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Previous: Chapter VIndexNext: Chapter VII

DISCOVERY OF THE YOSEMITE
CHAPTER VI.

Out of Provisions—A hurried Move—Mills where Indians take Their Grists, and Pots in which they Boil their Food—Advance Movement of Captain Dill—A Hungry Squad—Enjoyment—Neglect of Duty—Escape of Indians—Following their Trail—A Sorrowful Captain—A Mystery made Clear—Duplicity of the Chow-chillas—Vow-chester’s Good-will Offering—Return of the Fugitives—Major Savage as Agent and Interpreter.

On our arrival at the rendezvous on the South Fork the officer in charge reported: “We are about out of grub.” This was a satisfactory cause for a hurried movement; for a short allowance had more terrors for men with our appetites than severe duties; and most of us had already learned that, even with prejudice laid aside, our stomachs would refuse the hospitalities of the Indians, if it were possible for them to share with us from their own scanty stores. The Major’s experience prompted him at once to give the order to break camp and move on for the camp on the Fresno.

Our mounted force chafed at the slowness of our march; for the Indians could not be hurried. Although their cookery was of the most primitive character, we were very much delayed by the time consumed in preparing their food.

While traveling we were compelled to accommodate our movements to the capacities or inclinations of the women and children. Captain Dill, therefore, with his company was sent on ahead from the crossing of the South Fork, they leaving with us what food they could spare. When Dill reached the waters of the Fresno about one hundred “captives” joined him. These Indians voluntarily surrendered to Captain Dill’s company, which at once hurried them on, and they reached the commissioners at the Fresno.

Captain Boling’s company and Major Savage remained with the “Grand Caravan,” keeping out scouts and hunters to secure such game as might be found to supply ourselves with food. We had no anxiety for the safety or security of our “captives;” our own subsistence was the important consideration; for the first night out from Bishop’s camp left us but scanty stores for breakfast. Our halting places were selected from the old Indian camping grounds, which were supplied with hoyas (holes or mortars). These permanent mortars were in the bed-rock, or in large detached rocks that had fallen from the cliffs or mountains. These “hoyas” had been formed and used by past generations. They were frequent on our route, many of them had long been abandoned; as there was no indications of recent uses having been made of them. From their numbers it was believed that the Indians had once been much more numerous than at that date.

By means of the stone pestles with which they were provided, the squaws used these primitive mills to reduce their acorns and grass seeds to flour or meal. While the grists were being ground, others built the fires on which stones were heated.

When red hot, these stones were plunged into baskets nearly filled with water; this is continued until the water boils. The stones are then removed and the acorn meal, or a cold mixture of it, is stirred in until thin gruel is made; the hot stones are again plunged into the liquid mass and and again removed. When sufficiently cooked, this “Atola” or porridge, was poured into plates or moulds of sand, prepared for that purpose. During the process of cooling, the excess of water leaches off through the sand, leaving the woody fibre tannin and unappropriated coarse meal in distinctive strata; the edible portion being so defined as to be easily separated from the refuse and sand. This preparation was highly prized by them, and contrary to preconceived ideas and information, all of the Indians I asked assured me that the bitter acorns were the best when cooked. This compound of acorn meal resembles corn starch blanc mange in color, but is more dense in consistency. Although it was free from grit, and comparatively clean, none of us were able to eat it, and we were quite hungry. From this, I was led to conclude that to relish this Indian staple, the taste must be acquired while very young.

Old Ten-ie-ya’s four wives, and other squaws, were disposed to be quite hospitable when they learned that our supply of provisions was exhausted. None of the command, however, ventured to sample their acorn-jellies, grass-seed much, roasted grasshoppers, and their other delicacies; nothing was accepted but the Piñon pine nuts, which were generally devoured with a relish and a regret for the scarcity.

Certain species of worms, the larvae of ants and some other insects, common mushrooms and truffles, or wood-mushrooms, are prized by the Indian epicure, as are eels, shrimps, oysters, frogs, turtles, snails, etc., by his white civilized brother. Are we really but creatures of education?

The baskets used by the Indians for boiling their food and other purposes, as has been before stated, are made of a tough mountain bunch-grass, nearly as hard and as strong as wire, and almost as durable. So closely woven are they, that but little if any water can escape from them. They are made wholly impervious with a resinous compound resembling the vulcanized rubber used by dentists. This composition does not appear to be in the least affected by hot water. The same substance, in appearance at least, is used by Mountain Indians in attaching sinews to bows, and feathers and barbs to arrows.

