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Posts Tagged ‘Tuolumne history’

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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