Archive for April, 2007

Albert Bierstadt's Hetch Hetchy painting

Painting of Hetch Hetchy around the time when Indians lived in the valley by Albert Bierstadt.

C. F. Hoffmann also known as Charles Frederick Hoffmann (1838-1913), wrote the “ Notes on Hetch-Hetchy Valley,” that was published in the Proceedings of the California Academy of Sciences (San Francisco: CAS, 1868), series 1, 3:5, pp. 368-370.

In one part of Hoffmann’s report of the earliest history of Hetch Hetchy Valley he wrote that the valley was embroiled in a battle over the valley way before the modern day controversy concerning the O’Shaughnessy Dam. Here is what C. F. Hoffmann wrote:

“The valley was first visited, in 1850, by Mr. Joseph Screech, a mountaineer of this region, who found it occupied by Indians. This gentleman informed me that, up to a very recent date, this valley was disputed ground between the Pah Utah [Paiute] Indians from the eastern slope and the Big Creek Indians from the western slope of the Sierras; they had several fights, in which the Pah Utahs [Paiutes] proved victorious. The latter [Editor’s note: Paiutes] still visit the valley every fall to gather acorns, which abound in this locality. Here I may also mention that the Indians speak of a lake of very salt water [Editor’s note: Mono Lake], on their trail from here to Castle Peak.”

And this is the tumultuous history of the early American Indians of Hetch Hetchy Valley. Even before the modern day controversy and the building of the dam, there was an early battle for the beautiful Hetch Hetchy Valley from its earliest time. A battle over Hetch Hetchy that the Paiutes won. So lets not take the Paiutes out from their rightful place of the history of Hetch Hetchy Valley, because at one time before it was flooded, it was once ours.

This also means that in 1850 Chief Tenaya was fighting along side the Mono Paiutes against the Big Creek Indians. Remembering that in 1851 the Mariposa Battalion, with their Miwok scouts, went up to capture those Indians who were fighting against whites and the Big Creek Indians who wanted to enter Hetch Hetchy and Yosemite.

* Pigliku (Miwok pronunciation of “Big Creek“), south of Tuolumne River.

Main informant being Charles F. Hoffmann and the Screech brothers. C. F. Hoffamann had the largest mountain in Yosemite named after him.

C. F. Hoffmann and Nate Screech

 Left; Charles F. Hoffmann, early California State Surveyor, Right; Nate Screech, early Hetch Hetchy Valley pioneer.

website with information on Charles F. Hoffmann;



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 Awiah - which means acorn in Paiute

Awaia or Aweah is acorn in Paiute. Many place names in Paiute are named after food groups. Many of our Paiute bands are also named after food groups like Taboose and Agai. Pah is water in Paiute. Pah-weah is “water acorn” or “acorn lake”.

I am sure many of you who have gone to Yosemite National Park have visited the Yosemite Indian Museum, seen the many beautiful baskets, and bought many of the little booklets published by the Yosemite Association that have stories about the ‘mythical’ Yosemite Miwoks.

If you go behind the Yosemite Indian Museum there was even a ‘mythical’ Yosemite Miwok village created in the late 1970s to show how the ‘mythical’ Yosemite Miwok lived before the Europeans entered the valley.

Now I bet some of you are wondering why I keep writing the word ‘mythical’ when referring to the (once again) ‘mythical’ Yosemite Miwoks?

That is because there were NO Yosemite Miwoks…well at least NOT before the Europeans entered the Yosemite Valley.

You see the real early Native indigenous people of Yosemite were NOT Miwoks, but were in fact Paiutes.

You see the Southern Sierra Miwoks in the area were afraid to enter Yosemite Valley. The main chief of the Miwoks in the area, Chief Bautista or Vow-chester, was the person who gave the valley and the people within the name that is now attached to the valley; Yosemite.

Yosemite in the Miwok language meant “They are Killers” or “the Grizzlies”. Now you might ask yourself why would the chief of Southern Sierra Miwuks call the Indian people living in the valley “They are Killers” or “Yosemites”, in their language, if they were supposed to be the same people?

That because they were not the same people…but from a different tribe. A band made up mainly of renegade Pauites and Monos. A composite of different Paiute bands who were a rough and tough war like tribe who fought many battles with neighboring tribes of the western slope. They surely didn’t fight with the Mono Paiutes since it was documented that the Monos bragged about their war exploits. Interestingly in Paiutes bragged that the Yosemite Indians were part of their people, but the Miwoks called them the “Killers”? That would’ve set off a big alarm in head that the Miwoks and Ahwahnees were not from the same tribe.

So around 1978, that is right 1978, NOT 1878, an unqualified non-Indian ethnologist working for Yosemite National Park, who btw was married a Miwok woman, suddenly came up with a different and new definition for the word “Yosemite”. He suddenly discovered a new translation. Yosemite now meant “SOME AMONG THEM ARE killers”…and of course those “some among them are…” where the Paiutes, after all how can you explain why Miwoks were calling themselves “They are Killers”? That would not make sense to any thinking person. Suddenly this new fangled meaning and definition started to appear in Yosemite Association publications, Yosemite Fund and even in Yosemite National Park and their websites. Yet there is NO explanation where this unqualified non-Indian ethnologist found this new definition. Where did he get it…was it from a divine revelation? Did it suddenly appear out of the blue from his own imagination? Where did this definition come from? To this day no one atYosemite
National Park has been able to explain how this new manifestation for the meaning of
Yosemite first appeared or was written.
Yes, during the time of the capture of Chief Tenaya and his band of Yosemite Indians aka Ahwahnees it was reported there were some “Diggers” as they were written, but the main body of the tribe were Paiutes and Monos. They were never identified as to what type of “Digger” they were. They could’ve been Yokuts, Maidus, Washos, or Miwoks? But it was definitely written that the Yosemite Indians were Paiutes and Monos.

