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Murder of Starkey—Death of Ten-ie-ya and Extinction of his Band—A few Surviving Murderers—An Attempt at Reformation—A Failure and loss of a Mule—Murders of Robert D. Sevil and Robert Smith—Alarm of the People—A False Alarm.

During the winter of 1852-3, Jesse Starkey and Mr. Johnson, comrades of the Mariposa battalion and expert hunters, were engaged in supplying miners along the Mariposa Creek with venison and bear meat. They were encamped on the head waters of the Chow-chilla and fearing no danger, slept soundly in their encampment. They had met Indians from time to time, who seemed friendly enough, and even the few escaped Yosemites who recognized Starkey, showed no sign of dislike; and hence no proper precautions were taken against their treachery.

A few days only had passed in the occupation of hunting, when a night attack was made upon the hunters. Starkey was instantly killed, but Johnson, though wounded, escaped to Mariposa on one of their mules.

James M. Roan, Deputy Sheriff under Captain Boling, took direction of the wounded man, and with a posse of but 15 miners, went out to the Chow-chilla, where they found the naked and mutilated remains of poor Starkey, which they buried uncoffined at the camp.

After that sad duty was accomplished, the little party of brave men pursued the trail of the savages into the Snowy Mountains, where they were overtaken and given merited chastisement. Three Indians fell dead at the first fire, while others were wounded and died afterwards.

No united effort was made to repel the whites, and panic-stricken, the renegade robbers fled into their hidden recesses. Cossom, an Indian implicated, confessed, long afterwards, that their loss in the attack was at least a dozen killed and wounded, and that the robber murderers of Starkey were renegade Yosemite and other Indians who had refused to live at the reservation. It was several months after Mr. Roan’s encounter with those Indians before I learned the full particulars, and when any of the remnants of the band of Yosemites appealed to me for aid, I still gave them relief.

During the summer of 1853, Mr. E. G. Barton and myself were engaged in trading and mining on the Merced. We had established a station on the north side of the river, several miles above the mouth of the North Fork. We here had the patronage of the miners on the river and its branches above, as well as in our own vicinity, and from the North Fork. From some of the miners who visited our store from the vicinity of the South Fork, I learned that a short time before, a small party of the Yosemities had come to their diggings and asked for food and protection from their enemies, who, they said, had killed their chief and most of their people, and were pursuing themselves. The affrighted and wounded wretches reported to them that they had been attacked while in their houses by a large party of Monos from the other side of the mountains, and that all of their band had been killed except those who had asked protection.

The miners had allowed the Indians to camp near by, but refused to give them any but a temporary supply of food.

Knowing that I was familiar with the Valley, and acquainted with the band, they asked my advice as to what they ought to do with their neighbors.

Feeling some sympathy for the people who had made their homes in the Yosemite, and thinking that I might aid and induce them to work as miners, I sent them word to come down to our store, as there were plenty of fish and acorns near by. A few came, when I told them that if in future they were good Indians, the whites would protect them from their enemies, and buy their gold. They expressed a willingness to work for food and clothing if they could find gold.

I furnished them some tools to prospect, and they came back sanguine of success. A Tu-ol-um-ne Indian named “Joe,” and two or three families of Yosemities came down and camped on Bull Creek and commenced to gather acorns, while “Joe” as head miner, worked with the others in the gulches and on the North Fork. This experiment of working and reforming robbers soon proved a failure, for upon the death of one of them who had been injured, they could not be induced to remain or work any longer, and “Joe,” and his new followers stampeded for the Hetch-Hetchy Valley.

From these Indians, and subsequently from others, I learned the following statements relative to the death of Old Ten-ie-ya. After the murder of the French miners from Coarse Gold Gulch, and his escape from Lieut. Moore, Ten-ie-ya, with the larger part of his band, fled to the east side of the Sierras. He and his people were kindly received by the Monos and secreted until Moore left that locality and returned to Fort Miller.

