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We, the undersigned chiefs and head men of the existing remnants of the tribes of the Yo-Semite, the Mono and the Piute Indians, who hold claims upon that gorge in the Sierra Nevada Mountains known as the Yosemite Valley, and the lands around and about it, by virtue of direct descent from the aforenamed tribes, who were inhabitants of that valley and said territory at the time when it was so unjustifiably conquered and taken from our fathers by the whites, do utter, petition and pray your Excellency and your honorable bodies in Congress assembled to hear, deliberate upon, and give us relief, for the following reasons to wit:
1st. In all of the difficulties, disagreements, quarrels, and violences which sprang up between our fathers and the whites of their days, the first causes can invariably be traced to the overbearing tyranny and oppression of the white gold hunters, who had and who were continually usurping our territory. Those causes were briefly as follows: The white gold hunters brought among us drunkenness, lying, murder, forcible violation of our women, cheating, gambling, and wrongful appropriation of our lands for their own selfish uses. We have been made aware that at this period there was no harmonious system of laws or bonds of restraint operating to check the lawlessness or violence of these bands of adventurous and desperate white men, who had sought our shores in search of gold, and little or nothing could be expected of them as remuneration for our lands; nor could punishment be inflicted upon them by laws which, if existing, remained in the main unenforced: yet in after years, when the long list of oppressions and outrages to which our fathers were forced to submit at the hands of the whites had long ended by the slaughter and dispersal of our tribes, no notice was taken of the few who remained, and who from then until now have continued to travel to and fro, poorly-clad paupers and unwelcome guests, silently the objects of curiosity or contemptuous pity to the throngs of strangers who yearly gather in this our own land and heritage. We are compelled to daily and hourly witness the further and continual encroachments of a few white men in this our valley. The gradual destruction of its trees, the occupancy of every foot of its territory by bands of grazing horses and cattle, the decimation of the fish in the river, the destruction of every means of support for ourselves and families by the rapacious acts of the whites, in the building of their hotels and operating of their stage lines, which must shortly result in the total exclusion of the remaining remnants of our tribes from this our beloved valley, which has been ours from time beyond our faintest traditions, and which we still claim. Therefore, in support of our petition, we beg leave to offer the following reasons for our prayer:
1st. We, as Indians and survivors of the aforenamed tribes, declare that we were unfairly and unjustly deprived of our possessions in land, made to labor in the interest of the whites for no recompense, subjected to continual brutality, wrong, and outrage at the hands of the whites, and were gradually driven from our homes into strange localities by their action, and that our few retaliatory acts were feeble and deserving of no notice, in comparison to the gross injustices and outrages that we were continually subjected to. And we respectfully call your attention to the official report of Maj. Gen. Thomas J. Green to Gov. Peter H. Burnett, dated May 25, 1850, (page 769, Journals of the Legis. of Cal. for 1851); Brig. Gen. Thomas B. Eastland’s report to Gov. Burnett, June 15th, 1850, (page 770, Ibid); letters of Gen. Eastland to Gov. McDougal (page 770, Ibid), and various others. If we were in the wrong the punishment we have suffered and the war indemnity which our fathers were forced to pay—their all and their lives besides— is in monstrous disproportion to the damage they inflicted, however just they may have deemed the provocation.
2d. The action of the Mariposa Battalion towards our chief at that time, Tenaya, and his tribe was wantonly unjust and outrageous. Our only quarrel with the whites then was owing to our determination not to go upon a reservation being established on the Fresno, and give up to the whites this magnificent valley, which was to us reservation and all that we desired and that for a few paltry blankets, gewgaws and indifferent supplies of rations, that might be furnished us or not, at the discretion of any appointed Indian Agent. Our fathers had the sorrow to see their tribe conquered, their dignified and honored chief Tenaya led out by a halter, like a beast, into a green field to eat grass, amid the wonder and laughter of our pursuers; and his youngest son shot dead for no other reason than that he had tried to escape the unjust thraldom of our persecutors. For proof of these statements, you are referred to Dr. Bunnell’s History of the Discovery of the Yosemite. He was himself attached to this battalion, and was an eye witness to all the facts related. Those who were left of our fathers were taken with their chief, however, to the reservation on the Fresno, from which place hunger and destitution finally forced them to run away; after which, we have been informed, the reservation was broken up, having shed disgrace upon all connected with its management.
