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Many "Yosemite" Miwok villages, but a few Miwoks

Discussion about Yosemite National Park history, including Native Americans, Euro-American pioneers and settlement, and establishment as a national park.

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Many "Yosemite" Miwok villages, but a few Miwoks

Postby Yosemite_Indian » Fri Aug 07, 2009 2:40 am

In 1910 Bay area ethnologist C. Hart Merriam was looking for the Yosemite Miwoks written about by Overland Monthly journalist Stephen Powers.

C. Hart Merriam. Merriam did not live in the Yosemite area. In his notes he would travel to Yosemite area to interview Indians IN ONE DAY.

Merriam, like other white ethnologists, never read Lafayette Bunnell’s personal account of the Mariposa Battalion. Bunnell, who was part of the Battalion that ‘discovered’ the Yosemite Valley wrote that the original Indians of Yosemite were really Paiutes and not Miwoks. He, like others, only read the popular magazine the Overland Monthly’s Stephen Power’s article.

In fact the Miwoks were the scouts and workers for the whites and followed them in AFTER the Paiutes had been cleared and they were absorbed into the Mono Paiute population.

Merriam went and instead of speaking to the original Native people of Yosemite, the Paiutes, he spoke to the few remaining ”Miwoks” around their camps in the western foothills. He was in search of the ‘fabled’ Yosemite Miwoks written about by Stephen Powers, when they were really late comers.

Here is what he wrote were their “villages” in Yosemite Valley…NOTE THERE ARE OVER 50 VILLAGES, with large roundhouses at several locations.

I believe either Merriam was ‘fooled’ or Merriam had a flight of his own creativity.


Plus —- So Many villages…Not enough Indians. (and the majority of those were Paiutes not Miwoks).

Below is his ‘work’.

The villages and camps were sharply divided into two categories—those north of Merced River and those south of it. This division has a far deeper and more ancient significance than that indicated by the mere position of the villages with respect to the river, for it goes back to the underlying totemic beliefs that form an important part of the religion of this primitive people.

If one of the survivors is questioned as to the location of the villages, he in replying constantly makes use of the terms inside and outside as denoting one or the other side of the valley; and if the inquiry is pressed a little farther it soon develops that there is a grizzly-bear side and a coyote side, a land side (Too-noó-kah), and a water side (Kik-koó-ah). This perplexing state of affairs leads to the interesting discovery that after all there are only two sides, but that each of them has four names: that the north side, inside, grizzly-bear side, and land side are one and the same—namely, the side north of Merced River; while the south side, outside, coyote side, and water side are only so many different names for the side south of Merced River.

The names most commonly used by the Indians themselves for the two sides are Oo-hoó-mă-tāt ko-tó-wahk (or Oo-hoó-mă-te ha-wā’-ah), the grizzly-bear side, and Ah-hā’-leet ko-tó-wahk (or Ah-hā’-le ha-wā’-ah), the coyote side—from Oo-hoó-ma-te, the bear, and Ah-hā’-le, the coyote, respectively.

It is not difficult to see how Oo-hoó-ma-te, the bear, an important personage among the early animal-people, might be chosen to represent the land animals; but why Ah-há-le, the coyote, should stand for the water-people is not so obvious. For the explanation one must look far back into the mythology of these Indians, in which it appears that before there were any real people in the world Ah-há-le, the coyote-man, one of the early divinities of the animal-people, came over the ocean from beyond the sea—for which reason he is ranked with the water-people.

Returning to our more immediate subject, the village and camp sites of Yosemite Valley, it is now easier to understand the grouping employed by the Indians. Indians are naturally methodical, and it is their custom to classify objects and places, and in speaking of them to begin at a fixed point and proceed in orderly sequence. Thus, in seeking the names of animals and plants and of geographic locations, I have several times provoked the undisguised disgust of my informant by not putting my questions in what he or she deemed the proper sequence.

In enumerating the village and camp sites of Yosemite Valley the Indians begin at the upper (or east) end of the north side.

Following this sequence, the names and locations of the villages and camps are as follows:

1. Hoo-ké-hahtch’-ke.—Situated at the extreme upper end of the valley between Merced River and Tenaya Creek, and just below the mouth of Tenaya Cañon. A summer village inhabited up to about twenty years ago.

2. Hol’-low’, or Lah’-koó-hah.—Indian cave, immediately under Washington Column at the mouth of Tenaya Cañon; a low, broad, and deep recess under a huge rock. Said to have been occupied as a winter shelter, and also when attacked by the Mono Lake Piutes. The overhanging rock is black from the smoke of ages, and far back in the cave large quantities of acorn-shells have been found. The word Lah-koó-hah, often applied to Indian Cave, is a call meaning “come out.”

3. Wis’-kah-lah.—A large summer camp on a northward bend of Merced River, a little west of Royal Arches. Western part of site now occupied by a small settlement known as Kinneyville.

