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Next: 16. California BandittiContentsPrevious: 14. Mariposa Battalion

The Last of the California Rangers (1928) by Jill L. Cossley-Batt


The Indian Commissioners established Reservation Grounds on the Fresno River —on property now known as Adobe Ranch, Madera, and owned by Mr. J. G. Stitt. This became a place of general rendezvous for both soldiers and Indians.

Notwithstanding the attentions and humane treatment received at the hands of the agents, several tribes of red men still doubted the sincerity of the whites and remained hidden in their secret places of retreat. Weary of waiting for the Ah-wah-nee-chees to come down to the Reservations, and constantly hearing about the depredations committed upon the horses, cattle, and other property of miners, settlers and militia, the Indian Commissioners decided to go after them, and gave orders for the battalion to prepare for action.

The volunteers received this order with great joy, as the prolonged inactivity had made life very monotonous for them. So when the injunction was given to “mount,” every saddle was filled with alacrity. The entire absence of roads necessitated their marching along the most obscure trails, advancing in single file under the directions of Major Savage. Traveling in silence, as instructed, they braved the heavy rains without a qualm. On reaching the South Fork of the Merced River, their efforts were rewarded by the discovery of “Indian signs.” It was very dark, and a terrible blizzard almost blinded them, so they camped here until morning.

At daybreak, leaving the animals and camping-outfits in charge of a strong guard, two of the companies under Captains Boling and Dill, with an Indian guide named Bob, advanced without hesitation to the Indian village. Let Dr. Bunnell continue the narrative:

“On discovering us, the Indians ran hurriedly to and fro, as if uncertain what course to pursue. Seeing an unknown force approaching, they threw up their hands in token of submission, crying out in Spanish, “Paz! Paz!” (Peace! Peace!) We were at once ordered to halt, while Major Savage went forward to arrange for the surrender. He was at once recognized, and cordially received by such members of the band as he desired to confer with officially. We found the village to be that of Pon-wat-chee, a chief of the Noot-chu tribe, whose people had formerly worked for Savage under direction of Cow-chit-ty, his brother, and from whose tribe Savage had taken Es-e-ke-no, one of his former wives. The Chief professed still to entertain feelings of friendship for Savage, and expressed himself as now willing to obey his counsels.

“Savage at once told the object of his expedition, and his requirements. His terms were promptly agreed to, and before we had time to examine the captives or their wigwams they had commenced packing their supplies and removing their property from their bark huts. This done, the torch was applied by the Indians themselves, in token of their sincerity in removing to the Reservation on the Fresno.”

After this bloodless victory, Pon-wat-chee, the returning Chief, voluntarily informed Savage of a camp of the Po-ho-no-chees on the opposite side of the river, not far below his old village. Messengers were immediately sent there, and the Po-ho-no-chees, having through their runners already learned of the unexpected peaceful abduction of the Noo-chus, and of the kind treatment received from the whites, willingly gave themselves up.

The submission of these two tribes resulted in messengers and runners being sent in all directions to discover the hiding places of other Indian bands. They were instructed to promise food, clothing and protection if the Indians surrendered, and extermination if they refused. This message had the desired effect, for all those found in the immediate vicinity, in a timid and somewhat fearful manner, gave themselves up.

All this proved extremely encouraging, so the Commissioners decided to send a similar message to the defiant Ah-wah-nee-chees, or Yosemites; but not a single one presented himself. Then, in order to avoid compulsory measures and possible slaughter, a kind but decisive message was sent by the hand of a special courier, to Ten-ie-ya, their Chief. To this note the old Chief responded promptly, for the following day he came in person and had a serious talk with Major Savage.

It appears that the Chief had the courage to go without a single escort, and on presenting himself with unusual dignity to the guard, he remained standing until Savage motioned to him to enter the tent. Once inside the tent, he was quickly recognized and respectfully greeted by Pon-wat-chee as the Chief of the Ah-wah-nee-chees. The officers and men likewise received him cordially and extended to him the hospitality of their camp. Dr. Bunnell gives us this clear account of what followed:

“With the aid of the Indians, Major Savage informed him of the wishes of the Commissioners. The old sachem was very suspicious of Savage, and feared he was taking this method of getting the Yo-semites into his power, for the purpose of revenging his personal wrongs. Savage told him that if he would go to the Commissioners, and make a treaty of peace with them, as the other Indians were doing, there would be no more war. Ten-ie-ya cautiously inquired the object of taking all the Indians to the plains of the San Joaquin, and said, ‘My people do not want anything from the Great Father you tell me about. The Great Spirit is our father, and he has always supplied us with all we need. We do not want anything from white men. Our women are able to do our work. Go, then. Let us remain in the mountains where we were born, where the ashes of our fathers have been given to the winds. I have said enough!’

“This was abruptly answered by Savage in Indian dialect and gestures. ‘If you and your people have all you desire, why do you steal our horses and mules? Why do you rob the miners’ camps? Why do you murder the white men, and plunder and burn their houses?’

