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Yosemite Indians and Other Sketches (1936) by Mrs. H. J. Taylor


AN INDIAN O'-CHUM. Made of small poles covered with cedar bark for winter dwelling

Drawing by Jorgenson

Made of small poles covered
with cedar bark for
winter dwelling

AN INDIAN CHUCK'-AH. Storehouse for nuts and acorns, thatched with pine branches to keep out rodents

Drawing by Mrs. Jorgensen

Storehouse for nuts and acorns,
thatched with pine branches
to keep out rodents

Chapter 1: The Yosemite Indians

Note: The Yosemite Indians were one of several groups comprising the California Miwoks which, according to A. L. Kroeber, numbered about 10,000 in 1850, and the Yosemite group numbered about 500 when the Valley was discovered in 1851. Early sources include L. H. Bunnell, Discovery of the Yosemite, 1880 and Galen Clark, Indians of Yosemite, 1904.

A serious and almost hopeless situation was thrust upon the Indian tribes in and about Yosemite Valley when, on the discovery of gold, miners by the thousands flocked into California. The proximity of the Pacific Ocean made it impossible to push the Indian westward as had always been done, but he was conquered. Miners staked their claims on his territory; cut his acorn-bearing trees for fuel; hunted his game for food; destroyed his bulbous roots in digging for gold; invaded his famliy, taking young Indian women, willing or not, for servants and wives. Suffering from loss of food and territory the Indians made raids on the whites, taking what they could from the trading posts; stealing horses from the corrals; burning houses; even murdering, then fleeing to the mountains. A deadly hate was engendered; the Indian would drive the last miner from his territory. The whites determined to subjugate the Indians and kill all of them if necessary. In vain did General Eastland report to Washington: “The Indians are more sinned against than sinning.”

Military force was called into existence by the authority of the state and the Mariposa Battalion was organized. Runners were sent to the bands hiding in the mountains, assuring them that they would receive food, clothing and protection if they would treat with the commission; if not, war would be carried on until every Indian was destroyed. All the Indians in the immediate vicinity, except the Yosemites, came. Scouts reported: “The Indians in the deep rocky valley do not wish for peace. They think the white men cannot find their hiding place, and therefore they cannot be driven out “Another scout added: “In this deep valley one Indian can withstand ten white men. They will throw rocks down if the white men come near them, for they are lawless and strong as the grizzlies. We are afraid to go to the valley for there are witches there.”

A special messenger was sent to the Yosemites and Chief Tenaya appeared the next day. He came alone and stood in dignified silence until motioned to enter camp. He was informed that if he would make a treaty with the commission there would be no war. Tenaya asked the object of taking all Indians to the plains of the Joaquin Valley, saying: “My people do not want anything from the Great Father you tell us about. The Great Spirit is our father and he has supplied us with all we need. We do not want anything from white men. Let us remain in the mountains where we were born, where the ashes of our fathers have been given to the winds. I have said enough.”

He was asked: “If you and your people have all you want, why do you steal our horses and mules? Why do you rob and murder the white men and burn their houses?”

Tenaya sat silent for a time then replied: “My young men have taken horses and mules from the whites and it was wrong for them to do so. It is not wrong to take property from enemies who have wronged my people. My young men believed the white gold-diggers were our enemies; we now know they are not, and we will be glad to live with them in peace. We will stay here and be friends. My people do not want to go to the plains. The tribes who go there are some of them very bad. They will make war on my people. We cannot live on the plains with them. Here we can defend ourselves against them.”

“Your people must go to the commissioners and make terms with them,” the officer replied. “If they do not make a treaty your whole tribe will be destroyed—not one of them will be left alive!”

“I will not lie to you but promise that if allowed to return to my people I will bring them in,” pledged Tenaya.

It was the month of March, 1851. Through the deep snows the chief went into his Ahwahnee* [*According to a statement made by Tenaya to Dr. L. H. Bunnell, the original name of the Valley was “Ah-wah-nee,” meaning “deep grassy place.” The Indians living there were called “Ah-wah-nee-chees.” Tenaya, who claimed to be a direct descendant of their chief, said they were a powerful tribe until wars and a black sickness destroyed most of them. The few that were left went out of the Valley and joined other tribes, leaving the Valley uninhabited for some time. When Tenaya reached manhood, he left the Monos, where he was born and brought up, and gathered the remnants of his father’s people from other tribes, and claimed the Valley as his own. His band was called Yosemite, meaning “grizzly bear,” because they were fearless and expert in killing the grizzly. When it was discovered in 1851, the Valley was named Yosemite by Dr. L. H. Bunnell. [Editor’s note: For the correct origin of the words Yosemite and Ahwahnee see “Origin of the Word Yosemite.”dea.] but returned to camp the following day, saying his people would soon come in. Several days passed but no Indians came. Tenaya said the snow was so deep they could not travel fast, and motioning with his hands explained that his village was far down and it would take a long time to climb out through the snow. When no Indians appeared on the following day, the battalion took Tenaya as guide and started for Yosemite. They had gone about half way when they met seventy-two Indians who had climbed the steep trail.

