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Indian miners around Yosemite - yes or no?

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avatar Indian miners around Yosemite - yes or no?
August 04, 2012 03:25PM

Indian miners, California Gold Rush, in the western Sierra Nevada, dated 1849(two years before the discovery of Yosemite)

There is one fact that is overlooked when dealing with the history of Yosemite, and that is the direct involvement of Indian miners around Yosemite. Many people don't like to mention it when looking at the early Native American history of California, especially when talking about Yosemite. Many historians tend to skip over this part because it does not fit into their idea of the Gold Rush. The fact that there were Indians who worked side by side with the white miners.

From the book The Enduring Struggle; Indians in California History, by George H. Phillips

It is a fact that Charles Weber, the founder of the now bankrupt city of Stockton, California, was good friend of the Central Valley Indians. When gold was discovered in the late 1840s Weber was one of the 1st men to contact his Indian friends living in the San Joaquin valley floor to work for him. Weber made an agreement with several early Sacramento and Stanislaus county Indians to work for him digging the newly discovered gold in exchange for payment of provisions for them. He contacted the chief of the Indians living around Knight's Ferry and he agreed to let his people move up to the foothills to dig golf for him.

Weber was only one of a few men who did this, another one was the underhanded scrupulous James Savage, the "blonde king" of the Mariposa Indians. Not only did he make agreements with several chiefs, including the Yokut chiefs Chowchitty, Ponwatches, and Miwok chief Bautista, but also several other Indian chiefs of the western foothills. Savage became their 'king', protector and main benifictor. The chiefs even offered Savage several girls from their tribes as tribute. They really worked hard for Savage, but when it came to the payoff Savage cheated them, and instead of supplying them with provisions he blew the money on himself in a drunken spectacle in San Francisco. That temporarily got his allies, the Indian gold "Diggers" really upset and that is when his trading post close by the mouth of Yosemite was attacked. Some people say it was Chief Tenaya and his band of a Ahwahneechees, but Tenaya himself said that it was Savage's own gold mining "friendly" Indians who did that in retaliation for what they saw as bad treatment. This is how Yosemite was "discovered".

Savage's own Indian brother-in-laws, Cowchitty and Ponwatches, had turned against him and that is how the Mariposa Battalion was created to track down the Indians who had burned his trading post and killed his white workers. Yes, Savage, still had loyal Indian miners, but some had turned against him and they were to be brought back, punished or be brought back into the fold. Cowchitty and Ponwacthes chose the later when the Mariposa Battalion entered their village in early 1851. Then days later they went after Chief Tenaya who said he had not been involved in all the foolishness of digging gold for the whites in favor for trinkets and red scarves. Tenaya, the founder of the Paiute Colony of Ahwahnee, was his own man and he and his people were not involved with the whites on the western side, but he had bore the blunt of harshness cast upon him and his people for not being one of Savage's mining Indian chiefs and Indian gold "Diggers".

Chief Tenaya was the founder of the Paiute colony of Ahwanhee - Dr. Lafayette H. Bunnell.

Edited 3 time(s). Last edit at 08/04/2012 03:34PM by Yosemite_Indian.
Re: Indian miners around Yosemite - yes or no?
August 06, 2012 09:11PM
Very enlightening. Having read Bunnell's account many times, this information fills in some of the missing pieces.
Re: Indian miners around Yosemite - yes or no?
August 07, 2012 02:17PM
Frankly speaking most of the men on that first picture don't look like Indian miners to me.

Also I find it highly unlikely that there's been a peaceful coexistence between Native American and those searching for treasure and gold coming from the east. How reliable is the mentioned source (Phillips)?! Are there more sources covering this issue?!
I also have a hard time to believe that a substantial number of Native Americans who have worked as a miner. Forced or out of free will. I have to admit though that I'm not very familiar with the history of the ancient people of Yosemite or west of the Sierra Nevada.

