Home A - Z FAQ Online Library Discussion Forum Muir Weather Maps About Search
Online Library: Title Author California Geology History Indians Muir Mountaineering Nature Management

Previous: IntroductionIndexNext: Chapter II


Incidents leading to the discovery of the Yosemite Valley—Major Savage and Savages—Whiskey, wrangling and War—Skinned Alive—A brisk Fight—Repulse—Another Fight, and Conflagration.

During the winter of 1849-50, while ascending the old Bear Valley trail from Ridley’s ferry, on the Merced river, my attention was attracted to the stupendous rocky peaks of the Sierra Nevadas. In the distance an immense cliff loomed, apparently to the summit of the mountains. Although familiar with nature in her wildest moods, I looked upon this awe-inspiring column with wonder and admiration. While vainly endeavoring to realize its peculiar prominence and vast proportions, I turned from it with reluctance to resume the search for coveted gold; but the impressions of that scene were indelibly fixed in my memory. Whenever an opportunity afforded, I made inquiries concerning the scenery of that locality. But few of the miners had noticed any of its special peculiarities. On a second visit to Ridley’, not long after, that towering mountain which had so profoundly interested me was invisible, an intervening haze obscuring it from view. A year or more passed before the mysteries of this wonderful land were satisfactorily solved.

During the winter of 1850-51, I was attached to an expedition that made the first discovery of what is now known as the Yosemite Valley. While entering it, I saw at a glance that the reality of my sublime vision at Ridley’s ferry, forty miles away, was before me. The locality of the mysterious cliff was there revealed—its proportions enlarged and perfected.

The discovery of this remarkable region was an event intimately connected with the history of the early settlement of that portion of California. During 1850, the Indians in Mariposa county, which at that date included all the territory south of the divide of the Tuolumne and Merced rivers within the valley proper of the San Joaquin, became very troublesome to the miners and settlers. Their depredations and murderous assaults were continued until the arrival of the United States Indian commissioners, in 1851, when the general government assumed control over them. Through the management of the commissioners, treaties were made, and many of these Indians were transferred to locations reserved for their special occupancy.

It was in the early days of the operations of this commission that the Yosemite Valley was first entered by a command virtually employed to perform the special police duties of capturing and bringing the Indians before these representatives of the government, in order that treaties might be made with them. These wards of the general government were provided with supplies at the expense of the public treasury: provided that they confined themselves to the reservations selected for them.

My recollections of those early days are from personal observations and information derived from the earlier settlers of the San Joaquin valley, with whom I was personally acquainted in the mining camps, and through business connections; and also from comrades in the Indian war of 1850-51. Among these settlers was one James D. Savage, a trader, who in 1849-50 was located in the mountains near the mouth of the South Fork of the Merced river, some fifteen miles below the Yosemite valley.

At this point, engaged in gold mining, he had employed a party of native Indians. Early in the season of 1850 his trading post and mining camp were attacked by a band of the Yosemite Indians. This tribe, or band, claimed the territory in that vicinity, and attempted to drive Savage off. Their real object, however, was plunder. They were considered treacherous and dangerous, and were very troublesome to the miners generally.

Savage and his Indian miners repulsed the attack and drove off the marauders, but from this occurrence he no longer deemed this location desirable. Being fully aware of the murderous propensities of his assailants, he removed to Mariposa Creek, not far from the junction of the Aqua Fria, and near to the site of the old stone fort. Soon after, he established a branch post on the Fresno, where the mining prospects became most encouraging, as the high water subsided in that stream. This branch station was placed in charge of a man by the name of Greeley.

