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

Next: TouristsContentsPrevious: White Chief of the Foothills

One Hundred Years in Yosemite (1947) by Carl P. Russell




Woodcut from the first edition (1931)
Woodcut from the first edition (1931)

By March of 1851 the Indian Commissioners McKee, Barbour, and Woozencraft were actively assembling representatives of the numerous Sierra Indian tribes and driving sharp bargains with them to quitclaim their lands. On March 19, 1851, the commissioners in their camp (Camp Frémont) in the Mariposa region reached an agreement with six tribes and proceeded to establish a reservation for them. Their report refers to one tribe, the “Yosemetos,” who were expected at this confab but failed to appear. The friendly Indians who signed the treaty reported that this mountain tribe had no intentions of coming in. It was, therefore, decided to send Major Savage and a part of his Mariposa Battalion after them.

On the evening of March 19, the day on which the Camp Frémont treaty was signed, Major Savage set out with the companies of Captains Boling and Dill. Captain Kuykendall’s company had traveled to the region of the San Joaquin and Kings rivers, in which locality the commissioners planned to negotiate another treaty. The force under the command of Major Savage followed a route very near that which is now known as the Wawona Road to Yosemite Valley.

On the South Fork of the Merced, at what is now called Wawona, a Nuchu camp was surprised and captured. Messengers sent ahead from this camp returned with the assurance that the Yosemite tribe would come in and give themselves up. Old Chief Tenaya of the Yosemites did come into camp, but, after waiting three days for the others, Major Savage became impatient and set out with the battalion to enter the much-talked-of Yosemite retreat. When they had covered about half the distance to the valley, seventy-two Indians were met plodding through the snow. Not convinced that this band constituted the entire tribe, Savage sent them to his camp on the South Fork while he pushed on to the valley. His route again was that followed by the present Wawona road.

On March 25, 1851, the party went into camp near Bridalveil Fall. That night around the campfire a suitable name for the remarkable valley was discussed. Lafayette H. Bunnell, a young man upon whom the surroundings and events had made a deeper impression than upon any of the others, urged that it be named Yosemite, after the natives who had been driven out. This name was agreed upon. Although the whites knew the name of the tribe, they were apparently unaware that the Indians had another name, Ahwahnee, for their Deep Grassy Valley.

The next morning the camp was moved to the mouth of Indian Canyon, and the day was spent in exploring the valley. Only one Indian was found, an ancient squaw, too feeble to escape. Parties penetrated Tenaya Canyon above Mirror Lake, ascended the Merced Canyon beyond Nevada Fall, and explored both to the north and to the south of the river on the valley floor. No more Indians were discovered, and on the third day the party withdrew from the valley. The Indians who had been gathered while the party was on the way to the valley escaped from their guard while en route to the Indian Commissioner’s camp on the Fresno; so this first expedition accomplished nothing in the way of subduing the Yosemites.

In May, 1851, Major Savage sent Captain John Boling and his company back to Yosemite to surprise the elusive inhabitants and to whip them well. Boling followed the same route taken previously and arrived in Yosemite on May 9. He made his first camp near the site of the present Sentinel Bridge. Chief Tenaya and a few of his followers were captured, but the majority of the Yosemites eluded their pursuers. It was during this stay in Yosemite that the first letter from the valley was dispatched. On May 15, 1851, Captain Boling wrote to Major Savage of his affairs, and the letter, was published in the Alta California, June 12, 1851. It follows:

