The Mariposa War, Chapter 6: The Treaty Strategy

This is Part 6 of a 10-part series of posts entitled, The Mariposa War.
To read the previous post, CLICK THIS LINK.
To start at the beginning, CLICK THIS LINK.
To read the next post of this series, CLICK THIS LINK.
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The Treaty Strategy

On January 17, 1851, Savage and Burney’s expedition encountered a village of 500 Indians from various tribes, including Ahwahnechee, Chookchancies, Chowchillas, Honahchee, Kahwah, Nootchu, and Potoencie. They managed to avoid detection, and this allowed them to employ the element of surprise. They spent the night planning an attack, and the next morning put the plan into action.

The settlers charged the village, set fire to shelters, and then gunned down Indians as they attempted to fight back or escape. But maybe they should have gotten some sleep before they made this attack plan, because the fires they set to the shelters proved something of a miscalculation. The smoke gave most of the Indians enough cover to escape unharmed. However 24 of them were killed. There was no loss of life for their white attackers.

The expedition might have pursued the escaping Indians, but the fires they set in the village got out of control and ignited the surrounding forest. This conflagration forced them to retreat back to Mariposa.

Hetch Hetchy is a valley along the Tuolumne River, that lies about 17 miles northwest of Yosemite Valley. After the San Francisco earthquake of 1906, this valley became a major battleground between environmentalists, led by John Muir, against the government. San Francisco wanted to damn Hetch Hetchy, and use it as a water source. But Muir considered this valley to be as beautiful as Yosemite Valley, and fought back.

By February, a federal force and a state militia got involved in the hostilities. Their strategy was laid out by a Colonel J. Neely Johnson. Johnson took charge. He gathered the forces together and instructed them that their objective was to induce as many tribes as possible to sign a treaty to live on a reservation. Those tribes not agreeing to sign such a treaty would be subdued by force.

He also reminded everyone that they were trespassers on Indian lands, and that because of this it was imperative to be as sympathetic as possible to the foe they were about to fight.

Wapama Falls. Hetch Hetchy is part of Yosemite National Park, so an act of Congress was required to construct a damn. Muir battled hard against it, but lost in 1913 when Congress passed, and President Wilson signed, the Raker Act. John Muir considered this his biggest disappointment in his life, and wrote to a friend, “. . . it’s hard to bear. The destruction of the charming groves and gardens, the finest in all California, goes to my heart.” Muir died one year later, at age 76.

Treaty councils began in March, and by the end of the month more than 16 tribes had signed agreements with the federal government. These treaties promised them reservation land along the San Joaquin River, in California’s very fertile San Joaquin Valley. By the time all was said and done, more than 8 million acres of land was promised to various tribes, along with substantial monetary aid for establishing farms and ranches. And they were promised that they would retain hunting and gathering rights in their traditional homelands.

In 1923, the O’Shaughnessy Damn was completed, and this beautiful gem of a valley was flooded. Today, Hetch Hetchy supplies San Francisco with 80% of its water.

Meanwhile former king, James Savage, was commissioned as a Major, to lead an expedition against those tribes that refused to sign a treaty. His Mariposa Battalion marched to the Wawona area, about a dozen miles south of Yosemite Valley. On March 24, 1851, they encountered a Nootchus village, and forced their surrender. Major Savage then sent an Indian runner to Chief Tenaya of the Ahwahnechees (aka Yosemites), offering a treaty, and explaining the treaty’s guarantees.

Artist Albert Bierstadt’s version of Hetch Hetchy Valley, as it appeared in 1870. Before the damn.

21 replies »

  1. The water looks so inviting, a beautiful shiny blue. I don’t blame Muir for being upset about the dam that was built. The artist picture of the valley makes it look like a serene, lovely place to be.

    Glad that most of the Indians escaped unharmed and I see that Savage is still alive. I keep expecting him to die, but I guess there is 10 parts to this series, so not yet. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • The artist’s picture leaves me wishing I could have lived back then, to enjoy the Hetch Hetchy Valley. When John Muir first came to the Yosemite area, he worked as a sheep herder in Hetch Hetchy, and developed a sentimental attachment to it. So no wonder it was hard for him to bear the thought of a dam.

      No, Savage lives on. He’s a hard man to kill. But there are more challenges awaiting him, and we’ll just have to see what happens. Perhaps he’ll move to Switzerland and live in luxury with Walter White.

      Liked by 1 person

    • That does seem to be a fairly uncommon attitude back then. Yes, I’ll bet you’re glad there wasn’t a massacre. The 100th anniversary of it would have been inauspicious for your birthdate.

      Liked by 2 people

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