The pressure of the increased population in California caused by the Gold Rush of 1849 was immediately felt by the Indians who inhabited the Sierra Nevada Mountains and foothills. The Yosemites, the Chowchillas, and the Nootchus were among the many native groups in the Yosemite region which resisted white occupation of their lands. The ensuing conflict came to be known as the Mariposa War. This war can be divided into three phases; the first phase witnessed the initial attacks by Indians upon white miners which forced the organization of a citizens' police force, the second phase involved the organization of the Mariposa Battalion and the arrival of federal Indian commissioners, and the last phase concerned drafting the peace treaties signed by local tribal and sub-tribal groups. The first skirmish occurred in May of 1850; the last shot was fired in June of 1851.
The beginning of the conflict concerns primarily one man, James D. Savage. Savage was one of the first whites to settle the Yosemite area, and during the war, he commanded the local militia which was called the Mariposa Battalion. Born in 1817, Savage was one of six children born to Peter and Doritha Savage of Morgan County, Illinois. At the age of sixteen, James Savage's parents moved their family to Princeton in Bureau County, Illinois. In spite of Savage's lack of education, he was a bright and shrewd young man. He was quick to learn German and Dutch, the languages spoken in the vicinity of Princeton. As a youth, Savage was well liked throughout the community. As Sarah Seton Porter, a contemporary resident, put it, he was "tactful, likable, and interesting." Savage married and moved to Peru, Illinois, where his daughter was born. In April 1846, Savage, his family, and his brother, Morgan, decided to migrate to California and traveled to Independence, Missouri, where they joined the party of former Missouri Governor Liburn Boggs for the trip to California. Along the trail, both his wife and child died. The journey west covered six months; the party arrived in California in late October 1846.
The Boggs party reached Sutter's Fort on 28 October 1846, four months after the Bear Flag Revolt. Savage immediately joined Frémont's Battalion. Records indicate that Savage was far from a model soldier during the conflict. Fortunately for him, the war soon ended with the signing of the Cahuenga Peace Treaty on 13 January 1847. In April of 1847 Frémont mustered out the battalion. Savage then drifted into the San Joaquin Valley where he established residence with the Tularenos Indians.
Savage's aptitude for quickly learning languages helped him to gain the respect of the Tularenos. The Indians found that Savage was sympathetic towards them and was willing to be their friend. After a few months, Savage married several daughters of local tribal leaders in order to cement the bonds of friendship. The Indians began to call him El Rey Huero (the Blond King), but soon he let the Indians know that he would rather be called El Rey Tulareno (King of the Tularenos). His wishes were commands and his friends became his subjects. He began to lead the Tularenos into battles with neighboring tribes and sub-tribes, scoring several victories and creating a larger sphere for his influence to be felt.
After the discovery of gold but before the great Rush of 1849, Savage organized approximately five hundred Indians to work his placer claims at Wood's Crossing on the Tuolumne River at big Oak Flat. He gave the Indians the task of laboring at the mines for gold, and in return, he gave them blankets, beads, whiskey, and other trade items. Through his trading and mining operations, Savage accumulated considerable wealth. In late 1849, Savage established a trading post on the Merced River just twenty-five miles downstream from the Yosemite Valley. In reaction to this encroachment upon their native land, the Yosemite Indians became hostile towards Savage. The Yosemites, a name given to them by early white settlers of the area, had reconfirmed their presence in the region after being absent for a number of years. They had left the Yosemite Valley and had moved into the Mono Lake region following the 1833 malaria epidemic which struck most Indian populations in central California. Their return to the valley was facilitated by Tenieya, the son of the tribal leader, who chose two hundred followers from among the Monos, Paiutes, and Yosemites to resettle the area. The group called themselves the Ahwanheechees and they divided their tribe into two parts. The word "Yosemite" is a corruption of the Ahwanheechee word "Uzumati" which described the larger of the two sub-divisions.
In May of 1850, the Yosemites attacked Savage's Merced River post. Savage, with the help of his native hirelings, repulsed the attack and followed in pursuit. As the party neared Yosemite Valley, the Indians with Savage requested that Savage proceed no further. They convinced him that the valley of the Yosemites was perfectly suited for an ambush and suggested that the party discontinue its pursuit. Savage agreed and they returned to his post. Soon afterward, fearing another attack, he abandoned his Merced River post and established another one near Agua Fria on Mariposa Creek. A branch post managed by a man named Greely was also erected on the Fresno River, five miles upstream from Coarse Gold Gulch.
