President Roosevelt's 1903 Trip
to Santa Cruz and the
Big Trees Redwood Grove

By Ross Gibson

President Teddy Roosevelt at the Santa Cruz Depot, May 11, 1903.

President Teddy Roosevelt on the SPCRR in Santa Cruz on Chestnut St. near the Mission Hill tunnel, May 11, 1903.

Uptown Station

When the president left his carriage and mounted the station platform, a college yell went up from U.C. Berkeley students, to which Roosevelt commented, "Higher Education is represented, I see." Guards stood watches to make sure only the 89 guests wearing a "Roosevelt" redwoods ribbon were admitted on the train. The train's conductor was George L. Colgrove, who'd come down from Oakland for this work. Then the train departed into the tunnel under Mission Hill, winding its way up the redwood canyons of Rincon Gorge, giving Roosevelt his first view ever of a redwood forest. (Click here for Roosevelt's Santa Cruz address).

Big Trees

Residents of Felton, Ben Lomond, and Boulder Creek greeted the train at Big Trees Station. The Naval Reserves parted the crowd, and local entrepreneur Fred Swanton escorted Roosevelt to breakfast. Secret service agents and the Naval Reserve discreetly stood watch on the event against the intrusion of any unauthorized persons. The open-air breakfast was held in Big Trees Grove, with the band providing background music. A bouquet of lady slippers gathered by the river that morning, was placed before the president, but later removed to give him an unobstructed view of the event. The breakfast consisted of broiled steaks, Spanish beans, strawberries, coffee, cake, and Ben Lomond wine.

"This is the best steak I've had since I was a cowboy!" Roosevelt proclaimed. Swanton said Jose Maria Guieres, the mother of 34 children, cooked the beans and Roosevelt said, "They should make her president of something!" Mayor H.H. Clark then told a story to demonstrate that the theory of race-suicide had no relevance in Santa Cruz.


Roosevelt spoke with an elderly woman seated at his table. Josephine Clifford McCracken was an author, confidant of western writer Bret Harte, and at the time a journalist for the Santa Cruz Sentinel. She once had "Rancho Pariso" at the summit, where gathered San Francisco's Bohemian writers, artists and poets such as Ambrose Bierce and Jack London. But when the ranch burned in an 1899 forest fire, she realized the redwoods had taken centuries to establish, and joined others in forming the Sempervirens Club to save the California redwoods. Her greatest success came in 1902, when the movement created Big Basin as the nations first State Redwood Park. (Click here for Roosevelt's remarks at the Big Tree Grove).

Impromptu Speech

Roosevelt obliged the high school girls' request, and made an impromptu speech. He said these were the first redwood's he'd seen, and congratulated Santa Cruz on saving them over lumbermen' s objections that preservation destroyed American industry. Roosevelt suggested it wasn't un-American to preserve America's greatness for future generations. "But let me preach to you a moment," he added, and reproached the tourist tradition of tacking calling cards on the "Letter Carrier" tree, desecrating its beauty. "Cards give an air of ridicule to this solemn and majestic grove. Pining cards is as much out of place as piling up tin cans!"

"Amen! Amen!" cried Benjamin Ide Wheeler. Mayor Clark asked if the president would like to walk through the grove unaccompanied, to which Roosevelt replied, "Yes, that I love you not the less, but the trees more!

Presidential Influence

Roosevelt followed the trail where trees were named for some feature or in someone's honor. When he returned from a 15-minute hike, he was surprised to discover all the calling cards had been removed from the Letter Carrier tree! A cloth was then removed from a plaque on another tree, naming it in the president's honor, the "Roosevelt Tree." He said he was deeply moved, and only wished that a small label on a post to replace the sign on the tree, so as to preserve the redwood's majesty.

San Jose

When Roosevelt returned to Union Station, he discovered that in his absence the Santa Cruzan's Native Daughters had decorated his broad gauge train with flowers and wild grasses "from double decker to barber car." His train journeyed to San Jose, where he met McCracken's friend Andrew P. Hill, the nature photographer who helped found the Sempervirens Club that saved Big Basin as a state park..

