The Mariposa War
Chapter 2: El Rey Tulareno
Life with the Tularenos was working out well. Only a few months after being accepted by their tribe, James Savage once again became a family man. And then twice again and more so. That’s because he managed to marry several daughters of tribal leaders. And this won him political clout among the Tularenos. In fact, many of the Indians began calling him El Rey Huero, or The Blonde King.
But Savage would have none of this name. Instead, he brazenly instructed them to call him, El Rey Tulareno, which meant, King of the Tularenos. And they obediently complied. And this is how John Savage, recent immigrant from Illinois, became a king in California.
Now it was time for conquest. He organized his new subjects into an army, and waged war on neighboring tribes. The Tularenos fought bravely, and met with victory after victory, carving out a larger and larger kingdom for King James Savage.
In March of 1848, news broke that gold had been discovered in the nearby Sierra Nevadas. This was local news, for the time being, but King Savage realized he had to act quickly before word got out and the whole world descended upon his kingdom. Soon he staked some claims on the Tuolumne River, and organized 500 of his Indian subjects to work his placer mines. Then he established a trading post, to take advantage of newly arriving miners stricken with gold fever.
His subjects found gold for him, and between the lucrative trading post, and all the gold the Indians dredged up, King James became a very wealthy man. In return, he rewarded his subjects with whiskey, beads, blankets, and other inexpensive items that sparked their fancy.
However, all successful kings and conquerors eventually meet their match, which was a lesson James Savage soon learned. Although he was rich, he wanted more, so he decided to expand his kingdom and his operations by establishing a trading post to the south, on the Merced River. But there was a problem with this. He hadn’t counted on the Ahwahnechees.
The Ahwahnechees were a mixed tribe of 200 Monos, Paiutes, Miwoks, and other local Indians, who had recently settled on the Merced River, about 25 miles upstream of Savage’s new trading post. In fact, they had settled in Yosemite Valley itself. Their name for the valley was, “Ahwahnee,” which means, “Big Mouth.”
But the white man, as well as neighboring tribes, called the Ahwahnechees, the “Yosemites,” which is a corruption of the word, “Uzumati.” This is a Miwok term meaning, “they are killers.” These “killers” were led by Chief Tenaya, and he saw the new trading post downstream from his valley as an encroachment upon his tribe’s territory.