One of Savage's Indian wives, in the fall of 1850, confessed to having knowledge of an attempt by the Indians of the region to drive the whites out of the foothills. Leading the alliance of Native American groups would be Tenieya of the Yosemites. Wishing to avoid another attack on his business, Savage took the Tularenos' chief, Jose Juarez, to San Francisco to impress upon him the extent of the Whites' domination of California. He showed Chief Juarez the vast amount of ships, cannon, and soldiers, not to mention the large white population of the city. Chief Juarez reputedly remained intoxicated throughout the entire trip; at one point, an argument ensued over the chief's state of consciousness and it ended with Savage striking Chief Juarez several times, thus humiliating him. Staying to celebrate the admission of California into the Union on 29 October 1850, the Savage party left San Francisco. They reportedly left after one of the greatest gambling and spending sprees that the city had ever witnessed.
Savage and his party stopped at Quartsburg on the way home where he learned that there was general unrest among the Indians in the region. One of the tribes, the Kahweahs, was "exacting tribute" from immigrants passing through their territory. There had also been a murder of a white attributed to natives residing sear Savages Mariposa Creek post. Upon hearing a rumor that Indians were massing near his Fresno Creek agent, Greely, informed him that while the Indians seemed placid, he had noted some unusual activity among them, especially in their lack of interest in trading gold. Taking this development as a sign of impending trouble, Savage invited several Indians to gather around the post with the intention of questioning them. Savage told them that he was aware of their plans to drive the whites from the hills, and he pleaded with the Indians to stop such an attempt. He assured them that the whites were too numerous and powerful, and that war would be a suicidal act. He asked Chief Juarez, who had accompanied him to the post, to support what he said with an account of what he witnessed in San Francisco. The chief, still bitter over the humiliating fight during his stay in San Francisco, began his speech:
Our Brother has told his Indian relatives much that is true; we have seen many white people; the white men are very numerous; but they are white men of many tribes; they are not like the tribe that digs gold in the mountains. They will not help the gold diggers if the Indians make war against them.
It immediately became apparent to Savage that his trip to San Francisco had been in vain. The chief had concluded that the whites who lived in the "big village" would not help the miners since they were only interested in the gold that the miners brought to town and not in their well being. The chief concluded his speech by asserting that the:
. . . white tribe will not go to war with the Indians in the mountains. They cannot bring their big ships and their big guns to us; we have no reason to fear them. They will not injure us.
Chief Juarez went on to advocate war against the whites who lived in the foothills. Savage tried to refute everything the chief had said and again pleaded with them not to create a war. Another tribal leader, Chief Jose Rey of the Chowchillas, supported Chief Juarez's motion for war and pledged the participation of his people. Unable to persuade the natives not to fight against the whites, Savage retired to his Mariposa Creek post and began recruiting a small force of miners in preparation for hostilities.
Governor Peter H. Burnett,
after hearing the reports of disturbances between miners and Indians,
enlisted the services of United States Indian Agent, Colonel Adam
Johnston, to investigate and attempt to settle the grievances
of the two parties. On the night of 17 December 1850, Colonel
Johnston, who was then with Savage, noticed that most of the Indians
who had normally resided near Savage's Mariposa Creek post, had
disappeared. Both he and Savage interpreted this as a sign of
serious trouble, and Savage gathered sixteen men and set off with
Johnston to locate the missing Natives. It was Savage's intention
to try and reach the group before they had a chance to join another
band of natives. They tracked the Indians for thirty miles before
they finally found them at daybreak the following morning. Facing
each other from opposing hilltops with four hundred yards between
them, Savage and the band's leader, Chief Baptiste, called to
one another. Colonel Johnston recorded the conversation in his
report to the governor:
these two mountain tops, conversation was commenced and kept up for some time between Mr. Savage and the chief, who told him they had murdered the men on the Fresno and robbed the camp.
Savage tried to induce the Indians to return to their camp, and he pointed out the fact that they never worked too hard as long as there was gold for the taking. The chief replied that "it was a hard way to make a living, and that they could more easily supply their wants by stealing from the whites." Failing at all efforts to convince them to return, Savage's party left. As they were leaving, two hundred more natives joined the Indians clustered on the hilltop.
Savage and his party arrived back at his Mariposa Creek post on the evening of 19 December and were greeted by confirming news of the events at his Fresno River post. The next day, Colonel Johnston led a force of thirty-five volunteers to the Fresno River to assess the situation and bury the dead. The colonel described the post as "a horrid scene of savage cruelty." Three men had died and all the goods had been removed; what the natives could not take, they had burned.