At these establishments Savage soon built up a prosperous business. He exchanged his goods at enormous profits for the gold obtained from his Indian miners. The white miners and prospecting parties also submitted to his demands rather than lose time by going to Mariposa village. The value of his patrons’ time was thus made a source of revenue. As the season advanced, this hardy pioneer of commerce rapidly increased his wealth, but in the midst of renewed prosperity he learned that another cloud was gathering over him. One of his five squaws assured him that a combination was maturing among the mountain Indians, to kill or drive all the white men from the country, and plunder them of their property. To strengthen his influence over the principal tribes, Savage had, according to the custom of many mountain men, taken wives from among them, supposing his personal safety would be somewhat improved by so doing. This is the old story of the prosperous Indian trader. Rumor also came from his Indian miners, that the Yosemites threatened to come down on him again for the purpose of plunder, and that they were urging other tribes to join them.

These reports he affected to disregard, but quietly cautioned the miners to guard against marauders.

He also sent word to the leading men in the settlements that hostilities were threatened, and advised preparations against a surprise.

At his trading posts he treated the rumors with indifference, but instructed the men in his employ to be continually on their guard in his absence. Stating that he was going to “the Bay” for a stock of goods, he started for San Francisco, taking with him two Indian wives, and a chief of some note and influence who professed great friendship.

This Indian, Jose Juarez, was in reality one of the leading spirits in arousing hostilities against the whites.

Notwithstanding Juarez appeared to show regard for Savage, the trader had doubts of his sincerity, but, as he had no fears of personal injury, he carefully kept his suspicions to himself. The real object Savage had in making this trip was to place in a safe locality a large amount of gold which he had on hand; and he took the chief to impress him with the futility of any attempted outbreak by his people. He hoped that a visit to Stockton and San Francisco, where Jose could see the numbers and superiority of the whites, would so impress him that on his return to the mountains his report would deter the Indians from their proposed hostilities.

The trip was made without any incidents of importance, but, to Savage’s disappointment and regret, Jose developed an instinctive love for whiskey, and having been liberally supplied with gold, he invested heavily in that favorite Indian beverage, and was stupidly drunk nearly all the time he was in the city.

Becoming disgusted with Jose’s frequent intoxication, Savage expressed in emphatic terms his disapprobation of such a course. Jose at once became greatly excited, and forgetting his usual reserve, retorted in abusive epithets, and disclosed his secret of the intended war against the whites.

Savage also lost his self-control, and with a blow felled the drunken Indian to the ground. Jose arose apparently sober, and from that time maintained a silent and dignified demeanor. After witnessing the celebration of the admission of the State into the Union—which by appointment occurred on October 29th, 1850, though the act of admission passed Congress on the 9th of September of that year—and making arrangements to have goods forwarded as he should order them, Savage started back with his dusky retainers for Mariposa. On his arrival at Quartzberg, he learned that the Kah-we-ah Indians were exacting tribute from the immigrants passing through their territory, and soon after his return a man by the name of Moore was killed not far from his Mariposa Station. From the information here received, and reported murders of emigrants, he scented danger to himself. Learning that the Indians were too numerous at “Cassady’s Bar,” on the San Joaquin, and in the vicinity of his Fresno Station, he at once, with characteristic promptness and courage, took his course direct to that post. He found, on arriving there, that all was quiet, although some Indians were about, as if for trading purposes. Among them were Pon-wat-chee and Vow-ches-ter, two Indian chiefs known to be friendly. The trader had taken two of his wives from their tribes.

Savage greeted all with his customary salutation. Leaving his squaws to confer with their friends and to provide for their own accommodations, he quietly examined the memoranda of his agent, and the supply of goods on hand. With an appearance of great indifference, he listened to the business reports and gossip of Greeley, who informed him that Indians from different tribes had come in but had brought but little gold. To assure himself of the progress made by the Indians in forming a union among themselves, he called those present around him in front of his store, and passed the friendly pipe. After the usual silence and delay. Savage said: “I know that all about me are my friends, and as a friend to all, I wish to have a talk with you before I go back to my home on the Mariposa, from which I have been a long distance away, but where I could not stop until I had warned you.

