Yosemite: Early History Of The Valley

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In the wild gold years of 1849 and '50, the Indian tribes along thus western Sierra foothills became alarmed at the sudden invasion of their acorn orchard and game fields by miners, and soon began to make war upon them, in their usual murdering, plundering style. This continued until the United States Indian Commissioners succeeded in gathering them into reservations, some peacefully, others by burning their villages and stores of food. The Yosemite or Grizzly Bear tribe, fancying themselves secure in their deep mountain stronghold, were the most troublesome and defiant of all, and it was while the Mariposa battalion, under command of Major Savage, was trying to capture this warlike tribe and conduct them to the Fresno reservation that their deep mountain home, the Yosemite Valley, was discovered. From a camp on the south fork of the Merced, Major Savage sent Indian runners to the bands who were supposed to be hiding in the mountains, instructing them to tell the Indians that if they would come in and make treaty with the Commissioners they would be furnished with food and clothing and be protected, but if they did not come in he would make war upon them and kill them all. None of the Yosemite Indians responded to this general message, but when a special messenger was sent to the chief he appeared the next day. He came entirely alone and stood in dignified silence before one of the guards until invited to enter the camp. He was recognized by one of the friendly Indians as Tenaya, the old chief of the Grizzlies, and, after he had been supplied with food, Major Savage, with the aid of Indian interpreters, informed him of the wishes of the Commissioners. But the old chief was very suspicious of Savage and feared that he was taking this method of getting the tribe into his power for the purpose of revenging his personal wrong. Savage told him if he would go to the Commissioners and make peace with them as the other tribes had done there would be no more war. Tenaya inquired what was the object of taking all the Indians to the San Joaquin plain. "My people," said he, "do not want anything from the Great Father you tell me about. The Great Spirit is our father and he has always supplied us with all we need. We do not want anything from white men. Our women are able to do our work. Go, then. Let us remain in the mountains where we were born, where the ashes of our fathers have been given to the wind. I have said enough."

To this the Major answered abruptly in Indian style: "If you and your people have all you desire, why do you steal our horses and mules? Why do you rob the miners' camps? Why do you murder the white men and plunder and burn their houses?"

Tenaya was silent for some time. He evidently understood what the Major had said, for he replied, "My young men have sometimes taken horses and mules from the whites. This was wrong. It is not wrong to take the property of enemies who have wronged my people. My young men believed that the gold diggers were our enemies. We now know they are not and we shall be glad to live in peace with them. We will stay here and be friends. My people do not want to go to the plains. Some of the tribes who have gone there are very bad. We cannot live with them. Here we can defend ourselves."

To the Major Savage firmly said, "Your people must go to the Commissioners. If they do not your young men will again steal horses and kill and plunder the whites. It was your people who robbed my stores, burned my houses and murdered my men. It they do not make a treaty, your whole tribe will be destroyed. Not one of them will be left alive."

To this the old chief replied, "It is useless to talk to you about who destroyed your property and killed your people. I am old and you can kill me if you will, but it is useless to lie to you who know more than all the Indians. Therefore I will not lie to you but if you will let me return to my people I will bring them in." He was allowed to go. The next day he came back and said his people were on the way to our camp to go with the men sent by the Great Father, who was so good and rich.

Another day passed but no Indians from the deep Valley appeared. The old chief said that the snow was so deep and his village was so far down that it took a long time to climb out of it. After waiting still another day the expedition started for the Valley. When Tenaya was questioned as to the route and distance he said that the snow was so deep that the horses could not go through it. Old Tenaya was taken along as guide. When the party had gone about half-way to the Valley they met the Yosemites on their way to the camp on the south fork. There were only seventy-two of them and when the old chief was asked what had become of the rest of his band, he replied, "This is all of my people that are willing to go with me to the plains. All the rest have gone with their wives end children over the mountains to the Mono and Tuolumne tribes." Savage told Tenaya that he was not telling the truth, for Indians could not cross the mountains in the deep snow, and that he knew they must still be at his village or hiding somewhere near it. The tribe had been estimated to number over two hundred. Major Savage then said to him, "You may return to camp with your people and I will take one of your young men with me to your village to see your people who will not come. They will come if I find them." "You will not find any of my people there," said Tenaya; "I do not know where they are. My tribe is small. Many of the people of my tribe have come from other tribes and if they go to the plains and are seen they will be killed by the friends of those with whom they have quarreled. I was told that I was growing old and it was well that I should go, but that young and strong men can find plenty in the mountains: therefore, why should they go to the hot plains to be penned up like horses and cattle? My heart has been sore since that talk but I am now willing to go, for it is best for my people."

Pushing ahead, taking turns in breaking a way through the snow, they arrived in sight of the great Valley early in the afternoon and, guided by one of Tenaya's Indians, descended by the same route as that followed by the Mariposa trail, and the weary party went into camp on the river bank opposite El Capitan. After supper, seated around a big fire, the wonderful Valley became the topic of conversation and Dr. Bunell suggested giving it a name. Many were proposed, but after a vote had been taken the name Yosemite, proposed by Dr. Bunell, was adopted almost unanimously to perpetuate the name of the tribe who so long had made their home there. The Indian name of the Valley, however, is Ahwahnee. The Indians had names for all the different rocks and streams of the Valley, but very few of them are now in use by the whites, Pohono, the Bridal Veil, being the principal one. The expedition remained only one day and two nights in the Valley, hurrying out on the approach of a storm and reached the south-fork headquarters on the evening of the third day after starting out. Thus, in three days the round trip had been made to the Valley, most of it had been explored in a general way and some of its principal features had been named. But the Indians had fled up the Tenaya Cañon trail and none of them were seen, except an old woman unable to follow the fugitives.