4. Yó-watch-ke (sometimes nicknamed Mah-chá-to, meaning “edge” or “border,” because of its position on the border of the valley).—Large village at mouth of Indian Cañon; still occupied. The slightly sloping gravel and sand “fan” on which this village is situated is the warmest place in Yosemite Valley, having a southwesterly exposure and receiving a maximum of midday and afternoon sunshine. Several species of shrubs belonging to the Upper Sonoran zone—the one next below the Transition zone, in which Yosemite Valley lies—thrive on this hot sandy plain among and outside of the scattered ponderosa pines and black oaks. These are Ceanothus divaricatus, Rhus trilobata, Lupinus ornatus, Eriodictyon glutinosum, Pentstemon[sic] breviflorus.

5. Ah-wah’-ne.—Village on Black Oak Flat, extending from site of Galen Clark’s grave easterly nearly to Yó-watch-ke. As in the case of most of the villages, the village name was applied also to a definite tract of land belonging to it. This area, in the case of Ah-wah’-ne, was a piece of level ground of considerable size, beginning on the west along a north and south line passing through Sentinel Hotel and reaching easterly nearly to the mouth of Indian Cañon. The cemetery was on this tract, as was also the barn formerly belonging to J. B. Cooke. This being the largest tract of open level ground in the valley, the name Ah-wah’-ne came to be applied by outside Indians to the whole valley.

6. Koom-i-ne, or Kom-i-ne.—The largest and most important village in the valley, situated on the north side of the delta of Yosemite Creek just below Yosemite Fall (Ah-wah’-ning chú-luk-ah-hu, slurred to Chó-luk), and extending southwesterly at the base of the talus-slope under the towering cliffs for about three-quarters of a mile, reaching almost or quite to Three Brothers (Haw’-hawk). Old Chief Tenaya had a large earth-covered ceremonial-house (hang-e) by a big oak tree in this village. The Government soldiers stationed in the valley took possession of the site and established their camp there in 1907, forcing the Indians out. (Occupied by Indians during all my earlier visits.)

7. Wah-hó-gah.—Small village about half a mile west-southwest of Koom-i-ne, on or near edge of meadow.

8. Soo-sem’-moo-lah.—Village at northwest end of old Folsom bridge (now the ford), less than half a mile south of Rocky Point.

9. Hah-ki-ah.—Large village only a short distance (less than one eighth mile) below Soo-sem’-moo-lah, and likewise south of Three Brothers (Haw’-hawk). A roundhouse, or hang-e, was located here, not far from old Folsom bridge. The three villages, Wah-hó-gah, Soo-Sem’-oo-lah, and Hah-ki-ah, were inhabited up to about twenty years ago.

10. Kotm’-pom-pá-sah, or Pom’-pom-pá-sah.—Small village only a little below Hah-ki-ah, and also south of Three Brothers, or under the talus slope of the cañon immediately west of Three Brothers.

11. Aw’-o-koi-e.—Small village below and slightly east of the tall pine growing in a notch on the broad south face of El Capitan. The native Indian name of the gigantic rock cliff which we call El Capitan is To-tó-kon oo-lah, from To-tó-kon, the Sandhill Crane, a chief of the First People.

12. He-lé-jah (the mountain lion).—Small village under El Capitan a little west of Aw’-o-koi-e.

13. Ha-eng’-ah.—Small village under El Capitan, and only a little west of He-lé-jah.

14. Yu-á-chah.—Still another village under El Capitan, and only a short distance west of Ha-eng’-ah.

15. Hep-hep’-oo-ma.—Village where present Big Oak Flat road forks to leave the main road, south of the steep cañon which forms the west wall of El Capitan, and near west end of the big El Capitan Meadows (To-tó-kon oó-lah’ i-e-hu). The five villages, Aw’-o-koi-e, He-lé-jah, Ha-eng’-ah, Yu-á-chah, and Hep-hep’-oo-ma, were summer villages occupied from April to late October or early November.

16. Ti-e-té-mah.—Village only a short distance below Hep-hep’-oo-ma, and close to El Capitan bridge.

17. Ho-kó-nah.—Small village a little below Ti-e-té-mah, and near site of old (shack) house.

18. Wé-tum-taw.—Village by a small meadow a short distance. below Ho-kó-nah, and east of Black Spring.

19. Poot-poo-toon, or Put-put-toon.—Village in rocky place on north side of present road at Black Spring, from which it takes its name.

20. Ah-wah’-mah.—Lowermost (westernmost) village in Yosemite Valley, a short distance below Black Spring and above Til-til’-ken-ny, where the mail-carrier’s cabin is located.

21. Sap-pah’-sam-mah.—Lowermost (most westerly) village or camp on south side of the valley, about half a mile east of Pohono Meadows.