You might ask yourself where the first ‘mythical’ Yosemite Miwok reference appeared. Around 1870 a journalist, yes a journalist, named Stephen Powers, was traveling around the state of California writing about the tribes of the state. His article was very popular and featured in a monthly magazine called “The Overland Monthly”. He would travel to towns in certain areas and talk to the local Indians and write about their culture. It was a very successful article for the Monthly.

One month Stephen Powers travels along the road that was to be hwy 140 that leads to
Yosemite. He stopped off at Knight’s Ferry, located in the central valley right outside of Oakdale. There he spoke to Wukalumnes, whom he called Miwuks, He met a Captain of the area and continued on to the town of Sonora and talked to a woman there. Not knowing that around 1848 Charles Weber, the founder of Stockton, had made an agreement with a Knight’s Ferry chief to move about 100 of his people up the foothills around Sonora and the lower Tuolumne to dig for gold for him in exchange for provisions. The woman told him the story of Hetch Hetchy and about the area, but unknown to Powers, a journalist not from the area, that above Big Oak Flat and the Upper Tuolumne was a Paiute area. He then traveled to Yosemite and spoke to “friendlies” or Miwoks who told him about Yosemite. Powers did not know that in 1852 the Yosemite Indians had been wiped out and that the surviving Yosemite Indians had been taken back toMono
Lake and absorbed into the Mono Lake Paiute population. That the remaining majority of the original blood of the Ahwahneechees was now in the Mono Lake Paiute population.
Powers article was a big hit and from then on EVERY white Indian anthropologist and ethnologist was parroting Stephen Powers’ work. Stephen Powers who did not live in the area and was only there for a short while. Kroeber referred to Stephen Powers, Hizer from Kroeber, who referred from Stephen Powers, Gifford who referred from both Kroeber and Hizer and C. Hart Merriam who referred to all three. All writing about the ‘mythical’ Yosemite Miwoks.

BUT around 1880, one of the only few men to meet Chief Tenaya and the Ahwahnees (Yosemite Indians) was tired of reading a lot of ‘myths’ and made-up history of the discover of Yosemite and the Indians within. His name was Dr. Lafayette H. Bunnell, who had been with the original Mariposa Battalion who entered and “discovered”
Yosemite Valley as the first documented white men to enter the valley. He first wrote an article about the discovery, but then later he wrote a book called “The Discovery of Yosemite an the event that led to that war”.

In his book, Bunnell, DOCUMENTED that the Chief Tenaya was born at Mono
Lake. His father was from a separate tribe from any neighboring tribe, which btw would include the Miwoks. That Tenaya spoke Paiute and not Miwok. That Tenaya’s mother was a Mono Lake Paiute. That Tenaya married a Mono Lake Paiute woman and had children AND this was BEFORE he entered Yosemite Valley. Later a medicine man advised Tenaya it was safe to enter Yosemite Valley and he took about 200 to 300 people back into Yosemite. Now where those Miwoks, highly unlikely since at that same time Paiutes and Miwoks were fighting over resources and territory. Something most people did not know. They even fought over Hetch Hetchy and the Paiutes were victorious in retaining ownership of Hetch Hetchy Valley, which they returned every year to pick acorns and not trade for them.

So all that work done by Powers, Kroeber, Hizer, Merriam and Gifford about the “mythical” Yosemite Miwoks is mostly bunk.

Now “Miwoks” did enter Yosemite, but not 10,000 years ago, but in 1851 when they were scouts and guides for James Savage and the Mariposa Battalion. You see Chief Bautista, the main chief of the Southern Sierra Miwoks, during that time was a great friend of James Savage and his overseer for Savage’s Indian miners who dug gold for him. They followed the army into Yosemite and just like the early Yosemite settlers they stayed.

But Bunnell was not the only person from that early campaign to remember the Yosemite Paiutes; there were newspaper writers of the day and another source. The newspaper writer was a man who was ‘embedded’ with the Battalion who also wrote about the Yosemites as Monahs (Monos) and the son of one of the Mariposa Battalion who stated that the Miwoks were docile and not the warlike Yosemites who he quoted were “Piutes”.

In fact the Miwoks already had a working relationship with whites years before the ‘discovery’ of Yosemite. Which by the way, that same relationship continues to this day in Yosemite.

Now it is OK that the Southern Sierra Miwoks can claim they came into Yosemite Valley after the Ahwahnees were cleared out, but they were not the original Yosemite Indians.

That title would go to those pesky Paiutes up the high Sierra who were the “big problem” and refused to get out of the way of the greedy gold miners…and their Indian workers.

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This video is dedicated to the early people of Yosemite, Mono Lake and Hetch Hetchy Valley. Every photo is of a Paiute person IN Yosemite. There are very few of Miwoks in early photos of Yosemite Valley. The majority are of Paiutes, until around the 1920s, before that they were mainly Paiutes. Then those photos of “Miwoks”, after genelocigal research,  indicated that they were really mainly Yokuts.

“Chief Tenaya was the founder of the Paiute Colony of Ahwahnee” and “Tenaya spoke a Paiute jargon” from the ‘bible’ of Yosemite Indian history in Lafayette H. Bunnell’s book the Discovery of the Yosemite.

Today Yosemite National Park Service is trying to erase the memory of the Paiutes in Yosemite National Park, who were the main American Indian people of Yosemite, Hetch Hetchy and Mono Lake.

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