The Mariposa War, Chapter 10: A “Beautiful and Fertile” Valley.

This is the final part 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.
Thanks for reading!

A “Beautiful and Fertile” Valley

James Savage’s nemesis, Chief Tenaya, and some of his tribe, were allowed to return to the Yosemite Valley in 1852. But in May of that year, five prospectors who had entered the valley without permission from the tribe, were attacked by Tenaya’s warriors, and two were killed.

Chief Tenaya did not like prospectors dipping their gold pans into the Merced River. So in a riparian spot similar to this, two miners met their fate.

The next month, June of 1852, a detachment from the California 2nd Infantry, led by a Lieutenant Tredwell Moore, was dispatched to retaliate against Tenaya for the death of these prospectors. They sneaked into the Yosemite Valley at night and surprised the Indians, taking five captive. These five were accused of murder and summarily shot.

Yosemite Valley on a full moon night. The many tall landscape features of Yosemite made it easy for lookouts to spot invaders during daylight hours. Perhaps this is why Lieutenant Moore chose a night attack.

The rest of the tribe, along with Chief Tenaya, managed to escape, fleeing by way of Tenaya Lake and the Mono Pass. Lieutenant Moore pursued, but never caught them. They sought refuge, and were harbored for awhile by the Mono Indians at Mono Lake.

But in late 1853, Chief Tenaya returned to the Yosemite Valley with his tribe. Soon after, trouble erupted. Several young warriors of his tribe stole some horses from a nearby Mono village. The Monos retaliated with a raid, and during that raid it is said that Chief Tenaya was killed.

Half Dome, Liberty Cap (middle-right), Nevada Falls (middle-right), and Vernal Falls (lower-right).

However another account, by the chief’s granddaughter, claimed that the Chief never returned to Yosemite Valley, and had been killed at Mono Lake. According to her, the chief and a few members of his tribe had been playing games with the Mono Indians, when a dispute arose. This dispute ended with him and five others being stoned to death. Apparently, the Monos took their games pretty seriously.

But yet another account, which is possibly the most credible, has the chief dying on a reservation in the San Joaquin Valley. Regardless of which account is true, historians agree that Tenaya, chief of the Ahwahnechees, died in 1853.

The beautiful and fertile valley of Yosemite.

After Lieutenant Moore gave up his pursuit of Chief Tenaya, he turned to exploring the region around Yosemite, taking intricate notes. When he and his men returned from the expedition, he faced criticism for his summary execution of the five Ahwahnechee Indians. But he was able to divert attention from himself when he issued his report of the expedition, that described the “beautiful and fertile” valley of Yosemite.

This was the first time that the Yosemite Valley had been publicly described as anything other than an Indian stronghold. Californians forgot about the five dead Indians, and began exploring this region, to mine its mineral deposits, or to otherwise turn a profit.

And so, after three years of bloody struggle, Yosemite found its way onto the map. The civilized world had discovered one of the most magnificent and beautiful spots on Earth. And the Yosemite Valley would never be the same.

Photographers at Tunnel View, at sunrise. Today, Yosemite National Park receives 4 to 5 million visitors a year, most crowding into the 7 square miles of Yosemite Valley. This beautiful and fertile valley has been photographed a gazillion times. Tunnel View is likely the the most popular site for shutterbugs like me.

Thanks for reading my series about the Mariposa War and the discovery of the Yosemite Valley. To learn more about these topics, my main sources of information can be found by following these links:






45 replies »

  1. Excellent series. The last two photos say a great deal to me… the photographers immortalizing (and yet obstructing) a view of a lifetime… and above it are two opposing points I’ve reached through great physical effort.

    I guess the Native people in the valley had a close connection to the Mono Paiutes (on the other side of the mountain). They’d go back and forth seasonally to collect and exchange food and goods. Maggie Howard (Ta-bu-ce), a Mono Paiute who was among the last Native Americans allowed to reside in the valley, related that her father had died at the age of 80 during a winter crossing. I can’t even imagine.

    In a way, it’s important that a place like Yosemite is open to the public. But sometimes I see the hoards of tourists emerging from their climate-controlled, mobile-sofas, and wonder if they really understand what it is that they’re seeing?

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hiking up to Glacier Point or Upper Yosemite Falls would indeed require great physical effort. And time. I didn’t have time, but I think either one would have been a fun hike.

      But I don’t think I’d want to cross the Sierras during the winter. An 80-year-old man attempting it leaves me stunned. He probably did it successfully often enough in the past that he thought he could still handle it.

      I agree about the hoards of tourists. That’s why I generally began my hikes at the crack of dawn. Hiking the loop trail around Tenaya Canyon, I saw very few people. Most of the ones I saw, I encountered on the way back. Hiking to Vernal Falls was a different story. There were a small number of people on the way up, but hoards on the way back.

      How do you understand what you’re seeing when you’re surrounded by crowds of yakking gawkers? It’s difficult. You have to take the trails less traveled, I guess.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Locally, sunrise is the start of my summer days, and the arrival of the 10:00 crowd signals the end. Concurrent to a conversation with my next-door neighbor, this has inspired a post.

        I think you know where I live. It used to be possible to drive a few miles south, hike about a mile down an easy trail, and go for a skinny-dip at a wilderness beach in a sheltered cove. Nowadays. it’s almost impossible to edge by the summer hoards of traffic unloading their lawn chairs, beer coolers and ghetto-blasters so they can spend a day partying at a beach with no public facilities. Yeah… 😦

        This was posted by someone from the Nevada Dept of Transportation about five-years back, in front of the State Park. There’s easily twice the traffic now, and it extends for miles up into the areas of rural, hike-down beaches. Even the more remote, “Skunk Harbor”, which was virtually unknown to non-locals is now overrun. (replace the “[DOT]”): vimeo[DOT]com/179795279

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Great series! I can see how Tunnel View attracts so many, its beautiful!
    Yes, don’t think you would want to play cards with these guys, if the game version is true!

    I think all of us who read this should now arrange to meet in the Yosemite Valley and you be our tour guide. We had the history lesson now we should have the field trip. πŸ™‚

    Liked by 2 people

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