Joseph Warren Welch

In 1867 Joseph Warren Welch purchased 350 acres containing the forty-acre stand of virgin redwood from Judge Edward Stanley who had earlier taken it from Isaac Graham on a mortgage. The purchase was made at a time when Stanley is said to have contemplated logging the area thus making Joseph Welch's actions one of the earliest examples of Coast Redwood preservation. The following year Welch planned a resort building with dining room, kitchen, and sleeping rooms, and opened the grove to the public.

Andrew P. Hill (more)

In 1899, photographer Andrew P. Hill was taking pictures of some ancient redwoods when the owner of the grove accused him of trespassing, and demanded the negatives. Hill refused and returned to San Jose and started a crusade to save the coast redwoods of the nearby Santa Cruz Mountains. He wrote, "These trees, because of their size and antiquity, were among the natural wonders of the world and should be saved for posterity."

Josephine Clifford McCracken (more)

In 1881, Josephine Clifford McCracken, a writer, along with many other artists, writers, and musicians were moving into the Santa Cruz mountains near the small German settlement of Austrian Gulch close to Loma Prieta. Her friends included Mark Twain, Joaquin Miller, Jack London, Bret Harte, Ambrose Bierce and poet George Sterling. In 1899, a fire destroyed Monte Paraiso, the home of Josephine Clifford McCracken. She realized that the native redwood forests were in danger, not only by fire but also by logging. She wrote articles published in the Santa Cruz Sentinel calling for conservation of the forests. She enlisted the help of Andrew P. Hill who had taken pictures of the fire's destruction. Together McCracken and Hill formed the Sempervirens Club. The club was helped by the Native Sons and Daughters and the California Pioneer Society. In 1902 the California legislature created the first state park, now known as Big Basin State Park.

President Theodore Roosevelt (more)

On May 11 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt boarded the narrow gauge Railroad for the Big Trees Grove. At the grove Roosevelt sat at the breakfast table and talked with an elderly woman, Josephine Clifford McCracken and Joseph Welch. Roosevelt made an impromptu speech and in it he said "This is the first glimpse I have ever had of the big trees, and I wish to pay the highest tribute I can to the State of California, to those private citizens and associations of citizens who have cooperated with the State in preserving these wonderful trees for the whole nation". His train then journeyed to San Jose, where he met McCracken's friend Andrew P. Hill, the nature photographer who helped found the Sempervirens Club that saved Big Basin as a state park.

The Creation of the Park

It could be said without too much exaggeration that a British magazine was responsible for the creation of the California State Park system. Furthermore, it was because of photographs not taken of a famous grove of majestic old-growth redwood trees near Felton that the preservationist movement began which eventually established California's first State Park. A British magazine and photographs never taken? These are a part of the interesting and varied history of what is now Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park.

By the year 1889 California's redwood trees were internationally famous. In that year an English publication hired Andrew P. Hill, San Jose artist, photographer, and writer, to do a story on the huge redwoods of the nearby Santa Cruz Mountains. Hill packed his equipment in a trunk and traveled by narrow gauge railway over the summit and down to Big Trees Station just outside of Felton. There he found the perfect subjects for his magazine piece... magnificent virgin redwoods, some approaching 300 feet in height. However, he had hardly set up his camera when the owner of the grove, Joseph Welch, cam and chased him off. Welch did not want commercial photographs taken of his trees unless he received payment. Hill went back to San Jose without any pictures to accompany his article. Instead he carried only anger resulting from his confrontation with Welch. Hill thought it unjust that these beautiful redwoods were not available for everyone to experience.

On his next trip to the Santa Cruz Mountains Andrew Hill avoided Welch's grove and went deeper into the back country to the Big Basin area. There he photographed extensively and became so inspired by the ancient majesty of the trees that he and friends formed the Sempervirens Club. The members dedicated their organization to the preservation of redwood trees for all to enjoy. They attracted wealthy and influential people who raised funds and convinced legislators to purchase Big Basin and establish California's first State Park. All this was set in motion by a British magazine and some photographs not taken.