A second expedition was made in the same year under command of Major Boling. When the Valley was entered no Indians were seen, but the many wigwams with smoldering fires showed that they had been hurriedly abandoned that very day. Later, five young Indians who had been left to watch the movements of the expedition were captured at the foot of the Three Brothers after a lively chase. Three of the five were sons of the old chief and the rock was named for them. All of these captives made good their escape within a few days, except the youngest son of Tenaya, who was shot by his guard while trying to escape. That same day the old chief was captured on the cliff on the east side of Indian Cañon by some of Boling's scouts. As Tenaya walked toward the camp his eye fell upon the dead body of his favorite son. Captain Boling through an interpreter, expressed his regret at the occurrence, but not a word did Tenaya utter in reply. Later, he made an attempt to escape but was caught as he was about to swim across the river. Tenaya expected to be shot for this attempt and when brought into the presence of Captain Boling he said in great emotion, "Kill me, Sir Captain, yes, kill me as you killed my son, as you would kill my people if they were to come to you. You would kill all my tribe if you had the power. Yes, Sir America, you can now tell your warriors to kill the old chief. You have made my life dark with sorrow. You killed the child of my heart. Why not kill the father? But wait a little and when I am dead I will call my people to come and they shall hear me in their sleep and come to avenge the death of their chief and his son. Yes, Sir America, my spirit will make trouble for you and your people, as you have made trouble to me and my people. With the wizards I will follow the white people and make them fear me. You may kill me, Sir Captain, 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; wherever 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 Spirit has spoken. I am done."

This expedition finally captured the remnants of the tribes at the head of Lake Tenaya and took them to the Fresno reservation, together with their chief, Tenaya. But after a short stay they were allowed to return to the Valley under restrictions. Tenaya promised faithfully to conform to everything required, joyfully left the hot and dry reservation, and with his family returned to his Yosemite home.

The following year a party of miners was attacked by the Indians in the Valley and two of them were killed. This led to another Yosemite expedition. A detachment of regular soldiers from Fort Miller under Lieutenant Moore, U.S.A., was at once dispatched to capture or punish the murderers. Lieutenant Moore entered the Valley in the night and surprised and captured a party of five Indians, but an alarm was given and Tenaya and his people fled from their huts and escaped to the Monos on the east side of the Range. On examination of the five prisoners in the morning it was discovered that each of them had some article of clothing that belonged to the murdered men. The bodies of the two miners were found and buried on the edge of the Bridal Veil meadow. When the captives were accused of the murder of the two white men they admitted that they had killed them to prevent white men from coming to their Valley, declaring that it was their home and that white men had no right to come there without their consent. Lieutenant Moore told them through his interpreter that they had sold their lands to the Government, that it belonged to the white men now and that they had agreed to live on the reservation provided for them. To this they replied that Tenaya had never consented to the sale of their Valley and had never received pay for it. The other chief, they said, had no right to sell their territory. The lieutenant being fully satisfied that he had captured the real murderers, promptly pronounced judgment and had them placed in line and shot. Lieutenant Moore pursued the fugitives to Mono but was not successful in finding any of them. After being hospitably entertained and protected by the Mono and Paute tribes, they stole a number of stolen horses from their entertainers and made their way by a long, obscure route by the head of the north fork of the San Joaquin, reached their Yosemite home once more, but early one morning, after a feast of horse-flesh, a band of Monos surprised them in their huts, killing Tenaya and nearly all his tribe. Only a small remnant escaped down the river cañon. The Tenaya Cañon and Lake were named for the famous old chief.

Very few visits were made to the Valley before the summer or 1855, when Mr. J. M. Hutchings, having heard of its wonderful scenery, collected a party and made the first regular tourist's visit to the Yosemite and in his California magazine described it in articles illustrated by a good artist, who was taken into the Valley by him for that purpose. This first party was followed by another from Mariposa the same year, consisting of sixteen or eighteen persons. The next year the regular pleasure travel began and a trail on the Mariposa side of the Valley was opened by Mann Brothers. This trail was afterwards purchased by the citizens of the county and made free to the public. The first house built in the Yosemite Valley was erected in the autumn of 1856 and was kept as a hotel the next year by G. A. Hite and later by J. H. Neal and S. M. Cunningham. It was situated directly opposite the Yosemite Fall. A little over half a mile farther up the Valley a canvas house was put up in 1858 by G. A. Hite. Next year a frame house was built and kept as a hotel by Mr. Peck, afterward by Mr. Longhurst and since 1864 by Mr. Hutchings. All these hotels have vanished except the frame house built in 1859, which has been changed beyond recognition. A large hotel built on the brink of the river in front of the old one is now the only hotel in the Valley. A large hotel built by the State and located farther up the Valley was burned. To provide for the overflow of visitors there are three camps with board floors, wood frame, and covered with canvas, well furnished, some of them with electric light. A large first-class hotel is very much needed.

Travel of late years has been rapidly increasing, especially after the establishment, by Act of Congress in 1890, of the Yosemite National Park and the recession in 1905 of the original reservation to the Federal Government by the State. The greatest increase, of course, was caused by the construction of the Yosemite Valley railroad from Merced to the border of the Park, eight miles below the Valley.

It is eighty miles long, and the entire distance, except the first twenty-four miles from the town of Merced, is built through the precipitous Merced River Cañon. The roadbed was virtually blasted out of the solid rock for the entire distance in the cañon. Work was begun in September, 1905, and the first train entered El Portal, the terminus, April 15, 1907. Many miles of the road cost as much as $100,000 per mile. Its business has increased from 4000 tourists in the first year it was operated to 15,000 in 1910.

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Author: Travel & Daily Life Staff
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