Yosemite > Library > Discovery > Chapter 3 >
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March Down the South Fork—Capture of an Indian Village—Hungry Men—An able Surgeon—Snow Storms—Visit of Ten-ie-ya, Chief of the Yosemites—Commander’s Dilemma—Unique Manner of Extrication—Approaching the Valley—First View—Sensations Experienced—A Lofty Flight Brought Down.
There was a very passable trail for horses leading down the right bank of the river, but it was overlooked on the left bank by the Indian village, which was situated on a high point at a curve in the river that commanded an extensive view up and down. To avoid being seen, the Major led us along down the left bank, where we were compelled, at times, to wade into the rushing torrent to avoid the precipitous and slippery rocks, which, in places, dipped into the stream. Occasionally, from a stumble, or from the deceptive depths of the clear mountain stream, an unfortunate one was immersed in the icy fluid, which seemed colder than the snow baths of the mountain. With every precaution, some became victims to these mischances, and gave vent to their emotions, when suddenly immersed, by hoarse curses, which could be heard above the splash and roar of the noisy water. These men (headed by Surgeon Bronson) chilled and benumbed, were sent back to the camp to “dry their ammunition.” After passing this locality—our march thus far having alternated in snow and water—we arrived, without being discovered, in sight of the smoke of their camp-fires, where we halted for a short rest.
Major Savage gave some orders to Captain Boling which were not then understood by me. On again resuming our march, the Major, with “Bob,” started at a rapid step, while the others maintained a slow gait.
I followed the Major as I had been accustomed during the march. I soon heard an audible smile, evidently at my expense. I comprehended that I had somehow “sold” myself, but as the Major said nothing, I continued my march. I observed a pleased expression in the Major’s countenance, and a twinkle of his eyes when he glanced back at me as if he enjoyed the fun of the “boys” behind us, while he increased his speed to an Indian jog-trot. I determined to appear as unconscious, as innocent of my blunder, and accommodate my gait to his movements. My pride or vanity was touched, and I kept at his heels as he left the trot for a more rapid motion. After a run of a mile or more, we reached the top of a narrow ridge which overlooked the village. The Major here cast a side glace at me as he threw himself on the ground, saying: “I always prided myself on my endurance, but somehow this morning my bottom fails me.” As quietly as I could I remarked that he had probably been traveling faster than he was aware of, as “Bob” must be some way behind us. After a short scrutiny of my unconcerned innocence, he burst into a low laugh and said: “Bunnell, you play it well, and you have beaten me at a game of my own choosing. I have tested your endurance, however; such qualifications are really valuable in our present business.” He then told me as I seated myself near him, that he saw I had not understood the order, and had increased his speed, thinking I would drop back and wait for the others to come up, as he did not wish to order me back, although he had preferred to make this scout alone with “Bob,” as they were both acquainted with the band and the region they occupy. While we resting “Bob” came up. The Major gave him some direction in an Indian dialect I did not understand, and he moved on to an adjoining thicket, while the Major and myself crawled to the shelter of a bunch of blue brush (California lilac), just above where we had halted.
After obtaining the desired information without being seen, Bob was sent back to Captain Boling to “hurry him up.” While awaiting the arrival of our command, I, in answer to his inquiries, informed the Major that I had come to Detroit, Michigan, in 1833, when it was but little more than a frontier village; that the Indians annually assembled there and at Malden, Canada, to receive their annuities. At that time, being but nine years of age, and related to Indian traders, I was brought in contact with their customers, and soon learned their language, habits and character, which all subsequent attempts to civilize me had failed entirely to eradicate. This statement evidently pleased the Major, and finding me familiar with frontier life, he continued his conversation, and I soon learned that I was acquainted with some of his friends in the Northwest. I have related this incident because it was the beginning of an intimate friendship which ever afterward existed between us.
On the arrival of Captains Boling and Dill with their respective companies, we were deployed into skirmish line, and advanced toward the encampment without any effort at concealment. On discovering us the Indians hurriedly ran to and fro, as if uncertain what course to pursue. Seeing an unknown force approaching, they threw up their hands in token of submission, crying out at the same time in Spanish, “Pace! pace!” (peace! peace!) We were at once ordered to halt while Major Savage went forward to arrange for the surrender. The Major was at once recognized and cordially received by such of the band as he desired to confer with officially. We found the village to be that of Pon-wat-chee, a chief of the Noot-chü tribe, whose people had formerly worked for Savage under direction of Cow-chit-ty, his brother, and from whose tribe Savage had taken Ee-e-ke-no, one of his former wives. The chief professed still to entertain feelings of friendship for Savage, saying that he was now willing to obey his counsels. Savage, in response, lost no time in preliminary affairs.
He at once told the chief the object of the expedition, and his requirements. His terms were promptly agreed to, and before we had time to examine the captives or their wigwams, they had commenced packing their supplies and removing their property from their bark huts. This done, the torch was applied by the Indians themselves, in token of their sincerity in removing to the Reservations on the Fresno.
By the Major’s orders they had at once commenced their preparations for removal to a rendezvous, which he had selected nearly opposite this encampment, which was accessible to horses. This plateau was also the location designated for our camp. This camp was afterwards used by an employé at the agency, whose name was Bishop, and was known as Bishop’s Camp. It is situated on an elevated table, on the right side of the valley of the South Fork.
While the Indians were preparing for their transfer to the place selected, our tired and hungry men began to feel the need of rest and refreshments. We had traveled a much longer distance since the morning before than had been estimated in expectation of a halt, and many of the men had not tasted food since the day before.
John Hankin told Major Savage that if a roast dog could be procured, he would esteem it an especial favor. Bob McKee thought this a capital time to learn to eat acorn bread, but after trying some set before him by “a young and accomplished squaw,” as the Major cynically termed her, concluded he was not yet hungry enough for its enjoyment.
A call was made for volunteers to go back to bring up the reserve and supplies, but the service was not very promptly accepted. McKee, myself and two others, however, offered to go with the order to move down to the selected rendezvous. Three Indians volunteerd to go with us as guides; one will seldom serve alone. We found the trail on the right bank less laborious to travel than was expected, for the snow had mostly disappeared from the loose, sandy soil, which upon this side of the river has a southwesterly exposure. On our arrival in camp preparations were begun to obey the order of the Major. While coffee was being prepared Doctor Bronson wisely prescribed and most skillfully administered to us a refreshing draught of “Aqua Ardente.”
After a hasty breakfast, we took to our saddles, and taking a supply of biscuits and cold meat, left the train and arrived at the new camp ground just as our hungry comrades came up from the Indian village. The scanty supplies, carried on our saddles, were thankfully received and speedily disposed of. The Indians had not yet crossed the river. We found that we had traveled about twelve miles, while our comrades and the captives had accomplished only three.
From this camp, established as our headquarters, or as a base of operations while in this vicinity, Major Savage sent Indian runners to the bands who were supposed to be hiding in the mountains. These messengers were instructed to assure all the Indians that if they would go and make treaties with the commissioners. they would there be furnished with food and clothing, and receive protection, but if they did not come in, he should make war upon them until he destroyed them all.
Pon-wat-chee had told the Major when his own village was captured, that a small band of Po-ho-no-chees were encamped on the sunny slope of the divide of the Merced, and he having at once dispatched a runner to them, they began to come into camp. This circumstance afforded encouragement to the Major, but Pon-wat-chee was not entirely sanguine of success with the Yosemites, though he told the Major that if the snow continued deep they could not escape.
At first but few Indians came in, and these were very cautious—dodging behind rocks and trees, as if fearful we would not recognize their friendly signals.
Being fully assured by those who had already come in, of friendly treatment, all soon came in who were in our immediate vicinity. None of the Yosemites had responded to the general message sent. Upon a special envoy being sent to the chief, he appeared the next day in person. He came alone, and stood in dignifed silence before one of the guard, until motioned to enter camp. He was immediately recognized by Pon-wat-chee as Ten-ie-ya, the old chief of the Yosemites, and was kindly cared for—being well supplied with food—after which, with the aid of the other Indians, the Major informed him of the wishes of the commissioners. The old sachem was very suspicious of Savage, and feared he was taking this method of getting the Yosemites into his power for the purpose of revenging his personal wrongs. Savage told him that if he would go to the commissioners and make a treaty of peace with them, as the other Indians were going to do, there would be no more war. Ten-ie-ya cautiously inquired as to the object of taking all the Indians to the plains of the San Joaquin valley, and said: “My people do not want anything from the ‘Great Father’ you tell me about. The Great Spirit is our father, and he has always supplied us with all we need. We do not want anything from white men. Our women are able to do our work. Go, then; let us remain in the mountains where we were born; where the ashes of our fathers have been given to the winds. I have said enough!”
This was abruptly answered by Savage, in Indian dialect and gestures: “If you and your people have all you desire, why do you steal our horses and mules? Why do you rob the miners’ camps? Why do you murder the white men, and plunder and burn their houses?”
Ten-ie-ya sat silent for some time; it was evident he understood what Savage had said, for he replied: “My young men have sometimes taken horses and mules from the whites. It was wrong for them to do so. It is not wrong to take the property of enemies, who have wronged my people. My young men believed the white gold-diggers were our enemies; we now know they are not, and we will be glad to live in peace with them. We will stay here and be friends. My people do not want to go to the plains. The tribes who go there are some of them very bad. They will make war on my people. We cannot live on the plains with them. Here we can defend ourselves against them.”
In reply to this Savage very deliberately and firmly said: “Your people must go to the Commissioners and make terms with them. If they do not, your young men will again steal our horses, your people will again kill and plunder the whites. It was your people who robbed my stores, burned my houses, and murdered my men. If they do not make a treaty, your whole tribe will be destroyed, not one of them will be left alive.” At this vigorous ending of the Major’s speech, the old chief replied: “It is useless to talk to you about who destroyed your property and killed your people. If the Chow-chillas do not boast of it, they are cowards, for they led us on. I am old and you can kill me if you will, but what use to lie to you who know 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.” He was allowed to go. The next day he came back, and said his people would soon come to our camp; that when he had told them they could come with safety they were willing to go and make a treaty with the men sent by the “Great Father,” who was so good and rich. Another day passed, but no Indians made their appearance from the “deep valley,” spoken of so frequently by those at our camp. The old chief said the snow was so deep that they could not travel fast, that his village was so far down (gesticulating, by way of illustration, with his hands) that when the snow was deep on the mountains they would be a long time climbing out of it. As we were at the time having another storm Ten-ie-ya’s explanation was accepted, but was closely watched.
The next day passed without their coming, although the snow storm had ceased during the night before. It was then decided that it would be necessary to go to the village of the Yosemites, and bring them in; and in case they could not be found there, to follow to their hiding-places in the deep cañon, so often represented as such a dangerous locality. Ten-ie-ya was questioned as to the route and the time it would take his people to come in; and when he learned we were going to his village, he represented that the snow was so deep that the horses could not go through it. He also stated that the rocks were so steep that our horses could not climb out of the valley if they should go into it. Captain Boling caused Ten-ie-ya’s statements to be made known to his men. It was customary in all of our expeditions where the force was divided, to call for volunteers. The men were accordingly drawn up into line, and the call made that all who wished to go to the village of the Yosemites were to step three paces to the front. When the order to advance was given, to the surprise of Captains Boling and Dill, each company moved in line as if on parade. The entire body had volunteered. As a camp-guard was necessary, a call was then made for volunteers for this duty. When the word “march” was again repeated, but a limited number stepped to the front. Captain Boling, with a smile on his good-natured face, said: “A camp-guard will have to be provided in some way. I honor the sentiment that prompted you all to volunteer for the exploration, and I also appreciate the sacrifice made by those who are willing to stay; but these are too few. Our baggage, supplies and Indian captives must be well guarded. I endeavored to make the choice of duty voluntary, by representing the difficulties that might reasonably be expected, and thus secure those best suited for the respective duty of field and camp. I am baffled, but not defeated, for I have another test of your fitness; it is a foot race. You know it has been represented to us by Ten-ie-ya that the route to his village is an extremely difficult one, and impassable for our horses. It may not be true, but it will be prudent to select men for the expedition who have proved their endurance and fleetness. I now propose that you decide what I have found so difficult.”
This proposition was received with shouts of laughter, and the arrangements for the contest were at once commenced, as it afforded a source of frolicsome amusement. A hundred yards were paced off, and the goal conspicuously marked. A distance line was to determine who should constitute the camp-guard. I doubt if such boisterous hilarity and almost boyish merriment was ever before seen while making a detail from any military organization.
The Indians were at first somewhat alarmed at the noisy preparations, and began to be fearful of their safety, but on learning the cause of the excitement, they, too, became interested in the proceedings, and expressed a desire to participate in the race. Two or three were allowed to join in as proxies for the “heavy ones” who concluded not to run, though willing to pay the young Indians to represent them in the race, provided they came out ahead. One young Indian did beat every man, except Bob McKee, for whom he manifested great admiration. Many anxious ones ran barefooted in the snow. The Indian’s motions were not impeded by any civilized garments; a modest waist cloth was all they had on. In subsequent races, after a long rest, several of our men demonstrated that their racing powers were superior to the fastest of the Indian runners. Captain Boling’s racing scheme brought out the strong points of the runners. Enough were distanced in both companies to secure an ample camp-guard. The envious guard raised the point that this method of detail was simply a proof of legs, not brains. It was reported in camp that Captain Boling had kept a record of the speedy ones which he had filed away for future use in cases where fleetness of foot would be required for extra duties.
