Category: Series (History): The Mariposa War

Series about the Indian war that led to the discovery of Yosemite Valley.

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:

The Mariposa War, Chapter 9: The Last Savage Fight

This is Part 9 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!

The Last Savage Fight

After the Mariposa War, a total of 18 treaties had been signed with 502 tribal leaders, establishing reservations covering 8.5 million acres of San Joaquin Valley land. These treaties now had to be ratified by the U.S. Congress.

But the state of California was appalled by such a large and generous land “giveaway.” They sent a recommendation to the U.S. Congress, against ratification.

Liberty Cap, with Nevada Falls to its right, and Vernal Falls downstream, on the Merced River. Yosemite Valley was first visited by human beans about 8-to-10 thousand years ago. It’s thought that humans have occupied this valley for nearly 3,000 years.

President Millard Fillmore, who had encouraged these treaties, found himself in an uncomfortable position. He supported the treaties, but knew he’d have a hard time getting them ratified. Many members of the House of Representatives and the Senate strongly opposed them. They contended that the treaties would add a half-million dollars to the national debt. And they argued that the fertile land of the San Joaquin Valley was much too valuable to be giving to a bunch of lowly Indians.

And so Congress rejected the treaties. This left the Indians who had signed them, with nothing. This was an outrageous abrogation of promises made by our government, so to cover up the scandal, the treaties were kept from the public. They were listed as classified material, and not released for public scrutiny until 1905.

Photo of Galen Clark by a giant Sequoia. This ex-prospector was a man of modest means, and was also one of our nation’s first environmentalists. He fell in love with the Yosemite area in the 1850s, and lobbied Congress to protect Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove (which is a nearby grove of giant Sequoias).

The Mariposa Battalion disbanded on July 1, 1851, and the former king of the Tulerenos, James Savage, also became a former Army major. He returned to his Mariposa Creek trading post, and then established several new trading posts near the newly-created (although soon to be doomed by Congress) Indian reservations.

El Capitan, an iconic symbol of Yosemite Valley. In 1864, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Yosemite Grant, that ceded Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove to the state of California, for preservation. This law was the first of its kind in the entire world, and paved the way for the creation of our national park system.

But where Savage went, trouble seemed to follow. In July of 1852, squatters began invading the King’s River Reservation. Tensions mounted, until a man named William Harvey led a small band of whites, who massacred several Indians. This left Savage in a difficult spot. He now had to deal with a tribe of angry Indians, who he feared might attack his trading post in retaliation.

To pacify them, he publicly condemned the attack, and called upon the United States Indian Commission to conduct an inquiry. The Commission scheduled a council for August of 1852, which Savage was to attend. But on his way to the council, he met with the Indian-killer himself, William Harvey.

They got into an argument, with Harvey demanding a retraction of Savage’s condemnation of him. Savage lost his temper, and true to his name, savagely punched Harvey. The two men went at it, in a flurry of fists. But then Harvey pulled a gun and shot Savage four times, killing him. James Savage, former king of the Tulerenos, was now dead at age 35.

Harvey was tried, but not convicted. The judge who presided over the trial had been placed on the bench with Harvey’s help, and some suspect that for this reason, the judge showed him leniency.

Mirror Lake, reflecting Mount Watkins (left) and Cloud’s Rest (right), in Tenaya Canyon. The Yosemite Grant gave impetus for the creation of Yellowstone National Park in 1872, which was our nation’s first national park. Shortly after, John Muir and his Sierra Club led a movement that established our second national park, Yosemite, in 1890.

The Mariposa War, Chapter 8: Chasing Chief Tenaya

This is Part 8 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.
Thanks for reading!

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.

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