“Ten-ie-ya sat silent for some time; it was evident he understood what Savage had said, for he replied: ‘My young men have sometimes taken horses and mules from the whites. It was wrong for them to do so. It is not wrong to take the property of enemies who have wronged my people. My young men believed the white gold-diggers were our enemies; we now know they are not, and we will be glad to live in peace with them. We will stay here and be friends. My people do not want to go to the plains. The tribes who go there are some of them very bad. They will make war upon my people. We cannot live on the plains with them. Here we can defend ourselves against them.’

“In reply to this, Savage very deliberately and firmly said: ‘Your people must go to the Commissioners and make terms with them. If they do not, your young men will again steal our horses, your people will again kill and plunder the whites. It was your people who robbed my stores, burned my houses and murdered my men. If they do not make a treaty, your whole tribe will be destroyed; not one of them will be left alive.’ At this vigorous ending of the Major’s speech, the old Chief replied: ‘It is useless to talk to you about who destroyed your property and killed your people. If the Chow-chillas do not boast of it, they are cowards, for they led us on. I am old and you can kill me if you will, hut what use to lie to you who know more than all the Indians, and can beat them in their big hunts of deer and hear. Therefore I will not lie to you, but promise that if allowed to return to my people I will bring them in.’ He was allowed to go.

“The next day he came back and said his people would soon come to our camp; that when he had told them they could come with safety, they were willing to go and make a treaty with the men sent by the Great Father, who was so good and rich. Another day passed, but no Indians made their appearance from the ‘deep valley’, spoken of so frequently by those at our camp. The old Chief said the snow was so deep that they could not travel fast; that his village was so far down (gesticulating, by way of illustration, with his hands) that when the snow was deep on the mountains they would be a long time climbing out of it. As we were at the time having another storm, Ten-ie-ya’s explanation was accepted, but he was closely watched.”

Day after day brought no tangible evidence of the Yo-semites, however, and in spite of the discouraging pictures painted in both language and gesture by Ten-ie-ya of the difficulties and dangers to be encountered on the trail, the Commander and Commissioners decided that the missing tribe must be sought after. An expedition to the Mystic Valley, therefore, was resolved upon.

When Major Savage called for volunteers, the entire command stepped to the front. This presented a new and difficult situation, for the Indian captives as well as the baggage had to be protected; a camp-guard was as essential as an advancing cohort. A call for camp-guard was then made, but very few responded, so the officers decided to provide for it by a good-natured piece of strategy. A foot-race was organized, the fleetest to be the chosen ones for the expedition, and the slowest to form the camp-guard. This novel method of selection made provision for both emergencies without prejudicial discrimination, and was greeted with great applause.

Amid many jocular allusions to the possible value of their fleet-footedness, should they wish to make a retreat when they met the enemy, the troops made an early start the next morning. With Major Savage in advance, accompanied by Ten-ie-ya as guide, they soon encountered deep snow; but the usual difficulties of making a trail through it were quickly overcome by team-work, the horseman in front frequently falling out of line, and the next taking his place. By this old-fashioned method an excellent horse-trail was soon made, especially when one considers the rough and rocky country they traveled over.

Half-way between the camp and the valley they met about seventy-two Yo-semites, forcing their way in a floundering manner through the snow. Loaded down with children and wares, they were making for the Reservation near the Merced River. This proved to a certain extent that Ten-ie-ya was acting in good faith, but the estimated number of his band was over two hundred; therefore the question arose, where were the remainder? Ten-ie-ya tried to explain the reason for such a limited following. He said that many of his people had intermarried with distant tribes, and that some were sick and would join them later; these were all that were willing to leave their mountain homes for the plains just now.

These statements did not satisfy the troops, who were determined upon advancing; so, on account of Ten-ie-ya’s reluctance to go farther, they selected one of his “braves” in his place, and the old Chief was allowed to accompany his people to the camp. After separating from the seventy-two mountain Indians, they had gone only a few miles when the great valley opened before them like a sublime revelation. The white man had at last discovered the wonderful Yosemite Valley—May 5, 1851. Dr. Bunnell paints this graphic picture of his first impressions:

“It has been said that it is not easy to describe in words the precise impressions which great objects make upon us. I cannot describe how completely I realized this truth. None but those who have visited this most wonderful valley can even imagine the feelings with which I looked upon the view that was there presented. The grandeur of the scene was but softened by the haze that hung over the valley, light as gossamer, and by the clouds which partially dimmed the higher cliffs and mountains. This obscurity of vision but increased the awe with which I beheld it, and, as I looked, a peculiarly exalted sensation seemed to fill my whole being, and I found my eyes in tears with emotion.

“To obtain a more distinct and quiet view, I had left the trail and my horse, and had wallowed through the snow alone to a projecting granite rock. So interested was I in the scene before me, that I did not observe that my comrades had all moved on, and that I would soon be left indeed alone. My situation attracted the attention of Major Savage, who was riding in the rear of the column, and who hailed me from the trail below with, ‘You had better wake up from that dream up there, or you may lose your hair; I have no faith in Ten-ie-ya’s statements that there are no Indians about here. We had better be moving; some of the murdering devils may be lurking along this trail to pick up stragglers.’ I hurriedly joined the Major on the descent, and as other views presented themselves, I said with some enthusiasm, ‘If my hair is now required, I can depart in peace, for I have here seen the power and glory of a Supreme Being; the majesty of his handiwork is in that “Testimony of the Rocks.”’”