Preparations were made for an early start the next morning. The officer to be left in charge of the camp was instructed to allow the Indians all liberty consistent with safety, and to exercise no personal restraint over them unless there should be an evident attempt to leave in a body; when, of course, any movement of the kind was to be defeated. The Major said: “I deem the presence of the women and children a sufficient hostage for the peaceful conduct of the men, but do not allow any of them to enter our tents, or we may lose possession.”
This last injunction was to guard against annoyance from vermin. The pediculi of the Indian race have an especial affinity for them. White people have but little to fear from Indian vermin except the temporary annoyance that is experienced from some species that infest animals and birds. They do not find the transfer congenial, and soon disappear. This fact may not be generally known, but I believe it to be a normal arrangement for the exclusive comfort of the Indian.
To me this is quite suggestive, when considered as evidence of a diversity of origin of the races. I have been very particular in my observations in this matter, and have compared my own with experiences of others, and have been led to the conclusion that each separate race has parasites indigenous to that race, although the genus may be common to each.
This reluctant adaptability of these “entomological inconveniences” saved us from one of the curses of the ancient Egyptians, when contact was unavoidable.
As no information had been received from the camp of the Yosemites, after an early breakfast, the order was passed to “fall in,” and when the order “march” was given, we moved off in single file, Savage leading, with Ten-ie-ya as guide.
From the length of time taken by the chief to go and return from his encampment, it was supposed that with horses, and an early start, we should be able to go and return the same day, if for any cause it should be deemed desirable, although sufficient supplies were taken, in case of a longer delay.
While ascending to the divide between the South Fork and the main Merced we found but little snow, but at the divide, and beyond, it was from three to five feet in depth, and in places much deeper. The sight of this somewhat cooled our ardor, but none asked for a “furlough.”
To somewhat equalize the laborious duties of making a trail, each man was required to take his turn in front. The leader of the column was frequently changed; no horse or mule could long endure the fatigue without relief. To effect this, the tired leader dropped out of line, resigning his position to his followers, taking a place in the rear, on the beaten trail, exemplifying, that “the first shall be last, and the last shall be first.” The snow packed readily, so that a very comfortable trail was left in the rear of our column.
Old Ten-ie-ya relaxed the rigidity of his bronze features, in admiration of our method of making a trail, and assured us, that, notwithstanding the depth of snow, we would soon reach his village. We had in our imaginations pictured it as in some deep rocky canon in the mountains.
While in camp the frantic efforts of the old chief to describe the location to Major Savage, had resulted in the unanimous verdict among the “boys,” who were observing him, that “it must be a devil of a place.” Feeling encouraged by the hope that we should soon arrive at the residences of his Satanic majesty’s subjests, we wallowed on, alternately becoming the object of a joke, as we in turn were extricated from the drifts. When we had traversed a little more than half the distance, as was afterwards proved, we met the Yosemites on their way to our rendezvous on the South Fork.
As they filed past us, the major took account of their number, which was but seventy-two. As they reached our beaten trail, satisfaction was variously expressed, by grunts from the men, by the low rippling laughter from the squaws, and by the children clapping their hands in glee at the sight. On being asked where the others of his band were, the old Sachem said, “This is all of my people that are willing to go with me to the plains. Many that have been with me are from other tribes. They have taken wives from my band; all have gone with their wives and children to the Tuolumne and to the Monos.” Savage told Ten-ie-ya that he was telling him that which was not true. The Indians could not cross the mountains in the deep snow, neither could they go over the divide of the Tuolumne. That he knew they were still at his village or in hiding places near it. Ten-ie-ya assured the major he was telling him the truth, and in a very solemn manner declared that none of his band had been left behind—that all had gone before his people had left. His people had not started before because of the snow storm.
With a belief that but a small part of Ten-ie-ya’s band was with this party, Major Savage decided to go on to the Indian village and ascertain if any others could be found or traces of them discovered. This decision was a satisfactory one and met with a hearty approval as it was reported along the line.
This tribe had been estimated by Pon-wat-chee and Cow-chit-tee, as numbering more than two hundred; as about that number usually congregated when they met together to “cache “their acorns in the valley, or for a grand annual hunt and drive of game; a custom which secured an abundant supply for the feast that followed.
At other times they were scattered in bands on the sunny slopes of the ridges, and in the mountain glens. Ten-ie-ya had been an unwilling guide thus far, and Major Savage said to him: “You may return to camp with your people, and I will take one of your young men with me. There are but few of your people here. Your tribe is large. I am going to your village to see your people, who will not come with you. They will come with me if I find them.”