Ten-ie-ya was recognized, by the Mono tribe, as one of their number, as he was born and lived among them until his ambition made him a leader and founder of the Pai-Ute colony in Ah-wah-ne. His history and warlike exploits formed a part of the traditionary lore of the Monos. They were proud of his successes and boasted of his descent from their tribe, although Ten-ie-ya himself claimed that his father was the chief of an independent people, whose ancestors were of a different race. Ten-ie-ya had, by his cunning and sagacity in managing the deserters from other tribes, who had sought his protection, maintained a reputation as a chief whose leadership was never disputed by his followers, and who was the envy of the leaders of other tribes. After his subjugation by the whites, he was deserted by his followers, and his supremacy was no longer acknowledged by the neighboring tribes, who had feared rather than respected him or the people of his band. Ten-ie-ya and his refugee band were so hospitably received and entertained by the Monos that they seemed in no hurry to return to their valley.

According to custom with these mountaineers, a portion of territory was given to them for their occupancy by consent of the tribe; for individual right to territory is not claimed, nor would it be tolerated. Ten-ie-ya staid with the Monos until late in the summer or early autumn of 1853, when he and his people suddenly left the locality that had been assigned to them, and returned to their haunts in the Yosemite valley, with the intention of remaining there unless again driven out by the whites. Permanent wig-wams were constructed by the squaws, near the head of the valley, among the rocks, not readily discernable to visitors. Not long after Ten-ie-ya had re-established himself in his old home, a party of his young men left on a secret foraging expedition for the camp of the Monos, which was then established at or near Mono Lake. According to the statement made to me, there had just been a successful raid and capture of horses by the Monos and Pai-Utes from some of the Southern California ranchos, and Ten-ie-ya’s men concluded, rather than risk a raid on the white men, to steal from the Mono’, trusting to their cunning to escape detection.

Ten-ie-ya’s party succeeded in recapturing a few of the stolen horses, and after a circuitous and baffling route through the pass at the head of the San Joaquin, finally reached the valley with their spoils.

After a few days’ delay, and thinking themselves secure, they killed one or more of the horses, and were in the enjoyment of a grand feast in honor of their return, when the Mono’s pounced down upon them. Their gluttony seemed to have rendered them oblivious of all danger to themselves, and of the ingratitude by which the feast had been supplied. Like sloths, they appear to have been asleep after having surfeited their appetites. They were surprised in their wig-wams by the wronged and vengeful Monos and before they could rally for the fight, the treacherous old chief was struck down by the hand of a powerful young Mono chief. Ten-ie-ya had been the principal object of attack at the commencement of the assault, but he had held the others at bay until discovered by the young chief, who having exhausted his supply of arrows, seized a fragment of rock and hurled it with such force as to crush the skull of “the old grizzly.” As Ten-ie-ya fell, other stones were cast upon him by the attacking party, after the Pai-ute custom, until he was literally stoned to death. All but eight of Ten-ie-ya’s young braves were killed; these escaped down the valley, and through the cañon below.

The old men and women, who survived the first assault, were permitted to escape from the valley. The young women and children were made captives and taken across the mountains to be held as slaves or drudges to their captors. I frequently entertained the visitors at our store on the Merced with descriptions of the valley. The curiosity of some of the miners was excited, and they proposed to make a visit as soon as it could be made with safety. I expressed the opinion that there would be but little danger from Indians, as the Mono’s and Pai-utes only came for acorns, and that the Yo-sem-i-ties were so nearly destroyed, that at least, while they were mourning the loss of their chief, and their people, no fear need be entertained of them.

Three of these miners, from the North Fork of the Merced, visited the valley soon after this interview. These men were from Michigan. Their glowing descriptions on their return, induced five others from the North Fork to visit it also. On their return trip they missed the trail that would have taken them over the ridge to their own camp and kept on down to the path which led to our establishment. While partaking of our hospitalities, they discussed the incidents of their excursion, and I was soon convinced that they had been to the Yosemite. They spoke of the lower and the high fall rather disparagingly, and expressed disappointment, when told of the existence of cascades and cataracts, that they had not known of or seen. I questioned them as to Indians, and learned that they had not seen any on the trip, but had seen deserted huts below the cañon.

