Collections from California National Parks

National Park Service, Centennial One Object Exhibit

In celebration of the National Park Service Centennial in 2016, this exhibit showcases one object from every national park museum collection in California. We invite you to explore collections from Cesar E. Chavez National Monument, Death Valley National Park, Devils Postpile National Monument Eugene O'Neill National Historic Site, Golden Gate National Recreation Area, John Muir National Historic Site, Joshua Tree National Park, Lassen Volcanic National Park, Lava Beds National Monument, Manzanar National Historic Site, Mojave National Preserve, Port Chicago Naval Magazine National Monument, Point Reyes National Historic Site, Redwood National Park, Rosie the Riveter/WWII Home Front National Historical Park, San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park, Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, and Whiskeytown National Recreation Area Yosemite National Park.

Known to agricultural workers as el cortito, “the short one,” or el brazo del diablo, “the devil’s arm,” the short-handled hoe was once a common tool in California’s sugar beet and lettuce fields. Unlike a long-handled hoe, which can be used while standing, the short-handled hoe was only 18 or 24 inches long. This forced workers to bend over the rows for their entire 10 to 12 hour shift. The labor was brutal, and often led to chronic back injuries. Use of the short-handled hoe was especially harmful to children, whose bones were still forming.
Though California growers insisted the short-handled hoe was necessary to avoid damage to plants, the tool was not used in most other states. Many workers suspected that the short-handled hoe was meant to be degrading and make supervision easy: anyone standing up was not working.

The early 1970s was a critical juncture in the struggle to improve working conditions for the mostly Latino farm laborers in California. The United Farm Workers (UFW), under the leadership of César Chávez, had successfully forced grape growers to recognize the union as a collective bargaining unit, and the Occupational Safety and Health Act was passed, setting mandatory standards and a process for enforcement. Within this context, California Rural Legal Assistance, a nonprofit advocacy and legal services organization, compiled evidence of the debilitating damage done by the short-handled hoe and filed suit against the state.

After five years of legal wrangling and a profound political shift, the issue would make it to the California Supreme Court. Eventually the short-handled hoe was banned. Chávez, who was himself a victim of el cortito and played a pivotal role in its prohibition, kept this short-handled hoe in his office as a reminder of what the farmworkers had endured, and what they had achieved. Sí, se puede.

César E. Chávez National Monument

The Pacific Coast Borax Company is tied to the history of both the National Park Service and Death Valley National Park. Stephen T. Mather, the first director of the National Park Service, was an advertising manager for Pacific Coast Borax and was the force behind the creation of the 20 Mule Team Borax brand, named after the mule teams that hauled ore out of Death Valley from 1883 to 1889. The 20 Mule Team became a household name through extensive marketing, such as sponsoring the Death Valley Days radio and television show.

Death Valley National Park, DEVA 53650

This map was included in the July 6, 1911 proclamation establishing the Devils Postpile National Monument. The map was drawn by Walter Huber, then a district engineer with the United States Forest Service. In 1910, after receiving a permit application for the construction of a dam and reservoir on the Middle Fork of the San Joaquin River using the blasted remains of the Postpile formation, Huber met with Sierra Club officials and lobbied successfully for the protection of this unique geologic feature and the creation of the national monument. When the map was drawn, the area was otherwise unsurveyed.


No effort was made to draw an updated map based on Huber’s survey until 1934 after jurisdiction for the monument was passed to the National Park Service. That year, a party led by Theodore Cronyn from the Yosemite Engineer’s Office spent a month setting boundary lines based on Huber’s three surveyed corners. This resulted in several discrepancies. Huber's original map included the San Joaquin River through the monument while Cronyn's map excluding a river meander halfway through the monument. The shape of the monument was also changed from a rectangle to a parallelogram. In the monument's current General Management Plan, an adjustment to include the entire stretch of river and trail between the Postpile and Rainbow Falls is recommended.

Devils Postpile National Monument, DEPO 421

When Eugene O’Neill built and moved into Tao House in Danville, CA in 1937, he had already won three Pulitzer Prizes for Drama and a Nobel Prize for Literature, the only American playwright to win a Nobel for literature to this day. During the seven years O’Neill wrote on this desk at Tao House, he would pen plays that would provide the foundation for modern American drama, including “Long Day’s Journey Into Night,” which was awarded O’Neill’s fourth Pulitzer Prize posthumously. Today, during the Eugene O’Neill Festival at Tao House, visitors have the unique experience of witnessing O’Neill’s plays in the shadow of the study where American theater was transformed.