Having said that I spend a huge chunk of my spare time hiking, crawling, canyoneering through the Southwest and east side of the Sierra Nevada searching for traces of the ancient people. Not mentioning thousands of dollars for air fares, hotels etc. (each trip to the US means approx. 20 hrs. of travel for me). So I'm really dedicated and interested in the history of the ancient people. I don't recollect having heard any similar stories from other parts of the US (Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada) where I spent most of my time searching for petroglyphs, pictographs, granaries and cliff dwellings. Therefore generally speaking the story of potential Indian miners is very interesting as I always like to learn new things. A good start would be to read the Government report from 1848 but I assume there is no record of it available on the internet.
avatar Re: Indian miners around Yosemite - yes or no?
August 07, 2012 05:19PM
The photo of Indian miners are mixed in with other types of miners. Weber and other influential whites had a couple of white men as overseers or lead men to over see the Indian work force like supervisors. Rich men like Weber could not have become even MORE wealthier digging his own gold. It is more profitable to get a large low paid work force to do your job for you in exchange for cheap provisions.

Weber and other white 'entrepreneurs' hired an Indian workforce to dig gold for them in exchange for provisions, or 'trinkets' like cheap red scarves. Gold meant nothing to the Indians, but clothes, blankets and provisions were a high commodity for Indian people who used them for survival. If you read many of the historical accounts of the early gold rush you see that Indians dug gold for the whites and a few did it for themselves.

Yes, it is true that there were Indian gold miners, and that is part of our history of California.

Even if you read Dr. Lafayette H. Bunnell's book you will see that James Savage had a whole slew of Indian miners and an Indian miner work force. They turned on Savage when he, unlike Weber, failed to give the Indians their 'cut' or payment of provisions and selfishly spent all the money from their hard work on his own debauchery. That is why they temporarily turned on him. I believe he used the incident at his burned trading post to get his work force back in line using the Mariposa Battalion and the US government.

Chief Tenaya was the founder of the Paiute colony of Ahwanhee - Dr. Lafayette H. Bunnell.
avatar Re: Indian miners around Yosemite - yes or no?
August 07, 2012 05:32PM
The area you mentioned "(Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada)" are places where the Paiutes live or their cousins the Hopi lived.

The only Indian group that tried to stop the 'gold rush invasion" around the Yosemite area were the Paiutes, like Chief Tenaya.

Tenaya and the Paiutes were the only ones who did not sign the Barbour or Fremont treaties giving up their land rights.

Tenaya, when he was captured, had so much DISDAIN for the Indians of the western side he chastized them for accepting 'red scarves' from the whites and for being subservient. The western Indians MOCKED the now captured and powerlessTenaya and made fun of him...before they once feared Tenaya and his band. In John Jolly's book he wrote that the Paiutes kept attacking the white gold miners around Hetch Hetchy, while the other Indians were 'friendlies' and their workers.

Chief Tenaya was the founder of the Paiute colony of Ahwanhee - Dr. Lafayette H. Bunnell.

Edited 4 time(s). Last edit at 08/07/2012 05:51PM by Yosemite_Indian.
Re: Indian miners around Yosemite - yes or no?
August 08, 2012 12:14AM
So far as you can, I would ask that you document your knowledge of the topic and its sources and preserve the information. I've done some modest research on Savage and I've found some divergence of fact. I also researched his killer - Major Harvey - and he appears to have been a man with lofty ambitions. Expelled from West Point for escessive demerits and later claimed to be a mining engineer in Alabama and Mississippi. The fatal conflict between Harvey and Savage appears to revolve around Harvey leading a fatal attack on Indian friends of Savage. Afterward, I believe Harvey married the sister of a California governor and died relatively young. Unless I'm mistaken, his widow lived a long life and became the grand dame of San Francisco society. Harvey's son briefly acquired the wealth and power that the father desired, but lost a good portion of his wealth in the 1906 San Francisco earthquake.

Another esoteric topic in Mariposa County - slavery fluorished in both Quartzburg and between Catheys Valley and Mariposa in spite of it being prohibited in California. John C. Fremon't's vehement opposition to slavery caused him profound grief on more than one occasion.

Thanks for sharing.
Re: Indian miners around Yosemite - yes or no?
August 07, 2012 02:26PM
Well, looks like I was wrong about the "forced" part in my previous post:

Sierra Nevada History
avatar Re: Indian miners around Yosemite - yes or no?
August 08, 2012 06:48AM
Thanks for the Link. Great site!
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