By Richard Barker
Earlier this year, I had the good fortune to be given a tour of the UC Natural Reserve System’s James Reserve by reserve director Jennifer Gee. After the tour, she explained that the reserve is named in honor of an extraordinary man named Harry C. James. My curiosity was piqued, so I decided to learn more about him. She was right: he was an extraordinary man.
In 1913, at age 17, Harry left his home in Canada and moved to Los Angeles. Having been inspired by the writings of famed naturalist, John Muir, and deeply drawn to Native American culture, Harry spent his free time hiking and communing with nature. On one such hike he met a kindred spirit who belonged to the Cahuenga (“the hilly place”) tribe. The two young men founded a hiking club, which came to be known as the Trailfinders.
Harry became a prolific writer; some of his books are in the Idyllwild Library, and in his later years he had a column in the Town Crier. His two favorite topics were the importance of spending time in nature, and Native American culture, especially the Hopi and the Cahuilla. He was so well respected by the Hopi that he was one of only two white men adopted into their tribe; his Hopi name was Walking Bear.
In 1924, he met a schoolteacher named Grace, and they married three years later. With her help, Harry created the Trailfinders School for Boys. It maintained high academic standards (for instance, every boy was required to read the newspaper daily) as well as a strong focus on music appreciation; the school day began by listening intently to classical music.
n 1966, Harry retired the Trailfinders. Having turned 70, he no longer had the stamina necessary for leading hikes up mountain peaks. That same year, he bequeathed Lolomi Lodge and the whole 29 acres to the University of California Natural Reserve System, although he continued to live there until his death in 1978.
Harry nurtured nearly 40,000 boys during the five decades the Trailfinders existed. It is a testament to his impact on them, that the surviving Trailfinders still hold reunions twice yearly, summers at the James Reserve and winters in Pasadena where they attended the Trailfinders School.