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

Previous: Chapter VIIIIndexNext: Chapter X


Starvation subdues the Chow-chillas, and the Result is Peace—Captain Kuykendall’s Expeditions—An Attack—Rout and Pursuit—A Wise Conclusion—Freezing out Indians—A wild Country—A terrific View—Yosemite versus King’s River—Submission of the Indians South of the San Joaquin—Second Expedition to Yosemite—Daring Scouts—Capture of Indians—Naming of “Three Brothers.”

A few days after our return from the campaign against the Chow-chil-las, a small delegation from a Kah-we-ah band on King’s river was sent in by Captain Kuykendall, whose energy had subdued nearly all of the Indians in his department. The chief of this band informed Major Savage that Tom-kit and Frederico, successors in authority to Jose Rey, had visited his camp, and had reported that they were very hungry. They came, they said, to hold a council. The chief told the Major that he had advised them to come in with him and make a treaty, but they refused. They said the white man’s “medicine” was too powerful for them; but if their great chief had not died, he would have driven the white men from the mountains, for he was “a heap wise.” The white soldiers had killed their great chief; they had killed many of their best warriors; they had burned up their huts and villages and destroyed their supplies, and had tried to drive their people from their territory, and they would kill their women and children if they did not hide them where they could not be found; and much more in a similar vein.

A small supply of acorns had been given these fugitives, and when the chief left, they had promised to return and hear what the commissioners had said. Major Savage reported this, and with the commissioners’ approval, decided to return with the Kah-we-ah chief and meet in counsel with the Chow-chil-las. He took with him sufficient “beef” on foot to give the Indians a grand feast, which lasted several days; during which time arrangements were completed for treaties with all of the remaining bands of the Kah-we-ah tribe, and with the Chow-chillas. The result of the Major’s negotiations were in the highest degree satisfactory. Captain Boling, however, claimed some of the honor, for, said he, I defeated the Chow-chillas by firing at long range.

This once turbulent and uncompromising tribe became the most tractable of the mountain Indians. They were superior in all respects to those of most other tribes. They had intimate relations with the Monos, a light colored race as compared with the Valley or Kah-we-ah tribe, and were very expert in the manufacture and use of the bow and arrow. The Mono’s had intermarried with the Chow-chil-las, and they aided them in their intercourse with the Pah-u-tes in their barter for salt, obsidian, lava and other commodities. The Chow-chil-las now being disposed of, and a treaty signed by the other tribes, it was decided by the commissioners that our next expedition should be against the Yo-sem-i-tes. This had been recommended by Major Savage as the only practical method of effecting any terms with their old Chief. Every inducement had been offered them that had been successful with the others; but had been treated with contempt. The liberal supplies of beef they refused, saying they preferred horse-flesh. The half-civilized garbs and gaudy presents tendered at the agency were scorned by Ten-ie-ya as being no recompense for relinquishing the freedom of his mountain home. Major Savage announced that the expedition would start as soon as the floods had somewhat subsided, so that the streams could be crossed. As for ourselves, we had learned to take advantage of any narrow place in a stream, and by means of ropes stretched for feet and hands, we crossed without difficulty streams that we could not ford with horses. As this delay would allow an opportunity for some of the battalion to see to such private business as required their attention, short furloughs were granted to those most anxious to improve this occasion.

While the companies of Captains Boling and Dill were exploring the vicinities of the Merced and San Joaquin in search of Indians, Captain Kuykendall, with the able support of his Lieutenants and his company, were actively engaged in the same duties south of the San Joaquin. Captain Kuykendall vigorously operated in the valleys, foot-hills and mountains of the King’s and Kah-we-ah rivers, and those of the smaller streams south. The Indians of Kern river, owing to the influence of a mission Chief, “Don-Vincente,” who had a plantation at the Tehon pass, remained peaceful, and were not disturbed. The success of Captain Kuykendall’s campaigns enabled the commissioners to make treaties with all the tribes within the Tulare valley, and those that occupied the region south of San Joaquin river.

Owing to lapse of time since these events, and other causes, I am unable to do justice to him, or the officers and men under him. My personal recollections of the incidents of his explorations, were acquired while exchanging stories around camp fires. Operating as they did, among the most inaccessible mountains in California, with but one company, they successfully accomplished the duties assigned them.