I endeavored to ascertain what the composition was, but could only learn that the resin was procured from small trees or shrubs, and that some substance (probably mineral) was mixed with it, the latter to resist the action of heat and moisture. I made a shrewd guess that pulverized lava and sulphur (abundant east of the High Sierras) was used, but for some cause I was left in ignorance. The Indians, like all ignorant persons, ascribe remarkable virtues to very simple acts and to inert remedies. Upon one occasion a doctor was extolling the virtues of a certain root, ascribing to it almost miraculous powers; I tried in vain to induce him to tell me the name of the root. He stated that the secret was an heir-loom, and if told, the curative power of the plant would disappear; but he kindly gave me some as a preventive of some imaginary ill, when lo! I discovered the famous remedy to be the cowslip.

After a delayed and hungry march of several days, we halted near sundown within a few miles of the Commissioner’s headquarters, and went into camp for the night. The Indians came straggling in at will from their hunts on the way, their trophies of skill with their bows being the big California squirrels, rabbits or hares and quail. Our more expert white hunters had occasionally brought in venison for our use. We had ceased to keep a very effective guard over our “captives;” none seemed necessary, as all appeared contented and satisfied, almost joyous, as we neared their destination on the Fresno.

The truth is, we regarded hostilities, so far as these Indians were concerned, as ended. We had voted the peace policy a veritable success. We had discussed the matter in camp, and contrasted the lack of spirit exhibited by these people with what we knew of the warlike character of the Indians of Texas and of the Northwestern plains. In these comparisons, respect for our captives was lost in contempt. “The noble red man” was not here represented. The only ones of the Pacific Slope, excepting the Navahoes, Pimas and Maricopahs, that bear any comparison with the Eastern tribes for intelligence and bravery, are the You-mahs of the Colorado river, the Modocs, and some of the Rogue and Columbia river tribes, but none of these really equal the Sioux and some other Eastern tribes.

Hardly any attention had been paid to the captives during the preceding night, except from the guard about our own camp; from a supposition that our services could well be spared. Application was therefore made by a few of us, for permission to accompany the Major, who had determined to go on to the Fresno head-quarters. When consent was given, the wish was so generally expressed, that Captain Boling with nine men to act as camp guard, volunteered to remain, if Major Savage would allow the hungry “boys” to ride with him. The Major finally assented to the proposition, saying: “I do not suppose the Indians can be driven off, or be induced to leave until they have had the feast I promised them; besides, they will want to see some of the commissioner’s finery. I have been delighting their imaginations with descriptions of the presents in store for them.”

When the order was passed for the hungry squad to fall in, we mounted with grateful feelings towards Captain Boling, and the “boys” declared that the Major was a trump, for his consideration of our need. With the prospect of a good “square” meal, and the hope of a genial “smile” from our popular commissary, the time soon passed, and the distance seemed shortened, for we entered the Fresno camp before our anticipations were cloyed. Head-quarters was well supplied with all needful comforts, and was not totally deficient in luxuries. Our Quarter-Master and Commissary was active in his duties, and as some good woman say of their husbands, “He was a good provider.” We had no reason to complain of our reception; our urgent requirements were cheerfully met. The fullness of our entertainment did not prevent a good night’s rest, nor interfere with the comfortable breakfast which we enjoyed. While taking coffee, the self denial of Captain Boling and his volunteer guard was not forgotten. Arrangements were made to furnish the best edible and potable stores, that could be secured from our conscientious and prudent commissary. We were determined to give them a glorious reception; but—the Captain did not bring in his captives! Major Savage sent out a small detachment to ascertain the cause of the delay. This party filled their haversacks with comforts for the “Indian guard.” After some hours of delay, the Major became anxious to hear from Captain Boling, and began to be suspicious that something more serious than the loss of his animals, was the cause of not sending in a messenger, and he ordered out another detachment large enough to meet any supposed emergency. Not far from camp, they met the Captain and his nine men (the “Indian guard”) and one Indian, with the relief party first sent out. Our jovial Captain rode into “Head-quarters” looking more crest fallen than he had ever been seen before. When asked by the Major where he had left the Indians, he blushed like a coy maiden and said: “They have all gone to the mountains, but the one I have with me.”

After Captain Boling had made his report to the Major, and made all explanations to the commissioners, and when he had refreshed himself with an extra ration or two of the potable liquid, that by special stipulation had been reserved for the “Indian Guard,” something of his old humor returned to him, and he gave us the details of his annoyances by the breach of trust on the part of “our prisoners.”

