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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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: