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The Governor of California issues a Proclamation—Formation of the Mariposa Battalion—The Origin and Cause of the War—New Material Public Documents—A Discussion—Capt. Walker—The Peace Commissioners’ Parley and the Indians’ Pow-wow—The Mysterious Deep Valley—Forward, March!
The State authorities had in the meantime become aroused. The reports of Indian depredations multiplied, and a general uprising was for a time threatened.
Proclamations were therefore issued by Gov. McDougal, calling for volunteers, to prevent further outrages and to punish the marauders. Our impromptu organization formed the nucleus of the volunteer force in Mariposa county, as a large majority of the men at once enlisted. Another battalion was organized for the region of Los Angelos. Our new organization, when full, numbered two hundred mounted men. This was accomplished in time, by Major Savage riding over to the San Joaquin, and bringing back men from Cassady’s Bar.
The date from which we were regularly mustered into the service was January 24th, 1851. The volunteers provided their own horses and equipments. The camp supplies and baggage trains were furnished by the State. This military force was called into existence by the State authorities, but by act of Congress its maintenance was at the expense of the general government, under direction of Indian commissioners. Major Ben McCullough was offered the command of this battalion, but he declined it. This position was urged upon him with the supposition that if he accepted it the men who had once served under him would be induced to enlist—many of the “Texan Rangers” being residents of Mariposa county.
Major McCullough was at that time employed as Collector of “Foreign Miners’ Tax,” a very lucrative office. As a personal acquaintance, he stated to me that the position was not one that would bring him honor or pecuniary advantages. That he had no desire to leave a good position, except for one more profitable.
The officers, chosen by the men, recommended to and commissioned by Governor McDougall, were James D. Savage, as Major; John J. Kuy-ken-dall, John Boling, and William Dill, as Captains; M. B. Lewis, as Adjutant; John I. Scott, Reuben T. Chandler, and Hugh W. Farrell, as First Lieutentants; Robert E. Russell, as Sergeant Major; Dr. A. Bronson, as Surgeon, and Drs. Pfifer and Black as Assistant Surgeons. A few changes of Lieutenants and subordinate officers were afterward made.
Upon the resignation of Surgeon Bronson, Dr. Lewis Leach, was appointed to fill the vacancy.
While writing up these recollections, in order to verify my dates, which I knew were not always chronologically exact, I addressed letters to the State departments of California making inquiries relative to the “Mariposa Battalion,” organized in 1851. In answer to my inquiry concerning these known facts, the following was received from Adj. General L. H. Foot. He says: “The records of this office, both written and printed, are so incomplete, that I am not aware from consulting them that the organization to which you allude had existence.” It is a matter of regret that the history of the early settlement of California is, to so great an extent, traditionary, without public records of many important events. It is not deemed just that the faithful services of the “Mariposa Battalion,” should be forgotten with the fading memory of the pioneers of that period. There is in the State, an almost entire absence of any public record of the “Indian war,” of which the discovery of the Yosemite valley was an important episode.
Until the publication of Mr. J. M. Hutching’s book, “ In The Heart of the Sierras, Yo-Semite, Big Trees, etc.,” which contains valuable public documents, the author of “Discovery of The Yosemite” was, as stated on page 30, unable to obtain any official records concerning the operations of the Mariposa battalion, or of the events which preceded and caused the Indian War of 1851. Now that Mr. Hutching’s persistent industry has brought light from darkness, I interrupt my narrative to make clear the origin of the war, and to justify the early Pioneers engaged in it. As a sample, also, of many obstructions encountered, I insert a few extracts from letters relating to the “Date of Discovery,” furnished the Century Magazine.
The attack made upon Savage on the Merced river in 1850, had for its object plunder and intimidation, and as an invasion of Ten-ie-ya’s territory was no longer threatened after the removal of Mr. Savage to the Mariposa, the Yo Semities contented themselves with the theft of horses and clothing, but a general war was still impending, as may be seen by reference to page 31 of “In The Heart of The Sierras,” where appears: Report of Col. Adam Johnston, a special agent, to Gov. Peter H. Burnett, upon his return from Mariposa county to San Jose, then the Capital of California, and which I here present:
San Jose, January 2, 1851.
Sir: I have the honor to submit to you, as the executive of the State of California, some facts connected with the recent depredations committed by the Indians, within the bounds of the State, upon the persons and property of her citizens. The immediate scene of their hostile movements are at and in the vicinity of the Mariposa and Fresno. The Indians in that portion of your State have, for some time past, exhibited disaffection and a restless feeling toward the whites. Thefts were continually being perpetrated by them, but no act of hostility had been committed by them on the person of any individual, which indicated general emnity on the part of the Indians, until the night of the 17th December last. I was then at the camp of Mr. James D. Savage, on the Mariposa, where I had gone for the purpose of reconciling any difficulty that might exist between the Indians and the whites in that vicinity. From various conversations which I had held with different chiefs, I concluded there was no immediate danger to be apprehended. On the evening of the 17th of December, we were, however, surprised by the sudden disappearance of the Indians. They left in a body, but no one knew why, or where they had gone. From the fact that Mr. Savage’s domestic Indians had forsaken him and gone with those of the rancheria, or village, he immediately suspected that something of a serious nature was in contemplation, or had already been committed by them.
The manner of their leaving, in the night, and by stealth, induced Mr. Savage to believe that whatever act they had committed or intended to commit, might be connected with himself. Believing that he could overhaul his Indians before others could join them, and defeat any contemplated depredations on their part, he, with sixteen men, started in pursuit. He continued upon their traces for about thirty miles, when he came upon their encampment. The Indians had discovered his approach, and fled to an adjacent mountain, leaving behind them two small boys asleep, and the remains of an aged female, who had died, no doubt from fatigue. Near to the encampment Mr. Savage ascended a mountain in pursuit of the Indians, from which he discovered them upon another mountain at a distance. From these two mountain tops, conversation was commenced and kept up for some time between Mr. Savage and the chief, who told him that they had murdered the men on the Fresno, and robbed the camp. The chief had formerly been on the most friendly terms with Savage, but would not now permit him to approach him. Savage said to them it would be better for them to return to their village—that with very little labor daily, they could procure sufficient gold to purchase them clothing and food. To this the chief replied it was a hard way to get a living, and that they could more easily supply their wants by stealing from the whites. He also said to Savage he must not deceive the whites by telling them lies, he must not tell them that the Indians were friendly; they were not, but on the contrary were their deadly enemies, and that they intended killing and plundering them so long as a white face was seen in the country. Finding all efforts to induce them to return, or to otherwise reach them, had failed, Mr. Savage and his company concluded to return. When about leaving, they discovered a body of Indians, numbering about two hundred, on a distant mountain, who seemed to be approaching those with whom he had been talking.
Mr. Savage and company arrived at his camp in the night of Thursday in safety. In the mean time, as news had reached us of murders committed on the Fresno, we had determined to proceed to the Fresno, where the men had been murdered. Accordingly on the day following, Friday, the 20th, I left the Mariposa camp with thirty-five men, for the camp on the Fresno, to see the situation of things there, and to bury the dead. I also dispatched couriers to Agua Fria, Mariposa, and several other mining sections, hoping to concentrate a sufficient force on the Fresno to pursue the Indians into the mountains. Several small companies of men left their respective places of residence to join us, but being unacquainted with the country they were unable to meet us. We reached the camp on the Fresno a short time after daylight. It presented a horrid scene of savage cruelty. The Indians had destroyed everything they could not use or carry with them. The store was stripped of blankets, clothing, flour, and everything of value; the safe was broken open and rifled of its contents; the cattle, horses and mules had been run into the mountains; the murdered men had been stripped of their clothing, and lay before us filled with arrows; one of them had yet twenty perfect arrows sticking in him. A grave was prepared, and the unfortunate persons interred. Our force being small, we thought it not prudent to pursue the Indians farther into the mountains, and determined to return. The Indians in that part of the country are quite numerous, and have been uniting other tribes with them for some time. On reaching our camp on the Mariposa, we learned that most of the Indians in the valley had left their villages and taken their women and children to the mountains. This is generally looked upon as a sure indication of their hostile intentions. It is feared that many of the miners in the more remote regions have already been cut off, and Agua Fria and Mariposa are hourly threatened.
Under this state of things, I come here at the earnest solicitations of the people of that region, to ask such aid from the state government as will enable them to protect their persons and property. I submit these facts for your consideration, and have the honor to remain,
Yours very respectfully,
To his excellency Peter H. Burnett.
The report of Col. Johnston to Gov. Burnett had the desired result, for immediately after inauguration, his successor, Gov. McDougal, on January 13, 1851, issued a proclamation calling for one hundred volunteers, and this number by a subsequent order dated January 24th, 1851, after receipt of Sheriff James Burney’s report, bearing the same date of the governor’s first call for one hundred men, was increased to “two hundred able bodied men, under officers of their own selection.”
To insure a prompt suppression of hostilities, or a vigorous prosecution of the war, on January 25th, 1851, Gov. McDougal appointed Col. J. Neely Johnson of his staff a special envoy to visit Mariposa county, and in an emergency, to call out additional forces if required, and do whatever seemed best for the interests and safety of the people endangered.
Col. Adam Johnston, before leaving for San Jose, had, as he reported, “dispatched couriers to Agua Fria, Mariposa, and several other mining sections, hoping to concentrate a sufficient force on the Fresno to pursue the Indians into the mountains. Several small companies of men left their respective places of residence to join us, but being unacquainted with the country they were unable to meet us.”
The same apparent difficulties beset Sheriff Burney, as he was able to collect but seventy-four men, but want of knowledge of the country was not the sole cause of delay. The Indians of the mountains at that time having been accustomed to the occupation for many years of despoiling the Californians, were the most expert bare back riders and horse thieves in the world, and when many of us who had horses and mules herding in the valley ranches of the foot-hills and Merced bottoms, sent for them to carry us into the distant mountains of the Fresno, where we had heard the Indians were concentrating, our messengers in many instances found the animals stolen or stampeded, and hence the delay in most instances, though some of the mining population who had arrived in California by water, never seemed able to guide themselves without a compass, and would get lost if they left a beaten trail. As for myself, I could scarcely become lost, except in a heavy fog or snow storm, and upon two occasions in the mountains was compelled to leave my comrades, who were utterly and wilfully lost, but who, finding me the most persistent, finally called to me and followed out to well known land marks.
It will appear by the letter of Major Burney that “The different squads from the various places rendezvoused not far from this place (Agua Fria), on Monday, 6th, and numbered but seventy-four men.” I was at Shirlock’s Creek on the night before, Jan. 5th, 1851, and had promised to join the Major in the morning; but when the morning came, my animals were gone, stolen by Indians from my Mexican herdman.
Mr. C. H. Spencer had sent his servant “Jimmy,” to Snelling’s ranche, on the Merced River, for his animals, and after a delay of perhaps two or three days, they were brought up for use. Mr. Spencer kindly loaned me a mule for temporary use, but upon his having his saddle mule stolen a few nights after, I gave back his mule and bought a fine one of Thos. J. Whitlock, for whom Whitlock’s Creek was named. I had previously been able to start with a small squad on the trail of Major Burney and his brave men, but met some of them returning after the fight, among whom I remember, were Wm. Little, shot through the lungs, but who finally recovered, a Mr. Smith, known as “Yankee Smith,” sick, as he said, “from a bare-footed fool exposure in the snow,” and Dr. Phifer, who had been given the care of the wounded and sick men. There were several others unknown to me, or whose names I have now forgotten.
The different accounts I received from the men engaged in the fight, were so conflicting, that in referring to it in previous editions, on page 25, I could only say that it “was not a very satisfactory one to the whites.” I could only state the general impression received from Mr. Little’s account, which was that the men had been unnecessarily exposed to cold and danger, and that only by the dash and bravery of the officers and men engaged in the affair were they able to withdraw into a place of temporary safety, until joined by re-inforcements.
Indian fighting was new to most of the men engaged, and, like the soldiers on both sides at the outbreak of the Rebellion, they had been led to expect a too easy victory.