It was supposed that some of the tribes and bands among whom they were sent were extremely hostile to the whites, and that they would combine and resist their approach; but after a single engagement on King’s river, the Indians were put to flight without the loss of a man, and could not be induced to hazard another like encounter. The plans of operation were similar to those of Captains Boling and Dill: the destruction of the camps of all who refused to come in and have a talk with the commissioners. Captain Kuykendall’s company found these people almost without fire-arms and civilized clothing of any kind, and depending wholly on their bows and arrows. Except in the vicinity of King’s and Kah-we-ah rivers, the savages were scattered over a large range of country. Their camps were generally in the valleys and among the foot-hills; when alarmed, they fled to the rocky cañons among the mountains. In one of our conversations, during a visit of Captain Kuykendall to the Fresno, he said: “When we first started out, we learned from our scouts and guides, that a large body of Indians had collected well up on King’s river. Making a rapid march, we found, on arriving in sight, that they were inclined to give us battle. We at once charged into their camp, routed and killed a number, while others were ridden down and taken prisoners. We followed the fugitives, making a running fight, until compelled to leave our horses, when they eluded pursuit. Not yet discouraged, we followed on toward the head waters of the Kah-we-ah, seeing occasionally, upon a ridge just ahead of us, groups of Indians; but upon our reaching that locality, they were resting on the next ridge; and as we came into view, turned their backs upon us, applauding our efforts to overtake them, in a very peculiar manner. They fled into a worse country than anything before seen in our explorations, and I soon perceived the folly of attempting to follow them longer. As to this region east and southeast of the termination of our pursuit, I have only this to say, that it is simply indescribable. I did not see any ‘dead Indians’ after leaving the village, and during the pursuit, although some of the boys were sure they had ‘fetched their man.’ It is certain that a number were killed in the assault, but how many, we were unable to ascertain, for upon our return, as usual, the dead had been carried off. We lost no men in the fight, and had but one wounded. The wound was very painful, having been inflicted by one of the glass arrow-heads that it is designed shall be left rankling in the wound; but after that was extracted, the wound soon healed without serious results.”

After this chase on foot into the “High Sierras,” the operations of Capt. Kuykendall were more limited, for, as he had stated, he regarded it as the height of folly to attempt to follow the lightly-armed and lighter clad “hostiles” with cavalry, into their rocky mountain retreats. In the saddle, except a few sailors in his company, his men felt at home, and were willing to perform any amount of severe duty, however dangerous or difficult it might be, but on foot, the Texans, especially, were like “Jack ashore, without anything to steer by.” When required to take a few days, provisions and their blankets on their backs, their efforts, like those our command, were not very effective, so far as catching the natives was concerned. These foot expeditions were designed by the officers to keep the enemy alarmed, and in the cold regions, while their supplies were being destroyed by the mounted force ranging below. By this strategy, Captain Kuykendall kept his men constantly occupied, and at the same time displayed his genius as a soldier.

His foot expeditions were generally made by a few enthusiastic scouts, who were as much induced to volunteer to perform this duty from a love of nature as from a desire to fight. Here were found—

“The palaces of Nature, whose vast walls
Have pinnacled in clouds their snowy scalps,
And throned eternity in icy halls
Of cold sublimity, where forms and falls
The avalanche—the thunderbolt of snow!
All that expands the spirit, yet appals,
Gather around these summits, as to show
How earth may pierce to Heaven, yet leave vain man below.”

The stories told by the men in Kuykendall’s command were received with doubts, or as exaggerations. Their descriptions represented deeper valleys and higher cliffs than had been seen and described by scouts of the other companies. It was intimated by us, who had previously described the region of the Yosemite, “that the man who told the first story in California stood a poor chance.” Having read Professor J. D. Whitney’s reports of that region, I can better appreciate the reports of Captain Kuykendall and those under him, of the character of the mountain territory to which they had been assigned. Mr. Whitney, State Geologist, in speaking of the geological survey of this vicinity, says: “Of the terrible grandeur of the region embraced in this portion of the Sierra, it is hardly possible to convey any idea. Mr. Gardner, in his notes of the view from Mount Brewer, thus enumerates some of the most striking features of the scene: ‘Cañons from two to five thousand feet deep, between thin ridges topped with pinnacles sharp as needles; successions of great crater-like amphitheatres, with crowning precipices, over-sweeping snow-fields and frozen lakes, everywhere naked and shattered granite without a sign of vegetation, except where a few gnarled and storm-beaten pines * * * cling to the rocks in the deeper cañons; such were the elements of the scene we looked down upon, while cold gray clouds were drifting overhead.’”

This description applies more properly to the territory east of any point reached by Captain Kuykendall, but it verifies the statements made by him and those of some of his men.

While on our second expedition to the Yosemite, some of Captain Kuykendall’s company, who had come to headquarters and had been allowed the privileges, volunteered to accompany our supply train, as they said: “To see what kind of a country we were staying in.” One, an enthusiastic lover of nature, said on his return: “The King’s river country, and the territory southeast of it, beats the Yosemite in terrific grandeur, but in sublime beauty you have got us.” As the furloughs granted to the members of B. and C. companies expired, all promptly reported for duty, and preparations were completed for another campaign against the Yosemites.