I learned soon after, from some miners from the mouth of the “South Fork,” that all of the Yosemites who had camped on the flats below the cañon, had left suddenly for the Tuolumne. These two parties were the first white men that visited the Yosemite Valley after the visit of Lieut. Moore, the year before (1852). The names of these miners have now passed from my memory, but I afterwards met one of these gentlemen at Mr. George W. Coulter’s Hotel, in Coultersville, and another at Big Oak Flat, and both seemed well known to Lovely Rogers and other old residents. I was shown, by the first party, some good specimens of gold quartz that had been found on the north side of the Merced below the cañon. Late in the fall of this year (1853), three of the remnant of Ten-ie-ya’s band came to our store. They did not offer to trade, and when questioned, told me that they had been camping on the Tuolumne, and had come down to the Merced to get some fish. I gave them some provisions, and they left, apparently satisfied if not thankful. A few nights afterwards, one of our best mules disappeared. This mule was a favorite mountain animal, sure footed and easy gaited under the saddle. In following up its tracks, I discovered that it had been stolen by Indians, and my suspicions were that my Yosemite friends were the culprits. I made every effort to recover the animal, but without success.

After the close of the mining season in the fall of 1853, we left our trading establishment and mining works in charge of two men in our employ, Robt. D. Sevil, of Smyrna, Delaware, and Robt. Smith, a Dane. The establishment was visited from time to time, by either Barton or myself during the winter of 1853-54, when upon one occasional visit, it was found by Mr. Barton to have been plundered. With Nat. Harbert, a brave Texan, I at once started for the establishment, only to find it a scene of desolation. I was informed by some miners who had been out prospecting, that the body of Smith had been found on a slaty point in the river below, but that nothing could be discovered of Sevil, or the murderers. We found the tracks of Indians and traced them to the mountains, but failed to find their hiding places. We lost their trail over the bare, slaty ground above the river. The tracks had indicated to us that Indians were the murderers, before we had learned from the miners the circumstances connected with the finding of Smith’s body. It had been pierced by nine arrows, five of which were still found quivering in his flesh. Upon the discovery of the body by the miners, a burial party was led by Doctor Porter, from the North Fork, to the scene of the murders; and with the assistance of his associates, Mr. Long, and others, it was given proper burial. The body of Sevil was not found until long afterwards. When discovered, it was undistinguishable, but from the location in the river, we had no doubt of its identity. I reported the murders and robbery to the authorities of Mariposa county. Captain Boling was sheriff; but having business that required his urgent attention, deputized me to act for him in the matter. He expressed a decided belief that the murders had been committed by the Yosemities. He recommended me to take a strong posse with me, and to be cautious and guarded against treachery; saying: “You know as well as I do, that all of the Yosemities are murderers and thieves.” In reply, I informed him of the killing of Ten-ie-ya and nearly all of his band by the Monos; and told him that I had ridden alone through the country wherever business called me, and that whenever I had met any of the old band they seemed quite friendly. The Captain said he would not visit the valley without sufficient force to protect himself. Upon telling him of the encampment on the Tuolumne, Captain Boling said that was beyond his jurisdiction.

Mr. Harbert and myself concluded to make a thorough exploration for the murderers, and with this object in view, rode to Marble Springs, and commenced our search along the Tuolumne divide, hoping to find some place where the tracks would be found once more concentrated. After a tiresome search, without success or encouragement, we went down to the camp of the miners, on the North Fork, to consult with them. We found old acquaintances among these gentlemen, and Dr. Porter and Mr. Long were especially hospitable. It was the opinion of these intelligent gentlemen, that the murderers had gone to the Upper Tuolumne river and were banded with the renegades of the Tuolumne tribe that had once been under Ten-ie-ya. They expressed the belief that not less than twenty men should undertake an expedition against them. As the principal articles stolen from our store were clothing and blankets, it was supposed the murderers would probably be found near some of the acorn cachés in the mountain cañons.