But we have now the report of Major Burney to Gov. McDougal, and also a letter from Mr. Theodore G. Palmer, of Newark, New Jersey, to his father, written five days after the battle, and which has been kindly placed at my disposal. Military men will readily perceive and enjoy the entire artlessness and intended truthfulness of Mr. Palmer’s letter, as well as his modest bravery. The two letters read in connection with that of Col. Adam Johnston, are most valuable in fixing dates and locations for any one with a knowledge of the topography of the country, and of the events they narrate. They set at rest forever the absurd claim that the first battle of the Indian War of 1851 was fought in the Yosemite valley, for the battle was fought on a mountain. Mr. Hutchings, to whose industry so much is due, has strangely overlooked the fact, that the reference to “Monday 6th,” in Major Burney’s letter, could only have reference to Monday, January 6th, 1851, the month in which the letter was written, and not to December, 1850, as given by Mr. Hutchings, in brackets. The 6th of December, 1850 occurred on a Friday; on Tuesday, December 17, 1850, the three men were killed on the Fresno river station of James D. Savage; on Friday, December 20th, 1850, they were buried; on Monday, January 6th, 1851, Major Burney, sheriff of Mariposa County, assembled a strong posse to go in pursuit of the Indian murderers, and coming up with them on a mountain stronghold on Jan. 11th, 1851, destroyed their villages, and then retreated down the mountain some four miles to a plain in the Fresno valley, where he erected a log breastwork for temporary defense. Nothing but the most vivid imagination, coupled with an entire ignorance of the region of the Yosemite, could liken the two localities to each other. The Hetch Hetchy valley of the Tuolumne river and some of the cliffs of the Tuolumne and of the King’s river, bear a general resemblance to some of the scenery of the Yosemite, but when the Yosemite valley itself has been seen, it will never be forgotten by the visitor.
Major Burney’s Letter to Gov. McDougal.
Agua Fria, January 13, 1851.
Sir: Your Excellency has doubtlessly been informed by Mr. Johnston and others, of repeated and aggravated depredations of the Indians in this part of the State. Their more recent outrages you are probably not aware of. Since the departure of Mr. Johnston, the Indian agent, they have killed a portion of the citizens on the head of the San Joaquin river, driven the balance off, taken away all movable property, and destroyed all they could not take away. They have invariably murdered and robbed all the small parties they fell in with between here and the San Joaquin. News came here last night that seventy-two men were killed on Rattlesnake Creek; several men have been killed in Bear Valley. The Fine Gold Gulch has been deserted, and the men came in here yesterday. Nearly all the mules and horses in this part of the State have been stolen, both from the mines and the ranches. And I now, in the name of the people of this part of the State, and for the good of our country, appeal to your Excellency for assistance.
In order to show your Excellency that the people have done all that they can do to suppress these things, to secure quiet and safety in the possession of our property and lives, I will make a brief statement of what has been done here.
After the massacres on the Fresno, San Joaquin, etc., we endeavored to raise a volunteer company to drive the Indians back, if not to take them or force them into measures. The different squads from the various places rendezvoused not far from this place on Monday, 6th, and numbered but seventy-four men. A company was formed, and I was elected captain; J. W. Riley, first lieutenant; E. Skeane, second lieutenant. We had but eight day’s provisions, and not enough animals to pack our provisions and blankets, as it should have been done. We, however, marched, and on the following day struck a large trail of horses that had been stolen by the Indians. I sent forward James D. Savage with a small spy force, and I followed the trail with my company. About two o’clock in the morning, Savage came in and reported the village near, as he had heard the Indians singing. Here I halted, left a small guard with my animals, and went forward with the balance of my men. We reached the village just before day, and at dawn, but before there was light enough to see how to fire our rifles with accuracy, we were discovered by their sentinel. When I saw that he had seen us, I ordered a charge on the village (this had been reconnoitered by Savage and myself). The Indian sentinel and my company got to the village at the same time, he yelling to give the alarm. I ordered them to surrender, some of them ran off, some seemed disposed to surrender, but others fired on us; we fired and charged into the village. Their ground had been selected on account of the advantages it possessed in their mode of warfare. They numbered about four hundred, and fought us three hours and a half.
We killed from forty to fifty, but cannot exactly tell how many, as they took off all they could get to. Twenty-six were killed in and around the village, and a number of others in the chaparrel. We burned the village and provisions, and took four horses. Our loss was six wounded, two mortally; one of the latter was Lieutenant Skeane, the other a Mr. Little, whose bravery and conduct through the battle cannot be spoken of too highly. We made litters, on which we conveyed our wounded, and had to march four miles down the mountain, to a suitable place to camp, the Indians firing at us all the way, from peaks on either side, but so far off as to do little damage. My men had been marching or fighting from the morning of the day before, without sleep, and with but little to eat. On the plain, at the foot of the mountain, we made a rude, but substantial fortification; and at a late hour those who were not on guard, were permitted to sleep. Our sentinels were (as I anticipated they would be) firing at the Indians occasionally all night, but I had ordered them not to come in until they were driven in.
I left my wounded men there, with enough of my company to defend the little fort, and returned to this place for provisions and recruits. I send them to-day re-inforcements and provisions, and in two days more I march by another route, with another re-inforcement, and intend to attack another village before going to the fort. The Indians are watching the movements at the fort, and I can come up in the rear of them unsuspectedly, and we can keep them back until I can hear from Your Excellency.
If Your Excellency thinks proper to authorize me or any other person to keep this company together, we can force them into measures in a short time. But if not authorized and commissioned to do so, and furnished with some arms and provisions, or the means to buy them, and pay for the services of the men, my company must be disbanded, as they are not able to lose so much time without any compensation.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
In a subsequent letter of Major Burney, addressed to Hon. W. J. Howard, occurs the following passage:
“The first night out you came into my camp and reported that the Indians had stolen all your horses and mules—a very large number; that you had followed their trail into the hill country, but, deeming it imprudent to go there alone, had turned northward, hoping to strike my trail, having heard that I had gone out after Indians. I immediately, at sunset, sent ten men (yourself among the number) under Lieutenant Skeane—who was killed in the fight next day—to look out for the trail, and report, which was very promptly carried out.”
Page 35, “In Heart of S. and Legislative Journal” for 1851, page 600.
It is only required of me to say here that re-inforced by such leaders of men as Kuykendall, Boling, Chandler and Doss, there was no delay, and the campaign was completed at “Battle Mountain,” a water shed of the San Joaquin.
I now introduce a letter of great value, to me, as it fixes the date of the first battle, and disproves assertions made in the Century Magazine:
Hart’s Ranch, California, January 16th, 1851.
My Dear Father: When I wrote my last letter to you I had fully determined to take a Ranch near Pacheco’s Pass, as I informed you, but before three days had passed the report of Jim Kennedy’s murder on the Fresno was confirmed, and I started for the mountains in pursuit of the Indians who were committing depredations all through the country and had sworn to kill every white man in it. Four hundred men had promised to go, but at the appointed time only seventy-seven made their appearance. With these we started under the command of Major Burney, Sheriff of Mariposa County, guided by Mr. Jas. D. Savage, who is without doubt the best man in the world for hunting them out.
From his long acquaintance with the Indians, Mr. Savage has learned their ways so thoroughly that they cannot deceive him. He has been one of their greatest chiefs, and speaks their language as well as they can themselves. No dog can follow a trail like he can. No horse endure half so much. He sleeps but little, can go days without food, and can run a hundred miles in a day and night over the mountains and then sit and laugh for hours over a camp-fire as fresh and lively as if he had just been taking a little walk for exercise.
With him for a guide we felt little fear of not being able to find them.
On Friday morning about ten o’clock, our camp again moved forward and kept traveling until one that night, when “halt! we are on the Indians,” passed in a whisper down the line. Every heart beat quicker as we silently unsaddled our animals and tied them to the bushes around us, Commands were given in whispers and we were formed in a line. Sixty were chosen for the expedition, the balance remaining behind in charge of camp.
Savage said the Indians were about six miles off; that they were engaged in a feast. He pointed out their fires, could hear them sing and could smell them, but his eyes were the only ones that could see; his ears alone could hear, and his nose smell anything unusual. Still, there was such confidence placed in him that not one doubted for an instant that everything was as he said.
About two o’clock we started in Indian file, as still as it was possible for sixty men to move in the dark, for the moon had set. For three long hours did we walk slowly and cautiously over the rocks and bushes, through the deepest ravines and up steep and ragged mountain, until within a half mile of the enemy.
Here every one took off his boots, when we again pushed forward to about two hundred yards from the camp. Another halt was called to wait for daylight, while Savage went forward to reconnoitre. He succeeded in getting within ten paces of the Rancharia, and listened to a conversation among them in which his name was frequently mentioned. He found that it was a town of the Kee-chees, but that there were about one hundred and fifty of the Chow-chil la warriors with them and several of the Chuc-chan-ces. Had he found only the Kee-chees as he expected, we were to surround the Rancharia and take all prisoners, but the presence of so many Chow-chil-las, the most warlike tribe in California, made a change of plan necessary.
Daylight by this time began to appear. We had been lying in our stocking-feet on the ground on the top of a mountain within a few paces of the snow for more than an hour, almost frozen by the intense cold, not daring to move or speak a word.
It was not yet light enough to see the sight of our rifles, when an Indian’s head was seen rising on the hill before us. For a moment his eyes wandered, then rested on us, and with a yell like a Coyote he turned for the Rancharia. Never did I hear before such an infernal howling, whooping and yelling, as saluted us then from the throats of about six hundred savages, as they rushed down the hill into the gim-o-sell bushes below.
Our huzzahs could, however, hardly have sounded more pleasant to them, as when finding we were discovered, we charged on their town. Fifty rifles cracked almost instantaneously; a dozen Indians lay groaning before their huts, and many supposed we had undisturbed possession. Our firing had ceased and we were looking around for plunder, when a rifle fired from the bushes below, struck a young Texan, Charley Huston, standing by my side. He fell with a single groan, and we all supposed him dead. My first impression was that I was shot, for I plainly heard the ball strike and almost felt it. This was a surprise that almost whipped us, for not knowing that the Indians had fire-arms, we were only expecting arrows. Before that shot was fired, I had always entertained the idea that I could run about as fast as common men (and I was one of the first in the charge), but by the time I had collected my wandering senses, I was nearly alone; the majority of the party some thirty paces ahead, and running as if they never intended to stop.
Captain Burney and Mr. Savage were on top of the hill using every exertion to make the company halt and form. He had partly succeeded, when a pistol ball struck a man in the face, he fell, but raising himself up said, “if we stay here we will be all shot” and a break was made for the trees.
Still some few remained in rank and others slowly answered to the orders to form, when our Second Lieutenant fell mortally wounded. He was carried off, and every man took his tree.
The Indians had again possession of their Rancharia, and of a slight eminence to the left, and were sending showers of bullets and arrows upon us from three sides. These two points had to be gained even if it cost half our men. Leaving then, enough to guard our present position, the rest of us charged on the hill, took it, stormed the Rancharia, took and burnt it, and returned to our former position with only one man wounded, Wm. Little, shot through the lungs.
The close fighting was now over, for we could not give chase and were forced to lie behind trees and rocks and pick out such as exposed themselves. It was about half past ten when, finding it useless to remain longer, litters were made for the wounded and we started for camp. Then again we had warm work, for all down the pass, the Indians had stationed themselves to fire on us, forcing us to charge on them several times, for while we were in plain sight, they were completely hid behind the gim-o-sell brush.
In our march back, the rear guard was kept at work about as hard as at any time during the morning, but not a single man was hurt, and only one mule was killed.
We moved our camp that night, six miles lower down, where we laid the foundations of a fort and left thirty men to guard it and take care of the wounded.
The rest of us started below the next morning, after burying Lieutenant Skeane, who died in the night.
The Indians acknowledged to eleven men killed, though fifty killed and wounded would be a moderate estimate. Our loss was seven wounded—two mortally (as we then supposed, but Mr. Little finally recovered.— Author.)
The force of the Savages consisted of, as near as could be ascertained, four hundred warriors. We burned a hundred wig-wams, several tons of dried horse and mule meat, a great number of bows and arrows, and took six mules.
Several amusing incidents occured during the fight and others of the most heroic bravery on the part of the Indians. One old squaw was wounded accidentally at the first charge, and was unable to get off. One of our men was going to finish her with his knife, but seeing it was a woman he left her. No sooner had he gone than she picked up a bow and lodged three arrows in another man. I believe she was not touched after that.
The whole body of Indians seemed bent on killing Mr. Savage, partly because he would not be their chief and lead them against the whites, and partly because he was, they knew, our greatest dependence as guide, and their particular dread. To kill him, many of them sacrificed their own lives. They would come one at a time and, standing in open ground, send arrows at him until shot down; and one old chief who used to cook for Savage, would ask him after every shot where he had hit him. They would talk to him to find out where he was, and as soon as he would answer, the balls and arrows would fly thick around his head: but he escaped unhurt; but as he said, worse frightened than he ever was before. He did not fancy such partiality.
A large party has started on a second expedition, but I believe I am perfectly satisfied with Indian fighting.
T. G. Palmer.
Note.—It will have been observed that especial reference has twice been made to Gim-o-sell brush, a shrub that grows only on warm slatey soil, on Southern exposures, sought by Indians for winter quarters, and not on the granite cliffs and mountains of the Yosemite. I had not thought it necessary to draw upon nature for testimony, but a new generation has sprung into existence, and the eternal hills may speak to them.
The mining camp or village of Agua Fria, at the date of the organization of the battalion, was the county seat of Mariposa County, and the residence of the Sheriff, Major James Burney. Whittier’s Hotel was the headquarters for enlistment. Finding the number called for incomplete, while yet in daily expectation of the arrival of the mustering officer, James D. Savage made a rapid ride to the San Joaquin diggings, and returned with men enough to complete the organization.
We were formally reported for duty, and went into camp about two miles below Agua Fria, on about the 10th of Feb., 1851, but when mustered in, the rolls were dated to include service from Jan. 24th, 1851, the date of the last order of enlistment. An informal ballot was taken to show the preference of the men for officers to command us, Major Burney having previously declined, and when that had been demonstrated, other aspirants were withdrawn by their friends, a formal ballot was taken and a regular organization of three companies completed. The Governor was duly notified of our proceedings, and in a few days the commissions were received by our respective officers.
After a few days in camp on Agua Fria Creek, we moved down to a camp in the foot hills, known afterwards as Lewis Ranch, were we had abundant grass and good water, and there was established our head-quarters, while waiting for Col. J. Neely Johnson and the U.S. Indian Commission, as stated in this chapter.
After instructions were given us by Col. Johnson, and the Commission had exhausted its eloquence upon the “Children of the Great Father at Washington,” and had started for the Fresno, we were allowed to go in pursuit of some very sly marauders who had stolen into our camp in the night, loosened and run off some of our animals, and taken some others herded in the foot hills, but no extended operations were allowed, as Major Savage ordered us to be in readiness for a campaign against the Yosemities, when the first big storm should come, that would prevent their escape across the Sierra Nevada. After a few days’ delay the storm did come with continued violence, as recorded.
In view of the facts and dates here given, how absurd the statement that we did not go to the Yosemite “until about the 5th or 6th of May, 1851.” Our idleness in camp from Feb. 10th and the patient indulgence of the Commissioners, while waiting for the results of our first operations, surpass belief.
And now I reluctantly notice an error of statement by Mr. Julius N. Pratt in the Century Magazine for December, 1890.
Had the usual courtesy been extended of allowing me to see and answer Mr. Pratt’s erroneous impressions in the same number, I am convinced that he would have kindly withdrawn his article. I am led to this belief, not alone from letters received, but from the internal evidence of an upright character conveyed by Mr. Pratt’s graphic account of “A Trip to California by way of Panama in 1849,” in the Century for April 1891.
The Century Magazine is a most powerful disseminator of truth, or error, and though I cannot hope for a complete vindication through this volume, its readers shall have the facts of “The Date of Discovery” set before them, “for a truthful regard for history” and my own self-respect require it.
In the Century Magazine for September, 1890, page 795, is an article from my pen which gives the date of discovery of the Yosemite as March, 1851. Mr. Pratt, in the December number following, assumes, with “a truthful regard for history,” that I was in error, and gives about “January 10th, 1851, as the approximate, if not exact date of discovery.” Many of the men whom Mr. Pratt supposed to have been the discoverers, were, or became, my own comrades. When Mr. Pratt’s article appeared, I at once sent a reply, but it received no recognition.
Knowing that Mr. Theodore G. Palmer, of Newark, New Jersey, was in the only engagement occurring with Indians in Mariposa county at the time given by Mr. Pratt as the date of his supposed discovery of the Yosemite, I wrote, requesting Mr. Palmer to call on the editor of the Century in my behalf.
In a letter of January 9th, 1891, Mr. Palmer wrote: “It is the unexpected which always happens, and your communication to the Century in response to Pratt’s ‘California,’ was never received. Mr. Johnson, the associate editor, received me very pleasantly. He assured me that although he sent you an advance copy of Pratt’s article, nothing had been received in the office from you since in reply, and he presumed you had given up the case in default.
“I so completely satisfied him that Mr. Pratt is in error, that he requested me to express my reasons in the Century, and to assure you that any communication from you will always have respectful attention.”
On January 24th, 1891, Mr. R. W. Johnson, associate editor, wrote me, saying: “Since telling your friend, Mr. Palmer, that we had not received an article from you in reply to Mr. Pratt, we have discovered the manuscript. We have in type a short note from Mr. Palmer which will be acceptable to you.”
A few days after Mr. Johnson kindly sent me the proof. On March 12th, 1891, Mr. Johnson wrote me: “Mr. Pratt, after examination of the subject, has written us a short letter, withdrawing his contention of your claim to the discovery of the Yosemite, the publication of which we trust will be satisfactory to you and also to Mr. Palmer. Will you now tell us whether there is anything in this new claim that Walker was the discoverer of the Valley?”
