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Indians of the Yosemite Valley and vicinity : thier [sic] history, customs and traditions online

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feathers are supposed to aid in the more
accurate flight of the arrow when shot from
the bow.

When out on a hunt the Indian carried
his bow strung ready for use, and his bun-
dle of assorted arrows in a quiver made of
the skin of a small fox, wild-cat or fisher,
hung conveniently over his shoulder.

These primitive weapons, which were in
universal use by the Yosemite Indians fifty
years ago, are now never seen except in
some collection of Indian relics and curios.

Other articles manufactured by these
tribes were stone hammers, and also others
made from the points of deer horns mount-
ed on wooden handles, which they used in
delicately chipping the brittle obsidian in
forming arrowheads. Rude musical instru-
ments, principally drums and flageolets,
were also made.


The Indians of the Yosemite Valley and
vicinity have a great fund of mythological
lore, which has been handed down verbally
from generation to generation for hundreds
of years, but they are very reluctant to
speak of these legends to white people, and
it is extremely difficult to get reliable in-
formation on the subject. Moreover, the
Indians most familiar with them have
not a sufficient knowledge of the English
language to be able to express their ideas

Many Yosemite legends have been pub-
lished at different times and in various
forms, and it is probable that most of them
have had at least a foundation in real In-
dian myths, but many are obviously fanci-
ful in some particulars, and it is impossible
to tell how much is of Indian origin and
how much is due to poetic embellishment.
When asked about some of these legends,
many years ago, one of the old Yosemite


Indians remarked contemptuously, "White
man too much lie. ' '

*0n the other hand, red men as well as
white men are sometimes given to romanc-
ing, and I have known of cases where
"legends" would be manufactured on the
spur of the moment by some young Indian
to satisfy an importunate and credulous
questioner, to the keen but suppressed
amusement of other Indians present.

It will therefore be seen that this sub-
ject is surrounded with some difficulty, and
it must not be understood that the legends
here given are vouched for as of wholly In-
dian origin. Some of them, notably those
of the Tul-tok'-a-na and the second legend
of Tis-sa'-ack, have been accepted by emi-
nent ethnologists, and are believed to be
purely aboriginal, while others have doubt-
less been somewhat idealized in translation
and in the course of numerous repetitions.

The legend of To-tau-kon-nu'-la and
Tis-sa'-ack is made up of fragments of
mythological lore obtained from a number
of old Indians at various times during the
past fifty years. It varies somewhat from
other legends which have been published


regarding these same characters, but it is
well known that the Indians living in
Yosemite in recent years are of mixed tribal
origin and do not all agree as to the tradi-
tional history of the region, nor the names
of the prominent scenic features, nor even
of the Valley itself. And this largely ac-
counts for the fact that some of the legends
do not harmonize with each other in details
or in sentiment. All of them, however, are
picturesque, and they certainly give an
added interest to the natural beauties and
wonders with which they are associated.



Innumerable moons and snows have
passed since the Great Spirit guided a little
band of his favorite children into the beau-
tiful vale of Ah-wah'-nee,* and bid them
stop and rest from their long and weary
wanderings, which had lasted ever since
tney had been separated by the great waters
from the happy land of their forefathers in
the far distant El-o'-win (West).

* Yosemite Valley.

Photoffraph by Boysen.


Daughter of Captain John, one of the last Chiefs
of the Yosemites.


Here they found food in abundance for
all. The rivers gave them plenty of la-pe'-si
(trout). They found in the meadows sweet
h'a'-ker (clover), and sour yu-yu'-yu-mah
(oxalis) for spring medicine, and sweet
toori-gy and other edible roots in abun-
dance. The trees and bushes yielded acorns,
pine nuts, fruits and berries. In the forests
were herds of he'-ker (deer) and other ani-
mals, which gave meat for food and skins
for clothing and beds. And here they lived
and multiplied, and, as instructed by their
medicine men, worshipped the Great Spirit
which gave them life, and the sun which
warmed and made them happy.

They also kept in memory the happy land
of their forefathers. The story was told by
the old people to the young, and they again
told it to their children from generation to
generation, and they all believed that after
death their spirits would return to dwell
forever in that distant country.

They prospered and built other towns out-
side of Ah-wah'-nee, and became a great
nation. They learned wisdom by experience
and by observing how the Great Spirit
taught the animals and insects to live, and


they believed that their children could ab-
sorb the cunning of the wild creatures. And
so the young son of their chief tain was made
to sleep in the skins of the beaver and coy-
ote, that he might grow wise in building,
and keen of scent in following game. On
some days he was fed with la-pe'-si that he
might become a good swimmer, and on oth-
er days the eggs of the great to-tau'-kon
(crane) were his food, that he might grow
tall and keen gf sight, and have a clear,
ringing voice. He was also fed on the flesh
of the he'-ker that he might be fleet of foot,
and on that of the great yo-sem'-i-te (griz-
zly bear) to make him powerful in combat.

