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Death of Yosemite Chief in Southern Sierra Miwok Language

Discussion about Yosemite National Park history, including Native Americans, Euro-American pioneers and settlement, and establishment as a national park.

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Death of Yosemite Chief in Southern Sierra Miwok Language

Postby Yosemite_Indian » Wed Feb 11, 2009 2:31 am


In 1951 Lucy S. Freeland published “Language of the Sierra Miwok”. She covered the three dialects of the Miwok people from Northern, Central to Southern Sierra Miwuk. Several of the modern day Southern Sierra Miwuks, also known as the American Indian Council of Mariposa, are trying to reintroduce and revive the Southern Sierra Miwok language. In her book Freeland interviews Lena Brown about a story of the death of her chief. Many people consider Lena Rube-Brown one of the earliest Indians living around Yosemite.

During the time of her interview Lena Brown was living in the El Portal area and recounts the death of her chief in the Southern Sierra Miwuk language. I won’t type out the Miwok language because I need the font for the special characters, which I don’t have installed in my computer, but I will type the translated English version of the story.

Language of the Sierra Miwok, page 196:


1. He (her chief) went to get wood in the morning, went to get pitch that day. When he got back to the house he went to sleep. 2. He made a fire in the house to make tea, you see, and before he was ready to eat he felt sleepy. 3. So he lay down and dropped off to sleep for a moment while he was waiting for his tea. And in his sleep he kicked the pitch-pine needles into the fire. 4. The pine needles caught fire, and they filled the house with smoke. Then the whole house caught on fire and smothered him in there.


What caught our eye was what Lena Brown called her chief. She called him Numa’si. There was an early chief of Yosemite he was Chief George ‘One-eyed’ Dick. The chief being called Numa’si is important because in Miwok Numa’si does not mean anything. The ‘si’ at the end is also pronounced ‘chee’ in the area language. That refers to ‘people’, but the first part is what is interesting. This is because Numa means Paiute. Numa is the real name of the Paiute people and that is what we call ourselves. Paiute was a name created by whites. “Pai-“ means water and “-Ute” refers to the Ute tribe that Fremont had previously encountered before he had entered Nevada. Fremont called us “Water Utes”, but in reality our tribal name is Numa for Paiutes.

This means that Lena Brown’s chief that had died by smoke inhalation was a “Paiute-person”, or “Numa’si”.


Photo of Chief George "One-Eyed" Dick who was one of the early chiefs of Yosemite. He was a Paiute man who worked as a woodcutter in Yosemite in the early days. When this photo was taken Lena Brown also had her photo taken at the same camp.
Chief Tenaya was the founder of the Paiute Colony of Ahwahnee
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