On 27 March 1851, 58 members of the Mariposa Battalion entered Yosemite Valley .  Of these, medical officer Lafayette Bunnell took the greatest personal interest in naming the Valley features.  In Discovery of the Yosemite, Bunnell explained, “In adopting the Spanish interpretation, ‘El Capitan,’ for Tote-ack-ah-noo-la, we pleased our mission interpreters and conferred upon the majestic cliff a name corresponding to its dignity.”  When preparing his book, Bunnell cited Josiah D. Whitney’s Yosemite Guide Book:

Prof. Whitney in speaking of this object of grandeur and massiveness, says:  El Capitan is an immense block of granite, projecting squarely out into the valley, and presenting an almost vertical sharp edge, 3,300 feet in elevation.  The sides or walls of the mass are bare, smooth, and entirely destitute of vegetation.  It is almost impossible for the observer to comprehend the enormous dimensions of this rock, which in clear weather can be distinctly seen from the San Joaquin plains at a distance of fifty or sixty miles.  Nothing, however, so helps to a realization of the magnitude of these masses about the Yosemite as climbing around and among them.  Let the visitor begin to ascend the pile of debris which lies at the base of El Capitan , and he will soon find his ideas enlarged on the point in question.  And yet these debris piles along the cliffs, and especially under El Capitan , are of insignificant size compared with the dimensions of the solid wall itself.   It is doubtful if anywhere in the world there is presented so squarely cut, so lofty and so imposing a face of rock.

          “The foregoing is the most concise and best description of El Capitan I have ever seen, and yet it cannot impart the ecstasy of reverence for the sublime one feels in its presence.”  (Bunnell)

A decade and a half later, Clarence King inspected Yosemite Valley as a member of the Geological Survey of California.  From the top of the Three Brothers he reported, “Looking back at El Capitan , its sharp vertical front was projected against far blue foot-hills, the creamy whiteness of sunlit granite cut upon aerial distance, clouds and cold blue sky shutting down over white crest and jetty pine-plumes, which gather helmet-like upon its upper dome.  Perspective effects are marvelously brought out by the stern, powerful reality of such rock bodies as Capitan.”  (Clarence King, Mountaineering in the Sierra Nevada)

EL CAP PROFILE, Photographed 14 September 1960, the day after completion of the second ascent of the Nose by Robbins, Pratt, Fitschen, and Frost, Yosemite National Park, California.