Eugene O’Neill’s National Historic Site, EUON 2281

In the 1960s, Marincello was a proposed community for nearly 30,000 people which would have been situated in the Marin Headlands, military lands that were soon to be vacated by the US Army. This 10 foot by 10 foot model shows apartment towers, new waterways, schools, churches, and shopping areas that would have been included in the new city. Through the work of a local organization, Headlands, Inc., enough opposition was created to stop development, which had already begun grading roadways and small construction projects. The individuals in this group, and many other nearby grass-roots organizations, believed in preserving land and history near an urban environment for the enjoyment of future generations.

Golden Gate National Recreation Area, GOGA 17015

While John Muir is best-known for his work as a naturalist, his adventure stories and conservation writings, and his advocacy for National Parks, he was a multi-faceted individual, family man, and businessman. Marrying into the Strentzel family in Martinez, CA, in 1880, he became manager of the family’s pioneering orchard business, which he ran successfully with his wife, Louie, and the support of two of his siblings and their families. While his travels in pursuit of natural knowledge and conservation are legendary, Muir often traveled at the request of friends and family members, including his two daughters, Helen and Wanda.


This portrait of John Muir was painted by Muir’s sister Mary Muir Hand. Muir exchanged more known correspondences with Mary than any other family member and the two visited each other throughout the years. The painting now hangs in the Muir family’s three-story Victorian-Italianate house on the remaining nine acres of the ranch that is the centerpiece of John Muir National Historic Site in Martinez, CA. By experiencing objects such as this painting or furnished areas like the “scribble den” where Muir wrote, visitors can appreciate all of the influences that played a significant role in shaping the life and work of the man whose legacy the site honors.

John Muir National Historic Site, JOMU 2705

In the 1920s, early California archeologists Elizabeth and William Campbell began field work that eventually covered much of the Mojave and Colorado deserts. The Pinto Culture, first described by the Campbells, was based on a series of sites associated with an ancient braided stream channel in the Pinto Basin at the eastern end of Joshua Tree National Park.

Conservative dates for the Pinto Culture are during the early Holocene when the climate was changing towards drier environmental conditions. This collection of stone tools provides the basis for dating the earliest known human occupation of the park and marks the cultural adaptation to desert living. Pinto points are also found in other desert sites of California and the Great Basin. Analysis suggests that Pinto points were manufactured almost solely by percussion alone with little or no shaping using pressure flaking.

The seemingly extreme Joshua Tree desert provided Native Americans, miners, cattlemen, and homesteaders a rich and diversified lifestyle that current residents and park visitors can still experience in the park’s nearly 800,000 acres.

Joshua Tree National Park, JOTR 6018 a-b

This camera belonged to photographer Benjamin F. Loomis. On June 14, 1914, he used it to take a series of six photographs (using glass plate negatives) documenting the volcanic eruption of Lassen Peak. These images became essential in the establishment of Lassen Volcanic National Park.


On Memorial Day, May 30, 1914, Lassen Peak, which had been presumed extinct, suddenly came to life in a series of eruptions. News of the eruptions excited interest in the volcano all around the nation, which revived efforts by Congressman Raker to establish a national park. The most famous photos were taken a week after the initial eruption by Benjamin F. Loomis, an amateur photographer who owned a sawmill and store in nearby Viola.Loomis had the idea of getting a series of images – all of the same eruption.
With his camera and tripod set up by the side of the road near Manzanita Lake, his two-day vigil was rewarded when Lassen erupted spectacularly on the morning of June 14, its 11th eruption in two weeks. His series of six photos showed a dense, black roiling cloud of ash rising about 2,500 feet into the air and rolling down the west side of the peak to enshroud the whole volcano dome. Although larger eruptions would follow later that summer and the next, Loomis’s series of photos became the most widely disseminated image of the mountain in eruption.