On reaching this valley, which we did on the 9th inst., I selected for our encampment the most secluded place that I could find, lest our arrival might be discovered by the Indians. Spies were immediately despatched in different directions, some of which crossed the river to examine for signs on the opposite side. Trails were soon found, leading up and down the river, which had been made since the last rain. On the morning of the 10th we took up the line of march for the upper end of the valley, and having traveled about five miles we discovered five Indians running up the river on the north side. All of my command, except a sufficient number to take care of the pack animals, put spurs to their animals, swam the river and caught them before they could get into the mountains. One of them proved to be the son of the old Yosemety chief. I informed them if they would come down from the mountains and go with me to the U. S. Indian Commissioners, they would not be hurt; but if they would not, I would remain in their neighborhood as long as there was a fresh track to be found; informing him at the same time that all the Indians except his father’s people and the Chouchillas had treated. . . . He then informed me that . . . if I would let him loose, with another Indian, he would bring in his father and all his people by twelve o’clock the next day. I then gave them plenty to eat and started him and his companion out. We watched the others close, intending to hold them as hostages until the despatch-bearers returned. They appeared well satisfied and we were not suspicious of them, in consequence of which one of them escaped. We commenced searching for him, which alarmed the other two still in custody, and they attempted to make their escape. The boys took after them and finding they could not catch them, fired and killed them both. This circumstance, connected with the fact of the two whom we had sent out not returning, satisfied me that they had no intention of coming in. My command then set out to search for the Rancheria. The party which went up the left toward Can-yarthia [?] found the rancheria at the head of a little valley, and from the signs it appeared that the Indians had left but a few minutes. The boys pursued them up the mountain on the north side of the river, and when they had got near the top, helping each other from rock to rock on account of the abruptness of the mountains; the first intimation they had of the Indians being near was a shower of huge rocks which came tumbling down the mountain, threatening instant destruction. Several of the men were knocked down, and some of them rolled and fell some distance before they could recover, wounding and bruising them generally. One man’s gun was knocked out of his hand and fell seventy feet before it stopped, whilst another man’s hat was knocked off his head without hurting him. The men immediately took shelter behind large rocks, from which they could get an occasional shot, which soon forced the Indians to retreat, and by pressing them close they caught the old Yo-semity chief, whom we yet hold as a prisoner. In this skirmish they killed one Indian and wounded several others.

You are aware that I know this old fellow well enough to look out well for him, lest by some stratagem he makes his escape. I shall aim to use him to the best advantage in pursuing his people. I send down a few of my command with the pack animals for provisions; and I am satisfied if you will send me ten or twelve of old Ponwatchez’ best men I could catch the women and children and thereby force the men to come in. The Indians I have with me have acted in good faith and agree with me in this opinion.

On May 21, some members of the invading party discovered the fresh trail of a small party of Indians traveling in the direction of the Mono country. Immediate pursuit was made, and on May 22 the Yosemites were discovered encamped on the shores of Tenaya Lake in a spot much of which was snow-covered. They were completely surprised and surrendered without a struggle. This was the first expedition made into the Yosemite high country from the west, and it was on this occasion that the name Lake Tenaya was applied by Bunnell. The old Indian chief, on being told of how his name was to be perpetuated, sullenly remonstrated that the lake already had a name, “Py-we-ack"— Lake of the Shining Rocks.

The Indians were on this second occasion successfully escorted to the Fresno reservation. Tenaya and his band, however, refused to adapt themselves to the conditions under which they were forced to live. They begged repeatedly to be permitted to return to the mountains and to the acorn food of their ancestors. At last, on his solemn promise to behave, Tenaya was permitted to go back to Yosemite with members of his family. In a short time his old followers quietly slipped away from the reservation and joined him. No attempt was made to bring them back.

During the winter of 1851-52, no complaints against the Yosemites were registered, but in May of 1852 a party of eight prospectors made their way into the valley, where two of them were killed by the Indians. A remarkable manuscript, prepared by Stephen E Grover, a member of this party, was obtained by Mrs. A. F. Chandler, of Santa Cruz, who in 1901 mailed it to Galen Clark. Upon Clark’s death it was turned over to the pioneer Yosemite photographer, George Fiske. When Mr. Fiske died, the papers were given to National Park Service officials for safekeeping in the Yosemite Museum. Grover’s reminiscences are apparently authentically presented and divulge much that was not recorded elsewhere. Those familiar with Yosemite history as it has been accepted since the appearance of Bunnell’s Discovery of Yosemite will recognize a number of incidents that are at variance with previous records.