Savage then selected one of the young “braves” to accompany him. Ten-ie-ya replied, as the young Indian stepped forward by his direction, “I will go with my people; my young man shall go with you to my village. You will not find any people there. I do not know where they are. My tribe is small—not large, as the white chief has said. The Pai-utes and Mono’s are all gone. Many of the people with my tribe are from western tribes that have come to me and do not wish to return. If they go to the plains and are seen, they will be killed by the friends of those with whom they had quarreled. I have talked with my people and told them I was going to see the white chiefs sent to make peace. I was told that I was growing old, and it was well that I should go, but that young and strong men can find plenty in the mountains; therefore why should they go? to be yarded like horses and cattle. My heart has been sore since that talk, but I am now willing to go, for it is best for my people that I do so.”
The Major listened to the old Indian’s volubility for awhile, but interrupted him with a cheering “Forward march!” at which the impatient command moved briskly forward over the now partly broken trail, leaving the chief alone, as his people had already gone on.
We found the traveling much less laborious than before, and it seemed but a short time after we left the Indians before we suddenly came in full view of the valley in which was the village, or rather the encampments of the Yosemities. The immensity of rock I had seen in my vision on the Old Bear Valley trail from Ridley’s Ferry was here presented to my astonished gaze. The mystery of that scene was here disclosed. My awe was increased by this nearer view. The face of the immense cliff was shadowed by the declining sun; its outlines only had been seen at a distance. This towering mass
“Fools our fond gaze, and greatest of the great,
Defies at first our Nature’s littleness,
Till, growing with (to) its growth, we thus dilate
Our spirits to the size of that they contemplate.”
That stupendous cliff is now known as “El Capitan” (the Captain), and the plateau from which we had our first view of the valley, as Mount Beatitude.
(3,300 feet in height.)
During many subsequent visits to this locality, this sensation was never again so fully aroused. It is probable that the shadows fast clothing all before me, and the vapory clouds at the head of the valley, leaving the view beyond still undefined, gave a weirdness to the scene, that made it so impressive; and the conviction that it was utterly indescribable added strength to the emotion. It is not possible for the same intensity of feeling to be aroused more than once by the same object, although I never looked upon these scenes except with wonder and admiration.
Richardson, in his admirable work, “Beyond the Mississippi,” says: “See Yosemite and die! I shall not attempt to describe it; the subject is too large and my capacity too small. * * * Painfully at first these stupendous walls confuse the mind. By degrees, day after day, the sight of them clears it, until at last one receives a just impression of their solemn immensity. * * * Volumes ought to be and will be written about it.”
Mr. Richardson has expressed in graphic language the impressions produced upon nearly all who for the first time behold this wonderful valley. The public has now, to a certain degree, been prepared for these scenes.
They are educated by the descriptions, sketches, photographs and masterly paintings of Hill and Bierstadt; whereas, on our first visit, our imagination had been misled by the descriptive misrepresentations of savages, whose prime object was to keep us from their safe retreat, until we had expected to see some terrible abyss. The reality so little resembled the picture of imagination, that my astonishment was the more overpowering.
To obtain a more distinct and quiet view, I had left the trail and my horse and wallowed through the snow alone to a projecting granite rock. So interested was I in the scene before me, that I did not observe that my comrades had all moved on, and that I would soon be left indeed alone. My situation attracted the attention of Major Savage,—who was riding in rear of column,—who hailed me from the trail below with, “you had better wake up from that dream up there, or you may lose your hair; I have no faith in Ten-ie-ya’s 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 handy-work is in that ‘Testimony of the Rocks.’ That mute appeal—pointing to El Capitan—illustrates it, with more convincing eloquence than can the most powerful arguments 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 commenced to provide supper for the hungry command; while the light-hearted “boys” were indulging their tired horses with the abundant grass found on the meadow near by, which was but lightly covered with snow.
Mr. J. M. Hutchings has recently cited Elliott’s History of Fresno County and dispatches from Major Savage as proof that it was May 5th or 6th, 1851, that the Mariposa Battalion first entered the Yosemite. As a matter of fact, our adjutant was not with us when the discovery was made in March, nor was there ever but two companies in the Yosemite at any time, Boling’s and part of Dill’. Captain Dill himself was detailed for duty at the Fresno, after the expedition in March, as was also the adjutant. In making out his report, Mr. Lewis must have ignored the first entry of the valley by the few men who discovered it, and made his first entry to appear as the date of the discovery. This may or may not have been done to give importance to the operations of the battalion. I have never seen the report.
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