The Captain said: “Soon after you left us last night, one of my men, who was out hunting when we camped, came in with a deer he had killed just at the dusk of the evening. From this we made a hearty supper, and allowed the youth who had helped to bring in the deer to share in the meat. The Indian cooked the part given to him at our fire, and ate with the avidity of a famished wolf. This excited comment, and anecdotes followed of the enormous appetites displayed by some of them. The question was then raised, ‘how much can this Indian eat at one meal?’ I suggested that a fair trial could not be had with only one deer. Our hunter said he would give him a preliminary trial, and when deer were plenty we could then test his full capacity, if he should prove a safe one to bet on. He then cut such pieces as we thought would suffice for our breakfast, and, with my approval, gave the remainder to his boy, who was anxiously watching his movements. I consented to this arrangement, not as a test of his capacity, for I had often seen a hungry Indian eat, but as a reward for his services in bringing in the deer on his shoulders. He readily re-commenced his supper, and continued to feast until every bone was cracked and picked. When the last morsel of the venison had disappeared he commenced a doleful sing-song, ‘Way-ah-we-ha-ha, Wah-ah-we-ha-ha’ to some unknown deity, or, if I was to judge from my ear of the music, it must have been his prayer to the devil, for I have heard that it is a part of their worship. His song was soon echoed from the camp where all seemed contentment. After consoling himself in this manner for some time he fell asleep at our fire.

“The performance being over, I told my men to take their sleep and I would watch, as I was not sleepy; if I wanted them I would call them. I then thought, as Major Savage had declared, the Indians could scarcely be driven off, until they had had their feast and the presents they expected to have given them. I sat by the fire for a long time cogitating on past events and future prospects, when thinking it useless to require the men to stand guard, I told them to sleep. Moving about and seeing nothing but the usual appearance, I decided it to be unneccessary to exercise any further vigilance, and told one of the men, who was partially aroused by my movements, and who offered to get up and stand guard, that he had better lie still and sleep. Toward morning I took another round, and finding the Indian camp wrapped in apparently profound slumber, I concluded to take a little sleep myself, until daylight. This now seems unaccountable to me, for I am extremely cautious in my habits. Such a breach of military discipline would have subjected one of my men to a court-martial. I confess myself guilty of neglect of duty; I should have taken nothing for granted.

“No one can imagine my surprise and mortification when I was called and told that the Indian camp was entirely deserted, and that none were to be seen except the one asleep by our camp fire. My indifference to placing a guard over the Indian camp will probably always be a mystery to me, but it most likely saved our lives, for if we had attempted to restrain them, and you know us well enough to believe we would not have let them off without a fight; they would probably have pretty well used us up. As it was, we did not give them up without an effort. We saddled our horses and started in chase, thinking that as while with us, their women and children would retard their progress, and that we would soon overtake them. We took the young brave with us, who had slept by our fire. He knew nothing of the departure of his people, and was very much alarmed, as he expected we would at once kill him. I tried to make him useful in following their trail; he by signs, gave me to understand he did not know where they had gone, and seemed unwilling to take the trail when I pointed it out to him. He evidently meant to escape the first opportunity. I kept him near me and treated him kindly, but gave him to understand I should shoot him if he tried to leave me.

“We pursued until the trail showed that they had scattered in every direction in the brushy ravines and on the rocky side of a mountain covered with undergrowth, where we could not follow them with our animals. Chagrined and disgusted with myself for my negligence, and my inability to recover any part of my charge, and considering farther pursuit useless, we turned about and took the trail to head-quarters with our one captive.”

Major Savage took the youngster under his charge, and flattered him by his conversations and kindly treatment. The Commissioners lionized him somewhat; he was gaily clothed and ornamented, loaded with presents for his own family relations, and was given his liberty and permitted to leave camp at his leisure, and thus departed the last of the “grand caravan” of some three hundred and fifty “captives,” men, women and children, which we had collected and escorted from the mountains.

The sight of the one hundred brought to them by Captain Dill, and his report that we were coming with about three hundred and fifty more, aroused sanguine hopes in the commission that the war was over, and that their plans had been successful. “Now that the prisoners have fled,” we asked, “What will be done?”

To a military man, this lack of discipline and precaution—through which the Indians escaped—will seem unpardonable; and an officer who, like our Captain, should leave his camp unguarded, under any circumstances, would be deemed disgracefully incompetent. In palliation of these facts, it may not occur to the rigid disciplinarian that Captain John Boling and the men under him—or the most of them, had not had the advantages of army drill and discipline. The courage of these mountain-men in times of danger was undoubted; their caution was more apt to be displayed in times of danger to others, than when they themselves were imperiled.

In this case Captain Boling was not apprehensive of danger to those under his charge. His excessive good nature and good will toward his men prompted him to allow, even to command them, to take the sleep and rest that an irregular diet, and the labor of hunting while on the march, had seemed to require. No one had a keener sense of his error than himself. The whole command sympathized with him—notwithstanding the ludicrous aspect of the affair—their finer feelings were aroused by his extreme regrets. They determined that if opportunities offered, he should have their united aid to wipe out this stigma. Major Savage was deceived by the child-like simplicity with which the Indians had been talking to him of the feast expected, and of the presents they would soon receive from the commissioners. He did not suppose it possible that they would make an attempt to escape, or such a number would not have been left with so small a guard. We had men with us who knew what discipline was, who had been trained to obey orders without hesitation. Men who had fought under Col. Jack Hays, Majors Ben McCullough and Mike Chevallia, both in Indian and Mexican warfare, and they considered themselves well posted. Even these men were mistaken in their opinions. The sudden disappearance of the Indians, was as much a surprise to them as to our officers.

