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The Call of Gold (1936) by Newell D. Chamberlain


In March, 1851, Major Savage with two Companies of the Battalion made preparations to penetrate the Indian stronghold, which place the Indians boasted, were the whites to enter, they would be corraled like mules or horses. On the fifteenth, a heavy rainstorm occurred and the Major, knowing that this meant snow in the higher mountains, which would help in corraling the Indians, ordered the Companies to proceed.

On the south fork of the Merced, an Indian rancheria was captured and the Indians, with their two chiefs, taken to a rendezvous near Bishop’s Creek. Indian runners were then dispatched to the chief of the tribe in the unknown valley to bring in his tribe.

Next morning, Chief Ten-ie-ya appeared. His white hair and drooping shoulders showed unquestionably his old age; but, notwithstanding, he was remarkably agile. He was cordially received and invited to a seat around the camp fire. After feeding him, Major Savage addressed him, in Indian dialect: “If you will go to the Commissioners and make a treaty of peace with them, there will be no more war. The great White Father in Washington will help you with land, food and clothing.”

The dignified old chief seemed suspicious of Savage’s motive and after a pause, slowly replied: “Are you not seeking revenge for personal losses? 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 the white men. Our women are able to do our work. Go then, let us remain in the mountains, where we were born and where the ashes of our fathers have been given to the winds. I have said enough.”

Savage answered with abruptness and gestures: “If you and your people have all you desire, why do you steal our horses and mules? Why do you rob the miner’s camps? Why do you murder the white men, and plunder and burn their houses?”

The Chief remained silent for some time but it was evident that he understood, for he replied: “My young men have sometimes taken horses and mules from the whites. It was wrong of them to do so, but they believed the white gold-diggers were enemies, and it is not wrong to take the property of enemies who have wronged us. We now know we were wrong, and that the whites are our friends, 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. Some of the tribes who go there are very bad and will make war on my people. We cannot live on the plains with them. Here we can defend ourselves against them.”

Savage, vigorously and firmly said: “Your people must go to the Commissioners and make terms. Otherwise, your young men will again kill and plunder the whites. It was your people who robbed my stores, burned my buildings and murdered my men. If you do not make a treaty, your whole tribe will be destroyed, not one of them will be left alive.”

Ten-ie-ya, realizing that his plea was hopeless, 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, but what use to lie to you, who knows more than all the Indians and can beat them in their big hunts of deer and bear. Therefore, I will not lie to you, but promise that if allowed to return to my people, I will bring them in.”

His request was granted and on the following day he returned with the information to the Major that his tribe would soon come in. Another day passed and with no sign of their coming being manifested, Captain Boling selected volunteers to march on and storm the Indian stronghold. With Ten-ie-ya as guide, the Company commenced its march, up the side of the mountainous divide, with the snow getting deeper and deeper, making progress slow and difficult.

About half way to the valley, which proved to be about fifteen miles from camp, seventy-two Indians, women and children, were met. Their excuse for the delay was the great depth of snow, which was over eight feet in depth in places. Ten-ie-ya told the Major that there were no more Indians in the valley, but the men in the Company, doubting Ten-ie-ya’s story, cried out, as with one voice, “Let’s go on”.

Ten-ie-ya accompanied his people to the rendezvous and a young Indian acted as guide for the remainder of the march, which proved a little easier on account of the broken trail.

Lafayette H. Bunnell, a member of the expedition and a close friend of Major Savage, is speaking: “On the sixth day, after leaving Mariposa, which would make it the twenty-first of March, we came in full view of the valley. The immensity of the rock (now called El Capitan), which I had seen during the winter of 1849-50, while ascending the old Bear Valley trail from Ridley’s Ferry (now Bagby), over twenty-five miles distant westerly, was here presented to my astonished gaze. The mystery of that scene was here disclosed. My awe was increased by this nearer view.

“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. 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 peculiar 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 left the trail and my horse and wallowed through the snow to a projecting granite rock. My situation attracted the attention of Major Savage, who was riding in the rear of the column. He hailed me from the trail below with: ‘You had better wake up from that dream up there,

Colonel Fremont, as he looked in 1856, when candidate for President of the United States
[click to enlarge]
Colonel Fremont,
as he looked in 1856, when candidate for
President of the United States.

or you may lose your hair; I have no faith in Ten-ie-ya’s statement 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 off 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’. That mute appeal’, pointing to El Capitan, ‘illustrates it with more convincing eloquence than that of surpliced priests.’

“ ‘Hold up, Doc, you are soaring too high for me, and perhaps for yourself. This is rough riding; we had better mind this devilish trail or we shall go soaring over some of these slippery rocks.’ We, however, made the descent in safety. When we overtook the others, we found blazing fires started and preparations to provide supper for the hungry command; while the light-hearted boys were indulging their tired horses with the abundant grass found on the meadows near by, which was but lightly covered with snow.

“After supper, guards stationed and the camp-fires plentifully provided for, we gathered around the burning logs. After the jollity of the camp had somewhat subsided, the valley became the topic of conversation. None of us, at that time, surmised the extreme vastness of those cliffs, although before dark, we had seen El Capitan looking down upon our camp, while the ‘Bridal Veil’ was being wafted in the breeze.

“After relating my observation from the old Bear Valley trail, I suggested this valley should have an appropriate name by which to designate it. Different names were proposed but none were satisfactory to a majority of our circle. Some romantic and foreign names were offered, but I observed that a very large number were canonical and Scriptural. From this, I felt that I was not the only one in whom religious emotions or thoughts had been aroused by the mysterious power of the surrounding scenery.

“As I did not take a fancy to any of the names proposed, I remarked that an American name would be the most appropriate; that I could not see any necessity for going to a foreign country for a name for American scenery, the grandest that had ever yet been looked upon; that it would be better to give it an Indian name than to import a strange and inexpressive one; that the name of the tribe who had occupied it would be more appropriate than any I had heard suggested.

“I then proposed that we give the valley the name of Yo-sem-i-ty, as it was suggestive, euphonious and certainly American; that, by so doing, the name of the tribe of Indians which we met leaving their homes in this valley, perhaps never to return, would be perpetuated. I was here interrupted by one, who impatiently exclaimed, ‘Devil, take the Indians and their names. Why should we honor these vagabond murderers by perpetuating their names?’ Another said, ‘I agree; damn the Indians and their names. Mad Anthony’s plan for me. Let’s call this Paradise Valley.’

“In reply, I said to the last speaker, ‘Still, for a young man, with such religious tendencies, these Indians would be good objects on which to develop your Christianity.’ Unexpectedly, a hearty laugh was raised, which broke up further discussion and before opportunity was given for any others to object to the name, John O’Neil, a rollicking Texan of Captain Boling’s Company, vociferously announced to the whole camp the subject of our discussion by saying, ‘Hear ye, Hear ye. A vote will now be taken to decide what name shall be given to this valley.’ The question of giving it the name ‘Yo-sem-i-ty’ was then explained and upon a ‘viva voce’ vote being taken, it was almost unanimously adopted. Later the spelling of the name was modified to ‘Yosemite’.”

Next: 8. Mint and Mining CodeContentsPrevious: 6. Indian War

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