An expedition against the Indians was organized by James Burney, the sheriff of Mariposa. The group, numbering seventy-five men, elected the sheriff as their "Major," and J. W. Riley and E. Skeane as first and second lieutenants respectively. They left Mariposa on 7 January 1851, with Savage as their guide. At two o'clock on the morning of 11 January, they located approximately four hundred Indians camped about fifty miles from Agua Fria near present day Oakhurst. The encampment was located upon the side of a mountain, about three-quarters of the way to the top. a cautious advance on the camp was made; the force closed until they were within 150 yards. at this point, Burney halted the advance and proceeded to wait until dawn to attack. Though most of the natives were asleep, there were still a few moving about the camp. One of these Indians discovered the force and sounded the alarm about an hour before dawn and the battle began.
The fight lasted three and a half hours. It began when Burney's company charged the village, "driving the Indians out, but the enemy kept up a strong fire not only of arrows but bullets and some of the whites being wounded, they imprudently took too many to take care of them and the Indians regained the Ranchero. . . ." After being driven out of the encampment, Burney rallied his men and once again charged the Indians. This assault proved successful and the natives were forced to retreat to a group of rocks from which they had a good field of fire over the camp. The Indians' fire from the rocks created disorder among the whites, but Burney rallied them for one last charge and they drove the natives from the rocks and they scattered into the chaparral beyond.
While the Indians were being driven from their rocky defensive position, Burney had ordered some of his men to construct litters to remove the wounded to a safer position. A total of six whites had been seriously wounded, two of them mortally. An estimated forty Indians were killed in the fight, twenty-six of them near the encampment. After burning the ranchero, Burney's force began a controlled withdrawal. Their retreat from the mountain was harassed by Indian sniper fire. Burney led his command four miles from the Indian camp before finding a satisfactory site to bivouac. There he had a "rude, but substantial fortification" built and left thirty-six men to guard the remaining supplies, tend the wounded, and bury the dead. The rest of the command returned to Mariposa to get reinforcements and more provisions for an extended campaign.
Upon his return to Mariposa, Burney sent an urgent request for aid to California's new governor, John McDougal. However, Burney was not the first to initiate a request for government intervention in the matter. Colonel Johnston had arrived back in the state's capital, San Jose, in early January, and had already appealed to both the state and federal governments for aid. His request to the United States Army's Pacific Division Commander, general Percifer F. Smith, was declined, and his request sent to the state was met with great reluctance in the office of then Governor John Burnett. On 9 January 1851, Governor Burnett resigned and his position was filled by John McDougal who believed that the state should use military force to solve their trouble with the Indians.
Burney's letter to the governor, dated 13 January, appealed for assistance in the form of arms and provisions. If the company was properly equipped, he felt they could force the Indians to surrender "in a short time." The sheriff's letter was supported by a separate petition sent by seventy-three citizens of the Mariposa community. By the time these communiqués reached the governor, though, he had already taken action based on the information that Colonel Johnston had provided Governor Burnett. On 13 January, Governor McDougal gave Burney the authority to form a militia unit of one hundred volunteers, and in a letter to the state legislature, he stated that such an emergency could not wait for the legal process of action expected by the federal government. The governor felt confident that the federal government would "ultimately afford us surer means of more effectively punishing aggressors than are now at our command." Upon the arrival of the dual requests from Mariposa, the governor increased the militia's strength to two hundred volunteers on 24 January.
While the citizens of the Mariposa community were waiting for state and federal aid, the campaign against the Indians continued. Savage and Burney recruited a force of 164 miners and settlers to relieve those stationed at the fort and to mount a punitive expedition. Dividing his command, Burney placed "Captain" John Boling in charge of the company intended to campaign in the north while he led the southern operation, reaching as far south as the Four Creeks area around Visalia, and not returning to Mariposa until 3 February.
Boling had a force of about one hundred men, and with the aid of Savage's scouting skills, they proceeded to search for native encampments. On 17 January, Savage discovered a village of approximately five hundred Indians of the Chowchillas, Chookchancies, Nootchu, Honahchee, Potoencie, Kahwah, and Yosemite tribes. The bands had collected under the leadership of Chiefs Jose Rey and Jose Juarez of the Chowchillas. Since the discovery of the Indian ranchero came late in the afternoon, Boling decided to wait until the next day to fight. Early the next morning, Boling began an assault on the camp. One of his officers, Kuykendall, charged the ranchero with thirty-one men and set fire to the natives' shelters with brands form the Indians' campfires. Another of Boling's officers, Chandler, led another wave of attackers and the natives were driven out of their village without a loss of life for the whites. The fire started by the whites began to spread in the direction of their own camp and a retreat was called in order to save their bivouac. Under cover of the smoke created by the fire, the majority of the natives escaped. The Indians suffered twenty-four fatalities, one of which was Chief Jose Rey. Bolings company returned to Agua Fria claiming victory despite their premature retreat due to the forest fire they had created.