Joseph Welch cannot really be faulted for running Andrew Hill off of his property. Welch had owned the grove since 1867 and had worked very hard to build a comfortable and popular resort amidst the redwoods. By the turn of the century, it was complete with train station, hotel, dining hall, cabins, and dance pavilion. Dignitaries from all over the world came to marvel at the trees. In 1888 John C. Fremont visited a tree named in his honor. Three years later President Benjamin Harrison walked through the grove and a picturesque group of redwoods was named after him. Welch's Big Trees Resort was on the itinerary of practically every touring visitor to the general San Francisco area.

At the same time that Welch's enterprise was flourishing, another Santa Cruz pioneer businessman was also enjoying remarkable success. Henry Cowell had arrived in the Santa Cruz area in 1865. He had already demonstrated his business acumen by establishing a successful drayage company in San Francisco. In Santa Cruz he diversified by ultimately entering the limestone quarrying and processing business. He acquired thousands of acres of land and ultimately gained control of two lime producing companies. The Santa Cruz area was blessed with many natural outcroppings of limestone. During the years of highest demand nearly 80% of lime for the state came from Santa Cruz county. Intense heat was used to convert the quarried rock into usable material. Kilns were built in several locations including the North Fork of Fall Creek and in the Rincon area of the San Lorenzo River. Hundreds of thousands of cords of wood were burned over the years to keep the kiln fires burning. The Cowell family's ranches and lime operations prospered and eventually the Cowell name was on the title of 6,500 acres of Santa Cruz County land. The holdings included over 1600 acres of forest and river frontage adjacent to Welch's Big Trees Resort.

As the twentieth century progressed the Welch family began to look for a buyer for the resort and surrounding property. Welch's son and the County worked toward a purchase that would make the grove a county park, thereby preserving the beautiful redwoods. Many local people were excited by the prospect, but others were worried about the strain on the County budget such a purchase and subsequent operation would be. In the end the Park advocates prevailed, thanks largely to the indefatigable efforts of former Lieutenant Governor William Jeter. Though elderly and confined to a hospital bed, Jeter wrote letters, made phone calls, and most likely twisted a few well-chosen arms on behalf of the Park idea. In 1930 Santa Cruz County paid $75,000 for 120 acres which included the incomparable 40 acre Big Tree Grove. For the next 24 years the County managed the area and it continued to be a favorite setting for picnics, walks, and swimming for local and out-of-town visitors alike.

By 1950 there was only one member of the Cowell family left. Samual "Harry" Cowell was nearly ninety years old. He had long been an outdoorsman and he was especially fond of the family's property next to Welch's grove. In 1952 he decided he wanted to give that property to the State for a park in memory of his father. His idea was to have the County give up ownership of the Grove to the State at the same time so that it could all be managed together. Cowell's representatives met with State and County officials and negotiations were successful. On August 18, 1954, Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park was formally dedicated as a new unit in California's State Park System.

The park today is a wonderful combination of unique natural features, comfortable facilities, and easy accessibility. The Henry Cowell and Fall Creek units combine to comprise over 4000 acres. Thirty miles of hiking trails wind through five distinct plant communities. The 0.8-mile main Redwood Loop Trail circles through trees which have stood well over a thousand years and are as fine a grove of redwoods as can be experienced anywhere. Facilities include a 112 unit developed campground and a large picnic area along the San Lorenzo River.

In a real sense the present park is carrying on the tradition of its historical use. Though the cabins and dance pavilion are gone, the intrinsic beauty endures. Thousands of people visit each year for the same reasons people have always come -- to relax with friends and family; to breath in the reassuring peace and beauty of the redwoods; and to be renewed by personally reconnecting with the fundamental and abiding glory of nature.

Selected Background Information

Josephine Clifford McCracken

From Felling the Giants By Stephen Michael Payne & Survival With Stile By Joan Barriga's

Josephine came to the Santa Cruz Mountains in 1881 as a single woman, forty-two years old, in search of a quiet place of her own. The daughter of German parents living in St. Louis, she had been well educated in private schools. She took a job as a teacher after finishing her schooling, and in 1864 she met and married Lt. James A. Clifford, a cavalry officer.

