February 11 marked the 150th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s departure from Springfield to Washington, DC, where he would become one of our greatest presidents. And, I don’t think he’s one of our greatest presidents just because he signed into law the act protecting Yosemite and, in effect, creating the first national park. This is not Lincoln’s mysterious connection to Yosemite, either.
If you have read much about Abraham Lincoln, you know of Ward Hill Lamon. Lamon became a law partner with Lincoln in 1852. When Lincoln was elected to the presidency, he asked Lamon to accompany him to Washington. Lamon became his personal bodyguard, among other things. They were close friends.
If you’re familiar with Yosemite, the name “Lamon” probably sounds familiar. There’s Lamon’s Orchard, named for James Lamon, whose grave you may have noticed in the Yosemite Cemetery. Are these two Lamons related?
Born in Bunker Hill, VA (now WV), James Lamon’s father was John Lamon. Ward Hill Lamon was born just 10 miles away to George Lamon, Jr. John and George, Jr. were brothers, making James and Ward Hill first cousins. Did they ever know each other? Did they keep in touch?
One has to wonder if, when Lincoln received the Yosemite act, if Ward Hill knew that his cousin was one of Yosemite Valley’s first non-Indian residents. Lincoln expressed a desire to visit California during his second term. Was it in part because of what he’d heard about Yosemite? Surely, he saw the amazing photographs Carleton Watkins had taken of Yosemite (which circulated around Capitol Hill before the Yosemite act passed). But, did he learn anything about Yosemite from Ward Hill Lamon?
I can’t help but wonder if, when Lincoln got the Yosemite act to sign, Ward Hill might’ve said something like, “Oh, Yosemite! My cousin is a settler there. I hear it’s a truly wonderful place!”
This is the mystery.