Grover’s Narrative—A Reminiscence

On the 27th of April, 1852, a party of miners, consisting of Messrs. Grover, Babcock, Peabody, Tudor, Sherburn, Rose, Aich, and an Englishman whose name I cannot now recall, left Coarse Gold Gulch in Mariposa County, on an expedition prospecting for gold in the wilds of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. We followed up Coarse Gold Gulch into the Sierras, traveling five days, and took the Indian trail through the Mariposa Big Tree Grove, and were the first white men to enter there. Then we followed the South Fork of the Merced River, traveling on Indian trails the entire time.

On reaching the hills above Yosemite Valley, our party camped for the night, and questioned the expediency of descending into the Valley at all. Our party were all opposed to the project except Sherburn, Tudor, and Rose. They over-persuaded the rest and fairly forced us against our will, and we finally followed the old Mariposa Indian trail on the morning of the 2nd of May, and entering the Valley on the East side of the Merced River, camped on a little opening, near a bend in the River free from any brush whatever, and staked out our pack mules by the river. I, being the youngest of the party, a mere boy of twenty-two years, and not feeling usually well that morning, remained in camp with Aich and the Englishman to prepare dinner, while the others went up the Valley, some prospecting, and others hunting for game. We had no fear of the Indians, as they had been peaceable, and no outbreaks having occurred, the whites traveled fearlessly wherever they wished to go. Thus, we had no apprehension of trouble. To my astonishment and horror I heard our men attacked, and amid firing, screams, and confusion, here came Peabody, who reached camp first, wounded by an arrow in his arm and another in the back of his neck, and one through his clothes, just grazing the skin of his stomach, wetting his rifle and ammunition in crossing the river as he ran to reach camp. Babcock soon followed, and as both men had plunged through the stream that flows from the Bridal Veil Falls in making their escape, they were drenched to the skin. On reaching us, Aich immediately began picking the wet powder from Babcock’s rifle, while I with my rifle stood guard and kept the savages at bay the best I could. (The other men, with the exception of Sherburn, Tudor, and Rose, came rushing into camp in wild excitement.) Rose, a Frenchman, was the first to fall, and from the opposite side of the stream where he fell, apparently with his death wound, he screamed to us, “’Tis no use to try to save ourselves, we have all got to die.” He was the only one of our company that could speak Indian and we depended upon him for an interpreter. Sherburn and Tudor were killed in their first encounter, Tudor being killed with an ax in the hands of a savage, which was taken along with the party for cutting wood. The Indians gathered around as near as they dared to come, whooping and yelling, and constantly firing arrows at us. We feared they would pick up the rifles dropped by our companions in their flight and turn them against us, but they did not know how to use them. As we were very hard pressed, and as the number of Indians steadily increased, we tried to escape by the old Mariposa trail, the one by which we entered the Valley, one of our number catching up a sack of a few pounds of flour and another a tin cup and some of our outer clothing and fled as best we could with the savages in hot pursuit. We had proceeded but a short distance when we were attacked in front by the savages who had cut off our retreat. Death staring at us on almost every hand, and seeing no means of escape, we fled to the bluff, I losing my pistol as I ran. We were in a shower of arrows all the while, and the Indians were closing in upon us very fast; the valley seemed alive with them—on rocks, and behind trees, bristling like Demons, shrieking their war whoops, and exulting in our apparently easy capture. We fired back at them to keep them off while we tried to make our way forward hugging the bluff as closely as possible. Our way was soon blocked by the Indians who headed us off with a shower of arrows (two going through my clothing, one through my hat which I lost), when from above the rocks began to fall on us and in our despair we clung to the face of the bluff, and scrambling up we found a little place in the turn of the wall, a shelf-like projection, where, after infinite labor, we succeeded in gathering ourselves, secure from the falling rocks, at least, which were being thrown by Indians under the orders from their Chief. The arrows still whistled among us thick and fast, and I fully believe—could I visit that spot even now after the lapse of all these years—I could still pick up some of those flint arrow points in the shelf of the rock and in the face of the bluff where we were huddled together.

