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Image of the "Two Kitties."
The "Two Kitties" at Glacier Point.

History Mystery #106: The Adventurous Miss Kitty

By Debby Carter, Librarian, Sierra Historic Sites Association

Image of the Two Kitties.

The Two Kitties.

You’ve probably seen this famous old photo of two daring ladies posing at Glacier Point. In the August 16, 1962, issue of the Sierra Star, the photo was posted requesting any information about these two ladies. Two weeks later, a letter to the editor was posted in the Star with just that information and more.

Mrs. Hattie Harris of Wawona wrote that they were the two “Kitties” – Katherine Hazeltine and Katherine Tatch – who both worked at the Glacier Point Hotel. Mrs. Harris further explained that Katherine Hazeltine married Warner of Raymond.

Katherine Tatch was known to go out on the overhanging rock and turn handsprings, her feet hanging over the valley rim. Then she would walk on her hands three or four steps in and twirl to her feet, overlooking the valley. Mrs. Harris’ brother took many photos of Kitty Tatch doing these stunts, but the negatives were destroyed in a fire.

Unfortunately, Kitty’s daring acts brought about her demise, not at Glacier Point, but in the Merced River. She was shooting the rapids with John Van Campen in a canoe that John had built. Kitty lost her oar and tipped the boat over trying to reach it. The boat struck a rock and, when it went over, hit her on the back of the head. Van Campen made his way to shore, but it was several days before Kitty’s body was recovered. When she was found, lodged in some rocks, she had belts around both legs filled with silver and belts around her waist that contained $900 in all and had weighed her down.

Through Ancestry.com I was able to find out that Kitty Tatch was born in Iowa in 1868 and lived and worked in Yosemite at the time of the 1900 census. Other than that, not much else is known about this adventurous young woman. Who was this wild lady? What made her so daring? Why did she come to Yosemite? Why would she go canoeing wearing all that money? What other feats of risk may she have attempted?

Follow-up to History Mystery 105
Thanks to all who made comments. Thanks also to Connie Popelish for providing such a prophetic History Mystery for this December.

Comments from the Facebook page
Jim Gatz Yay Scott Runtzel I do like the Jeep Willys wagon in the foreground. My grandfather, Joe Elerick had a 1961 Jeep truck that I miss. I remember getting gasoline at that Shell station.

Tina Williams Scott Runtzel , Mr. Bob Quicks SHELL.

Clarence Dennis Read Dennis Read

Cindy Muehlenbeck Miss those days when everything stops and it’s so quiet

Ed Priest Cindy Muehlenbeck I remember when we had snow like that.

Cindy Muehlenbeck Ed Priest Yes! Remember Craig’s birthday parties

Ed Priest, Cindy Muehlenbeck oh ya! Good times.

Gena Hopkins Cindy Muehlenbeck All you could hear is someone’s chains slapping along their ol’ pickup truck Very few of us had a cool 4×4 like that one.

Cindy Muehlenbeck Gena Hopkins And we prayed to hear the snow plows! Remember looking out and seeing the lights coz our power was out

Steve Donnelly Les Smiths Buckhorn Lodge (Snuffy’s)

Barbara Bodey Bigelow We used to get so much snow. Walker grade was tough to navigate. Now… nothing!

Jim Wilson I was born in North Fork. My grandfather lived behind Bobs Shell station in the winter. He worked on Goat Mountain for 17 years.

Frank Guida Always liked eating at Riley’s Cafe Alex his wife and two daughters served their customers well.

Kim Anders Gould I remember going to Bass Lake Theater (NF Elementary went every year) to see a movie at Christmas time. It started snowing really heavily and the bus driver had very low visibility, so it took forever to get back to NF. There was always a Santa in the lobby to give us oranges and candy to take home.

One comment

  1. Comments from SNO’s Facebook page:

    • Katherine Wood
    we have one! (A photo of the women dancing on the overhang.

    • Karen Wyatt Stevenson
    Chuck Wyatt

    Mary MP Wood
    I thought the photo was much earlier than 1962? The clothing certainly suggests turn of the 20th century. The article itself says one of the women was born in 1868. If she was 96 when the photo was taken, she’s awfully spry.

    o Trudy Truesdell
    Mary MP Wood Yes indeed, the 1800s.

    o Barbara Leath
    Mary MP Wood Reading the article it states, “In the August 16, 1962, issue of the Sierra Star, the photo was posted requesting any information about these two ladies.” It was not the date of the photo. That mystery solved.

    Don Coelho
    Mary Coelho

    Jim Gatz

    • Bill Rothfuss
    Norma Fralicks So this is what you were doing August 16, 1962

    Norma Fralicks
    If she has a maternity dress on, yes it was me.

    o Alan Pascoe
    It was Sadie Schaeffer that was killed in the Merced, in 1901. Kitty Tatch worked at the World’s Fair in St Louis, Missouri, in 1904, where she met and married John Backhouse, a former British soldier. He was shot and killed just 3 months later by Ernest Criss, from Kansas.

    Links to pages on FamilySearch search (membership required, but no fee):
    Kitty Tatch: https://www.familysearch.org/tree/person/details/G8G6-29T
    Ernest Criss: https://www.familysearch.org/tree/person/details/L2TY-1GC
    Sadie Schaeffer: https://www.familysearch.org/tree/person/details/L782-Z1Q
    FamilySearch: Sign In
    FamilySearch: Sign In

    Alan Pascoe
    The other Kitty is probably Katherine Hasenzahl, born in Germany in 1870, emigrated to the US in the late 1880s:
    FamilySearch: Sign In
    FamilySearch: Sign In

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