3d. From that time up to the present the remnants of the various bands formerly in possession of the valley have earned a scanty livelihood by hunting, fishing, etc. There has never been a cause of complaint against the descendants of the old Yo Semites, neither have they broken the peace or indulged in warfares of any kind; they have silently been witness to the usurpation of their lands and valley; they have never been provided for in any way by the Government of either the State or the United States. The wisdom of their action in quietly escaping from the Fresno reservation was justified by the bad management of that reservation, which finally led to its being abolished by the United States Government. Now we, the last remnant of the once great Yosemite tribe, and also those from the Mono and Piutes tribes who have claims here, see that the time is fast approaching when we must all abandon this, our valley, together, for the following reasons. White men have come into this valley to make money only. They have continually disobeyed the laws which were made for the government of this valley by the Washington Government. Those laws declared that this valley should be kept as a reservation and park for the white people forever but the head men appointed to govern this valley by the State Government do not obey those laws; instead, they have given control of the lands of the entire valley into the hands of a few whites, who only wish to make money here, and care neither for the laws nor the Indians. Those white men have fenced the valley all up with wire fences, with sharp barbs all along the wire, close together; it is divided off into fields, many of which are ploughed up by the white men to raise grain and hay to feed their own horses upon, and the Indians are forbidden to walk across their own fields by reason of this farming; the other fields are filled with the horses and cattle of these white men, as many as 125 horses, and sometimes 40 head or more of cattle being at large in these fields; all of the tender roots, berries and the few nuts that formed the sustenance of the Indians are trampled down and torn up by the roots, or eaten and broken off in this way by these few white men’s horses and cattle. If the Indians have two or three horses they must starve, for there are no fields left for them to run in, neither can the strange whites, who came in wagons to look at the great rocks in the valley, find food for their horses, by reason of these wire fences of these few white men. Where there are no fences, the valley is cut up completely by dusty, sandy roads, leading from the hotels of whites in every direction. The head men of the whites also order their workmen to cut away the trees in every direction, and destroy the shade and beauty of the valley, so that they may have more room to plough and raise hay to sell to strangers, and to plant in gardens and build their houses upon.
Every once in a while the State Government changes its head men, and every new lot turn away from their homes more and more of the old resident whites, whom we have known so long, and young, strong and hungry looking new faces come in their places. All seem to come only to hunt money. Why the old ones are turned away we do not know, but when they are sent away their houses are torn down, and new ones are built for these new men to live in. This does not seem to us to be right, neither do we believe the great Washington Government wants this wonderful valley to be ploughed up into a hay farm, or its fine forest trees to be cut down and destroyed for the pleasure of those whites who seem to be afraid of and to hate trees. This is not the way in which we treated this park when we had it; and we know that these white headmen often say that the Indians were the only ones who knew how to take care of Yosemite. We have heard that the white men in the valley intend to plough up nearly all of the open and level portion of the valley, to raise hay upon, and it will only be a short time before they will tell the Indians that they must go away and not come back any more. Now, in this valley grow all the things that we can rely upon for our winter supplies, and we cannot go away from here to gather acorns and nuts, or to hunt game, without trespassing upon some other Indians’ ground and causing trouble; besides, we do not wish to leave this valley if we can help it, though as it is governed now in the interest of only a few white people, and for them to make money in, we do not see that we can possibly stay here much longer, for every year these few whites reach out for more, more, and drive us slowly further back. We have already been told by the former chief of the whites in this valley, that we must go away from here and stay away; but we say this valley was not given to us by our fathers for a day, or a year, but for all time. The whites are too numerous and powerful for us. We willingly keep the peace, we have no desire to do otherwise, but it is with an uneasiness that we see the time approaching when we must leave this spot which has been the home of our people from time immemorial. Therefore we pray our head white father at Washington and his Great Council to consider the following things, viz:
First. Soon after this valley was taken away from us by the whites, the great Washington Council gave it to all the white American people for a pleasure ground, a park, where they might come and see the great rocks and waterfalls, and enjoy themselves.
Now it seems to us that the laws imposed upon the head men of this valley by the Washington Government are being wilfully disregarded, and that Yosemite is no longer a State or National Park, but merely a hay-farm and cattle range.