We could see the old Chief Tenieya way up in the Valley in an open space with fully one hundred and fifty Indians around him, to whom he gave his orders, which were passed to another Chief just below us, and these two directed those around them and shouted orders to those on the top of the bluff who were rolling the rocks over on us. Fully believing ourselves doomed men, we never relaxed our vigilance, but with the two rifles we still kept them at bay, determined to sell our lives as dearly as possible. I recall, with wonder, how every event of my life up to that time passed through my mind, incident after incident, with lightning rapidity, and with wonderful precision.

We were crowded together beneath this little projecting rock (two rifles were fortunately retained in our little party, one in the hands of Aich and one in my own), every nerve strung to its highest tension, and being wounded myself with an arrow through my sleeve that cut my arm and another through my hat, when all of a sudden the Chief just below us, about fifty yards distant, suddenly threw up his hands and with a terrible yell fell over backwards with a bullet through his body. Immediately, the firing of arrows ceased and the savages were thrown into confusion, while notes of alarm were sounded and answered far up the Valley and from the high bluffs above us. They began to withdraw and we could hear the twigs crackle as they crept away.

It was now getting dusk and we had been since early morning without food or rest. Not knowing what to expect we remained where we were, suffering from our wounds and tortured with fear till the moon went down about midnight; then trembling in every limb, we ventured to creep forth, not daring to attempt the old trail again; we crept along and around the course of the bluff and worked our way up through the snow, from point to point, often feeling the utter impossibility of climbing farther, but with an energy born of despair, we would try again, helping the wounded more helpless than ourselves, and by daylight we reached the top of the bluff. A wonderful hope of escape animated us though surrounded as we were, and we could but realize how small our chances were for evading the savages who were sure to be sent on our trail. Having had nothing to eat since the morning before, we breakfasted by stirring some of our flour in the tip cup, with snow, and passing it around among us, in full sight of the smoke of the Indian camps and signal fires all over the Valley.

Our feelings toward the “Noble Red Man” at this time can better be imagined than described.

Starting out warily and carefully, expecting at every step to feel the stings of the whizzing arrows of our deadly foes, we kept near and in the most dense underbrush, creeping slowly and painfully along as best we could, those who were best able carrying the extra garments of the wounded and helping them along; fully realizing the probability of the arrow tips with which we were wounded having been dipped in poison before being sent on their message of death. In this manner we toiled on, a suffering and saddened band of once hopeful prospectors.

Suddenly a deer bounded in sight. Some objected to our shooting as the report of our rifle might betray us—but said I, as well die by our foes as by starvation, and dropping on one knee with never a steadier nerve or truer aim, the first crack of my rifle brought him down. Hope revived in our hearts, and quickly skinning our prize we roasted pieces of venison on long sticks thrust in the flame and smoke, and with no seasoning whatever it was the sweetest morsel I ever tasted. Hastily stripping the flesh from the hind quarters of the deer, Aich and myself, being the only ones able to carry the extra burden, shouldered the meat and we again took up our line of travel. In this manner we toiled on and crossed the Mariposa Trail, and passed down the south fork of the Merced River, constantly fearing pursuit. As night came on we prepared camp by cutting crotched stakes which we drove in the ground and putting a pole across enclosed it with brush, making a pretty secure hiding place for the night; we crept under and lay close together. Although expecting an attack we were so exhausted and tired that we soon slept.

An incident of the night occurs to me: One of the men on reaching out his foot quickly, struck one of the poles, and down came the whole structure upon us. Thinking that our foes were upon us, our frightened crowd sprang out and made for the more dense brush, but as quiet followed we realized our mistake and gathering together again we passed the remainder of the night in sleepless apprehension.

When morning came we started again, following up the river, and passed one of our camping places. We traveled as far as we could in that direction, and prepared for our next night to camp and slept in a big hollow tree, still fearing pursuit. We passed the night undisturbed and in the morning started again on our journey, keeping in the shelter of the brush, and crossed the foot of the Falls, a little above Crane Flat—so named by us, as one of our party shot a large crane there while going over, but it is now known as Wawona. We still traveled in the back ground, passing through Big Tree Grove again, but not until we gained the ridge above Chowchilla did we feel any surety of ever seeing our friends again.