After a bad marriage she moved to San Francisco with her mother, brother, and sister. Josephine obtained a job at the South Cosmopolitan School, teaching German; but her first love was writing, and before long her articles were being accepted by the Overland Monthly, a well-known magazine edited by Bret Harte and later by Ambrose Bierce. She began to number among her acquaintances such literary figures as Mark Twain, Joaquin Miller, Jack London, and poet George Sterling.

Artists, writers, and musicians were moving into the Santa Cruz Mountains as they became more accessible, and Josephine was one of the first to take up land near the small German settlement of Austrian Gulch in the shadow of Loma Prieta.

In the summer of 1899, a fire destroyed a large portion of the Summit area. The home of Josephine Clifford McCracken was in the path of the flames and was consumed. After the ordeal was over McCracken, realizing that the native redwood forests were being destroyed, not only by fire but also by the many logging operations, wrote articles published in the Santa Cruz Sentinel, calling for conservation of the great forests. She enlisted the help of Andrew P. Hill, a noted artist and photographer, who had taken pictures of the fire's destruction. Together with many Summit residents, McCracken and Hill formed the Sempervirens Club. The club, dedicated to the preservation of the redwood forests, was helped by the Native Sons and Daughters and the California Pioneer Society. They appealed to the California State Legislature for the creation of parks to protect the redwoods. The result, in 1902, was the creation of the first California redwood park, now known as Big Basin State Park, located near Boulder Creek in the northern part of Santa Cruz County."

Andrew P. Hill - He saved the Redwoods

As told by Leonard McKay, who provided information for "Good & Ancient Forest", the story of Andrew P. Hill by Carolyn De Vries.

When Hill was 14 years old, he came overland to California in 1867, just before the transcontinental railway was built. His father, Elijah, had made the journey just before Andrew was born, but before he reached the golden land, Elijah and a companion were attacked by Indians, and while Elijah survived the fight he died a week later of exposure and exhaustion. Andrew came west later with his uncle and after arrival he attended the small College of Santa Clara, first as a high school student and then as a college freshman. Although a Protestant, Andrew made many Catholic friends at Santa Clara who were to greatly assist him in later years. When his funds ran out, he left to work to support himself, first as a draftsman and later, after attending the California School of Design, a painter of portraits.

Perfecting his natural artistic talent, he opened a portrait studio in San Jose with a succession of partners. Although an accomplished artist, he was a poor businessman plagued by bad luck. In order to supplement his income and to feed his growing family, he took up photography as painting was in an economic decline. In 1899, a major fire erupted in the redwood forest near the summit of the Santa Cruz Mountains above Los Gatos. Hill photographed the burning trees for a London newspaper where the editors marveled at the size of these trees. They commissioned Hill for more pictures of just the redwoods. These trees are the Sequoia Sempervirens, the tallest trees in the world, with a life span of over 2000 years. Oh, yes, someone is going to correct me and say that the Sequoia Gigantia are bigger. Yes, they contain more board feet of timber, but the Sempervirens are the tallest.

On assignment, Hill took his bulky camera to the Santa Cruz grove, which we know today as Big Trees Grove near Felton. The grove was then in private ownership and Hill shot many pictures of the trees when the owner, Joseph Welch, confronted him for unauthorized photography and demanded the glass negatives. Hill, a big man, refused and strong words were exchanged. The episode so enraged Hill that he determined to do something about saving the redwoods, as he saw that almost all of the virgin trees had been cut for lumber. Infuriated, he started his crusade to save the redwoods. It was suggested that the trees in Big Basin were larger and more important than the Big Trees Grove, so in 1900 an investigative party of leading and concerned citizens explored Big Basin. They were so impressed that they vowed to save these trees. A long hard battle ensued; Hill had help from many quarters; the President Jordan and faculty members of Stanford University, Santa Clara College's President, Father Kenna, S.J., James Phelan, who was mayor of San Francisco, and later, State Senator, and most particularly, Carrie Stevens Walter. She became the first secretary of the Sempervirens Society, and participated in all of the battles. Had the trees not been saved at that very time, it was estimated that in six months there would not be any virgin trees remaining in that whole area.