“Your band is about two hundred. Where are the rest?” they were asked.

Tenaya replied: “This is all my people that are willing to go with me to the plains. Many that are with me are from other tribes. They have taken wives from my band; all the rest have gone with their wives and children to the Tuolumne River to join the Wil-tuc-um-nees.”

Tenaya with the seventy-two Indians, mostly women and children, returned to camp. “We will go to your village and your people will come with us if we find them,” declared the Major.

“You will not find my people there,” returned Tenaya. “I do not know where they are. My tribe is small—not large as the white chief has said. The Piutes and Monos are all gone. Many of the people with my tribe are from western tribes that have come to me and do not wish to return. I have talked with my people and told them that I was going to see the white chiefs sent to make peace. I was told that I was growing old, and that I should go, but that young and strong men can find plenty in the mountains; therefore why should they go? My heart has been sore since that talk but I am still willing to go.”

On March 21, 1851, the battalion reached Inspiration Point, from which Ahwahnee, the home and hiding place of the Yosemite Indians, secured by granite walls, was in full view. They continued the trail into the “deep grassy place” where they found but one Indian, a squaw too old to climb the rocks, sitting by the dying embers of her fire. The villages had suddenly been deserted. About six hundred bushels of acorns, also pine and chinquapin nuts, grass seeds, dried grasshoppers, larvae of insects and other foods were found in caches, which, together with the villages and all they contained, were destroyed by the soldiers. Major Savage was disappointed that he found no Indians but looked with satisfaction on the ruins of the huts he had destroyed. The slow rising smoke from the acorn caches and other foods was a pleasing sight to his eyes and he remarked to his men: “Although I have not carried a Bible with me since I became a mountain-man, I remember well enough that Satan entered Paradise and did all the mischief he could, but I intend to be a bigger devil in this Indian Paradise than old Satan ever was.” The trail by which the soldiers entered the Valley was retraced and the battalion returned to headquarters.

The Indians who had come from the surrounding tribes, about three hundred and fifty including Tenaya and the seventy-two Yosemites, started on their trek to the Fresno Reservation. They traveled slowly, the men hunting by the way, the squaws cooking acorn mush and bread whenever they wanted food. Confidence in their captives was such that on the last night out the battalion went on to Fresno leaving only nine men to bring in the Indians on the following day, when a glorious reception with a great feast and gaudy presents would be given them. The men and Indians did not come as expected and when, after much waiting, the captain and his nine men arrived there were no Indians. They had stolen quietly out of camp during the night while the guards slept and were nowhere to be found. Runners were sent out and soon all the captives returned except the Yosemites. All inducements failed. They refused beef, saying they preferred horse flesh. Garish presents offered at the agency were refused by Tenaya as no recompense for giving up the freedom of his mountain home. A second expedition against the Yosemites was admitted as the only means of bringing the old chief to terms.

This expedition started early in May, 1851, six or seven weeks after the first. On entering the Valley it was seen that a few huts had been rebuilt and there was evidence that Indians had been living in them, though not one was to be found. At length five Indians were discovered among the rocks and trees. The soldiers crossed the river while the Indians fled at full speed, disappearing in the talus near Three Brothers where they were soon captured. Three of these Indians were the sons of Chief Tenaya, whence the name “Three Brothers” for these monoliths. The other two were young braves, the wife of one being a daughter of Tenaya. The captives said they were to meet Tenaya near To-co-ya (North Dome). One of the chief’s sons and the son-in-law were sent to tell Tenaya that he and his people would be safe if they would come in and make peace with the white men; the other three braves were held as hostages. The soldiers practiced archery with them, and one young brave shot an arrow far beyond all the others. Pretending to search for it, he dashed away and escaped into Indian Canyon. The two remaining hostages were tied back to back and fastened to a tree.

On their return the scouts reported that they had talked with Tenaya but could not reach him because the rocks were too steep. They reported that Tenaya would not come in and he would not go to Fresno. He would make peace if he could stay in his own territory; neither he nor his people would go into the Valley while the white men were there. They would stay in the mountains or go to the Monos. Scouts were sent out with orders to bring in the old chief, alive if possible.