Second. The valley is almost entirely fenced in, mostly with barbed wire. There are no walks for pleasure. There are horses and cattle in every field. There are nine fenced-off fields within a space of two miles or less, at this upper end of the valley, and consequently the People’s Park is a thing of the past. It has now resolved itself into a private institution, making only a show and pretence of being a public benefit and is supported by the State in this condition. Consequently, as we have been wronged and robbed this valley in the first place by the whites, and has been turned by them into a place for their own benefit, and has been withheld from us for 37 years and we have received not one iota of remuneration for our natural rights and interests therein at any time and as we see we must relinquish all our possessions here soon, and go among strange tribes and in strange places to live, and as we are sufficiently civilized to understand the ways of the whites, and conform in a measure to their habits and customs, we pray you, our great White Chief, and you, the great Washington Council, to give us for our just claims upon this Yosemite Valley, and our surrounding claims so violently and wrongfully wrested from us without either cause or provocation, out of the abundance of your great wealth, for the future support of ourselves and our descendants, one million of dollars, United States gold coin; for which consideration we will forever bargain and convey all our natural right and title to Yosemite Valley and our surrounding claims.
We know that Indians far away in your country have received indemnities in this way for lands forcibly taken from them and other wrongs inflicted upon them by whites in former times; and also that the whites constantly receive such indemnifications for losses sustained at the hands of Indians. Therefore, we hope in justice that you, the Great White Chief, and you of the Great White Council of this Nation, at Washington, may hear with wide open ears, and grant our prayer; also, in case that you declare justly and favorably for us in our great need, suffering under this condition of great wrong and poverty, we desire to be heard, and have a voice in the Council which shall appoint the men who are to receive the indemnity money for us, as we do not wish to part with our last remnant of territory for merely the enrichment of a few adventurous white men. Here we place our marks as opposite our names, the Chiefs and head men of the petitioning remnants of the former Yosemite tribes with our principal women and children.
|Te-he-he||or Capt. Henry.|
|Mu-mu||or Capt. Dick.|
|Sung-ok||or John (Capt. Dick’s son).|
|Chich-ka||or John Lawrence.|
|Hick-ah||or Peter Hilliard.|
|Wit-ta-ra-bee||or Tom Hutchings.|
|Hul-i-na||or “Capt. Reuben.”|
|Una-moy-na||or “Capt. John.”|
|Su-pan-chee||or “ Capt. Paul.”|
|Car ra-nee||or “Pedro.”|
|Shi-ban-nah||or “Capt. John.”
(Head Chief of the Mono Piutes)
YOSEMITE INDIANS. WOMEN.
|Yo-ne-pa||or “Mary Ann.”|
|Chen-na-chu||or “Susey Lawrence.”|
And many others.
The author of this petition is unknown. None of the petition signers were literate enough to author the petition. The author is thought to be Yosemite artist Charles Dormon Robinson (1847-1933), as he also submitted a similar petition to Congress and transmitted this petition. Robinson was an outspoken man and once said “It takes a crank to move the world, and I would rather be a crank than a nonentity.”
This petition originally appeared as
“Petition to the Senators and Representatives of the Congress of the United States In the Behalf of the Remnants of the former Tribes of the Yosemite Indians Praying for Aid and Assistance,”
1891 Report of the Acting Superintendent
(Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1891).
This report is in the “National Archives Resource Section,
Yosemite File, General Correspondence 1878-1891, Box 146.”
This report may also be in the Yosemite Research Library.
The original petition is at the National Archives (NA), Washington, D. C., in Letters Received by the Office of the Secretary of the Interior Relating to National Parks, 1872-1907 (Yosemite), Record Group (RG) 79.
The petition is reprinted in
Edward D. Castillo, “Petition to Congress on Behalf of the Yosemite Indians,”, Journal of California Anthropology 5(2):271-277 (Winter 1978).
Mr. Castillo states in his article that
“Captain A. E. Wood, Acting
Superintendant of Yosemite, wrote the Secretary
of Interior in August of 1891 concerning
the petition, arguing against compensation for
the Ahwahneechees (1891 Report of the Acting Superintendent).
Castillo also identifies Robinson as the probable author of the petition.
Biographies for many of the petitioners are in “Biographies of Indians Past and Present,” The Ahwahneechees by John Bingaman (1966) and in “Yosemite Indian Chiefs.” Furthermore many petitioners appear in the Census of Non-reservation California Indians, 1905-1906.
An April 2006 yosemitecampers.com posting and another posting identifies some of the petitioners above, with additional notes by myself:
Digitized by Dan Anderson, August 2006, from a copy in the San Diego Public Library. The version reprinted in J. of California Anthropology is used here. The original petition is in the National Archives (Record Group 79, Letters received by the Secretary of the Interior relating to National Parks 1872-1907 (Yosemite)) —Dan Anderson, www.yosemite.ca.us