to the Kern-Kaweah Divide.

One of the prominent peaks along this leg of the route is Tharps Peak, named after Hale Tharp, who had a ranch at Horse Creek, just above the river. This is near the present location of Horse Creek Campground.

Tharp had visited the area in 1856, and returned in 1858 to develop his ranch. He is remembered most for his home in a Sequoia log in Giant Forest, but he is also remembered as the first white man to settle in the area. By the time Hockett Trail development began in the winter of 1862–63, he had begun to explore the area, and had perhaps seen Mineral King in 1861. Tharp here recalls the unraveling of Indian affairs just before the Hockett Trail was blazed through the area:

“By the spring of 1862 quite a number of whites had settled in the Three Rivers section, and the Indians were gradually forced out. Then, too, the Indians had contracted contagious diseases from the whites, such as measles, scarlet fever and smallpox and they died off by the hundreds. I helped to bury 27 in one day up on the Sam Kelly place. About this time Chief Chappo and some of his men came to see me, and asked me to try and stop the whites from coming into their country. When I said that was impossible, they all sat down and cried. They told me that their people loved this country, did not want to leave it, and knew not where to go. A few days later Chappo came to me with tears in his eyes he’d told me that they had decided not to fight the whites, but would leave the country. From that time on, they moved out little by little and from time to time until all were gone.” —Walter Fry, “Hospital Rock in Sequoia National Park,” page 3.

The Hockett Trail was developed during the drought of 1863–64. The drought was driving ranchers up into the Sierra for pasture, and it’s unlikely that there was anywhere left for the Indians that remained. The last account of an Indian village in this part of the Sierra was in 1865, about the time commercial and military traffic ceased on the Hockett Trail.

See Exploring the Southern Sierra: West Side by Jenkins & Jenkins: Highway 198 Car Tour (T84).