22. Lem-mé-hitch’-ke.—Small village or camp on east side of Pohono (or Bridal Veil) Creek, just below a very large rock.

23. Hop’-tó-ne.—Small village or camp at base of westernmost of the lofty cliffs known as Cathedral Rocks, and close to south end of El Capitan bridge across Merced River.

24. Wé-sum-meh’.—Small village or camp at base of Cathedral Spires near the river, with a small meadow below; not far above Hop’-tó-ne.

25. Kis’-se, or Kis’-se-uh.—Large village near the river, nearly opposite Hah-ki-ah. Kis’-se was the westernmost of the large villages on the south side. From it easterly they occurred at frequent intervals.

26. Chá-chá-kal-lah.—Large village just below old Folsom bridge (ford). Formerly a sweat-house (chap-poó) here.

27. Ham’-moo-ah.—Village on Ford road, nearly opposite Three Brothers (Wah-hah’-kah).

28. Loi-ah.—Large village in open pine forest below Sentinel Rock (on ground now occupied by Camp Ahwahnee) and reaching down toward river. Occupied during my earlier visits-to the valley.

29. Hoó-koo-mé-ko-tah.—Village a little above Galen Clark’s house; looked out easterly over big meadow. Occupied during my earlier visits. (Hoo-koo-me is the great horned owl.)

30. Haw-kaw-koó-e-tah (Ho-kok’-kwe-lah, Haw-kaw’-koi*).—Large and important village on Merced River, where Sentinel Hotel and cottages now stand. Home of the band called Yo-ham’-i-te (or Yo-hem’-i-te), for whom the valley was named. The old woman Callipena was a Yo-ham’-i-te.

[*Named from How-kaw'-met-te, or How-wah-met-te, a rocky place.]

31. Ho-low.—Village on or near Merced River where the schoolhouse used to stand.

32. Wah’-tahk’-itch-ke.—Village on edge of meadow on south bend of Merced River near forks of road west of Le Conte Memorial. The wild pea (wah-tah’-kah) grows here.

33. Too-yú-yú-yu.—Large village on south bend of Merced River due. north of Le Conte Memorial and close to the bridge between Le Conte Memorial (or Camp Curry) and Kinneyville.

34. Too-lah’-kah’-twh.—Village or camp on open ground now occupied by orchard on east side of meadow north of Camp Curry.

35. Um’-ma-taw.—Large village on present wagon-road between Camp Curry and Happy Isles; was some distance from the river; water was fetched from a spring.

36. Ap’-poo-meh.—Camp on Merced River below Vernal Fall.

37. Kah-win’-na-bah’.—Large summer camp in Little Yosemite, whose name it bears.

There were no villages in the narrow Merced Cañon between the lower end of Yosemite Valley and the Cascades, where there were a few houses called Yi-yan’. This name also covered the ground from Cascade Creek to the junction of the Coulterville road.

The next village on the north side was at the terminus of the new railroad at El Portal (a distance of eight or nine miles), where the villages began and continued down-stream. Most of these were permanent, but they were far larger in winter than in summer, receiving material additions from Yosemite when cold weather set in.

Sit’-ke-noó-al-lah.—Place and few houses on the south side of Merced River a little above (east of) El Portal; now Indian Wilson’s place.

Kep-pek’-oo-lah.—Place and small settlement on the south side of Merced River just above El Portal; now occupied by a white man. Named from the abundance of kep-pek’ the brake fern (Pteris aquilina), the rootstocks of which the Indians use for the black design in their baskets.

Kah-wah’-koo-lah.—Place and small settlement on the south side of Merced River half a mile below Sit’-ke-noó-al-lah and nearly opposite El Portal stable.

Sal-lah’-to.—Large village on flat now occupied by the railroad terminus at El Portal. The place at the mouth of Crane Creek at El Portal is called Sas’-oo-lah; formerly a few houses where the hotel stable now is.

Po-ko-nó.—Village on the north side of the Merced a quarter of a mile west of El Portal. The flat gravel and pebble bench extending along the north side of the Merced for an eighth of a mile just below El Portal was known by the same name.

Choó-pi-tah, or Choó-pi-do.—Large village on the north side of Merced Cañon one or one and a half miles below El Portal, at the place called Rancheria Flat (immediately west of the present Hite Mine and northeast of the bend of the river).

To-yo’ng-am’.—Small village on top of a small pointed hill on the north side of the Merced at the bend of the river just below Hite Mine (really surrounded by Choó-pi-tah, being situated in the middle of the flat; may have been only a roundhouse).

Soó-wut-oo-lah’.—Large and important village on large oak-forested flat on the north side of the Merced, now Switch Flat (railroad switch), just west of Hogback Ridge, which separates it from Choó-pi-tah. Used to be a roundhouse (hang-e) here.

Oi-kó-bah.—Very small old village at mouth of Moss Cañon, north side of the Merced; not room for many houses.