The hostages were found untying each other and one escaped into Indian Canyon, so named from this incident. The guard shot and killed the other—Tenaya’s youngest and most beloved son. The captain, grieved and distressed, told the guard he had committed murder. At this moment the scouts returned with Chief Tenaya walking proudly into camp. Suddenly his eyes fell upon the lifeless body at his feet. He paused—as he looked, his lips began to quiver—he recognized the lifeless form. A deadly hate was stamped on his countenance as he raised his head, gazed into the eyes of the captain and looked over the camp in search of his other son. The captain’s expressions of regret and sorrow did not move the grief-stricken chief He stood in silence; not a sound escaped his lips that day nor for many days.

The Indians who had married with the Yosemites, on hearing that Tenaya was captured, took their women and children to the Wil-tuc-um-nees on the Tuolumne, fearing the old chief would again promise to take his band to Fresno. Breaking silence, Tenaya said he would call in some of his people and abide by their decision, that they were not far away and could hear his voice. The call to notify the band of festivity, danger or death is a vibrating sound of such pitch, purity, and quality of tone that it can be heard at a great distance. Though he called for many nights no reply was made.

A few days later Tenaya attempted to escape but was caught before he plunged into the river. Angry that he failed to gain his liberty, fearing that he would be shot for the attempt, overwhelmed with grief, his hatred toward the captain knew no bounds and he burst forth in lamentation and accusations: “Kill me, sir captain! Yes, kill me, as you killed my son; as you would kill my people if they would come to you; you would kill all my race if you had the power. Yes, sir, American, you can now tell your warriors to kill the old chief; you have made me sorrowful, my life dark. You killed the child of my heart—why not kill the father? But—wait a little! When I am dead, I will call to my people to come to you. I will call louder than you have heard me call, that they may hear me in my sleep, and come to avenge the death of their chief and his son. Yes, American! My spirit will make trouble for you and your people, as you have caused trouble to me and my people. With the wizzards, I will follow the white men and make them fear me. You may kill me, but you shall not live in peace. I will follow in your footsteps, I will not leave my home, but be with the spirits among the rocks, the waterfalls, in the rivers and in the winds; wheresoever you go I will be with you. You will not see me, but you will fear the spirit of the old chief and grow cold. The great spirits have spoken; I am done.”

Taking several scouts, and Tenaya as guide, the captain went in search of the Yosemites who he knew were not far away. When well up Tenaya Canyon, so named for the chief, one of the scouts pointed to a cloud of smoke, which in the clear mountain air, revealed an Indian village about two miles away on the banks of a beautiful lake. Aware that the approaching soldiers had made escape impossible, the inhabitants threw up their hands and cried, “Pace! pace!” Thirty-five were taken prisoners, all of whom belonged to Tenaya’s family, among them his four squaws. The young chief of the group said these were all that were left, the rest having returned to the tribes from which they had sprung.

When the young chief was asked if he were willing to go to Fresno, he replied: “Not only willing but anxious. Where can we now go that the Americans will not follow us?” They had fled to the mountains without food or clothing and were worn out with watching and building signal fires. They had hoped to go to the Monos when the snow melted and make a home with them. On leaving the lake it was named “Lake Tenaya” though the chief protested: “It has a name. We call it Py-we-ack.” To these, their last ochums, the Yosemites never returned. They were taken to the Fresno Reservation where they arrived about June 10, 1851.

Tenaya and his people soon tired of the reservation and its restrictions. All that had made life interesting and joyous was gone, and they longed for the exhilarating air of the mountains, huts without walls, and freedom to hunt food in their own territory. Liberty is too dear a price to pay for food and shelter and unwanted clothing. Life was humiliating to the old chief and after a few months on the reservation he begged to return to his territory and gave his pledge—it was never broken—that he would not disturb the white settlers. He was allowed to go and take his family with him. With this remnant Tenaya returned to his beloved and secluded Ahwahnee.

In May, 1852, a small party of prospectors were entering Yosemite Valley when Indians suddenly attacked them and killed two of the men. Five of the Indians were captured and were ordered to be shot immediately. The shooting was observed by a scout in hiding sent by Tenaya. When the shooting was reported to him, Tenaya and his people left their hiding places and trekked over the mountains to join the Piutes and Monos. The soldiers, finding no Indians in the Valley, hastened to apprehend them on the trail but could not overtake them.