Lassen Volcanic National Park, LAVO 735

Named for the many bighorn sheep skulls found inside by an early explorer of Lava Beds National Monument, Judson Dean Howard (J.D. Howard), Ovis Cave provides today's visitors with a unique underground landscape to explore. After the discovery of 36 bighorn skulls in the cave in the 1890s, J.D. Howard began referring to the cave site as ”Ovis Cave” (Ovis is the Latin word for sheep). Known as ”the father of Lava Beds,” J.D. Howard explored and named over 120

caves and geologic features at Lava Beds, and was instrumental in getting the site designated as a national monument. The sheep skull pictured above is one of the many sheep skulls in the
park's collection, and represents some of the park's earliest documented archeological, historical, and cultural studies of Lava Beds that eventually resulted in a formal museum collection starting approximately in the 1930s.

Lava Beds National Monument, LABE 2884

Eiko Yamada brought this basket with her when she immigrated to the US in the 1920s to join her husband Tamizo in his nursery business. Fearing that her heirloom kimono would be confiscated after Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor on December 1941, Eiko cut it up, hid the silk remnants in this basket, and had it shipped with other items to Manzanar. The original shipping tags with the family number 2811 are attached. Her grandson Russel said: "Until recently, I didn't know the significance of the items inside this basket; torn pieces of silk, a 1947 guest book and an art deco metal plate.”

When the US government forcibly removed Japanese Americans from their homes to inland camps, these people could only pack as much as they could carry. Because of the limited space individuals had to choose carefully which objects were most necessary or most meaningful. This basket and its contents demonstrate the choices Eiko was forced to make, and represent the tragedies of forced removal for 110,000 others.

Manzanar National Historic Site, MANZ 5170

From the discovery marker for the Sinbad #2

The Mojave Desert’s diverse landscape and ecosystems have supported a rich, layered human history over the last 12,000 years,and is the homeland of the Mohave and Chemehuevi. Over time a main travel and trade route called the Mojave Trail (now Mojave Road) developed. The trail supported the waves of people looking for opportunity that followed early the western explorers Father Francis Garces (1776), Jedediah Smith (1826) and John Fremont (1844). The cultural legacy now protected within the preserve includes prehistoric archeological sites, Civil War Era military outposts, mining structures, cattle ranches, homesteads, travel routes, railroad systems, and supporting work camps and towns.

This location notice legally describes one of Mojave Preserve’s historic mines. These documents, found desert-wide, are folded into a variety of containers which are tucked into the center of stacked stone markers. The discovery marker and location notice, along with the associated corner markers, delineate the miner’s claim. Often they represent the only information available about the area and are extremely valuable to document the region’s history.

Today the Mojave National Preserve provides opportunities to experience distinct geologic features, sweeping vistas, and complex ecosystems, along with the well-preserved evidence of human history.

Mojave National Preserve, MOJA 1487

A Navy pilot, Lieutenant Glen I. Newhouse, took this aerial photograph the morning following the deadliest home front disaster of WWII. The explosion at Port Chicago Naval Magazine near Concord, CA on July 17th, 1944 killed 320 sailors instantly, the majority of whom were African Americans. During WWII, Port Chicago was the Navy’s largest Pacific Theater ammunition shipment facility on the West Coast. The African American sailors stationed at the base were not only barred from many service options by segregation, but were also given little training to handle ammunition. This photograph shows the scale of destruction of the explosion that registered 3.4 on the Richter scale and obliterated the pier, the delivery train, and the 2 cargo ships that were being loaded at the time. After the disaster, many of the sailors refused to return to the same unsafe work conditions, which led to the largest naval mutiny trial of its kind and convictions for 50 African American sailors. The shameful treatment of the sailors at the base due to segregationist policies led to the Navy becoming the first branch of the military to desegregate in 1946. The Port Chicago Naval Magazine National Memorial, located at the destroyed pier, both honors the men who struggled and died for freedom and serves as a reminder of the ongoing struggles for equality and social justice today.

Port Chicago Naval Magazine National Memorial, POCH 21.02

This traditionally worked abalone ornament and the similarly shaped chipped porcelain pendant were excavated from Coast Miwok sites on the central California coast.


The porcelain is rare first-contact material from the cargo of the San Agustin, the oldest shipwreck managed by the National Park Service, which sank in Drakes Bay, California in 1595. The Spanish Manila galleon sailed from the Philippines loaded with silk, spices, porcelain, and other luxury goods. It was bound for Acapulco when it foundered in a storm. The ship was the second European vessel to make contact with Native Americans on the west coast of North America. The Coast Miwok salvaged materials such as metal, porcelain, and glass from the shipwreck and repurposed it for their own needs. This image demonstrates the deliberate choice of a pattern from a porcelain plate worked to resemble a shape often carved from shell.