Foreseeing the occurrence
of difficulties with the Indians of California, the federal government
sent a team of three United States Indian Commissioners to San
Francisco in late 1850 to study the problem and issue a policy
statement concerning the treatment of the situation. In a report
issued 14 January 1851, the commissioners stated that the state
government was belligerent about Indian affairs and urged Governor
McDougal to search for a peaceful solution. On 25 January 1851,
Governor McDougal dispatched an aide, Colonel J. Neely Johnson,
to meet with the three Indian commissioners, Colonels Redrick
Mckee and George W. Barbour, and Dr. O. W. Wozencraft, all of
whom had recently visited San Jose seeking to clarify the state's
response to the violence occurring throughout the Sierra Nevada
mountain range. Upon being notified by Colonel Johnson that the
governor had authorized a force of two hundred volunteers to exact
retribution from the natives and that the federal government would
be expected to compensate for the cost of the expedition, the
commissioners decided to proceed at once to the Mariposa vicinity
in the hopes that war could be avoided. The commissioners received
an escort consisting of ten United States Army officers and 106
men under the command of Captain E. D. Keyes, 3rd Artillery. The
party left San Francisco on 7 February and traveled by steamboat
to Stockton, arriving there on 9 February. At Stockton, Colonel
Johnson, who had arrived with the federal force, appointed John
G. Marvin as the militia's quartermaster and rode off with the
commissioners to the scene of the conflict.
The Mariposa Battalion, as the militia unit authorized by the state was titled, was mustered at noon on 12 February. Savage was chosen as major due to his scouting abilities, although he was not the first choice of the battalion. Burney was the first choice, but the sheriff declined due to his responsibilities in Mariposa. A camp was established two and one-half miles from the town of Mariposa near Savage's Agua Fria trading post. The battalion was divided into three companies commanded by John J. Kuykendall, Company A with seventy men; John Boling, Company B with seventy-two men; and William Dill, Company C with fifty-five men. Other officers elected included M. B. Lewis as Adjutant, A. Brunson as Surgeon, and Vincent Hailor as Guide.
Colonel Johnson arrived at the battalion's post on 13 February, and on 15 February, he addressed the members of the militia. In his speech, Johnson outlined the unit's three objectives. The first was that the battalion was assigned "the duty of subduing such Indian tribes as could not otherwise be induced to make treaties," second, the "officers will make all reports to the commissioners," and third, "orders and instructions will hereafter be issued by them [the commissioners]. Colonel Johnson went on to remind the troops that it was they who were trespassing on the native's land and that some sympathy should be offered to the Indians. When the commissioners met with Major Savage on 19 February, the control of the battalion passed to the federal officers.
Once the commissioners reached the area and established their camp on Mariposa Creek, they began the slow process of making contact with the various tribes and sub-tribes of the foothills. Eventually, the native groups began to gather at the proposed reservation site on the San Joaquin River, and on 11 April, the commissioners moved their post to this site in order that they might deal with the natives more directly. The first treaty council was held on 9 March. As a result, sub-tribal groups of the Mercedes and the Potawachtas became the first to agree to the government's terms. The most significant treaty, that which involved the greatest number of Indians, was signed on 29 March. The treaty guaranteed substantial aid in establishing agrarian communities, reservation land located in the fertile San Joaquin Valley, and hunting and gathering rights in their traditional homelands. A total of sixteen tribes and sub-tribes signed the treaty including the Pohonochees, the Nookchoos, and some sub-tribes of the Chowchillas. The treaty also gave the Yosemites and other Indians the option of being associated with the program offered by the treaty upon their arrival at the reservation.
