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The Ahwahneechees: A Story of the Yosemite Indians (1966) by John W. Bingaman


Ta-bu-ce [Maggie Howard]

The following biographical sketches of Yosemite Indians may serve as an authentic source of material that otherwise would be lost to future generations, the files, and records.

This historical information was obtained from various journals, notes, my personal diary, Yosemite Nature Notes, pamphlets, references from L. H. Bunnell, “Discovery of the Yosemite,” Ralph S. Kuykendall, “Early History of Yosemite,” A. L. Kroeber, “Indians of Yosemite,” Elizabeth H. Godfrey, “Yosemite Nature Notes,” Clark Wissler, “Indians of the U. S.” Also, I am indebted to the Yosemite Museum Staff for their cooperation.

With the kind help of Phoebe Hogan, a long time resident of Yosemite Indian Village, I have assembled these short biographies, the history, family. relationship, and residence, of these past and present Yosemite Indians.

Before white men came the population estimated for the Miwok (interior) seems to be a liberal number of nine thousand. The consequence was that in the sixty years between the first serious contact with the white man until the census of 1910, the Miwok lost more than ninety percent of their numbers. The census of 1910 of the Miwok stock, as enumerated by the Department of Commerce, was 699, only one half of them full-blooded.

Population of Indians in Yosemite at the time of discovery is not accurately known, but may be estimated to have been in the vicinity of two hundred and fifty. By A. L. Kroeber, and L. H. Bunnell, estimated about two hundred. James Hutchings mentions in his book, "In the Heart of the Sierras," up to five hundred that gathered in the valley for the acorn harvest, and other food and game.

With reference to friendship, and religion, the Indians of this region, in common with many others, were of a highly religious temperament, most devout in their beliefs and observances, and easily influenced by the medicine men of their tribes. Elaborate ceremonies were carried out, in which all of the details were highly symbolical, and some of their curious and picturesque superstitions were responsible for acts of cruelty and vengeance, which in many cases were foreign to their natural disposition.

Some of the old Indians in Yosemite were converted by a Franciscan Priest, Father Williams, who used to talk with them. They used to tell about this Priest. He must have come shortly after the discovery of Yosemite. Old Indian Mary and Chief Teneiya were converted by this Franciscan Priest.

In the past decade most of the old full-bloods have passed on to the "Happy Hunting Ground." Many of the young generation marry into other tribes and making their living beside the average white. Prior to 1931, the old original Indian Village in Yosemite was in a deplorable condition. After the Park Service took over the administration of the Yosemite National Park, the problem of housing and protection of the Yosemite Indians was a controversial subject, as to what best to do. In 1931, the Park Service built about ten or twelve three-room houses, below the Yosemite Lodge. These were not of high standard, but so much better than the old bark shanty and lean-to, in which they existed for many years. Some were happy with these living improvements at that time, some were not. But in this present era, the buildings are little more than shelter from the storms and cold.

[Editor’s note: the original residents of the Indian Village were born in Yosemite. When residents remarried or died they or their children were not allowed to stay in their homes and had to move away. In 1969 the Park Service moved the one remaining family out of the Indian Village and burned it. See Linda W. Greene Yosemite: The Park and Its Resources v. 1 & 2 (NPS, 1987). ]

From a Washington news item, dated July 28, 1963, I quote, "The Justice Department has agreed to a $29.1 million payment on California Indian land claims dating back more than 100 years."

Actual settlement for the land taken during the gold rush days of the 1850’s now hinges upon acceptance of the agreement by the U.S. Indian Claims Commission, the Indian groups concerned, and the Secretary of-the Interior as guardian or trustee for the Indians. The appropriation of the money would be up to Congress.

A determination that the government was liable for the taking of the land was reached some time ago by the Claims Commission, with the amount to be paid left open. If ultimately accepted, the proposed settlement with three groups, the Indians of California, Pitt River and Mission Indians, would be one of the largest judgments in the history of the Claims Commission. In 1959, the Claims Commission determined chat the Indians of California had established original ownership to substantially all of the area of California west of the Sierra Nevadas, except the Pitt River area in the vicinity of Mt. Lassen in the north central California, and the area claimed by the Mission Indians in southern California.

In 1850 Congress authorized treaties with the Indians to obtain the cession of their land. Eighteen treaties were negotiated. They were not ratified, however, and the Indians did not receive the reservations promised them in the treaties.

The proposed payment to the California Indians would be for more than 64 million acres. The $29. 1 million is the net amount after satisfaction of government claim for credit for about $3 million of gratuitous payments and benefits given the Indians by the Federal Government. The $29. 1 million offer by the Justice Department depends on so many contingencies that it is impossible to predict a settlement of California Indian claims, Los Angeles attorney John W. Preston, Jr., commented. Preston is one of several lawyers associated in representing the Federated Indians of California, groups primarily in the northern part of the state, and representing about 2, 000 or 10 percent of the Indians involved.

"I imagine that what will happen will be a series of meetings with various Indian bands and groups throughout California," he said.

The California Indians were pursued and persecuted without mercy, and were dispossessed and humiliated without recourse, and while it was no part of their creed to love their enemies, and to pray for those who despicably used and abused them, they were too weak and disunited to wreak their alleged barbaric vengeance effectively upon their oppressors.

Further to relate the annals of the woes of the California Indians, to venture upon the details of the dark story of their wrongs and wretchedness, would be simply to repeat Helen Hunt Jackson’s history of "A Century of Dishonor," of how a weak and defenseless people were invaded, despoiled, corrupted, dispossessed, driven from their homes, and the graves of their fathers, hunted like wild beasts of the forest, and hurled down with violence and slaughter to an early grave "unknelled, uncoffined and unknown." From such a revolting scene we turn in horror and indignation, and blush with shame at the "inhumanity of man to man." And so we, of the present generation, in our desire to do penance for the sins of our pioneer progenitors, sometimes feel moved meekly to bow our heads and with humble and contrite hearts passionately give utterance to the sentiment expressed in the lines of the old revival hymn—

"To the blest fountain of Thy Blood,
Incarnate God, we fly;
Here let us wash our spotted souls
From crimes of deepest dye."

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