The Mariposa War, Chapter 8: Chasing Chief Tenaya

This is Part 8 of a 10-part series of posts entitled, The Mariposa War.
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Chasing Chief Tenaya

The next day the expedition returned to Wawona, and began escorting Chief Tenaya and his tribe of women and children to the reservation. But on the night of April 1st, Tenaya pulled an April Fool’s joke on the U.S. Army. He and his Indians slipped away and disappeared.

Throughout the month of April, expeditions led by Major Savage, a Captain Boling, and a Captain Kuydendall, subdued and captured more tribes, forced them to sign treaties, and sent them to reservations. Then on May 9, 1851, Captain Boling entered the Yosemite Valley to search again for Chief Tenaya and his elusive Ahwahnechees.

There are many places for Indians to hide, in the Yosemite Valley.

A Lieutenant Chandler and several Indian scouts rode ahead, but all they discovered was empty huts. Then they sighted five Indians crossing a meadow, and gave chase. They managed to capture three of them, who turned out to be Tenaya’s sons.

Sentinel Meadow and Yosemite Falls. Tenaya’s sons were spotted crossing a meadow similar to this. There were more meadows and less trees in Yosemite Valley before it fell under the protection of the national park system. That’s because Indians burned the forest to create meadows. Meadows were desirable because they grew more plants that could be foraged for food, as well as abundant grass that attracted deer.

Other scouts located the remainder of the tribe, which had escaped into a canyon. But they couldn’t follow them, as Indians above the canyon walls kept loosening landslides of rocks upon them.

Hiking up Snow Creek, leads one out of Tenaya Canyon. You wouldn’t want to be caught in a narrow defile like this when a landslide starts rumbling above you.

One of Tenaya’s captured sons was sent to locate his father and relay an offer for peace. But while he was gone, the other two sons tried to escape, and one of them was shot and killed.

Then Chief Tenaya was spotted by Lieutenant Chandler’s men, and they gave chase through what is now called Tenaya Canyon, in the upper reaches of Yosemite Valley. The chief didn’t give up easily. He ran east, but was cut off by scouts. So he reverted west along a slope, trying to reach Indian Canyon, which leads out of Yosemite Valley to the north. But Nootchu and Pohonochee scouts cut him off there, also. So he continued heading west along a slope, toward Yosemite Falls. But as he descended this slope Lieutenant Chandler caught up with him and captured the chief.

Left-to-right: Yosemite Falls, Sierra Point, and Indian Canyon. Tenaya’s desperate run was blocked in every direction, leading to his capture in this vicinity.

They led him back to Captain Boling’s camp, where the poor chief saw the dead body of his son. He began to weep, and begged to be shot. But Boling spared his life.

Captain Boling and his men then marched 20 miles to reach what is now known as Tenaya Lake. Here they surprised an Ahwahnechee village and took everyone prisoner. This was the last action of the Mariposa War.

The Indian uprising had been successfully suppressed, and most of the Indians were moved to reservations. But later, a few Miwoks returned to Yosemite Valley. After it became a national park, they worked for the tourist industry as laborers or maids, and they sold baskets to tourists. They were the only Native Americans allowed to occupy any national park.

The Miwoks even established a village that remained until 1969. But beginning in the 1930s, the National Park Service found ways to gradually evict them, until they eventually burned the village down. The final Miwok to occupy Yosemite Valley was a park employee named Jay Johnson, who retired in 1996, and was subsequently forced to leave.

28 replies »

  1. What a sad death . I can understand Tenaya being heartbroken on seeing his son, especially as it sounds like he was intent upon freeing his people and did not kill any of those chasing him

    Liked by 3 people

  2. I think I could easily get lost in the Yosemite valley. Especially when so foggy, like the first picture, which is a great picture!

    Rock slides would be enough to scare me off from chasing anyone!