While the talks had been going on, Captains Dill and Boling, in search of better grazing conditions, moved their companies three miles south of the main post to Lewis's Ranch. On 16 March, Company A had its first skirmish with Indians at Fine Gold Gulch, and although the action allegedly incited those natives involved to turn themselves in, the progress of removing the Indians from their homelands had slowed. Impatient, Major Savage sought orders from the governor hoping to end the stalemate between the Indians and the battalion, but before he received a reply, the commissioners gave him permission to initiate an extensive campaign against native tribes which had yet to sign a treaty. On 20 March, the Mariposa Battalion left camp to begin a campaign against the Chowchillas, Nootchus, and Yosemites. Fighting foul weather, Major Savage marched with b and C Companies to the Wawona area where they established a base camp for their operation. Captain Kuykendall was sent south with Company A to round up the Chowchillas who had refused to come to the reservation. On the morning of 24 March, B and C Companies advanced upon a Nootchus village in the Wawona area. The natives, having no other option available to them, surrendered at once, and Major Savage began to arrange their transport to the reservation. He also sent a few Indian runners to other villages in the region and to Chief Tenieya of the Yosemites, explaining the offer guaranteed by the treaty.
The following day, Chief Tenieya arrived in camp to discuss the treaty. Having little choice but to agree to the terms, the chief related that his tribe was on its way to Wawona and would arrive soon. Major Savage waited three days before deciding to search for the natives him; his party left at noon on 27 March. This expedition consisted of Captains Boling and Dill, and a detail of fifty-seven volunteers, plus Chief Tenieya. Traveling at low altitude to avoid deep snow, the party journeyed halfway to the Yosemite Valley before encountering seventy-two Yosemites, mostly women and children. Major Savage asked the chief where the remainder of his tribe was located, and the chief explained that the rest of the tribe had fled to join other groups in the Mono Lake area. The major, not satisfied with the explanation, decided to send the natives on to Wawona while his force continued the search. Later in the day, the detachment arrived at the rim of the Yosemite Valley. The following day, Major Savage's force entered the valley and began to search for the remaining Yosemites. As they advanced through the valley floor, smoke from native campfires was sighted. Dr. Lafayette H. Bunnell, a member of the party, describes:
evidences were again found to indicate that the huts had but just been deserted; that they had been occupied that morning. Although a rigid search was made, no Indians were found.
Lieutenants Gilbert and Chandler were sent out to explore the branches of the valley, but found that task difficult to accomplish in one day. Disappointed over the results of their search (only one elderly woman was found), they started for the Wawona base camp on 29 March. The battalion was short of supplies, so the decision was made to proceed as quickly as possible to the Indian reservation with their captives. Major Savage, impatient with the slow progress of the column due to the pace set by the natives, decided to leave Captain Boling and a small guard with the Indians and move the rest of his command ahead so they could be resupplied. During the night of 1 April, 250 Indian including Chief Tenieya slipped away from Boling's guard; the efforts of their expedition appeared to have been in vain.
While the expedition was exploring the Yosemite region, they named outstanding geological features, one of which was the valley itself. Dr. Bunnell suggested that the valley be named after the Indians who inhabited it. A vote was taken by the members of the battalion who were present, and it was agreed that it should be named Yosemite.
Captain Kuydendall's campaign brought him to the King's and Kahweah Rivers and to the Tulare Valley. Upon arrival at the King's River, his scouts located a large Chowchilla village. A quick march brought the troops of Company A to the site, and they discovered that the Indians
. . . 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 had followed the fugitives, making a running flight, until compelled to leave our horses; they eluded pursuit
The troops continued to
the headwaters of the Kahweah River, but failed to locate the
fugitives. However, a few days later, a delegation of Chowchillas
entered their camp to arrange terms for peace. The offer of peace
was accepted and arrangements were made to transport them to the
The entire battalion regrouped at their camp on Mariposa Creek in early April. On 14 April, Major Savage left with the battalion, minus part of Company A who were to be station at Mariposa, to begin an extensive expedition against the remaining Chowchillas. The force headed towards the South Fork of the San Joaquin River by way of Coarse Gold Gulch to the Fresno River and downstream to the South Fork.
Major Savage's first major encampment was established in Crane Valley. From this camp, the troops reconnoitered the proposed line of advance. Searching for the natives, Lieutenant Chandler and a scouting party reached the Little San Joaquin River where they discovered several Indian fires. After a rousing speech by Captain Boling, the battalion advanced to the site of the encampment. Upon arrival, it was discovered that the natives had drawn up to give battle on the opposite side of the river. The next day, 26 April, the battalion crossed the river to attack the Indians, but by the time they had made their crossing, the Chowchillas had dispersed, leaving only their villages behind. The villages were burned, and pursuit of the natives was attempted, but they easily eluded the searchers. After this incident, Savage's force returned to its Mariposa Creek camp on 3 May.
After the battalion returned to the post, another expedition against the Yosemites was planned. Captain Boling and Company B made up the bulk of the force with support from Lieutenant Gilbert and part of Company C and elements of Company A to protect the supply train. The other members of the battalion stayed at their headquarters on Mariposa Creek. On 9 May, Captain Boling and his expeditionary force entered the Yosemite Valley.