Feeling it would be useless to attempt anything further without an authorized expedition, we left the North Fork and our hospitable friends, and at once returned to Mariposa, where I reported to Sheriff Boling and Judge Bondurant the result of our trip. These officials decided that the territory which it would be necessary to explore, was not within their jurisdiction. That they had no authority to declare war against the Tuolumne Indians, but said that they would report the circumstances of the murders and robberies to the military authorities, to the Governor, and to the officials of Tuolumne county. Here the matter rested, and nothing more was ever done by public authority. I was afterwards advised to put in a claim on the two hundred and fifty thousand dollars voted by Congress for the Indians of California; but after some consideration of this advice, my conclusion was that the original claimants to this money would scarcely be willing to make any division of their legitimate spoils.

Although no action had been taken by the authorities, the murders of Sevil and Smith soon became generally known, and the inhabitants of Mariposa became alarmed from the rumors in circulation, of another general out-break. I visited the Fresno Agency and found that the Indians there had heard of the raid on our establishment, and, on interrogating them, they expressed the opinion that the Yosemites were the ones who had murdered the men. Their theory of the attack was, that they had first killed the men for the sake of the clothing on their persons, and afterwards had robbed the store of the clothing and blankets, because they were cold in their mountain retreat, and yet dared not live among other people. Some of these, at the Fresno, said that if the whites would fit out an expedition, they would go and help kill the murderers; “for,” said they, “those are bad Indians. They dare not visit the reservation, for we know that they would steal from us and the white people, and then we would all be made to suffer from their misconduct. We are now afraid to leave the reservation to hunt, lest we be mistaken and killed for what they have done.”

I was convinced by my visit to the agency, that there was no grounds for fear of another outbreak among the Indians. I traveled about as I had usually done before. I was cautious in out-of-the-way places, but I cannot say that I hesitated at any time to prospect. When I heard people express an opinion that it would be dangerous to enter the Yosemite Valley without a strong escort, I refrained from expressing my convictions. I felt unwilling to publicly oppose the opinions of some of my late comrades, more especially after my recent experience with the Yosemites. During the summer of 1854 no visits were made to the valley, as far as I know, and if there had been, I was so situated as likely to have been acquainted with the fact. Many of my old companions in the battalion, never shared my admiration for the Yosemite. Their descriptions were so common-place as to lead the people of the village of Mariposa to suppose that, as a curiosity, the scenery would scarcely repay the risk and labor of a visit. The murders of Smith and Sevil deterred some who had designed to visit the valley that season. The nervous ones were still further alarmed by a general stampede of the miners on the South Fork of the Merced, which occurred in the summer of that year (1854). This was caused by a visit to their neighborhood of some Pai-Utes and Monos, from the east side of the Sierras, who came to examine the prospects for the acorn-harvest, and probably take back with them some they had cachéd.

This visit of strange Indians to some of the miners’ camps, was not at first understood and a wild alarm was raised without a comprehension of the facts of the case. Captain Boling, as sheriff, summoned to his aid a number of the old members of his company. I was one of the number. We made a night ride to the place of alarm, and on arriving, found that we had been sold. We felt chagrined, although it was gratifying to learn that alarm had been made without a cause. An old ’49er, that we found, apologized for the verdants. He said: “Probably, as long as men continue about as they now are, we must expect to find fools in all communities; but, if a premium for d—— fools should be offered by any responsible party, you will see a bigger stampede from these diggings than these Indians have made.” The whiskey was ordered for the old stager, and the apology considered as acceptable. We returned to Mariposa wiser, if not better men.

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Online Library: Title Author California Geology History Indians Muir Mountaineering Nature Management