Captain Dill, with part of his company, was retained on duty at headquarters, while Lt. Gilbert with a detachment of C. Company, was ordered to report for duty to Captain Boling. Dr. Pfifer was placed in charge of a temporary hospital, erected for the use of the battalion. Surgeon Bronson had resigned, preferring the profits received from his negro slaves, who were then mining on Sherlock’s creek to all the romance of Indian warfare. The doctor was a clever and genial gentleman, but a poor mountaineer. Doctor Lewis Leach was appointed to fill the vacancy. Doctor Black was ordered to duty with Captain Boling. Major Savage offered me a position, and it was urged upon me by Captain Boling, but having a number of men engaged in a mining enterprise, in which Spencer and myself were interested, we had mutually agreed to decline all office. Beside this, when Mr. Spencer and myself entered into service together, it was with the expectation that we would soon be again at liberty. But once in the service, our personal pride and love of adventure would not allow us to become subordinate by accepting office.

As it was the design of Major Savage to make a thorough search in the territory surrounding the Yosemite, if we failed in surprising the inhabitants in their valley, a few scouts and guides were provided for the expedition to aid in our search among the “High Sierras,” so distinctively named by Prof. Whitney. Among our ample supplies ropes were furnished, by order of Major Savage, suitable for floats, and for establishing bridges where needed. These bridges were suggested by myself, and were useful as a support while passing through swift water, or for crossing narrow but rushing torrents. This was accomplished expeditiously by simply stretching “taut” two ropes, one above the other, the upper rope, grasped by the hands, serving to secure the safe passage of the stream. Where trees were not found in suitable position to make the suspension, poles were lashed together so as to form shears, which served for trestles. I also suggested that snow-shoes could probably be used with advantage on our mountain excursions. The use of these I found entirely unknown, except to Major Savage and a few other eastern men. My experience favored their use, as I had often found it easier to travel over deep snow than to wallow through it.” My suggestion caused a “heap” of merriment, and my friend Chandler laughed until he became “powerful weak,” and finally I was assailed by so many shafts of witty raillery from my southern comrades, that I was willing to retreat, and cry out, ‘hold, enough!’”

The services of Major Savage being indispensable to the Commissioners, it was decided that the expedition would be under the command of Captain Boling. In making this announcement, the Major said: he expected Ten-ie-ya and his people would come in with us if he was formally invited, and a sufficient escort provided. Captain Boling very seriously assured the Major, that if the Yosemites accepted the invitation, he should endeavor to make the trip a secure one; there should be no neglect on the part of the escort if suitable supplies were provided for subsistence. Major Savage laughingly replied that as the expedition would be under the especial command of Captain Boling, he had no fears that ample supplies would not be provided.

Our preparations being made, we again started for the Merced in search of the Yosemites. It was the design of Capt. Boling to surprise the Indians if possible, and if not, to cut off the escape of their women and children, the capture of whom, would soon bring the warriors to terms. With this plan in view, and leaving Chandler virtually in command of the column, we made a rapid march direct for their valley, crossing the streams without much difficulty, and without accident.

The advance, consisting of Captain Boling with a small detachment, and some of the scouts, quietly entered the valley, but no Indians were seen. A few new wigwams had been built on the south side near the lower ford, to better guard the entrance as was supposed. Without halting, except to glance at the vacant huts, the advance rode rapidly on, following a trail up the south side, which our Pohonochee guide informed the captain was a good trail.

On entering the valley and seeing the deserted wigwams I reached the conclusion that our approach had been heralded. As my military ardor subsided, my enthusiastic love of the beautiful returned to me, and I halted a moment to take a general view of the scenery; intending also to direct the column up the south side. While waiting for Chandler, I examined the huts, and found several bushels of scorched acorns that had been divested of their covering, as if for transportation. I knew that the natives had no more fondness for burnt acorns than Yankees have for burnt beans, and the interpreter Sandino, who was with me at this moment, muttered in Indian Spanish, “Yosemite very poor—no got much eat; acorns, fire burn—pull ‘em out.” In one of the huts we found a young dog, a miserable cur that barked his affright at our approach, and fled into the brush near by. I told Lt. Chandler of the directions left for his guidance, and as he expressed his intention to bring up the rear of the column into closer order, I received permission to move slowly on with his advance, consisting of Firebaugh, Spencer, French, Fisher, Stone, a few others and myself. We were soon overtaken by Chandler, who had given his orders to the rear-guard. As we rode along, I reported the conclusions of Sandino and my knowledge of the fact that nearly all the acorns had been burnt. I also told him what Sandino had previously said, that the Indians took the shells off the acorns they carried over the mountains, and from this cause, thought the hulled acorns found were designed for a distant transportation. Again referring the matter to Sandino, who was called up for the purpose, he said, “No fire when take off skin; no like ‘em; Yosemite close by, want ‘em acorn.” Upon telling Chandler that Sandino’s opinion was that the acorns found were saved from some of the burning supplies fired at our first visit, and that the Yosemites were transporting them to some mountain retreat, the Lieutenant could not credit it, and said that “Sandino’s opinions are unreliable.”