Hill's campaign led him to the State legislature in Sacramento and, after many months of negotiation, it came to a final vote. The preliminary indications were that the State would not approve the expenditure of $250,000. Hill received a guarantee of $50,000 from Fr. Kenna's nephew, James Phelan; this was to be a guarantee to the lumber companies owners, forfeitable if the State did not purchase the property. At midnight, just before the vote was to be taken, Hill walked three miles from Santa Clara, as the street cars had already stopped for the night, to the Herald newspaper offices in San Jose, where the editor, Harry Wells, had a special edition published. Hill waited for the papers to be printed and boarded the 4:30 a.m. train for Sacramento with the papers under his arm. A copy was placed on each legislator's desk. The bill passed unanimously and, thus, California got its first State park, California Redwood Park. Private citizens matched the State's $250,000. Today, it is known as Big Basin National Park.

Hill's paintings may be seen at the Orradre Library of the University of Santa Clara, at Andrew Hill High School, in the City Council Chambers, at the Historic Museum, but rarely in any San Jose art galleries. The painting of giant redwoods on the wall of Memorabilia was painted for the 1915 Panama Pacific Exposition in San Francisco. As a tribute to the woman and poetess who worked so tirelessly beside him, he painted her into the right foreground, although Carrie Stevens Walter had died eight years earlier. When Hill died in 1922, he left his family an estate valued at less than $900. However, he left all of us a legacy that is immeasurable, the wonderful giant redwoods that were born before Christ.

President Theodore Roosevelt

By the age of 42

  • Twenty-sixth President
  • New York State Assemblyman
  • Governor of New York
  • Vice President
  • Police Commissioner of New York City,
  • U.S. Civil Service Commissioner
  • Assistant Secretary of the Navy
  • Colonel of the Rough Riders
  • Deputy sheriff in the Dakota Territory

Theodore Roosevelt Presidential achievements:

  • In foreign affairs he led us into the arena of international power politics, thrusting aside the American tradition of isolationism.
  • On the domestic scene, he reversed the traditional federal policy of laissez-faire, and sought to bring order, social justice, and fair dealings to American industry and commerce.
  • As Chief Executive, he expanded the powers and responsibilities of the Presidential office, establishing the model of the modern Presidency, which has been followed, by most of his successors in the White House.
  • Theodore Roosevelt invited Booker T. Washington of the Tuskegee Institute to the White House for dinner. This was the first time that an African-American was entertained at the White House as a guest.
  • Perhaps his greatest contribution was his work for conservation. During his tenure in the White House from 1901 to 1909, he designated 150 National Forests, the first 51 Federal Bird Reservations, 5 National Parks, the first 18 National Monuments, the first 4 National Game Preserves, and the first 21 Reclamation Projects. Altogether, in the seven-and-one-half years he was in office, he provided federal protection for almost 230 million acres, a land area equivalent to that of all the East coast states from Maine to Florida.
  • Theodore Roosevelt "busted" trusts bringing the large corporations under the control of the people; he began the Panama Canal, he established the Department of Commerce and Labor; he negotiated an end to the Russo-Japanese War and thereby won the Nobel Peace Prize; he preached a "Square Deal" for all Americans, enabling millions to earn a living wage; he built up the Navy as the "Big Stick," thus establishing America as a major world power; he reduced the National debt by over $90,000,000; and he secured the passage of the Elkins Act and the Hepburn Act for regulation of the railroads, the Meat Inspection Act and the Pure Food and Drug Act for consumer protection, and the Federal Employers' Liability Act for Labor.
  • In addition, he successfully mediated international disputes over Venezuela, the Dominican Republic and Morocco. He was the first world leader to submit a dispute to the Court of Arbitration at The Hague, and he was the first head of state to call for convening of what became the Second Hague Peace Conference at which he obtained for Latin American nations equal status with the rest of the world, and won the adoption of the Drago Doctrine, which outlawed the use of force in the collection of foreign debts.
  • Towards the end of his life, he was a major force for military preparedness particularly as World War I loomed. Much of what he achieved affects each and every American today and his name and personality have become part of the collective icon for what America stands for at its best.