“I know that some of the Indians do not wish to be friends with the white men, and that they are trying to unite the different tribes for the purpose of a war. It is better for the Indians and white men to be friends. If the Indians make war on the white men, every tribe will be exterminated; not one will be left. I have just been where the white men are more numerous than the wasps and ants; and if war is made and the Americans are aroused to anger, every Indian engaged in the war will be killed before the whites will be satisfied.” In a firm and impressive manner Savage laid before them the damaging effects of a war, and the advantages to all of a continued peaceful intercourse. His knowledge of Indian language was sufficient to make his remarks clearly understood, and they were apparently well received.

Not supposing that Jose would attempt there to advocate many of his schemes, the trader remarked, as he finished his speech: “A chief who has returned with me from the place where the white men are so numerous, can tell that what I have said is true—Jose Juarez—you all know, and will believe him when he tells you the white men are more powerful than the Indians.”

The cunning chief with much dignity, deliberately stepped forward, with more assurance than he had shown since the belligerent occurrence at the bay, and spoke with more energy than Savage had anticipated. He commenced by saying: “Our brother has told his Indian relatives much that is truth; we have seen many people; the white men are very numerous; but the white men we saw on our visit are of many tribes; they are not like the tribe that dig gold in the mountains.” He then gave an absurd description of what he had seen while below, and said: “Those white tribes will not come to the mountains. They will not help the gold diggers if the Indians make war against them. If the gold diggers go to the white tribes in the big village they give their gold for strong water and games; when they have no more gold the white tribes drive the gold-diggers back to the mountains with clubs. They strike them down (referring to the police), as your white relative struck me while I was with him.” (His vindictive glance assured Savage that the blow was not forgotten or forgiven.) “The white tribes will not go to war with the Indians in the mountains. They cannot bring their big ships and big guns to us; we have no cause to fear them. They will not injure us.”

To Savage’s extreme surprise, he then boldly advocated an immediate war upon the whites, assuring his listeners that, as all the territory belonged to the Indians, if the tribes would unite the whole tribe of gold-diggers could be easily driven from their country; but, if the gold-diggers should stay longer, their numbers will be too great to make war upon, and the Indians would finally be destroyed. In his speech Jose evinced a keenness of observation inconsistant with his apparent drunken stupidity. Savage had thought this stupidity sometimes assumed. He now felt assured that the chief had expected thereby to learn his plans. To the writer there seems to be nothing inconsistent with Indian craft, keenness of observation and love of revenge in Jose’s conduct, though he was frequently drunk while at “the bay.” While Jose was speaking other Indians had joined the circle around him. Their expressions of approval indicated the effects of his speech. During this time Savage had been seated on a log in front of the store, a quiet listener. When Jose concluded, the trader arose, and stepping forward, calmly addressed the relatives of his wives and the Indians in whom he still felt confidence. The earnest and positive speech of the cunning chief had greatly surprised him; he was somewhat discouraged at the approval with which it had been received; but with great self-possession, he replied, “I have listened very attentively to what the chief, who went with me as my friend, has been saying to you. I have heard all he has said. He has told you of many things that he saw. He has told you some truth. He has told of many things which he knows nothing about. He has told you of things he saw in his dreams, while “strong water” made him sleep. The white men we saw there are all of the same tribe as the gold-diggers here among the mountains. He has told you he saw white men that were pale, and had tall hats on their heads, with clothing different from the gold-diggers. This was truth, but they are all brothers, all of one tribe. All can wear the clothing of the gold-diggers; all can climb the mountains, and if war is made on the gold-diggers, the white men will come and fight against the Indians. Their numbers will be so great, that every tribe will be destroyed that joins in a war against them.”

