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Tippy Gnu

I chase unicorns (unique thoughts, experiences, ideas, etc) and post them on my blog. Then you can comment on the unicorns, by sharing your own unique thoughts, experiences, ideas, etc. Come join the fun, and together we’ll chase unicorns!


The Mariposa War

Chapter 7: Yosemite

Chief Tenaya met with Savage the next day and accepted the terms of the treaty. He also told the major that his tribe would soon be arriving at Wawona, to surrender. But after a few days of waiting, the tribe still hadn’t arrived. So on March 27th, Major Savage set out for the Yosemite Valley, to find them.

About halfway there, he encountered 72 Ahwahnechees, mostly consisting of women and children. Their chief told him that the rest of the Ahwahnechees had fled east to Mono Lake. Savage didn’t believe him, so he continued on, arriving at his destination in the late afternoon.

The view that met Major James Savage and his detachment, on this March 27, 1851, marked the first time that European-Americans were known to have laid eyes upon this, one of the most dazzling and celebrated landscapes in the world. The Yosemite Valley.

Yosemite Valley from Tunnel View, at the west end of the valley. This is where Savage and his men could have first caught sight of this eye-popping fastness that harbored Chief Tenaya’s tribe.

They had only arrived at the rim of the valley, but no doubt they were stunned by the monstrous granite escarpments, meltwater plunging down waterfalls, and broad, green meadows that characterized the seven-square miles of heaven lying below them. But they had arrived with a purpose, to search out Indians, and had no time to take extensive notes detailing the beauty they beheld. They only described it as an Indian stronghold.

The wild, torn terrain of Cathedral Rocks, around Bridalveil Falls, exemplifies the formidable challenge Savage faced, trying to locate fugitive Indians in the Yosemite Valley.

Savage and his expedition entered the valley the next morning. They encountered smoldering campfires that had recently been deserted. But they found no natives within the valley. They then explored branches of the valley, but again came up empty-handed, with the exception of one elderly Indian woman.

Tenaya Canyon allows escape out of Yosemite Valley, for those who know the terrain.
Dr. Lafayette Bunnell

While this was going on, they began naming the prominent geological features that surrounded them. One member of the expedition, who was instrumental in dreaming up many of the names, was a doctor named Lafayette Bunnell. Dr. Bunnell had come to California a few years earlier, in search for gold. Shortly after he arrived it’s likely he caught a glimpse of Half Dome. He recorded this sighting in his book, Discovery of the Yosemite and the Indian War of 1851 Which Led to That Event, as follows:

During the winter of 1849–50, while ascending the old Bear Valley trail from Ridley’s ferry, on the Merced river, my attention was attracted to the stupendous rocky peaks of the Sierra Nevadas. In the distance an immense cliff loomed, apparently to the summit of the mountains. Although familiar with nature in her wildest moods, I looked upon this awe-inspiring column with wonder and admiration. … Whenever an opportunity afforded, I made inquiries concerning the scenery of that locality. But few of the miners had noticed any of its special peculiarities.

Dr. Lafayette Bunnell, from his book, Discovery of the Yosemite and the Indian War of 1851 Which Led to That Event.

Dr. Bunnell suggested that the valley itself be named Yosemite, which was what they called the Ahwahnechees. A vote was taken, and it was agreed.

The east end of Yosemite Valley, from Glacier Point. Indian Canyon is at the far left, and North Dome and Basket Dome are at the top middle, with the Royal Arches below North Dome. Tenaya Canyon proceeds up the right, between North Dome and the slopes of Half Dome.

This is the latest installation of my 10-part series, The Mariposa War. Come on back in a few days for the next installation, entitled, Chapter 8: Chasing Chief Tenaya . Click here to read the last installation. Click here to start at the beginning.

Stolen Quote: Anarchism

Anarchism is not a romantic fable but the hardheaded realization, based on five thousand years of experience, that we cannot entrust the management of our lives to kings, priests, politicians, generals, and county commissioners.



Just don’t get too public about it.

Stolen Quote: War

War is not courtesy but the most horrible thing in life; and we ought to understand that and not play at war. We ought to accept this terrible necessity sternly and seriously. It all lies in that: get rid of falsehood and let war be war and not a game. As it is now, war is the favorite pastime of the idle and frivolous. The military calling is the most highly honored. ~ Leo Tolstoy–War and Peace

Yet it can be such a fun game.

The Treaty Strategy

The Mariposa War

Chapter 6: 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.

This is the latest installation of my 10-part series, The Mariposa War. Come on back in a few days for the next installation, entitled, Chapter 7: Yosemite . Click here to read the last installation. Click here to start at the beginning.

War Council

The Mariposa War

Chapter 5: War Council

King James called for a council of tribal leaders at his Mariposa Creek trading post. Then, mustering all his charisma, diplomatic skills, and fluency with their language, he revealed that he knew of their plans to drive out the white settlers, mining in the foothills.

He begged them to abandon these plans, arguing that there were too many white men to fight, and that the white man possessed too much firepower. He warned that they would be wiped out if they made war.

After this speech, he invited Chief Juarez to confirm what he had just said, by telling the leaders what he had witnessed of the white man’s strength while visiting San Francisco. But he didn’t realize that Juarez’ pride was still stinging from being slapped around by his king.

Chief Juarez stepped up and delivered these words:

Our brother has told his Indian relatives much that is true. We have seen many white people. The white men are very numerous. But they are white men of many tribes. They are not like the tribe that digs gold in the mountains. They will not help the gold diggers if the Indians make war against them. The white tribe will not go to war with the Indians in the mountains. They cannot bring their big ships and their big guns to us. We have no reason to fear them. They will not injure us.