Address at Santa Cruz, California
May 11, 1903


I thank you for the greeting that you have extended to me. I wish to say a word of special acknowledgment to the men of the Grand Army, to the representatives of the pioneers, to the men who proved their loyalty in the supreme test from '61 to '65, and to the pioneers who showed the same qualities in winning this great West that you of the Civil War showed in your feat. I also wish to say how pleased I am to have had as my escort the men of the Naval Militia. The one thing on which this country must forever be a unit is the navy. We must have a first-class navy. A nation like ours, with the unique position of fronting at once on the Atlantic and the Pacific, a nation forced by the mere fact of destiny to play a great, a mighty, a masterful part in the world, cannot afford to neglect its navy, cannot afford to fail to insist upon the building up of the navy. We must go on with the task as we have begun it. We have a good navy now. We must make it an even better one in the future. We must have an ample supply of the most formidable type of fighting ships; we must have those ships practiced; we must see that not only are our warships the best in the world, but that the men who handle them, the men in the gun turrets, the men in the engine rooms, the men in the conning towers, are also the best of their kind. I think that our navy is already wonderfully good and we must strive to make it even better.

I am about to visit the grove of the great trees. I wish to congratulate you people of California, people of this region, and to congratulate all the country on what you have done in preserving these great trees. Cut down one of these giants and you cannot fill its place. The ages were their architects and we owe it to ourselves and to our children's children to preserve them. Nothing has pleased me more here in California than to see how thoroughly awake you are to preserve the monuments of the past, human and natural. I am glad to see the way in which the old mission buildings are being preserved. This great, wonderful, new State, this State which is itself an empire, situated on the greatest of oceans, should keep alive the sense of historic continuity of its past, and should as one step towards that end preserve the ancient historic landmarks within its limits. I am even more pleased that you should be preserving the great and wonderful natural features here, that you should have in California a park like the Yosemite, that we should have State preserves of these great trees and other preserves where individuals and associations have kept them. We should see to it that no man for speculative purposes or for mere temporary use exploits the groves of great trees. Where the individuals and associations of individuals cannot preserve them, the State, and, if necessary, the nation, should step in and see to their preservation. We should keep the trees as we should keep great stretches of the wildernesses as a heritage for our children and our children's children. Our aim should be to preserve them for use, to preserve them for beauty, for the sake of the nation hereafter.

I shall not try to make any extended address to you. I shall only say how glad I am to be here, bid you welcome with all my heart, and say how thoroughly I believe in you, and that I am a better American for being among you. (Great applause.)

Remarks at the Big Tree Grove
Santa Cruz, California
May 11, 1903


I want to thank you very much for your courtesy in receiving me, and to say how much I have enjoyed being here. This is the first glimpse I have ever had of the big trees, and I wish to pay the highest tribute I can to the State of California, to those private citizens and associations of citizens who have cooperated with the State in preserving these wonderful trees for the whole nation, in preserving them in whatever part of the State they may be found. All of us ought to want to see nature preserved; and take a big tree whose architect has been the ages, anything that man does toward it may hurt it and cannot help it; and above all, the rash creature who wishes to leave his name to mar the beauties of nature should be sternly discouraged. Take those cards pinned up on that tree; they give an air of the ridiculous to this solemn and majestic grove. (Applause.) To pin those cards up there is as much out of place as if you tacked so many tin cans up there. I mean that literally. You should save the people whose names are there from the reprobation of every individual by taking down the cards at the earliest possible moment; and do keep these trees, keep all the wonderful scenery of this wonderful State unmarred by the vandalism or the folly of man. Remember that we have to contend not merely with knavery, but with folly; and see to it that you by your actions create the kind of public opinion which will put a stop to any destruction of or any marring of the wonderful and beautiful gifts that you have received from nature, that you ought to hand on as a precious heritage to your children and your children's children. I am, oh, so glad to be here, to be in this majestic and beautiful grove, to see the wonderful redwoods, and I thank you for giving me the chance, and I do hope that it will be your object to preserve them as nature made them and left them, for the future. (Cheers and applause.)


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