Jose observing the effects of these statements, excitedly interrupted Savage by entering the circle, exclaiming: “He is telling you words that are not true. His tongue is forked and crooked. He is telling lies to his Indian relatives. This trader is not a friend to the Indians. He is not our brother. He will help the white gold-diggers to drive the Indians from their country. We can now drive them from among us, and if the other white tribes should come to their help, we will go to the mountains; if they follow after us, they cannot find us; none of them will come back; we will kill them with arrows and with rocks.” While Jose was thus vociferously haranguing, other Indians came into the grounds, and the crisis was approaching. As Jose Juarez ended his speech, Jose Rey, another influential chief and prominent leader, walked proudly into the now enlarged circle, followed by his suite of treacherous Chow-chillas, among whom were Tom-Kit and Frederico. He keenly glanced about him, and assuming a grandly tragic style, at once commenced a speech by saying: “My people are now ready to begin a war against the white gold-diggers. If all the tribes will be as one tribe, and join with us, we will drive all the white men from our mountains. If all the tribes will go together, the white men will run from us, and leave their property behind them. The tribes who join in with my people will be the first to secure the property of the gold-diggers.”

The dignity and eloquent style of Jose Rey controlled the attention of the Indians. This appeal to their cupidity interested them; a common desire for plunder would be the strongest inducement to unite against the whites.

Savage was now fully aware that he had been defeated at this impromptu council he had himself organized, and at once withdrew to prepare for the hostilities he was sure would soon follow. As soon as the Indians dispersed, he started with his squaws for home, and again gave the settlers warning of what was threatened and would soon be attempted.

These occurrences were narrated to me by Savage. The incidents of the council at the Fresno Station were given during the familiar conversations of our intimate acquaintanceship. The Indian speeches here quoted are like all others of their kind, really but poor imitations. The Indian is very figurative in his language. If a literal translation were attempted his speeches would seem so disjointed and inverted in their methods of expression, that their signification could scarcely be understood; hence only the substance is here given.

The reports from Savage were considered by the miners and settlers as absurd. It was generally known that mountain men of Savage’s class were inclined to adopt the vagaries and superstitions of the Indians with whom they were associated; and therefore but little attention was given to the trader’s warnings. It was believed that he had listened to the blatant palaver of a few vagabond “Digger Indians,” and that the threatened hostilities were only a quarrel between Savage and his Indian miners, or with some of his Indian associates. Cassady, a rival trader, especially scoffed at the idea of danger, and took no precautions to guard himself or establishment. The settlers of Indian Gulch and Quartzberg were, however, soon after startled by a report brought by one of Savage’s men called “Long-haired Brown,” that the traders’ store on the Fresno had been robbed, and all connected with it killed except himself. Brown had been warned by an Indian he had favored, known as Polonio-Arosa, but notwithstanding this aid, he had to take the chances of a vigorous pursuit.

Brown was a large man of great strength and activity, and as he said, had dodged their arrows and distanced his pursuers in the race. Close upon the heels of this report, came a rumor from the miners’ camp on Mariposa creek, that Savage’s establishment at that place had also been plundered and burned, and all connected with it killed. This report was soon after corrected by the appearance of the trader at Quartzberg. Savage was highly offended at the indifference with which his cautions had been received at Mariposa, and by the county authorities, then located at Agua-Fria. He stated that his wives had assured him that a raid was about to be made on his establishment, and warned him of the danger of a surprise. He had at once sought aid from personal friends at Horse Shoe Bend—where he had once traded—to remove or protect his property. While he was absent, Greeley, Stiffner and Kennedy had been killed, his property plundered and burned, and his wives carried off by their own people. These squaws had been importuned to leave the trader, but had been faithful to his interests. The excitement of these occurrences had not subsided before news came of the murder of Cassady and four men near the San Joaquin. Another murderous assault was soon after reported by an immigrant who arrived at Cassady’s Bar, on the upper crossing of the San Joaquin. His shattered arm and panting horse excited the sympathies of the settlers, and aroused the whole community. The wounded man was provided for, and a party at once started for the “Four Creeks,” where he had left his comrades fighting the Indians.