To the Mariposa Battalion under the Command of Major James D. Savage is to be accorded the honor of first entering the Yosemite Valley. Is it strange that these Indians of the hills and mountains were so unwilling to leave the awe-inspiring wonders of the Great Spirit and go to the plains, where malaria and mosquitoes prevailed, and where an incoming civilization that was to them new and objectionable,

Mirror Lake, Yosemite Valley, California

Courtesy of the Southern Pacific Railway Company

[click to enlarge]
Where the Howard family led the way for the tourist legions that now go there every summer to view Nature in all her grandeur.

was gradually forcing their people away from their life of “real nature”?

Owing to the fact that the Yo-semites again returned to the valley, and, with the Chow-chillas, refused to answer the messages of the Commissioners, a second expedition was undertaken, commanded by Captain Boling. This time there were a few skirmishes, with quite a little chasing, in which, to the great grief of Ten-ie-ya, his youngest and favorite son was killed. The son’s death seemed to crush the spirit of the old Chief, who, with his four squaws and the remainder of his band, was now willing to accept almost any terms. These Indians went quietly with the troops to the Reservation, where they were handed over to the Commissioners, who formally commended the expedition for its success. With the complete accomplishment of this undertaking, the Mariposa Battalion was mustered out of service, July, 1551. During the time this organization was in existence, not one of its number was killed, but it is said to have killed a few Indians.

Major Savage, the Commander, resumed his duties as storekeeper and renewed his intimacy with his seven squaws. Late one evening in August, 1852, he came home feeling extremely tired, and in consequence was very much annoyed when his favorite squaw informed him that a man named Harvey, who had called during the day, had said insulting things about him. Calling the members of his harem together early next morning, he said to them, “Get ready: come and see me whip Harvey.”

Major Harvey, a brilliant young man, was on his way to Los Angeles to carry out a Government mission. Savage knew that he had put up for the night at the home of a rancher named Campbell, twelve miles from Mariposa, on the Tuolumne River, in the rich region of the Southern mines.

He was soon on the war-path, and it did not take him and his seven wives many hours to arrive at the Campbell Ranch. Major Harvey and a friend, Judge Marvin, were sitting at a little table close to the door, engaged in a very serious conversation. Suddenly Marvin looked out of the window and saw Savage with his seven squaws walking along the road in the direction of the house. Quickly turning to Harvey, he said, “Here comes Savage with his regiment.”

Then Judge Marvin opened the door and invited Savage to enter, while the squaws remained outside some distance from the house.

Once inside the door, Major Savage fixed his deep blue eyes upon Major Harvey, as he said, “Did you say I wasn’t a gentleman?”

While saying these words he slowly drew from his pocket a pistol, but Judge Marvin, perceiving that trouble was ahead, instantly grabbed the weapon, and after a slight tussle was successful in taking it from him. Savage then took out his bowie-knife and rushed to the table—in fact, almost over it—in his attempt to stab Major Harvey, who impulsively pulled the trigger of his revolver and shot Major Savage through the heart.

When the squaws saw their master fall, they shook their hands, Indian fashion, and hurried with all possible speed to impart the news to their relatives and friends.

The coroner was soon notified, and Major Savage was given an honorable burial, for forty Indians armed with bows and arrows attended his funeral.

This account of the death of Savage, which was obtained from Captain Howard, differs a little from that published in the Alta California, August 25, 1852. According to this paper Savage was on his way to an Indian Council. At Converse Ferry he met Judge Marvin, and the two traveled to Campbell Ranch together, where they ran into Major Harvey. In a very impatient manner Savage asked Major Harvey to retract a statement made by him to the effect that Savage was no gentleman, and so on.

The death of Major Savage caused a great sensation, for he was well known, and many people expressed their grief at losing such a genial and interesting personality. Others, who had already seen through his skilfulness in circulating false reports, did not feel so badly over his death.

This was not an unexpected ending for a man who had, through his suave tongue, been successful in attaining fame and public recognition. It is well known that after his death the Indians in California appeared more satisfied and contented. In this particular section of the country they were Mission Indians, and had always been peacefully inclined toward the whites. History speaks of Indian wars in Mariposa County, but Captain Howard insisted that they were only skirmishes, and that no one could prove that the Mariposa Indians had ever made an attack upon white men. They were misrepresented and made to appear hostile through the machinations of the man with the “forked tongue,” to use the term employed by Josť Juarez, the Indian Chief, in his very emphatic speech regarding Savage.

One must remember that there were bad white men in those days as well as bad red men, and when Indians fired upon the whites they often did so in self-defense. The red men knew that Savage was not really in sympathy with them, and in their moments of fear would often seek shelter and comfort at the hands of Captain Howard. They found in him a true friend, who would never forsake or turn against them.

Next: 16. California BandittiContentsPrevious: 14. Mariposa Battalion

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Online Library: Title Author California Geology History Indians Muir Mountaineering Nature Management