Savage realized his miscalculation, and desperately launched a counterargument. But it was no use. The natives were determined to fight. Soon all of Savage’s subjects disappeared from his trading post, to join their tribe in the war effort. The king had lost his kingdom, and would reign no more over the Tularenos.

Cathedral Rocks, East. Cathedral Rocks guard Bridalveil Falls on the east and west. They tower 2,000 feet above the Yosemite Valley floor, and are considered by some to be more beautiful than El Capitan.

It’s human nature for both sides to exaggerate in political arguments, while the truth is located somewhere in the middle. Savage had argued that if they went to war, they would be wiped out by the white man. Chief Juarez had argued that the white tribe in San Francisco would not go to war against the Indians in the mountains. But neither argument was completely accurate, nor completely inaccurate.

Cathedral Rocks, West. The high rock at the left, that appears to be falling into the valley, is known as Leaning Tower. It’s popular with rock climbers, and is a 700-foot, 3-day climb.

The Indians committed the first massacre, killing three men at Savage’s Mariposa Creek trading post. The sheriff of Mariposa, James Burney, responded by organizing an expedition against the Indians, led by the former king, as their guide.

On January 11, 1851, this expedition located a force of 400 Indians on the side of a mountain, near present-day Oakhurst, California. But they lost the element of surprise, and the Indians overpowered them with their arrows and bullets. The expedition retreated, but then Burney rallied his men and launched a counterattack that forced the Indians to scatter.

Burney’s men managed to eke out a small victory, with only two of his troops killed, and four wounded. Meanwhile, about 40 Indians had been killed.

The expedition returned to Mariposa, where a request was sent for state and federal aid. But the citizens of Mariposa were impatient, so while they waited for help, Savage and Burney recruited a force of 164 miners and settlers to hunt down and attack renegade Indians.

Cathedral Rocks, East, during tempestuous weather. Yosemite Valley experiences mild winters, while its surrounding peaks bear the brunt of storms. The valley floor averages 36 inches of rain per year, while higher elevations average 50 inches. On the valley floor, the average January high is 47F, and the average July high is 90F.

This is the latest installation of my 10-part series, The Mariposa War. Come on back in a few days for the next installation, entitled, Chapter 6: The Treaty Strategy . Click here to read the last installation. Click here to start at the beginning.

Slapped By a King

The Mariposa War

Chapter 4: Slapped By a King

Peace prevailed over his kingdom, and it seemed to Savage as if he could relax, settle down, and continue making a ton of money off the Gold Rush. But in the fall of 1850, one of the king’s wives shattered his fool’s paradise with a terrifying warning. She informed him that a great Indian uprising was being planned, led by Chief Tenaya.

Tenaya had formed an alliance with other tribes in the region, and was conspiring with them to drive the white man out of the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. They resented the encroachment of these white invaders who sought gold, and wanted to take back their territory for themselves.

Apparently, the Mariposa War had only been in a lull.

Glacier Point is a popular viewpoint that forms part of the south wall of Yosemite Valley. It rises to an elevation of 7,214 feet, and 3,200 feet above the valley. About a million years ago, glacial ice overtopped this block of granite by about 400 feet.

King Savage wanted to avoid any more war. It was bad for business. He also feared that his own tribe would ally itself with Chief Tenaya. So he decided to take the Tulareno’s chief, Jose Juarez, on a field trip. They traveled to the city of San Francisco, which Chief Juarez had never seen before. He wanted to impress upon him just how futile it was to wage war upon the white man.

He led the chief to military installations, and pointed out all the ships, cannons, ammunition, and soldiers that were at the white man’s disposal. He pointed out the large population in this great city. And he tried to explain that to wage war on all these people, with all their weaponry, would be an act of suicide.

View of Yosemite Valley and beyond, from atop Glacier Point. Yosemite Falls is at the far left, and Mt. Hoffman, North Dome, and the Royal Arches are at the far right. Yosemite National Park is located in California’s central Sierra Nevadas. It covers 1,189 square miles, and is roughly the size of Rhode Island. It ranges in elevation from 2,127 to 13,114 feet. Yosemite Village, near the highest section of Yosemite Valley, resides at 3,999 feet.

But Chief Juarez was not much interested in these things. Instead, that pervasive poison that has brought down many a human being, both red and white, and all other colors, took hold of the chief. He found firewater, got drunk as a skunk, and remained so throughout most of this tour.

This left Savage seething. One day he got into a heated argument with the chief, over his drunkenness, and in his frustration he lost his temper. He slapped the chief around, to try to knock some sense into him. But this backfired. It left the proud chief feeling humiliated, and it was a humiliation he would not forget.

Half Dome from Glacier Point. This dome is actually a narrow granite ridge, and its name results from an optical illusion. Glaciers sliced away only about 10% to 20% of its northwest-facing side, so it might be better labeled “90% Dome.”

They stayed in Frisco long enough to celebrate California’s recent admission into the Union, and then returned to Savage’s Mariposa Creek trading post. But on the way home, news reached Savage of increasing tensions and hostilities throughout his kingdom.

Some Indians were requiring immigrants to pay them for passage through their territory. Others had apparently murdered a white man. And a rumor reached Savage of a massing of warriors. Savage knew he had to act quick, before hostilities boiled over.

Half Dome after a Spring snowstorm. Yosemite has a few small glaciers remaining from the last Ice Age, but they’re rapidly disappearing, due to climate change.

This is the latest installation of my 10-part series, The Mariposa War. Come on back in a few days for the next installation, entitled, Chapter 5: War Council . Click here to read the last installation. Click here to start at the beginning.

Stolen Quote: Test Everything

Even as wisdom often comes from the mouths of babes, so does it often come from the mouths of old people. The golden rule is to test everything in the light of reason and experience, no matter from where it comes.

Mohandas Gandhi

Bad news for lazy bums. Apparently it takes work to figure out if something is wise.


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