I at once saw that if Mr. Pratt’s retraction was published there would be no need of the publication of Mr. Palmer’s communication. About this time a letter of earlier date, January 28, 1891, was sent me by Mr. Palmer, received from Mr. Pratt, in which the latter gentleman says: “I enclose a letter which seems to prove that the party about which I wrote to the Century was not your party. One went to the North fork, the other (yours) to the South.” That statement left no base whatever for Mr. Pratt’s imaginary “fight at the Yosemite, and thus of the discovery,” for the North Fork affair was not a battle at all, but “a scare” on a fork which enters the Merced river thirty-five miles below the Yosemite, and as for the battle fought on the 11th of January, 1851, by Major Burney’s company, in which Mr. Palmer was engaged, it was not fought on the South fork or in any valley, but upon a high mountain of the Fresno river.
Mr. Palmer now felt that his note to The Century was too long delayed, and wrote asking for its withdrawal or its publication. Mr. R. U. Johnson replied: “The Century is made up two months in advance,” but that he intended inserting it in the April number, &c. Mr. Palmer added in his letter to me, “I think he will.”
The matter had now become not only interesting, but amusing to me; for very soon Mr. Palmer wrote, “whether my answer to Pratt will be published or not, is doubtful. I infer (from a letter) that Pratt will not rest quiescent under my contradiction.” Again Mr. Palmer wrote, enclosing copy of letter to Mr. Johnson of March 14th, 1891, answering Mr. Johnson’s Statement, “that Mr. Pratt, while being convinced of his injustice to Dr. Bunnell and being ready himself to withdraw his former statement, takes issue with you as to the identity of the two parties,” and then Mr. Johnson asks, “would it not be just as well and more effective if we were simply to print from Mr. Pratt that he is ‘pleased to withdraw all contention of the claim made by Dr. Bunnell that he was the original discoverer?’” Let me here say, in passing, that I never made such a claim.
Mr. Palmer very properly objects to becoming the “scapegoat” for me or any one else, and replying to Mr. Johnson, says: “Whether my letter is printed or not, is a matter of entire indifference to me, (personally) * * it was only at your desire, and to please Dr. Bunnell, that I wrote the little I did. I left you under the impression that you desired to get at the exact facts and would be glad to rectify the injustice done to the doctor by the publication of Mr. Pratt’s communication. * * * I believe that the publication of my letter would not only gratify him, but also place the Century right upon the record, where it surely desires to stand.”
Mr. Palmer could say no more, but to his great chagrin, but not surprise, on March 17th, he received a letter of thanks from the associate editor of the Century, in which Mr. Johnson says: “Please accept our thanks for your letter of the 14th, and for your obliging attitude in the matter.” Whether any retraction from Mr. Pratt will ever appear in the Century is now, in view of the long delay, a matter of great indifference to me.* [*Mr. Pratt’s retraction has finally appeared in the June number for 1891.]
Now a few facts in regard to the Discovery of the Yosemite Valley by Capt. Joseph Reddeford Walker, for whom Walker’s river, Lake and Pass were named. It is not a new claim, as supposed by Mr. R. U. Johnson, but appears in the Peoples Encyclopedia and was set up in the San Jose Pioneer soon after Capt. Walker’s death, and answered by me in the same paper in 1880.
I cheerfully concede the fact set forth in the Pioneer article that, “His were the first white man’s eyes that ever looked upon the Yosemite” above the valley, and in that sense, he was certainly the original white discoverer.
The topography of the country over which the Mono trail ran, and which was followed by Capt. Walker, did not admit of his seeing the valley proper. The depression indicating the valley, and its magnificent surroundings, could alone have been discovered, and in Capt. Walker’s conversations with me at various times while encamped between Coultersville and the Yosemite, he was manly enough to say so. Upon one occaision I told Capt. Walker that Ten-ie-ya had said that, “A small party of white men once crossed the mountains on th north side, but were so guided as not to see the valley proper.” With a smile the Captain said: “That was my party, but I was not deceived, for the lay of the land showed there was a valley below; but we had become nearly bare-footed, our animals poor, and ourselves on the verge of starvation, so we followed down the ridge to Bull Creek, where, killing a deer, we went into camp.”
The captain remained at his camp near Coultersville for some weeks, and disappeared as suddenly as he came. He once expressed a desire to re-visit the region of the Yosemite in company with me, but could fix no date, as he told me he was in daily expectation of a government appointment as guide, which I learned was finally given him.
Captain Walker was a very eccentric man, well versed in the vocal and sign languages of the Indians, and went at his will among them. He may have visited the Yosemite from his camp before leaving. I was strongly impressed by the simple and upright character of Captain Walker, and his mountain comrades spoke in the highest praise of his ability. Fremont, Kit Carson, Bill Williams, Alex Gody, Vincenthaler (not Vincent Haler, as erroneously appeared in the March number of the Century ), Ferguson and others, all agreed in saying that as a mountain man, Captain Walker had no superior.
Rev. D. D. Chapin, of Maysville, Kentucky, formerly rector of Trinity Church, San Jose, and of St. Peter’s Church, San Francisco, as well as editor of Pacific Churchman, kindly called my attention to a seeming neglect of the claim for Captain Walker as the discoverer of the Yosemite. All that I have ever claimed for myself is, that I was one of the party of white men who first entered the Yosemite valley, as far as known to the Indians.
The fact of my naming the valley cannot be disputed. The existence of some terribly yawning abyss in the mountains, guarded at its entrance by a frightful “Rock Chief,” from whose head rocks would be hurled down upon us if we attempted to enter that resort of demons, was frequently described to us by crafty or superstitious Indians. Hence the greater our surprise upon first beholding a fit abode for angels of light. As for myself, I freely confess that my feelings of hostility against the Indians were overcome by a sense of exaltation; and although I had suffered losses of property and friends, the natural right of the Indians to their inheritance forced itself upon my mind.