    Sad that the National Park Service still found ways to evict them. Why did we think that we were so much better than the Native Americans!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I feel disgusted after reading about the way the Indian tribes were treated. And from what I can tell, such attitudes and treatment towards Native Americans is not much better today…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Really? I haven’t heard of any massacres committed by the U.S. Army lately, nor of smallpox scourges from “gift” blankets. And the Native American population has rebounded substantially. I think I’d much rather be a Native American today, than 150 years ago.

      Liked by 1 person

      • it seems like 150 years ago the Indians had a lot of freedom prior to people like Savage taking over their land. so the violence might be better today than it was back during the time of King Savage, but our treatment of Native Americans still does not seem to be where it should be…

        Liked by 1 person

        • Perhaps it differs from tribe to tribe. The tribes around here own casinos, and they’re getting rather rich off the white man. In fact, off of people of all colors and genders. I’ve wondered if it’s karma.

          I haven’t heard of any rampant discrimination going on against Indians, but maybe it’s different back East.


            • Well, when I read that, it seems to blame illegal drug use as the main reason Native Americans suffer from poor economic and health conditions. Drug use is an individual decision. I haven’t heard of any white people going onto reservations, forcing the natives to do drugs.

              If Native Americans are blaming white people for their own drug abuse, then I suspect they will never overcome this problem. They can squawk, groan, moan, and protest all they want about us white devils, but I doubt anything will change if they don’t take matters into their own hands and end their drug abusing ways.

              Liked by 1 person

              • no doubt substance abuse is a problem among Native Americans, particularly those living on a reservation. But I don’t see anywhere in the article where it says it is the main reason they suffer from poor economic and health conditions. It certainly doesn’t help, but there are many other factors as well. Lack of access to education, health care, and employment opportunities certainly doesn’t help their situation. No doubt getting the drug abuse problem under control would help with such problems, but it won’t fix all of their problems.

                Liked by 1 person

                • Sorry Jim, I thought I read that in the second paragraph. Maybe I misunderstood the jist of what the article was getting at.

                  I really don’t care, though. All I know is that I haven’t seen Indian tribes massacred, nor genocide committed against the Indians, during my lifetime. I’m just utterly perplexed as to how you would equate the conditions of the Indians today, to their condition when they were being hunted down and massacred and forced onto reservations by the US Cavalry. Perhaps there’s been a disconnect in our communication. At the very least, you and I are not in agreement.

                  Liked by 1 person

  4. Unfortunately, the historical pattern of Indian massacres fits the bill for this side of the Sierra’s as well… but they weren’t always so successful. Carson City used to be in, “Ormsby County”, named after “Major” William Ormsby, a local of dubious rank and even more dubious character. He’s best known for responding to the local Paiute killing five men who’d kidnapped and assaulted two young Paiute women by leading a group of 105 vigilantes into an ambush where most of them, including Ormsby, were killed.

    A month later, a Texas Ranger with an actual rank of Colonel, John C. “Jack” Hays, returned with a somewhat larger group of 665 men. He was later joined by Captain Joseph Stewart from California’s Fort Alcatraz with 144 genuine, trained and disciplined soldiers from the 3rd U.S. Artillery and 6th U.S. Infantry. However, the Paiute had by then sent their women and children into hiding in the Black Rock desert (think: Burning Man), and the remaining men weren’t just sitting around waiting to be slaughtered while they slept.

    About 300 Paiute fighters held off an attacking force over a mile-long front for more than three hours. And while Hays hung around for another three weeks, he eventually gave up pursuing the Paiute as they would simply ambush his scouting parties. By the end of it all, 5 Settlers and 79 soldiers and volunteers had been killed, while the Paiute lost 20 warriors. The Paiute were ultimately able to negotiate to keep their land, and today the tribe governs the Pyramid Paiute Reservation, which entirely encompasses Pyramid Lake and the Truckee River right up to Interstate-80. Regardless, and despite federal housing and welfare subsidies, prosperity seems to have eluded its residents.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Wow, those Paiute were a tough bunch. “Major” Ormsby sounds like he made a major error in estimating his and his enemy’s strength.

      I always like to hear about Indians winning battles, since they won so few of them. But it’s too bad that prosperity has eluded this tribe.

      Liked by 2 people

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