With a view to solving this mystery Vow-ches-ter was sent for from his camp near by, where all the treaty tribes were congregated, and when questioned the Chief said that during the night Chow-chilla runners had been in the camp, and to him in person with their mouths filled with lies; they had probably gone to the camp of those who were coming in, and they were induced to leave. Evidently he felt assured of the fact; but until questioned, his caution, Indian-like, kept him silent. Vow-ches-ter’s sincerity and desire for peace was no longer doubted. Those who were suspicious of his friendship before were silenced, if not convinced, when he volunteered to go out and bring in such of the fugitives as he could convince of the good will of the commissioners. The young Indian had not yet left the camp, but was found relating his adventures and good fortune, and was directed to accompany Vow-ches-ter on his mission of good will. The Chief was instructed to give positive assurances of protection against hostilities, if any were threatened by the Chow-chillas. He was also instructed to dispatch runners to aid his efforts, and was told to notify all that the commissioners would not remain to be trifled with; if they wished peace they must come in at once. That if the commissioners should go away, which they soon would do on their way south, no further efforts for peace would be made. That the mountain men and soldiers of the whites were angry, and would no longer take their word for peace, but would punish them and destroy their supplies. After a few days Vow-ches-ter came back with about one hundred of the runaways; these were followed by others, until ultimately, nearly all came back except Ten-ie-ya and his people. All then in camp expressed a readiness to meet for a grand council and treaty.

The reasons given by those who returned for their flight, were that just before daylight on the morning of their departure Chow-chilla runners (as had been surmised by Vow-ches-ter) came to their camp with the report that they were being taken to the plains, where they would all be killed in order to evade the promises to pay for their lands, and for revenge.

In reply to the statements that they had been treated by the whites as friends, the Chow-chillas answered sneeringly that the whites were not fools to forgive them for killing their friends and relatives, and taking their property, and said their scouts had seen a large mounted force that was gathering in the foot-hills and on the plains, who would ride over them if they ventured into the open ground of the reservation, or encampment at the plains. This caused great alarm. They expected destruction from the whites, and in the excitement caused by the Chow-chillas, threatened to kill Captain Boling and his men, and for that purpose reconnoitered the Captain’s camp. The Chow-chillas dissuaded them from the attempt, saying: “The white men always sleep on their guns, and they will alarm the white soldiers below by their firing, and bring upon you a mounted force before you could reach a place of safety.”

The young fellow that was asleep in Boling’s camp was not missed until on the march; his appearance among them gaily clothed, after being kindly treated, very much aided Vow-ches-ter in his statement of the object of the council and treaty to be held. The runaways told the commissioners that they felt very foolish, and were ashamed that they had been so readily deceived; they also expressed a wish that we would punish the Chow-chillas, for they had caused all the trouble. The reception they received soon satisfied them that they had nothing to fear. They were given food and clothing, and their good fortune was made known to other bands, and soon all of the tribes in the vicinity made treaties or sent messengers to express their willingness to do so, excepting the Chow-chillas and Yosemites. Even Ten-ie-ya was reported to have ventured into the Indian quarter, but taking a look at the gaudy colored handkerchiefs and shirts offered him in lieu of his ancient and well-worn guernsey that he habitually wore, he scoffingly refused the offers. Turning towards his valley home, he sorrowfully departed; his feelings apparently irritated by the evidences of vanity he saw in the gaudy apparel and weak contentment of those he was leaving behind him. Major Savage, who it was supposed would be the Indian agent at the end of the war, was absent at the time of Ten-ie-ya’s visit, but “the farmer” showed the old chief all proper respect, and had endeavored to induce him to await the Major’s return, but failed.

Major Savage, though still in command of the battalion, now devoted most of his time to the commissioners; and the energy with which our campaigns had opened, seemed to be somewhat abating. The business connected with the treaties was transacted principally through his interpretation, though at times other interpreters were employed. The mission interpreters only translated the communications made in the Indian dialects into Spanish; these were then rendered into English by Spanish interpreters employed by the commission.

A pretty strong detail of men was now placed on duty at head-quarters on the Fresno, principally drawn from Captain Dill’s Company. Adjutant Lewis had really no duties in the field, nor had he any taste or admiration for the snowy mountains—on foot. His reports were written up at head-quarters, as occasion required, and often long after the events had transpired to which they related. I was an amused observer upon one occasion, of Major Savage’s method of making out an official report, Adjutant Lewis virtually acting only as an amanuensis.


Previous: Chapter VIndexNext: Chapter VII

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