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Posts Tagged ‘Lone Pine’

500 Paiute Indians seek safety in Hetch Hetchy after 1872 earthquake


Left; Dr. Lafayette H. Bunnell who met Chief Tenaya and the Ahwahneechees and wrote they were Paiutes and Monos. Bunnell wrote that Paiutes also hid in Hetch Hetchy. Right: Lady Constance Frederica Gordon-Cumming wrote on her visit to Yosemite that Paiutes used Hetch Hetchy as a sanctuary and to gather acorns. Below: Hetch Hetchy Valley before it was flooded. Hetch Hetchy Valley was a refuge for Paiutes.

Around 2:30 in the morning on March 26th 1872 the famous naturalist John Muir was awaken in his Yosemite cabin by a tremendous rumbling. Muir wrote;

“The shocks were so violent and varied, and succeeded one another so closely, that I had to balance myself carefully in walking as if on the deck of a ship among waves, and it seemed impossible that the high cliffs of the Valley could escape being shattered. In particular, I feared that the sheer-fronted Sentinel Rock, towering above my cabin, would be shaken down, and I took shelter back of a large yellow pine, hoping that it might protect me from at least the smaller out bounding boulders.”

Muir had felt one of the largest earthquakes in California history. The seismic event happened along the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada and leveled almost every building in the small town of Lone Pine and surrounding towns. Twenty seven residents died as buildings collapsed on them. Many of those were Mexican residents. Mexicans of the area built their houses of adobe which crumbled and collapsed killing the residents. The earthquake and after shocks were felt all through out Nevada and California. It was one of the most powerful earthquakes in California.

One item that went mainly unnoticed as a result of the 1872 earthquake was recorded in early Sierra Nevada California newspapers. After the earthquake around 500 Paiutes and Shoshones were seen in the Hetch Hetchy Valley.

The local population of Mariposa and Tuolumne were extremely nervous because there had been recent fights between the white military and the Paiute people and some of the settlers were frightened that many Paiutes meant trouble. The Paiutes were just following a pattern. Hetch Hetchy Valley had been recorded earlier as a safe haven and hiding place for Paiutes.

In 1888 Lady Constance Frederica Gordon-Cumming wrote about her visit to Hetch Hetchy in her book “Granite Crags of California”, page 269;

“…but their chief anxiety was to visit a beautiful valley of the same character as this, called the Hetch-Hetchy Valley. It has only recently been discovered, having been one of the sanctuaries of the Pah-ute [Paiute] Indians, who reckon on always finding there an abundant acorn-harvest.”

A sanctuary for the Paiute people recorded by Dr. Lafayette H. Bunnell in his book “The Discovery of the Yosemite, and the Indian war of 1851, which led to that event”, page 231;

“…drawing us into the canyons of the Tuolumne [ed. Hetch Hetchy], where were some Pai-utes [Paiutes] wintering in a valley like Ah-wah-ne [Ahwahnee]”.

When the 1872 Lone Pine earthquake hit the Paiutes ran to a place that had always been a sanctuary and a safe haven for them, and that place was Hetch Hetchy Valley.

Independence County court house after the earthquake.

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Yosemite Valley Native man and his favorite tree


Photo of Yosemite-Mono Lake Paiute Bridgeport Tom standing in front of his favorite tree, the big yellow pine that was well known in Yosemite.

Yosemite – Mono Lake Paiute Bridgeport Tom had a favorite tree in Yosemite. It was a famous gigantic old yellow pine. Yosemite Nature Notes published a story of the bond between the two here;

http://www.yosemite.ca.us/library/yosemite_nature_notes/31/31-8.pdf

In Yosemite there was a yellow pine that was one of the largest trees that towered over the rest. Many old timers remember the tree which was located a mile west of the Old Village and almost in the shade of Sentinel Rock. Around 1951 snow removal crews found the large yellow pine lying across the path to Yellow Pine Beach, which was named after the tree. The massive tree finally fell and no one was around to see it happen.

But that is not all of the story. In the August 1952 Yosemite Nature Notes story it mentioned how one Paiute man loved that tree and his name was Bridgeport Tom. Here is an excerpt of the tie between him and the old yellow pine:

“But there is more of interest to this tree than its unusual size and length. It is Bridgeport Tom’s tree that has at last fallen, and in this fact alone there is a story to tell which should awaken the memories of the old timers of the valley. A young Paiute Indian surnamed Tom, skilled in breaking and training horses in his early days in the valley when he worked for Coffman and Kenny on a settlement near the present Ahwahnee Hotel. In the off-season periods he operated a horse ranch near Mono Lake, where he raised and trained horses. Bridgeport Tom was famous in his younger days as an enthusiastic horseman who entered many racing events held on holiday occasions in this area. In his later years he is described by his daughter, Lucy Telles, as “not a medicine man” but a man who could “heal through the spirit.” His connection with the great old yellow pine came about when he declared it his favorite tree in the valley and prophesied that he would die when it died.

No one knew the exact age of Bridgeport Tom when death claimed him on November 24, 1935, at Coleville, California. He had been in evidence in Bridgeport and in Yosemite for at least 80 years. As for his favorite tree, it is far more difficult to write a death certificate indicating the moment of death for a tree than for a man, but we do know that the big pine did die fairly close in the time to Old Tom.”

The old yellow pine and Paiute Bridgeport Tom will always be a part of Yosemite National Park’s history. Bridgeport Tom, a Paiute man who loved that old yellow tree, would travel back and forth from Coleville, Mono Lake and Yosemite. Bridgeport Tom never lived around western Mariposa County. He resided in the Paiute areas and traveled the old ancestral Mono Paiute trails that Chief Tenaya and the Ahwahneechees did.

The lives of the Yosemite-Mono Lake Paiute and the large famous old yellow pine were intertwined and this article is to honor the memory of these two.

Note: Bridgeport Tom was the father of many of the famous Yosemite – Mono Lake California Paiute basket makers. Coleville, Bridgeport and Mono Lake are Paiute areas, like Yosemite Valley.


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