And the little boy grew up and became a
great and wise chieftain, and he was also a
rain wizard, and brought timely rains for
the crops.

As was the custom in giving names to all
Indians, his name was changed from time
to time, as his character developed, until
he was called Choo'-too-se-ka', meaning the
Supreme Good. His grand o'-chum
(house) was built at the base of the great


rock called To-tau-kon-nu'-la,* because the
great to-tau'-kons made their nests and
raised their young in a meadow at its sum-
mit, and their loud ringing cries resounded
over the whole Valley.

As the moons and snows passed, this
great rock and all the great rocky walls
around the Valley grew in height, and the
hills became high mountains.

After a time Choo'-too-se-ka' built him-
self a great palace o'-chum on the summit
of the rock To-tau-kon-nu'-la, and had his
great chair of state a little west of his pal-
ace, where on all festival occasions he could
overlook and talk to the great multitude
below; and the remains of this chair are
still to be seen.

Choo'-too-se-ka' was then named To-tau-
kon-nu'la, because he had built his o'-chum
on the summit of the great rock and taken
the place of the to-tau'-kons. He had no
wife, but all the women served him in his
domestic needs, as he was their great chief,
and his wishes were paramount. The many
valuable donations which he received from

* El Capitan.


liis people at the great annual festivals
made him wealthy beyond all personal
wants, and he gave freely to the needy.

One day, while standing on the top of the
great dome* above the south wall of the
Valley, watching the great herds of deer, he
saw some strange people approaching,
bearing heavy burdens. They were fairer
of skin, and their clothing was different
from that of his people, and when they
drew near he asked them who they were
and whence they came.

And a woman replied, "I am Tis-sa'-ack,
and these are some of my people. We come
from cat' -tan chu'-huch (far South). I
have heard of your great wisdom and
goodness, and have come to see you and
your people. We bring you presents of
many fine baskets, and beads of many col-
ors, as tokens of our friendship. When we
have rested and seen your people and beau-
tiful valley we will return to our home. ' '

To-tau-kon-nu'-la was much pleased with
his fair visitor, and built a large o'-chum
for her and her companions on the summit

* Sentinel Dome.

Pholoyrapli hi/ /'.'xAv .


5,000 Feet.

Named for a woman in Indian mythology who
was turned to stone for quarreling with her
husband. See "Legend of Tis-sa'-ack."


of the great dome at the east end of the
Valley,* and this dome still retains her

And she tarried there and taught the
women of Ah-wah'-nee how to make the
beautiful baskets which they still make at
the present day ; and To-tau-kon-nu'-la vis-
ited her daily, and became charmed with her
loveliness, and wanted her to remain and
be his wife, but she denied him, saying, i ' I
must return to my people, " and, when
he still persisted, she left her o'-chum in the
night and was never seen again. And the
love-stricken chieftain forgot his people,
and went in search of her, and they waited
manymoons for his return and mourned his
long absence, but they never saw him more.

This was the beginning of a series of
calamities which nearly destroyed the great
tribe of Ah-wah-nee'-chees. First a great
drouth prevailed, and the crops failed, and
the streams of water dried up. The deer
went wild and wandered away. Then a
dark cloud of smoke arose in the East and
obscured the sun, so that it gave no heat,

* Half Dome.


and many of the people perished from cold
and hunger. Then the earth shook terribly
and groaned with great pain, and enormous
rocks fell from the walls around Ah-wah'-
nee. The great dome called Tis-sa'-ack
was burst asunder, and half of it fell into
the Valley. A fire burst out of the earth
in the East, and the ca'-lah (snow) on
the sky mountains was changed to water,
which flowed down and formed the Lake
Ah-wei'-yah.* And all the streams were
filled to overflowing, and still the waters
rose, and there was a great flood, so that
a large part of the Valley became a
lake, and many persons were drowned.

After a time the Great Spirit took pity on
his children, and the dark cloud of smoke
disappeared, the sun warmed the Valley
again into new life, and the few people who
ivere left had plenty of food once more.

Many moons afterwards there appeared
on the face of the great rock To-tau-kon-
nu'-la the figure of a man in a flowing robe,
and with one hand extended' toward the
West, in which direction he appears to be

* Mirror Lake.


traveling. This figure was interpreted to be
the picture of the great lost Chieftain, indi-
cating that he had gone to the "happy hunt-
ing grounds " of his ancestors, and it is
looked upon with great veneration and awe
by the few Indians still living in Yosemite.
At about the same time the face of the
beautiful Tis-sa'-ack appeared on the great
flat side of the dome which bears her name,
and the Indians recognized her by the way
in which her dark hair was cut straight
across her forehead and fell down at the
sides, which was then considered among the
Yosemites as the acme of feminine beauty,
and is so regarded to this day.