Tenaya and his little band stayed with the Monos until the early autumn of 1853 when they returned to Yosemite. They built their huts in the east end of the Valley, obtained acorns from the oak trees, and hunted game outside their fortress. The Piutes and Monos had made a successful raid on ranches and had captured a number of horses. Several of Tenaya’s men went on a foraging expedition and, knowing it was safer to rob their allies than risk a raid on the whites, they succeeded in stealing a few horses from the Monos. In the Valley they felt secure and after a few days had a feast of horse flesh. The Indians gorged themselves and on crammed stomachs slept soundly. The Monos, revengeful and warlike, pounced upon them before they could rally for the fight a rid dealt blows of death to the Yosemites, whom they had so recently led and sheltered. The young chief of the Monos hurled a rock at the old chief whose skull was crushed by the blow. More rocks were hurled and the last chief of the Yosemites lay stoned to death in his Ahwahnee. All but eight of Tenaya’s young braves were killed. These made their escape through the canyon below. The women and children were made captives and taken across the mountains. The once powerful, much feared, cunning tribe of Yosemite Indians was all but wiped out.

Tenaya’s grand-daughter, Maria Lebrado, told the writer that, two or three weeks after the chief was stoned to death, the half-breed, Tom Hutchings, brought Tenaya’s bones to the South Fork in a buckskin and, according to their custom, a three day funeral was held. She said: “We give Tenaya nice funeral. Much Indians come; much cry, dance, sing; no sit, no eat. Three days sing, dance all time, then burn bones and make ashes go.” She illustrated by extending her arms as if to throw the ashes to the winds.

According to Maria Lebrado, the sole surviving full-blood Yosemites were herself, a daughter, a nephew, and Sally Ann of Coulterville. All of these are now deceased. Two great-grand-children of Tenaya by his Piute squaw and three great-grand-children of Chief Tenaya, half-breeds through a Mexican father, are still living. But the history of the Yosemites as a tribe is finished. This statement was made verbally by Maria Lebrado to the writer in 1930.

Following are the Indian Villages and Camp Sites in Yosemite as located by C. Hart Merriam. (Sierra Club Bulletin, Vol. X, No. 2, published January, 1917, pp. 202-209.)


1. Hoo-k-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'-koo-bah.—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 smoke of ages, and far back in the cave large quantities of acorn-shells have been found. The word Lah-ko-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. Y-watch-ke (sometimes nicknamed Mah-ch-to, meaning “edge” or “border,” because of its position on the border of the valley).—Large village at mouth of Indian Cañon; still occupied.

5. Ah-wah'-ne.—Village on Black Oak Flat, extending from site of Galen Clark’s grave easterly nearly to Y-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--ne, or Kom--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 ch-luk-ah-hu, slurred to Ch-luk), and extending south-westerly 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-h-gah.—Small village about half a mile west-southwest of Koom--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-k-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-h-gah, Soo-sem'-oo-lah, and Hah-k-ah, were inhabited up to about twenty years ago.

10. Kom'-pom-p-sah, or Pom'-pom-p-sah.—Small village only a little below Hah-k-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-t-kon oo-lah, from To-t-kon, the Sandhill Crane, a chief of the First People.

12. He-l-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-l-jah.

14. Yu--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 canon which forms the west wall of El Capitan, and near west end of the Big El Capitan Meadows (To-t-kon o-lah' i-e-hu). The five villages, Aw'-o-koi-e, He-l-jah, Ha-eng'-ah, Yu--chah, and Hep-hep'-oo-ma, were summer villages occupied from April to late October or early November.

16. T-e-t-mah.—Village only a short distance below Hep-hep'-oo-ma, and close to El Capitan bridge.

17. Ho-k-nah.—Small village a little below T-e-t-mah, and near site of old (shack) house.

18. W-tum-taw.—Village by a small meadow a short distance below Ho-k-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-m-hitch'-ke.—Small village or camp on east side of Pohono (or Bridal Veil) Creek, just below a very large rock.

23. Hop'-t-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. W-sum-meh'.—Small village or camp at base of Cathedral Spires near the river, with a small meadow below; not far above Hop'-to-ne.

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

26. Ch-ch-kal-lah.—Large village just below old Folsom bridge (ford). Formerly a sweat-house (chap-po) here.

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

28. Lo-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. Ho-koo-m-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-ko-e-tah (Ho-kok'-kwe-lah, Haw-kaw'-koi). Large and important village on Merced River, where Sentinel Hotel and cottages now stand. Home oft he 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.

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-y-y-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'-mah.—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.

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