Sandino was not popular, either with our officers or with the “boys.” Captain Boling doubted his integrity, while Chandler said he was a most arrant coward and afraid of the wild Indians. Chandler was right; but, nevertheless, Sandino told us many truths. At times his timidity and superstition were very annoying; but if reproved, he became the more confused, and said that many questions made his head ache; a very common answer to one in search of knowledge among Indians. Sandino had been sent along by the Major as our interpreter, but a Spanish interpreter was necessary to make him of any use. As a scout he was inferior—almost useless. We afterwards found that Sandino’s surmises were true. It was evident that the fire had been extinguished at some of the large heaps, and many acorns saved, though in a damaged condition.

As we rode on up the valley, I became more observant of the scenery than watchful for signs, when suddenly my attention was attracted by shadowy objects flitting past rocks and trees on the north side, some distance above El Capitan. Halting, I caught a glimpse of Indians as they passed an open space opposite to us. Seeing that they were discovered, they made no further efforts to hide their movements, but came out into open view, at long rifle range. There were five of them. They saluted us with taunting gestures, and fearlessly kept pace with us as we resumed our march. The river was here a foaming impassable torrent. The warriors looked with great indifference on our repeated efforts to discover a fording place. As we approached a stretch of comparatively smooth water, I made known to Chandler my intention of swimming the stream to capture them. His answer was: “Bully for you, Doc; take ‘em, if you can, alive, but take ‘em anyhow.” I started with Spencer, Firebaugh, French, young Stone and two others, for a sloping bank where our animals would most willingly enter the stream; but Stone spurred passed me as we reached the bank, and when Firebaugh’s mulish mustang refused the water, though given the spur, and all the other mules refused to leave the horse, Stone backed his mule over the bank, and we swam our mules after the “boy leader” across the Merced.

(3,850 feet in height.)
The Indians, alarmed by this unexpected movement, fled up the valley at the top of their speed. By the time we had crossed, they had nearly reached a bend in the river above on the north side. We followed at our best gait, but found the trail obstructed by a mass of what then appeared to be recently fallen rocks. Without hesitation, we abandoned our mules, and continued the pursuit on foot, up to the rocky spur known as the “Three Brothers,” where entering the Talus, they disappeared. Find them, we could not. The obstructing rocks on the old north side trail were known as “We-aück,” “The Rocks,” and understood to mean the “fallen rocks,” because, according to traditions they had fallen upon the old trail. The modern trail for horses crossed the stream a short distance below, where there was a very good ford in a lower stage of water, but at this time, the early part of May, the volume of water rushing down the Merced was astonishing. We had crossed readily enough in the heat of excitement; but it was with feelings of reluctance that we re-entered the cold water and swam our mules back to where a few of our comrades had halted on the south side.

Mr. Firebaugh, having failed to get his mustang to follow us, had run him up on the south side as if to cut off the fugitives, and saw them hide behind a ledge of rocks.

When informed of the situation, Capt. Boling crossed to the north side and came down to the ledge where the scouts were hidden; but the Captain could scarcely at first credit Firebaugh’s statement, that he had seen them climb up the cliff. Our Indian scouts were sent up to hunt out the hidden warriors, and through the means of fair promises, if they came down voluntarily, Captain Boling succeeded in bringing in the five Indians. Three of the captives were known to us, being sons of Ten-ie-ya, one of whom was afterwards killed; the other two were young braves, the wife of one being a daughter of the old chief. The Indian name for the three rocky peaks near which this capture was made was not then known to any of our battalion, but from the strange coincidence of three brothers being made prisoners so near them, we designated the peaks as the “Three Brothers.” I soon learned that they were called by the Indians “Kom-po-pai-zes,” from a fancied resemblance of the peaks to the heads of frogs when sitting up ready to leap. A fanciful interpretation has been given the Indian name as meaning “mountains playing leap-frog,” but a literal translation is not desirable. [Web editor’s note: the correct translation is “a couple copulating”—dea. ]

They hear the plaintive bull-frog to his mistress trilling sweet;
They see the green-robed sirens plunge down in waters deep.
But leap these mountains may not; they watch, with clouded brow,
Return of young Ten-ie-ya—heard not his death’s pow-wow.

Previous: Chapter VIIIIndexNext: Chapter X

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