Point Reyes National Seashore, PORE 3828 and PORE 6632

The October 2, 1968 act creating a National Park dedicated to preserving coast redwood (Sequoia sempervirens), was a long time coming. As early as 1879, Interior Secretary Carl Schurz wrote coast redwoods ''will entirely disappear
unless some measure be soon taken to preserve ... them" and recommended creating preserves of ''two townships in the [northern] coast range..., and an equal area in the southern part of ...
California." In early 1908, 1,400 school children in Eureka, California petitioned the U.S. government for a Redwood National Park. C.T. Wilson's painting illustrates that early interest in a national park dating back to the late 1800s and early 1900s. NPS Director Stephen Mather felt that a Redwood National Park would be another park jewel completing a Pacific Northwest national park "grand circle." That trip might take one to Mt. Rainier National Park (1899), Lassen Volcanic National Park (1916), Oregon Cave National Monument (1909) and Crater Lake National Park (1902). By 1918 the coast redwood preservation movement grew into the Save the Redwoods League, incorporated in 1920. The painting shows a manmade dirt road through a serene, cathedral-like redwood forest. The artist captured the interplay of sunlight and shadows in a typical redwood grove. This vision of redwoods came to dominate some perceptions about how the trees should be preserved. While for some that view anticipated a modest garden of groves hiding clear cuts along the Redwood Highway (U.S. Highway I 01), the park enabling legislation in 1968 and the1978 Redwood Expansion Act actually endeavored to create a self-contained ecosystem. The tension between these two visions dominated discussions about whether the institution best suited to manage and preserve coast redwoods would be state parks, the US Forest Service , or the National Park Service.

Redwood National Park, REDW 1159

With the troops overseas during WWII, many women entered the workforce in industrial jobs that were previously staffed by men only. For many women, their goal was to work hard to “bring the boys home.” However, the realization that they could do “men’s jobs” would change perspectives long after the war was over. This work shirt belonged to one of those women, Cleo Pearl Nixon Denton, who worked for Goodyear Aircraft. The work shirt is covered with signatures, drawings, and sayings from her coworkers. Not wanting to forget the people she met or the time she spent there, Cleo later embroidered the signatures and notes permanently on the shirt. Rosie the Riveter/WWII Home Front National Historical Park, located in Richmond, CA, one of the home front boom towns, collects stories and mementos from the nationwide home front experience.

Rosie the Riveter/World War II Home Front National Historical Park, RORI 692

This highly detailed model of the four-masted lumber barkentine Kohala depicts the vessel on the starboard side with men working on deck loading lumber into the hold. Cutaway sections on the port side reveal details of the vessel’s framing and construction as well as the method used to stow lumber. The model’s accurate rigging offers a detailed look at the lines and hardware involved in rigging an early 1900s barkentine.

The Kohala was built by the HD Bendixsen Shipbuilding company of Fairhaven, California, for Hind, Rolph and Company of San Francisco in 1901. With a carrying capacity of 1 million feet of lumber, the Kohala spent nearly 30 years sailing around the Pacific Basin hauling lumber, and later sugar or coal. In 1927 it was anchored off Southern California and turned into a fishing barge.

San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park, SAFR 15523

European manufacture from Chumash Indian habitation site

The Chumash Indians inhabited the Santa Monica Mountains and adjacent coastal and inland areas of southern California for several thousand years. Their large population was heavily reduced by European diseases, conditions in Spanish missions, and subsequent colonization. Before European contact, the Chumash were famous for manufacturing millions of shell beads which they used for jewelry and other artwork, as well as status symbols, wealth, and currency. The first European explorers introduced hand-made glass beads made in Europe and China which were given to Native peoples to facilitate peaceful relations and to provide payment for labor and other favors. Glass trade beads found during archeological excavations at Rancho Sierra Vista in the Santa Monica Mountains made it possible to date the site to this early chapter in human interaction. These glass trade beads reflect the multi-cultural dynamics characteristic of the Santa Monica Mountains and people who still trace their history and ancestry to the area.

Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, SAMO 9762-63

This album of bound photographic prints commemorates the Mather Mountain Party of 1915, organized and led by the Assistant Secretary of the Interior, Stephen T. Mather. Part of Mather's campaign to create support for a system of national parks, the trip brought together a select group from government, publishing, and industry. The group traveled eastward from Giant Forest in Sequoia National Park to the summit of Mount Whitney, the highest point in the Sierra Nevada. Along the way, the group experienced the exceptional landscapes which Mather foresaw as part of a National Park System. The following year, the National Park Service was established with Stephen Mather its first director.

The album's leather cover is stamped with a title, "Sequoia Park and the High Sierra," and the name of the photographer, Mark Daniels. A participant in the trip, Daniels was a prominent California landscape architect who, from 1914 to 1915, served as assistant to Secretary of the Interior Franklin Lane and as chief landscape engineer for the national parks. Daniels is remembered as the initial proponent of the "park village" concept, where visitors could find lodging and services in a centralized location. Daniels developed village plans for Sequoia, Yosemite, Crater Lake, Mount Rainier, and Glacier.

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park, SEKI 10344

Levi H. Tower came to northern California with the rush of 49ers looking for gold in the spring of 1850. His interests strayed from gold and he claimed a parcel of land at the confluence of four streams where he built a three-story 21 room hotel. The Tower House hotel became well regarded for its accommodations, in part due to the fresh food provided by the extensive vegetable gardens, grape vines, and orchards planted by Tower. The orchards were reported to have over 1,000 trees including apples, pears, plums, cherries, nectarines, and the first peaches planted in California north of Sacramento. By the late 1850s the Tower House had become a California Stage Company stop and was regional center of transportation, communications, and politics. The area's importance waned with the arrival of the mainline California-Oregon Railroad in the nearby city of Redding, and the hotel would be lost in a fire in 1919. Today, the Tower House site is part of a Historic District in Whiskeytown National Recreation Area. Several historic structures remain including the Camden House, which was built by his sister Philena's husband Charles Camden in 1852, and an extensive network of water ditches that were used for both mining and irrigation. One of the original ditches is still in use today and delivers water to fruit trees that continue to persevere in the historic orchard. Today, visitors can still sample an heirloom apple from a tree over 100 years old during Whiskeytown National Recreation Area's annual harvest festival.

Whiskeytown National Recreation Area, WHIS 9064

Photography of Yosemite predates the Yosemite Grant legislation, which initially protected this area. Carleton Watkins’ 1861 large “mammoth” photographs were displayed on the East Coast, and created an early interest in the extraordinary landscape of the Yosemite Valley. But the grand mammoth photographs of Carleton Watkins and later Eadweard Muybridge did not make their way into the homes of the American people. Stereographs—the three-dimensional imagery of the day— were an enormously popular and affordable home entertainment. These pairs of photographs mounted on cards appear three-dimensional when seen through special viewers, and thousands of photographs were taken of Yosemite to feed the demand for these views, which were distributed throughout the United States and Europe.


James J. Reilly (1834-1893), the creator of this stereo view, traveled to California after leaving his photographic studio in Niagara Falls. He photographed Yosemite in the 1870s and operated a seasonal studio in Yosemite Valley from 1870-1876. He was known for the cloud effects and reflections he captured in his landscape views, which can be seen in this example. The smaller, more portable stereo cameras allowed for a greater variety of views and subjects, and Reilly also photographed Yosemite’s visitors, American Indians, and hotels and hotel keepers.


Stereo photography allowed virtual travelers to experience the landscape of Yosemite and other parts of the west from their homes. It fueled the American public’s fascination with these views, increased support for the preservation of public lands, and promoted increased travel to the west.

Yosemite National Park, YOSE 5611

Credits: Story

Park museum staff from:
Cesar E. Chavez National Monument, Death Valley National Park, Devils Postpile National Monument, Eugene O'Neill National Historic Site, Golden Gate National Recreation Area, John Muir National Historic Site, Joshua Tree National Park, Lassen Volcanic National Park, Lava Beds National Monument, Manzanar National Historic Site, Mojave National Preserve, Port Chicago Naval Magazine National Monument, Point Reyes National Historic Site, Redwood National Park, Rosie the Riveter/WWII Home Front National Historical Park, San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park, Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, and Whiskeytown National Recreation Area
Yosemite National Park.

National Park Service, Museum Management Program Staff: Amber Dumler, Stephen Damm, Ron Wilson, and Joan Bacharach


Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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