Lieutenant Chandler and several native scouts reconnoitered, finding only empty huts. They proceeded slowly up the south side of the valley. As they advanced, five Indians were sighted crossing a meadow on the north side of the valley. A detachment of six men gave pursuit, crossing the Merced River, while another group advanced up the south side, hoping to cut off the Indians' escape. Runners were sent to captain Boling in the rear and the company quickly proceeded to follow the chase. Three of the Indians were ridden down and captured; they were three of Tenieya's sons. Other scouts located the rest of the tribe which had escaped into one of the canyons which connected with the valley, but they could not follow the Indians; every time pursuit was attempted, they were turned back by a shower of rocks thrown at them from the canyon walls.
One of the three prisoners was sent as a messenger to Chief Tenieya explaining terms for peace. It was during this interval of action that a tragic event occurred. The two remaining captives tried to escape and one was killed in in the process. Tenieya, himself, was eventually caught by Lieutenant Chandler and the scouts after a wild chase through Tenaya Canyon:
unwelcome discovery made, and seeing that his retreat above had been cut off, Ten-ie-ya at first ran along westerly, on the slope of the mountain towards Indian Canon; but finding that he was cut off in that direction also, by the Noot-chu and Po-ho-no-chee scouts, he turned and came down the trail, through an oak tree top and to the valley, which Sadino had by this time reached, and where he had been attracted by the noise made in pursuit. Lieutenant Chandler had not climbed up the trail, and hearing Sadino's cry for help, and the noise above him, he was able to reach the place when Ten-ie-ya descended, in time to secure him.
When Tenieya saw the dead body of his son in camp, he reputedly began to weep; then, following an attempt to escape, begged to be shot. Captain Boling showed sympathy for the chief, but still detained him.
After the capture of Chief
Tenieya, Boling marched his command twenty miles to what is now
Tenaya Lake. There they surprised a Yosemite village in what was
the last action of the Mariposa War. The company escorted the
natives to the reservation and eventually returned to the Mariposa
Creek post. Now that almost all of the Indians of the area had
been rounded up, the battalion had lost its reason to exist. Captain
Kuykendall was court-martialed for being unofficer-like and disobeying
orders. He apparently was not a rigid disciplinarian and did not
wish to advance against peaceful groups of natives during on of
the campaigns. As time wore on, it became increasingly difficult
to retain the members of the battalion. Private Robert Eccleston
boys are sadly in want of cloths, tobacco, and etc. But Sutlers have not had anything to sell for some time, [nor] will they bring any more goods. . . . Time hangs heavy and many of the boys are impatient for a discharge.
On 1 July, the Mariposa Battalion mustered out. The Mariposa War was over.
While the military portion of the war had been completed, the intended goal of the action, to resettle the Indians in the San Joaquin Valley, had just begun. The principle mechanism for establishing the reservation--the treaties, especially the treaty of 29 March 1851--still had to face ratification by the United States Congress. President Millard Fillmore initially sent the three commissioners out to California, and between 19 March 1851 and 7 January 1852, they met with 502 Indian leaders who signed a total of eighteen treaties establishing reservations covering eight and one-half million acres of land.
These settlements drew heavy opposition from the state government in California. A state commission was assembled in 1852 to examine the treaties, and in its report to the state legislature, it recommended that Congress be notified of the "great evils That would inevitably result to the people of California" if the treaties were ratified.
Opposition against the treaties was also evident in the House of Representatives. It was believed that the treaties would plunge the government into unnecessary debt of over a half million dollars, and that the land that would be set aside for the reservations was much too valuable agriculturally to be given to Indians. This put the president into the uncomfortable situation of having to support the treaties since it was he who sent the commissioners to California, and yet being aware that the treaties would never pass the Congress. Though the treaties were introduced into the House in February of 1852 and the Senate in July of the same year, they never were ratified and the Indians involved in the Mariposa War never received any of the benefits of the treaties which they had signed. After the treaties were rejected by Congress, they were held as classified material, not being released to the public until 1905.
Similar troubles were experienced by legislation designed to compensate for expenses shared by the Mariposa Battalion and the community. The state bill for militia compensation passed the Assembly on 7 March 1851, but failed to gain the support of the Senate. At first, attempts to pass a measure through Congress met with equal results. When a bill concerning funding for California's Indian problems was finally approved on 30 April 1852, it only contained money to establish a permanent Indian Agent for California and money to pacify the Indians until the treaties were passed by Congress. Finally, minor relief was provided in the form of a Congressional bill in August of 1854, which allowed limited funding to compensate for property damages caused by the war.