Traveling on thus for five days, we at last reached Coarse Gold Gulch once more, barefooted and ragged but more glad than I can express. An excited crowd soon gathered around us and while listening to our hair-breadth escapes, our sufferings and perils, and while vowing vengeance on the treacherous savages, an Indian was seen quickly coming down the mountain trail, gaily dressed in war paint and feathers, evidently a spy on our track, and not three

Joseph R. Walker
Joseph R. Walker
Maria Lebrado. By Joseph Dixon

By Joseph Dixon

Maria Lebrado

Captain John Boling
Captain John Boling
Lafayette H. Bunnell
Lafayette H. Bunnell

A Freight Outfit. By J. T. Boysen

By J. T. Boysen

A Freight Outfit

Early Tourists in the Saddle. By Gustav Fagersteen

By Gustav Fagersteen

Early Tourists in the Saddle

hours behind us. A party of miners watched him as he passed by the settlement. E. Whitney Grover, my brother, and a German cautiously followed him. The haughty Red Man was made to bite the dust before many minutes had passed.

My brother Whitney Grover quickly formed a company of twenty-five men, who were piloted by Aich, and started for the Valley to bury our unfortunate companions. They found only Sherburn and Tudor, after a five days march, and met with no hostility from the Indians. They buried them where they lay, with such land marks as were at hand at that time. I have often called to mind the fact that the two men, Sherburn and Tudor, the only ones of our party who were killed on that eventful morning, were seen reading their Bibles while in camp the morning before starting into the Valley. They were both good men and we mourned their loss sincerely.

After we had been home six days, Rose, who was a partner of Sherburn and Tudor in a mine about five miles west of Coarse Gold Gulch, where there was a small mining camp, appeared in the neighborhood and reported the attack and said the whole party was killed, and that he alone escaped. On being questioned, he said he hid behind the Waterfall and lived by chewing the leather strap which held his rifle across his shoulders. This sounded strange to us as he had his rifle and plenty of ammunition and game was abundant. Afterward hearing of our return to Coarse Gold Gulch camp, he never came to see us as would have been natural, but shortly disappeared. We thought his actions and words very strange and we remembered how he urged us to enter the Valley, and at the time of the attack was the first one to fall, right amongst the savages, apparently with his death wound, and now he appears without a scratch, telling his version of the affair and disappearing without seeing any of us. We all believed he was not the honest man and friend we took him to be. He took possession of the gold mine in which he held a one-third interest with Sherburn and Tudor, and sold it.

Years afterward, in traveling at a distance and amongst strangers, I heard this story of our adventures repeated, as told by Aich, and he represented himself as the only man of the party who was not in the least frightened. I told them that “I was most thoroughly frightened, and Aich looked just as I felt.”

Stephen F. Grower

Santa Cruz, California

The commander of the regular army garrison at Fort Miller was notified of these events, and a detachment of the 2d Infantry under Lieutenant Tredwell Moore was dispatched in June, 1852. Five Indians were captured in the Yosemite Valley, all of whom were found to possess articles of clothing belonging to the murdered men. These Indians were summarily shot. Tenaya’s scouts undoubtedly witnessed this prompt pronouncement of judgment, and the members of the tribe fled with all speed to their Piute allies at Mono Lake.

The soldiers pursued the fleeing Indians by way of Tenaya Lake and Bloody Canyon. They found no trace of the Yosemites and could elicit no information from the Piutes. The party explored the region north and south of Bloody Canyon and found some promising mineral deposits. In August they returned to Tuolumne Soda Springs and then made their way back to Mariposa by way of the old Mono Trail that passed south of Yosemite Valley.

Upon arrival at Mariposa they exhibited samples of their ore discoveries. This created the usual excitement, and Lee Vining with a party of companions hastened to visit the region to prospect for gold. Leevining Canyon, through which the Tioga Road now passes, was named for the leader of this party.

