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Yosemite Tales and Trails (1934) by Katherine Ames Taylor


RETURN OF THE MARIPOSA BATTALION

Several months passed before any effort was made to recapture the Yosemites. But by early May of that same year all of the Indian tribes except Tenaya’s had made treaties with the Commissioners. Secure in his mountains once more, vain and arrogant because no immediate disaster had overtaken him by the invasion of his valley, he refused to deal with the Commissioners. And as long as the Yosemites remained at large there was always the danger of their stirring up discontent

Vernal Falls is remarkable for its symmetry and volume of water and for the rainbow mists which foam at its feet. By Ansel Adams
[click to enlarge]
Vernal Falls is remarkable for its
symmetry and volume of water and for the
rainbow mists which foam at its feet
among the more friendly Indians and they continued to menace the peace of the white men.

Again the Mariposa Battalion was ordered out to bring the Yosemites to terms. There were many in that second battalion who had been with the first, and on their first day in the Valley they surprised and captured five Indians, three being sons of Chief Tenaya. Not long after, the old Chief himself was captured up in a narrow canyon, where he was busily rolling stones upon his pursuers. Two weeks later the rest of the tribe were surrounded where they camped on the shores of Lake Tenaya and taken prisoners before they could escape. Pursued into their final refuge, far above the floor of the Valley where they felt sure no white man would ever come, the disheartened Yosemites put up little resistance as they were herded down into the reservation on the Fresno River.

But this seeming submission did not last. Chief Tenaya was so unhappy on the reservation and pined so for his mountain home, his acorn and grasshopper diet, that he was released upon promise of good behavior, swearing eternal friendliness to the white man. In a short time his loyal followers quietly slipped away from the reservation, too, and rejoined him. No effort was made to bring them back, for it was believed they had learned their lesson and would no longer molest the white settlers.

MURDER IN YOSEMITE

For a year all was quiet, then trouble broke out once more. A party of eight prospectors, made bold by reports of the friendliness of the Indians, made their way into Yosemite Valley looking for gold. Dr. Carl Russell, Field Naturalist in the National Parks Service, publishes in his “100 Years in Yosemite” a thrilling account of what took place there.

The miners, it seems, camped for the night where the Mariposa Battalion first camped, near the foot of Bridal Veil Falls. Early in the morning, as five of them left to prospect for gold, they were attacked by Indians and two of them were killed. The others fled through a shower of arrows to a narrow ledge in the wall, where, partially protected from the rocks the Indians hurled from above and the

There is a delicacy and fragility about the Bridal Veil Falls which distinguishes it from all the others. By Ansel Adams
[click to enlarge]
There is a delicacy and fragility
about the Bridal Veil Falls which
distinguishes it from all the others
arrows aimed at them from below, they fought for their lives with the two rifles they had caught up in their flight. All day long they were besieged. One of the participants, recalling the adventure years later, writes:

“We could see the old Chief Tenaya 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. These two directed those around them, and shouted orders to those on the top of the bluff who were rolling rocks over on us. Fully believing ourselves doomed men we never relaxed our vigilance, but with two rifles we still kept them at bay, determined to sell our lives as dearly as possible.

“We were crowded together beneath this little projecting rock, every nerve strung to its highest tension. I was wounded with an arrow through my sleeve, and another through my hat. 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, a bullet through his body. Immediately the firing of arrows ceased, and the savages were thrown into confusion. 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.”

After nightfall the surviving six made their way painfully and cautiously up the cliff and escaped.

Tenaya, established, apparently, with quite a band once more, had broken his word to the white man. But it was his last offense. For a punitive expedition was dispatched at once into Yosemite, where five Indians were seized, all wearing articles of clothing of the dead miners, and they were summarily shot. Thoroughly frightened now, the rest of the tribe fled to the protection of their allies at Mono Lake, and the Yosemites as a tribe disappeared forever.

DEATH OF TENAYA

There are two versions of the death of old Chief Tenaya, neither a glorious nor romantic ending for an Indian chief, son of a chief. Until recently the story went that, after a long stay with the Monos, the Yosemites returned to their valley.

Half Dome rears its granite crest more than a mile above the floor of the Yosemite Vatley, surviving the storms of the ages. By Ansel Adams
[click to enlarge]
Half Dome rears its granite crest more
than a mile above the floor of the Yosemite
Vatley, surviving the storms of the ages
Shortly after, a party of young Yosemites slipped back to the camp of their former hosts and returned stealthily with some of the Monos’ finest horses.

For this gross breach of etiquette the Monos returned the call of the Yosemites —in war-paint and head-feathers! Finding their erstwhile guests stuffed and stupid from gorging on stolen horse-flesh, the incensed Monos attacked and stoned to death Tenaya and all but eight of his band, who escaped down the canyon of the Merced River.

Not long ago, however, Mr. Russell talked with “Maria” Lebrado, last of the Yosemite Indians. She was one of that small band of seventy-two that Major Savage encountered on his first trip into Yosemite Valley with the Mariposa Battalion, and was with that last remnant of Indians captured on the shores of Lake Tenaya. Only a child then, she was as old as the squaw the soldiers found in the Indian Caves when she talked to Mr. Russell. She denied the story of the stolen horses, and declared Tenaya was not killed in the Valley at all, but that while visiting the Monos, after the murder of the miners, an argument arose in the heat and excitement of a hand game and Tenaya was killed in the brawl by a rock hurled by an angry Mono.

Whatever the truth may be, and there is little to choose between them, the prophecy of the Medicine Man was all fulfilled. Horsemen from the lowlands entered Ahwahnee, and from that time on Tenaya’s tribe was scattered, or taken captive, and he was, in truth, the last chief of the Yosemites.



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