The fate of the story's two main characters, James Savage and Chief Tenieya, were no better than that of the treaties; by 1853, both had died. Savage's death came as the result of a feud. After he had been relieved of his duties with the battalion, he continued his trading business, establishing two new posts near the new reservations located in the foothills. On 2 July 1852, a conflict flared over squatters entering the King's River Reservation. As a result, several Indians were massacred by a small band of whites led by Walter Harvey. To pacify the Indians near his posts, Savage publically denounced the action and called for an inquiry by the United States Indian Commissioners. A council was summoned, to be held at Four Creeks in August. While on his way to the council, Savage met Harvey, and an argument ensued in which Harvey demanded that Savage retract his statements condemning the action. Savage struck Harvey, and in the fight that followed, Harvey shot Savage four times, killing him instantly. Harvey was arrested, tried, but not convicted of the crime. It has been suggested that because the judge trying the case had been placed on the bench by Harvey, he might have shown leniency.
Since there are many versions of how Chief Tenieya died, it is difficult to determine the exact events leading to his death. However, in this chapter of Yosemite's history, there are a series of occurrences which indirectly led to a greater public awareness of the Yosemite Valley. In 1852, the government decided to allow Chief Tenieya and some of his followers to return to the Yosemite Valley. at first, there were no complaints about their release from the reservation, but in May of 1852, an expedition of eight prospectors entered the valley. On the morning of 3 May, five of the men were attacked by Yosemite Indians who felt that the whites, by entering the valley, had trespassed. The prospectors attempted to reach their base camp, but before they could, at least two members of the party had been killed. The group fled the valley closely pursued by the Indians. After traveling on foot for five days, the party reached Coarse Gold Gulch where a company of twenty-five volunteers was raised to return to the Yosemite Valley for the purpose of burying the dead. It was this event and another similar occurrence that took place near Coarse Gold Gulch on 14 May that prompted retaliatory action by the government.
In early June, a detachment of California 2nd Infantry under the command of Lieutenant Tredwell Moore was dispatched from Fort Miller in the San Joaquin Valley. In addition to regular troops, a few civilians acting as guides and scouts accompanied the expedition. Under the guidance of former Mariposa Battalion member A. A. Grey, Lieutenant Moore and his troops entered Yosemite Valley at night and surprised the natives, capturing five members of the tribe. The Indians were accused of murder, and Lieutenant Moore quickly had them shot. Chief Tenieya and the rest of his tribe fled the valley by way of Tenaya Lake and Mono Pass with the soldiers in close pursuit. The detachment never caught the Yosemites, but the expedition was not in vain. The party turned to exploring the region with emphasis on the investigation of mineral deposits in the Bloody Canyon and Mono Lake regions. In August, they returned to the San Joaquin Valley by way of Tuolumne Meadows and the old Mono Trail which runs to the south of Yosemite Valley.
Lieutenant Moore's expedition accomplished two things. First, it attracted more attention to the Yosemite Valley and for the first time the valley was intricately described in the newspapers. Prior accounts only presented the valley as being an Indian stronghold, but the new accounts added more detail, calling it "a beautiful and fertile valley." Lieutenant Moore's report on the incident, which took the form of a rebuttal to criticisms over his handling of the five Yosemites, went into great detail over the geological beauty of the region and its mineral wealth. It was the latter news that most interested many Californians who were willing to explore the area's economical possibilities. Prospectors such as Lee Vining soon began to investigate the mining potential of the eastern Sierra slope. The military expedition was also responsible for establishing the final spelling for the word "Yosemite: and gave Mono Lake its name.
The Yosemite Indians, with their chief, temporarily sought refuge with the Mono Indians, and eventually they returned to the Yosemite Valley. It is after they left the Monos that the story of Chief Tenieya's fate becomes unclear. In the version presented by Dr. Bunnell, the chief moved back to the Yosemite Valley with his tribal group in early autumn of 1853. Soon after they had relocated, a few of the younger members of the band stole some horses from a Mono village. In a retaliatory raid by the Monos, Chief Tenieya was killed. Another account comes from park historian, Carl Russell, who interviewed the granddaughter of Chief Tenieya. According to the Granddaughter, "Maria," the chief and five other Yosemites were stoned to death after a fight erupted during some "hand games" with Mono Indians at Mono Lake. "Maria" also asserted that the Yosemites did not return to the Yosemite Valley prior to the chief's death. Yet another account comes from former members of the Mariposa Battalion, James Roan and Reuben chandler, who continued to reside in the area after the war. In separate interviews, the two men stated that the chief died in a reservation in the San Joaquin Valley. Of the three versions presented, it seems more likely that Russell's account is the more accurate, but with such non-conclusive evidence, it is difficult to determine the exact nature of Chief Tenieya's death in 1853.