The arm of the wounded man was amputated by Dr. Lewis Leach, of St. Louis, Mo., an immigrant who had but just come in over the same route. The name of the wounded man was Frank W. Boden. He stated that his party—four men, I believe, besides himself—had halted at the “Four Creeks” to rest and graze their horses, and while there a band of Indians (Ka-we-ahs) came down from their village and demanded tribute for crossing their territory. Looking upon the demand as a new form of Indian beggary, but little attention was paid to them. After considerable bantering talk, some tobacco was given them, and they went off grumbling and threatening. Boden said: “After the Indians left we talked over the matter for a while; none regarded the demand of the ‘Indian tax-gathers’ but as a trivial affair. I then mounted my horse and rode off in the direction in which we had seen some antelopes as we came on. I had not gone far before I heard firing in the direction of our halting-place.

“Riding back, I saw the house near which I had left my comrades was surrounded by yelling demons. I was discovered by them at the same instant, and some of them dashed toward me. Seeing no possibility of joining my party, I turned and struck my horse with the spurs, but before I could get beyond range of their arrows, I felt a benumbing sensation in my arm, which dropped powerless. Seeing that my arm was shattered or broken, I thought I would give them one shot at least before I fell into their hands. Checking my horse with some difficulty, I turned so as to rest my rifle across my broken arm, and took sight on the nearest of my pursuers, who halted at the same time.”

At this point in his story the hardy adventurer remarked with a twinkle of satisfaction in his bright, keen eye: “I never took better aim in my life. That Indian died suddenly. Another dash was made for me. My horse did not now need the spurs, he seemed to be aware that we must leave that locality as soon as possible, and speedily distanced them all. As soon as the first excitement was over I suffered excrutiating pain in my arm. My rifle being useless to me, I broke it against a tree and threw it away. I then took the bridle rein in my teeth and carried the broken arm in my other hand.”

The party that went out to the place of attack—Dr. Thomas Payn’, now Visalia, named for Nat. Vice, an acquaintance of the writer—found there the mangled bodies of Boden’s four companions. One of these, it was shown by unmistakable evidence, had been skinned by the merciless fiends while yet alive.

These men had doubtless made a stout resistance. Like brave men they had fought for their lives, and caused, no doubt, a heavy loss to their assailants. This, with their refusal to comply with the demand for tribute, was the motive for such wolfish barbarity.

It now became necessary that some prompt action should be taken for general protection. Rumors of other depredadations and murders alarmed the inhabitants of Mariposa county. Authentic statements of these events were at once forwarded to Governor John McDougall, by the sheriff and other officials, and citizens, urging the immediate adoption of some measures on the part of the State for the defense of the people. Raids upon the miners’ camps and the “Ranch” of the settlers had become so frequent that on its being rumored that the Indians were concentrating for more extensive operations, a party, without waiting for any official authority, collected and started out to check the ravages of the marauders that were found gathering among the foothills. With but limited supplies, and almost without organization, this party made a rapid and toilsome march among the densely wooded mountains in pursuit of the savages, who, upon report of our movements, were now retreating. This party came up with the Indians at a point high up on the Fresno. In the skirmish which followed a Lt. Skeane was killed, William Little was seriously wounded and some others slightly injured.

This engagement, which occurred on January 11th, 1851, was not a very satisfactory one to the whites. The necessity of a more efficient organization was shown. The Indians had here taken all the advantages of position and successfully repulsed the attack of the whites, who withdrew, and allowed the former to continue their course.

Some of the party returned to the settlements for supplies and reinforcements, taking with them the wounded.

Those who remained, reorganized, and leisurely followed the Indians to near the North Fork of the San Joaquin river, where they had encamped on a round rugged mountain covered with a dense undergrowth—oaks and digger pine. Here, protected by the sheltering rocks and trees, they defiantly taunted the whites with cowardice and their late defeat. They boasted of their robberies and murders, and called upon Savage to come out where he could be killed. In every possible manner they expressed their contempt. Savage—who had joined the expedition—became very much exasperated, and at first favored an immediate assault, but wiser counsels prevailed, and by Captain Boling’s prudent advice, Savage kept himself in reserve, knowing that he would be an especial mark, and as Boling had said, his knowledge of the Indians and their territory could not very well be dispensed with. This course did not please all, and, as might have been expected, then and afterwards disparaging remarks were made.

