One Hundred Hikes in Yosemite

Humans in Yosemite—Chief Teneiya and the Ahwahnechee

Of course, Yosemite Valley was first discovered by the Indians. Just how many bands of Indians visited or resided in the Valley is unknown; however, the last band to live there was the Ahwahnechee, under the leadership of Chief Teneiya. Growing up with his mother's tribe, the Mono Indians, he spent much of his youth in the Mono Basin, but as a young man founded his own band and in the early 1800s moved west across the Sierra crest, probably via Mono Pass, to take up residence in Yosemite Valley. Before dying, an old "medicine man" counseled the young chief against the horsemen (Spaniards) of the lowlands, declaring that if they should enter Ahwahnee, he and his tribe would be the last Indians to live in their beloved Valley. The prophecy was self-fulfilling, for his braves attacked the outpost of James D. Savage, whose site was located along the mouth of the South Fork Merced River. Today it is passed by motorists driving east along Highway 140 up toward El Portal.

Savage and his men were not driven away; rather, he returned to the area as Major Savage of the all-volunteer Mariposa Battalion, entered the Valley in spring 1851 and burned the Indian settlements (see "The Ahwahnechee" in Chapter 3 for a look at Indian life). By June, Chief Teneiya and his band were captured by troops under Captain John Bowling and were escorted to a reservation near Fresno. Life there was unpleasant for the chief, and he made it unpleasant for others, so with some relief the reservation's officials let him return to the Valley on his own recognizance. Unfortunately, a group of eight miners who entered the Valley in the spring of 1852 were attacked by the chief's braves, and hostilities were renewed. Realizing that troops would soon be sent, Teneiya and his band fled the Valley and took refuge with his blood relatives, the Mono Indians. The band apparently returned to the Valley around summer or early autumn in 1853, but then Teneiya's braves returned to the Mono village, stole some horses that the Monos had stolen from ranches, and returned to the Valley. Fired with anger over the way the Ahwahnechee had violated their hospitality, the Monos pursued and killed most of the Ahwahnechee, including Chief Teneiya. The Valley was now safe for tourists.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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