Kil’-mit-ten.—Big village on flat on the north side of the Merced just above the Government bridge.

Moó-lah-buk’-sa-bah’.—Village on the north side of the Merced just below and close to the Government bridge.

Haw’-too-too.—Village on the north side of the Merced. Old cabin there now, opposite the present Indian ranch where Big Nancy and others live.

Muh-chó-kah-nó.—Old village on the south side of the Merced, at present occupied by Big Nancy, Callipena, and Lucy Ann.

Wah’ng’-oo-hah.—Village on small flat on the north side of Merced Cañon, a little above the mill at Ferguson Mine.

Soo-noó-koo-loon’.—Village on the north side of Merced Cañon, at present Ferguson Station, six miles below El Portal.


Notice Merriam only mentions Calepena, Big Nancy, Indian Wilson and Lucy Ann…WHO WHERE THE OTHER SO-CALLED SOUTHERN SIERRA MIWUKS LIVING THERE??? Where were the others??? Since he mentioned them by name, where were the other Miwuks?

Plus these women were married to Mono Paiutes. Calepena and Lucy Ann were married to Mono Paiutes.

So let’s look at what others wrote when they went looking for Stephen Power’s “Yosemite Miwoks”

Here is a great example. Taken from an old 1904 Yosemite Souvenir and Guide Book page 64, he is writing about his visitation in 1901;


old souvenir guide book of Yosemite 1904. Note how many 'Diggers' aka Miwoks there were, around twelve, but many Paiutes.

“Of the orinigal Yosemite band of Indians that once owned this Valley, and numbered its braves by the hundreds, there are now remaining but about a dozen. These are the Digger tribe, and they remain here only during the warm moths. At other times they move down the river below the snow line. Many of the Indians now here belong to their enemies, the sturdy Paiutes, from across the Sierras. All of both tribes are fairly industrious, the bucks doing all sorts of work, while the sqauws spend their time making baskets. The elder of the former usually follow trout fishing. The present leader of the Yosemites is Captain Dick, whose “quarters” are near the foot of the Yosemite Falls.”

Even before 1904 there were not that many “Miwuks” in that area. In a 1880s census there were very few.

As you can see the guide book writer was looking for the “original” Yosemite Indians, as written by Stephen Powers and C. Hart Merriam, what he found was mainly Paiutes (the true original people of Yosemite). He even wrote that the “handful” of Southern Sierra Miwuks did not live in Yosemite year round, but in 1880 the census shows Paiutes in Yosemite.


Meaning that this could not be possible. That would mean that about 12 people were living in over 50 villages. If one was to do the math, it would be impossible. Even Captain Dick in the 1904 Yosemite Guide, unbeknown to the writer was himself a PAIUTE.

Meanwhile at the same time C. Hart Merriam was looking for the ‘fabled’ Yosemite Miwoks, there were hundreds of Paiutes living and camping in Yosemite…one of their original homelands.

Plus the guide book writer didn’t know that the Yosemite band was absorbed back into the Mono Paiutes in 1853.Which Bunnell documented in his book The Discovery of Yosemite. Those “Diggers” he saw were NOT part of the original Indians, but part of Powers’ Indians that he mistakenly wrote were Yosemite Indians. The real Yosemite Indians WERE THE PAIUTES SITTING IN MASS IN YOSEMITE VALLEY EVEN IN 1901.

To quote Johnny Cochran “if it don’t fit…you musta quit”.

In other words it doesn’t add up, too many villages…not enough Southern Sierra Miwuks.

*note: Later C. Hart Merriam concided that many things he wrote were incorrect. That is documented in Frank Latta’s book about Yokut Indians.
Chief Tenaya was the founder of the Paiute Colony of Ahwahnee
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Re: Many "Yosemite" Miwok villages, but a few Miwo

Postby dan » Fri Aug 07, 2009 10:25 am


Meaning that this could not be possible. That would mean that about 12 people were living in over 50 villages.

To be fair, the 50 or so "villages" (sites) are not all permanent. He mentions 6, not 50, being occupied in 1898. Before European contact (war), there were a lot more villages (and people).

Here's what Merriam says about the 50 or so "villages":
C. Hart Merriam wrote:(1) permanent villages, occupied the year round, though somewhat depleted in winter; (2) summer villages, occupied from Alay to October, after which the inhabitants moved down into the milder climate of Merced Cañon, where there was little or no snow; and (3) seasonal camps for hunting and fishing. The camps were definitely located and each was regularly occupied at a particular season.

By the way, I understand there's a manuscript map by Merriam locating the "villages". I haven't seen it myself. It's in the archives of the American Indian Council of Mariposa County (or whatever the correct or current name of the organization is now). I also understand the map is at Bancroft Library and Yosemite Research Library on microfilm of Merriam's papers.
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