“unknown and unconquered” — California State Quarter Coin

Today, the California State Quarter Coin remembers when President Harrison signed the documents for the second and the largest forest reserve in the state.

An extract from The Ever-changing View, A History of the National Forests in California, 1891-1987 by Anthony Godfrey, published in 2005:


While the establishment of the San Gabriel Forest Reserve was debated, Special Agent Allen considered the potential for other California forest reserves.

On February 14, 1893, President Harrison withdrew California’s largest federal forest reserve – the 4,057, 470-acre Sierra Forest Reserve.

This area at the time was practically as unknown and unconquered a wild mountain region as anything its size in America.

The history of California’s second forest reserve began in 1889, when Tulare County officials petitioned Congress and federal officials regarding the despoliation of the Sierra by lumber and livestock interests.

In their petition, they explained how private individuals had developed irrigation in the San Joaquin Valley after the 1870s, leading to rapid agricultural growth in Fresno County, connecting it to world raisin markets.

“This budding prosperity,” according to the Tulare County petition, “depended on protecting the source of water which was endangered by timber speculators in the low mountains and by countless sheep in the high mountains.”

This petition was either ignored or lost, until October 1891, when Special Agent Allen was sent to California to investigate this and other matters.

After interviewing “a number of interested and informed citizens,” Allen immediately advised GLO Commissioner Carter to set aside at once the “Tulare Reserve” an area covering nearly five to six million acres, and embraced parts of eight counties from Tuolumne on the north to Kern on the south, and Mono and Inyo on the east side.

In response to Allen’s counsel, Carter immediately withdrew 230 townships in the Sierra pending further investigation.

According to Allen, with the exception of a few sheepmen, a few miners around Kernville, and a handful of settlers near Fresno Flats, there was little opposition to creation of the “Tulare Reserve.”

“On the contrary,” he wrote, “the leading citizens there complain of the devastation caused by flocks of sheep from the valley passing over their lands, and think that if included in the reservation, they would escape this annoyance.”

Allen focused his work on watershed protection for the Sierra, and in his report he made little mention of the timber or other forest resources located thereon.

He concluded that a great wrong was being done to the public at large by those parties illegitimately using these public lands for pasturage and lumbering purposes.

Though largely ignored in Allen’s report, sheepmen, along with anti-park associations, vigorously protested his action.

Allen, however, dismissed their protests and countered that they were “primarily Italians and Frenchmen who did not own land, speak English, or pay many taxes.”

In Allen’s opinion, “foreign sheepmen were growing rich by pasturing sheep on government land which they damaged severely by permitting overgrazing and by setting fires.”

In the end, the protests of sheepmen were outweighed by the great majority of local valley residents who either supported the Tulare Reserve or were neutral about the vast withdrawal of land.

Important California conservationists such as Abbott Kinney and Robert Underwood Johnson also lent their support to the creation of the Tulare Reserve.

“This would not be reserved for Park purpose, of course,” wrote Underwood to Secretary of the Interior Noble, “but to save water supply for irrigation below and to preserve timber.”

In late 1892, Allen revisited the area and completed his investigation, which included listening to the suggestions of John Muir and the Sierra Club.

Early in January 1893, Allen sent his final report to Commissioner Carter.

However, to eliminate a great deal of potential opposition, Allen reduced the size of the Tulare Reserve, especially on the east side of the Sierra. He also changed its name from the Tulare Reserve to the Sierra Forest Reserve.

Named after the snowy Sierra Nevada range of mountains, its northern portion bordered most of Yosemite National Park, and its western boundaries practically surrounded General Grant and most of Sequoia national parks .

The size of this forest reserve increased over time, reaching a maximum of 6,602,353 acres in 1908, including large portions of seven counties.


The California State Quarter Coin shows with an artist’s image of the Sierra Nevada, circa 1878.

California State Quarter Coin