The Mariposa Battalion, was assigned by Governor McDougall to the duty of keeping in subjection the Indian tribes on the east side of the San Joaquin and Tulare valleys, from the Tuolumne river to the Te-hon Pass. As soon as the battalion was organized, Major Savage began his preparations for an expedition. There was but little delay in fitting out. Scouting parties were sent out, but with no other effect than to cause a general retreat of the Indians to the mountains, and a cessation of hostilities, except the annoyances from the small bands of thieving marauders. No Indians were overtaken by those detachments, though they were often seen provokingly near. When about to start on a more extended expedition to the mountains, Major Savage received an order from the Governor to suspend hostile operations until he should receive further instructions. We learned at about the same time through the newspapers, as well as from the Governor’s messenger, that the United States Commissioners had arrived in San Francisco. Their arrival had for some time been expected.
Up to this period the Indian affairs of California had not been officially administered upon. Public officers had not before been appointed to look after the vast landed estates of the aboriginal proprietors of this territory, and to provide for their heirs. After some delay, the commissioners arrived at our camp, which was located about fifteen miles below Mariposa village. Here the grazing was most excellent, and for that reason they temporarily established their head-quarters. These officials were Colonels Barbour and McKee, and Dr. Woozencroft. They were accompanied by Col. Neely Johnson, the Governor’s aid, and by a small detachment of regulars. The commissioners at once proceeded to make a thorough investigation into the cause of the war, and of the condition of affairs generally. Having secured the services of some of the Mission Indians, these were sent out with instructions to notify all the tribes that the commissioners had been directed by the President to make peace between them and the white settlers; and that if they would come in, they should be assured protection.
The so-called Mission Indians were members of different tribes who had been instructed in the belief of the Catholic Church, at the old Spanish Missions. These Indians had not generally taken part in the war against the white settlers, although some of them, with the hostiles, were the most treacherous of their race, having required the vices and none of the virtues of their white instructors.
During this period of preliminaries a few Indians ventured in to have a talk with the commissioners. They were very shy and suspicious, for all had been more or less implicated in the depredations that had been committed. Presents were lavishly distributed, and assurances were given that all who came in should be supplied with food and clothing and other useful things. This policy soon became generally known to the Indians.
Among the delegations that visited the comissioners were Vow-ches-ter,* [*An Indian corruption of Bautista.] chief of one of the more peaceful bands, and Russio, a Mission Indian from the Tuolumne, but who in former years had belonged to some of the San Joaquin tribes. These chiefs had always appeared friendly, and had not joined in the hostile attitude assumed by the others. At the outbreak on the Fresno, Vow-ches-ter had been temporarily forced into hostilities by the powerful influence of Jose Rey, and by his desire to secure protection to his relative, one of Savage’s squaws. But with the fall of Jose Rey, his influence over Vow-ches-ter declined, and he was once more left free to show his friendship for the whites. As for Russio, his intelligent services were secured as peacemaker and general Indian interpreter by the commissioners, while a much less competent Mission Indian, Sandino, served in the capacity of interpreter during expeditions into the mountains.
Having been assured of safety, these two chiefs promised to bring in their people and make peace with the whites. All that came in promised a cessation, on the part of their tribes, of the hostilties begun, for which they were rewarded with presents.
Vow-chester, when questioned, stated “that the mountain tribes would not listen to any terms of peace involving the abandonment of their territory; that in the fight near the North Fork of the San Joaquin, Jose Rey had been badly wounded and probably would die; that his tribe were very angry, and would not make peace.” We had up to this time supposed Jose Rey had been killed at “Battle Mountain.” Russio said: “The Indians in the deep rocky valley on the Merced river do not wish for peace, and will not come in to see the chiefs sent by the great father to make treaties. They think the white men cannot find their hiding places, and that therefore they cannot be driven out.” The other Indians of the party confirmed Russio’s statements. Vow-chester was the principal spokesman, and he said: “In this deep valley spoken of by Russio, one Indian is more than ten white men. The hiding places are many. They will throw rocks down on the white men, if any should come near them. The other tribes dare not make war upon them, for they are lawless like the grizzlies, and as strong. We are afraid to go to this valley, for there are many witches there.”
Some of us did not consider Vow-chester’s promise of friendship as reliable. We regarded him as one of the hostile mountain Indians. He, however, was never again engaged in hostilities against the whites. I afterwards learned that Vow-chester and Savage had once professed a strong friendship for each other. The trader at that time had taken a bride who was closely allied to the chief. After the destruction of Savage’s trading posts, in which Vow-ches-ter had taken an active part in procuring a forcible divorce and division of property (though the murders were ascribed to the Chow-chillas), all forms of friendship or relationship had ceased. At this interview no sign of recognition passed. After listening to this parley between the Commissioners and the Indians, I asked Major Savage, who had been acting as interpreter, if he had ever been into the deep valley the Indians had been speaking of. He at first replied that he had, but on a subsequent conversation he corrected this statement by saying, “Last year while I was located at the mouth of the South Fork of the Merced, I was attacked by the Yosemites, but with the Indian miners I had in my employ, drove them off, and followed some of them up the Merced river into a canon, which I supposed led to their stronghold, as the Indians then with me said it was not a safe place to go into. From the appearance of this rocky gorge I had no difficulty in believing them. Fearing an ambush, I did not follow them. It was on this account that I changed my location to Mariposa creek. I would like to get into the den of the thieving murderers. If ever I have a chance I will smoke out the Grizzly Bears (the Yosemites) from their holes, where they are thought to be so secure.”
No peace messengers came in from the mountain Indians, who continued to annoy the settlers with their depredations, thieving from the miner’s camps, and stealing horses and mules from the ranches. While we were awaiting the action of the commissioners, we lost some horses and mules, which were stolen from the vicinity of our camp. After the commissioners had decided upon the measures to be adopted, our battalion was ordered into line and we were then officially informed by Col. Johnson, that our operations as a military organization, would henceforth be under the direction of the United States Commissioners. That by their order we were now assigned to the duty of subduing such Indian tribes as could not otherwise be induced to make treaties with them, and at once cease hostilities and depredations. “Your officers will make all reports to the commissioners. Your orders and instructions will hereafter be issued by them.” The colonel then complimented the soldierly appearance of the battalion (very customary in later years) and then said: “While I do not hesitate to denounce the Indians for the murders and robberies committed by them, we should not forget that there may perhaps be circumstances which, if taken into consideration, might to some extent excuse their hostility to the whites. They probably feel that they themselves are the aggrieved party, looking upon us as trespassers upon their territory, invaders of their country, and seeking to dispossess them of their homes. It may be, they class us with the Spanish invaders of Mexico and California, whose cruelties in civilizing and christianizing them are still traditionally fresh in their memories,” etc. In conclusion the colonel said: “As I am about to leave, I will now bid you ‘good bye,’ with the hope that your actions will be in harmony with the wishes of the commissioners, and that in the performance of your duties, you will in all cases observe mercy where severity is not justly demanded.”