The Mariposa War is important to the development of the Yosemite region in two respects. First, details of Yosemite Valley and the surrounding area were brought to the attention of the public. Newspaper accounts described the geological uniqueness of the Yosemite region and exposed its potential for mining. The gold discoveries lured more whites into the area, and although the mineral content of the valley proved illusory, it still introduced Californians to the scenic beauty of the area. All of this would not have been possible if not for the second and most important result of the war--the removal of the Indians from their homeland. Though the commissioners were well intended in their efforts to deliver just compensation, they did not have the authority to present their arrangements as being absolute. In the end, the Indians lost their land and received relatively little in return. This removal, however tragic, opened the way for white settlement in the Yosemite region.
Annie Mitchell, "Major James D. Savage and the Tular nos," California Historical Society Quarterly 28 (December 1949): 323.
Herbert H. Bancroft, History of California. 7 vols. San Francisco: The History Company, 1886.
Lafayette H. Bunnell. Discovery of the Yosemite and the Indian War of 1851. Chicago: Fleming H. Revel, 1880.
Robert Eccleston. The
Mariposa War, 1850-1851, C. Gregory Crampton, ed., Salt Lake
City: University of Utah Press, 1957.
Elizabeth Godfrey. Yosemite Indians, revised by James Snyder. Yosemite National Park: Yosemite Natural History Association, 1973.
Robert F. Heizer, The Eighteen Unratified Treaties of 1851-1852 Between the California Indians and the United States Government. Berkeley: University of California Archaeological Research Facility, 1972.
Robert F. Heizer and Alan F. Almquist. The Other Californians. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1971.
James Hutchings. In the Heart of the Sierras. Oakland: 1886.
Legislature of California, Assembly, The Committee to whom was referred the subject of Indian Reservations, Journal, 3rd sess., 1852. p. 205.
Journal of the United States Indian Commissioners for California, April 1851, Mariposa War File, Yosemite Research Library, Yosemite National Park, California.
Legislature of California, A communication from the Governor on Indian difficulties, with the letter of Adam Johnston, Journal, 2nd sess., 1851, p. 563.
Legislature of California, A Message from the Governor in relation to El Dorado, Mariposa, Bear Creek, and Gila Expeditions, Journal, 2nd sess., 1851, p. 600.
Legislature of California, A Special Message of the Governor of the State of California to the Legislature, in relation to the Indian Hostilities in Mariposa County, with accompanying Documents, Journal, 2nd sess., 1851, p. 605.
Legislature of California, Senate, An Act supplemental to an Act entitled An Act prescribing the amount of compensation and mode of payment to persons who have performed military services for the State of California, and expenses incurred herein, Journal, 2nd sess., 1851, p. 301.
"The Merced Indian Trouble," Alta California, 18 June 1852, p. 2.
"News from the Mountains--Gold Discovery Beyond the Sierra," Alta California, 15 July 1852, p. 2.
"North Carolinian at the Discovery of the Yosemite Valley," Raleigh Register, 6 March 1884, p. 1; and "A Letter from Jack Leidig to C. P. Russell,: 27 May 1949, File on the Discovery of the Yosemite Valley, Yosemite Research Library, Yosemite National Park, California.
Carl Russell, One Hundred Years in Yosemite. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1947.
"San Joaquin News," Alta California, 7 July 1852, p. 2.
"The Indian Expedition," Alta California, 12 February 1851, p. 2.
A Transcript of a Conversation held in Mariposa with :Maria," the Daughter [sic - granddaughter] of Yosemite's Chief Tenieya, no date, File on Yosemite Indians, Yosemite Research Library, Yosemite National Park, California.
U.S. Congress, An Act Making Appropriation for Current and Contingent Expenses of the Indian Department, Public LVII, 32nd Cong., 1st sess., 1852, Congressional Globe, 24:xxviii.
U.S. Congress, House, An Act Making Appropriations for Support of the Army, Public LXXXIV, 33rd Cong., 1st sess., 1854, Congressional Globe, 28:2264.
U.S. Congress, House, Representative McCorkle speaking against the presence of U.S. Indian Commissioners in California, 32 Cong., 1st sess., 26 March 1852, Congressional Globe 24:890.