The leaders in exciting hostilities against the whites were Jose Juarez and Jose Rey. The bands collected on this mountain were under the leadership of Jose Rey, who was also known by his English name of “King Joseph.” The tribes represented were the Chow-chilla, Chook-chan-cie, Noot-chu, Ho-nah-chee, Po-to-en-cie, Po-ho-no-chee, Kah-we-ah and Yosemite. The number of fighting men or warriors was estimated at about 500, while that of the whites did not exceed 100.

It was late in the day when the Indians were discovered. A general council was held, and it was decided that no attack should be made until their position could be studied, and the probable number to be encountered, ascertained. Captain Kuy-ken-dall, Lieutenants Doss and Chandler, and others, volunteered to make a reconnoissance before night should interfere with their purpose.

The scouting party was not noticed until on its return, when it was followed back to camp by the Indians, where during nearly the whole night their derisive shouts and menaces in broken Spanish and native American, made incessant vigilance of the whole camp a necessity. A council was again called to agree on the plan to be adopted. This council of war was general; official position was disregarded except to carry out the decisions of the party or command. The scouts had discovered that this rendezvous was an old Indian village as well as stronghold.

The plan was that an attack should be undertaken at daylight, and that an effort should be made to set fire to the village, preliminary to the general assault. This plan was strongly advocated by the more experienced ones who had seen service in Mexico and in Indian warfare.

Kuy-ken-dall, Doss and Chandler, “as brave men as ever grew,” seemed to vie with each other for the leadership, and at starting Kuy-ken-dall seemed to be in command, but when the assault was made, Chandler’s elan carried him ahead of all, and he thus became the leader indeed.

But thirty-six men were detached for the preliminary service. Everything being arranged the attacking party started before daylight. The Indians had but a little while before ceased their annoyances around the camp. The reserve under Savage and Boling were to follow more leisurely. Kuy-ken-dall’s command reached the Indian camp without being discovered. Without the least delay the men dashed in and with brands from the camp fires, set the wigwams burning, and at the same time madly attacked the now alarmed camp. The light combustible materials of which the wigwams were composed were soon in a bright blaze. So rapid and so sudden were the charges made, that the panic-stricken warriors at once fled from their stronghold. Jose Rey was among the first shot down. The Indians made a rally to recover their leader; Chandler observing them, shouted “Charge, boys! Charge!!” Discharging another volley, the men rushed forward.

The savages turned and fled down the mountain, answering back the shout of Chandler to charge by replying, “Chargee!” “Chargee!” as they disappeared.

The whole camp was routed, and sought safety among the rocks and brush, and by flight.

This was an unexpected result. The whole transaction had been so quickly and recklessly done that the reserve under Boling and Savage had no opportunity to participate in the assault, and but imperfectly witnessed the scattering of the terrified warriors. Kuy-ken-dall, especially, displayed a coolness and valor entitling him to command, though outrun by Chandler in the assault. The fire from the burning village spread so rapidly down the mountain side toward our camp as to endanger its safety. While the whites were saving their camp supplies, the Indians under cover of the smoke escaped. No prisoners were taken; twenty-three were killed; the number wounded was never known. Of the settlers, but one was really wounded, though several were scorched and bruised in the fight. None were killed. The scattering flight of the Indians made a further pursuit uncertain. The supplies were too limited for an extended chase; and as none had reached the little army from those who had returned, and time would be lost in waiting, it was decided to return to the settlements before taking any other active measures. The return was accomplished without interruption.

Previous: IntroductionIndexNext: Chapter II

Home A - Z FAQ Online Library Discussion Forum Muir Weather Maps About Search
Online Library: Title Author California Geology History Indians Muir Mountaineering Nature Management