Colonel Johnson gave us a very excellent little speech; but at that time we were not fully impressed with the justness of the remarks which had been made from kindness of heart and sincerely humane feelings. Many of us had lost—some heavily—by the depredations of the Indians. Friends and relatives had been victims of their atrocities. Murders and robberies had been committed without provocations then discernible to us. Many of us would then have been willing to adopt the methods of the old Spanish missionaries, who, it was said, sometimes brought in their converts with the lasso. However, these orders and the speech from Col. Johnson were received with cheers by the more impatient and impulsive of the volunteers, who preferred active service to the comparative quiet of the camp.
The commissioners selected a reservation on the Fresno, near the foot-hills, about eighteen or twenty miles from our camp, to which the Indian tribes with whom treaties had been made were to be removed, and at this locality the commissioners also established a camp, as head-quarters.
The deliberative action on the part of the commissioners, who were very desirous of having the Indians voluntarily come in to make treaties with them, delayed any active cooperation on the part of our battalion until the winter rains had fully set in. Our first extended expedition to the mountains was made during the prevailing storms of the vernal equinox, although detachments had previously made excursions into the country bordering upon the Sierras. This region, like parts of Virginia, proved impassable to a mounted force during the wet season, and our operations were confined to a limited area.
It was at last decided that more extended operations were necessary to bring in the mountain tribes. Although there was no longer unity of action among them, they refused to leave their retreats, and had become even suspicious of each other. The defeat of Jose Rey, and the desertion of the tribes who had made, or had promised to make, treaties with the commissioners, and had ceased from all hostile demonstrations, had caused jealousies and discontent to divide even the most turbulent bands. For the extended operations of the battalion among the mountains, it was decided that Major Savage, with the companies of Captains Boling and Dill, should make expeditions which would require him to traverse the regions of the San Joaquin and Merced rivers. Captain Kuy-ken-dall with his company were to be detached to operate for the same purpose in the regions of the Kings and Kah-we-ah rivers. The Indians captured were to be escorted to the commissioners’ camp on the Fresno. Notwithstanding a storm was gathering, our preparations were cheerfully made, and when the order to “form into line” was given, it was obeyed with alacrity. No “bugle call” announced orders to us; the “details” were made quietly, and we as quietly assembled. Promptly as the word of command “mount,” was given, every saddle was filled. With “forward march,” we naturally filed off into the order of march so readily assumed by mounted frontiersmen while traveling on a trail.
We left our camp as quietly and as orderly as such an undisciplined body could be expected to move, but Major Savage said that we must all learn to be as still as Indians, or we would never find them.
This battalion was a body of hardy, resolute pioneers. Many of them had seen service, and had fought their way against the Indians across the plains; some had served in the war with Mexico and been under military discipline.
Although ununiformed, they were well armed, and their similarities of dress and accoutrements, gave them a general military appearance.
The temperature was mild and agreeable at our camp near the plain, but we began to encounter storms of cold rain as we reached the more elevated localities.
Major Savage being aware that rain on the foot-hills and plain at that season of the year indicated snow higher up, sent forward scouts to intercept such parties as might attempt to escape, but the storm continued to rage with such violence as to render this order useless, and we found the scouts awaiting us at the foot of a mountain known as the Black Ridge. This ridge is a spur of the Sierra Nevada. It separates the Mariposa, Chow-chilla, Fresno and San Joaquin rivers on the south from the Merced on the north. While halting for a rest, and sipping his coffee, Savage expressed an earnest desire to capture the village he had ascertained to be located over the ridge on the south fork of the Merced. He was of the opinion that if it could be reached without their discovery of us, we should have no fighting to do there, as that band would surrender at once rather than endanger their women and children, who would be unable to escape through the snow. Toward this village we therefore marched as rapidly as the nature of the steep and snow-obstructed trail would permit us to travel. An Indian that answered to the name of “Bob, an attaché of the Major, serving as guide. Climbing up this steep black mountain, we soon reached the region of snow, which at the summit, was fully four feet deep, though the cold was not intense. By this time, night was upon us. The trail led over the ridge at a point where its tabled summit was wooded with a forest of pines, cedars and firs, so dense as almost to exclude the light of the stars that now and then appeared struggling through the gloom.
We laboriously followed our guide and file leader, but this trail was so indistinctly seen in the darkness, that at intervals deep mutterings would be heard from some drowsy rider who missed the beaten path. As we commenced the descent of the ridge, the expressions became more forcible than polite when some unlucky ones found themselves floundering in the snow below the uncertain trail. If left to their own sagacity, a horse or mule will follow its leader; but if a self-willed rider insists upon his own judgment, the poor animal has not only to suffer the extra fatigue incurred by a mistep, but also the punishment of the spur, and hear the explosive maledictions of the master. The irritating responses of his comrades that “another fool has been discovered,” was not then calculated to sooth the wrath that was then let loose.
With short halts and repeated burrowings in the deep, damp snow, the South Fork of the Merced was at length reached about a mile below what is now known as Clark’, or Wah-ha-wo-na, from Wah-ha-wo-na, a Big Tree. We here made a halt, and our weary animals were provided with some barley, for the snow was here over a foot deep. The major announced that it was but a short distance below to the Indian village, and called for volunteers to accompany him—it might be for a fight or perhaps only a footrace—circumstances would determine which. The major’s call was promptly and fully answered, although all were much fatigued with the tedious night march. The animals were left, and a sufficient number was selected to remain as a reserve force and camp guard. At daylight we filed away on foot to our destination, following the major who was guided by “Bob.”
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