Tenaya and his refugee band remained with the Mono Indians untir late in the summer of 1853, when they again ventured into their old haunts in the Yosemite Valley. Shortly after they had reestablished themselves in their old home, a party of young Yosemites made a raid on the camp of their former hosts and stole a band of horses which the Monos had recently driven up from southern California. The thieves brought the animals to Yosemite by a very roundabout route through a pass at the head of the San Joaquin, hoping by this means to escape detection. However, the Monos at once discovered the ruse and organized a war party to wreak vengeance upon their ungrateful guests. Surprising the Yosemites while they were feasting gluttonously upon the stolen horses, they almost annihilated Tenaya’s band with stones before a rally could be effected. Eight of the Yosemite braves escaped the slaughter and fled down the Merced Canyon. The old men and women who escaped death were given their liberty, but the young women and children were made captive and taken to Mono Lake.

The story of this last act in the elimination of the troublesome Yosemites was made known to Bunnell by surviving members of the tribe.

In 1928, when I talked with Maria, a member of the original Yosemite tribe, her version of the massacre differed widely from the story told by Bunnell. Through her daughter she stoutly assured me that no Indians died in Yosemite Valley except those killed by whites and those who were ill. I asked her how Tenaya died and where. She explained that while the Yosemites were at Mono Lake they engaged in hand games with the Monos. These games are stirring affairs among the Indians. A. L. Kroeber states, “It is impossible to have seen a California Indian warmed to his work in this game when played for stakes—provided its aim and method are understood—and any longer justly to designate him mentally sluggish and emotionally apathetic, as is the wont. It is a game in which not sticks and luck, but the tensest of wills, the keenest perceptions and the supplest of muscular responses are matched. . . . Seen in this light, the contortions, gesticulations, noises, and excitement of the native are not the mere uncontrolledness of an overgrown child, but the outward reflexes of a powerfully surcharged intensity.”

According to Maria, it was in the heat of such a game that a quarrel developed between Tenaya and his Mono allies. In the fight that followed, Tenaya and five of his Yosemite braves were stoned to death. At least, this stoning feature agrees with former accounts of the killing. Horse stealing and a gluttonous feast in Yosemite Valley do not figure in Maria’s story. She insists that Tom “Hutchings,” the Yosemite Indian befriended by J. M. Hutchings, attended to the burning of the bodies and packed the charred remains upon his own back from Mono Lake to Hites Cove. There a great “cry” was held for two weeks; the remaining Yosemite Indians and all their friends bewailed the loss of Chief Tenaya and the four tribesmen. A number of parties of miners, emboldened by the news of the disbanding of the Yosemites, visited the valley in the fall of 1853. During 1854 no white men are known to have entered Yosemite Valley.

By 1855 several accounts written by members of the three punitive expeditions that had entered Yosemite had been published in San Francisco papers. The difficulties of overcoming hostile Indians in the search for gold were far more prominent in the minds of these writers than the scenic wonders of the new-found valley. Nevertheless, the mention of a thousand-foot waterfall in one of these published letters awakened James M. Hutchings, then publishing the California Magazine, to the possibilities that Yosemite presented. Hutchings organized the first tourist party in June, 1875, and with two of the original Yosemites as guides proceeded from Mariposa over the old Indian trail via Wawona and Inspiration Point to the valley. Thomas Ayres, an artist, was a member of the party and during this visit he made the first sketches ever made in Yosemite. Ten of these original pencil drawings are now preserved in the Yosemite Museum.

In 1853, James Alden, then a commander in the United States Navy, came to California on a commission to settle the boundary between Mexico and California. He remained until 1860. Some time between 1856 and 1860 he visited Yosemite Valley. Probably on his return to San Francisco he came upon Ayres’s work, which appealed to him as the best mementos of his Yosemite experience, and he procured ten originals and one lithograph. Mrs. Ernest W. Bowditch, Mrs. C. W. Hubbard, and Mrs. A. H. Eustis, descendants of Admiral Alden and heirs to these priceless drawings, have presented them to the Yosemite Museum, which stands near the spot where some of them were made.

In the years that have elapsed since these drawings were created, they have journeyed on pack mules, sailed the seas in old United States men-of-war, jolted about in covered wagons, and at last made a transcontinental journey to come again to the valley that gave them birth.

Woodcut (Provision Store)

Next: TouristsContentsPrevious: White Chief of the Foothills

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