Tis-sa'-ack and her husband traveled
from a far-off country, and entered the Val-
ley footsore and weary. She walked ahead,
carrying a great conical burden-basket,
which was supported by a band across her
forehead, and was filled with many things.
He followed after, carrying a rude staff in
his hand and a roll of woven skin blankets
over his shoulder. They had come across
the mountains and were very thirsty, and


they hurried to reach the Valley, where they
knew there was water. The woman was
still far in advance when she reached the
Lake Ah-wei'yah,* and she dipped up the
water in her basket and drank long and
deep. She was so thirsty that she even
drank up all the water in the lake and
drained it dry before her husband arrived.
And because the lake was dry there came a
terrible drouth in the Valley, and the soil
was dried up and nothing grew.

And the husband was much displeased
oecause the woman had drunk up all the
water and left none for him, and he became
so angry that he forgot the customs of his
people and beat the woman with his staff.
She ran away from him, but he followed her
and beat her yet more. And she wept, and
in her anger she turned and reviled her hus-
band, and threw ner basket at him. And
while they were in this attitude, one facing
the other, they were turned into stone for
tneir wickedness, and there they still re-
main. The upturned basket lies beside the
husband, where the woman threw it, and

* Mirror Lake.


the woman's face is tear stained with long
dark lines trailing down.

Half-Dome is the woman Tis-sa'-ack and
North Dome is her husband, while beside
the latter is a smaller dome whicn is still
called Basket Dome to this day.


The significance and derivation of the
name "Yosemite," as given by old Tenei'-
ya, chief of the tribe, have been explained
in another chapter, but there is also a
legendary account of its origin, which may
be of interest.

Long, long ago, when the remote ances-
tors of the Yosemite Indians dwelt peace-
fully in the valley called Ah-wah'-nee,* one
of the stalwart young braves of the tribe
went early one morning to spear some fish
in the lake Ah-wei'-yah.f Before reaching
his destination he was confronted by a huge
grizzly bear, who appeared from behind one
of the enormous boulders in that vicinity,
and savagely disputed his passage.

Being attacked in this unexpected man-
ner, the Indian defended himself to the best

* Yosemite Valley.
t Mirror Lake.

Photograph ~by Fiske.


3,725 Feet.

This rock is believed by the Indians to represent
Tis-sa'-ack's husband, turned into stone for
beating 1 his wife. The lower dome to the
right is the basket which she threw at him.
See "Leg-end of Tis-sa'-ack."


of his ability, .using for the purpose the
dead limb of a tree which was near at hand,
and, after a long and furious struggle, in
which he was badly wounded, he at length
succeeded in killing the bear.

His exploit was considered so remark-
able by the rest of the tribe that they called
him Yo-sem'-i-te (meaning a full-grown
grizzly bear), in honor of his achievement,
and this name was transmitted to his chil-
dren, and eventually to the whole tribe.


There were once two little boys living in
the Valley of Ah-wah'-nee, who went down
to the river to swim. When they had finished
their bath they went on shore and lay down
on a large boulder to dry themselves in the
sun. While lying there they fell asleep, and
slept so soundly that they never woke up
again. Through many moons and many
snows they slept, and while they slept the
great rock* on which they lay was slowly
rising, little by little, until it soon lifted
them up out of sight, and their friends
searched for them everywhere without suc-

* El Capitan.

bu F<>!< 11.

3,300 Feet.

The Indians believe that this great rock grew
from a small boulder. See "Legend of the


cess. Thus they were carried up into the
blue sky, until they scraped their faces
against the moon; and still they slept on.

Then all the animals assembled to bring
down the little boys from the top of the
great rock. Each animal sprang up the
face of the rock as far as he could. The
mouse could only spring a hand's breadth,
the rat two hands' breadths, the raccoon a
little more, and so on. The grizzly bear
made a great leap up the wall, but fell back
like all the others, without reaching the top.
Finally came the lion, who jumped up
farther than any of the others, but even he
fell back and could not reach the top.

Then came the tul-tok'-a-na, the insignifi-
cant measuring worm, who was despised by
all the other creatures, and began to creep
up the face of the rock. Step by step, little
by little, he measured his way up until he
was soon above the lion's jump, and still
farther and farther, until presently he was
out of sight ; and still he crawled up and up,
day and night, through many moons, and at
length he reached the top, and took the little
boys and brought them safely down to the
ground. And therefore the rock was named


for the measuring worm, and was called


I will here relate a personal experience
which occurred in September, 1857, while
out with a large party of Indians on a deer
hunt in the mountains.

One day, after a long tramp, I stopped to
rest by the side of a small lake about eight
miles from the present site of Wawona, and
I then named it Grouse Lake on account of
the great number of grouse found there.
Very soon a party of Indians came along
carrying some deer, and stopped on the op-
posite side of the lake to rest and get some
water. Soon after they had started again
for their camp I heard a distinct wailing
cry, somewhat like the cry of a puppy when
lost, and I thought the Indians must have
left one of their young dogs behind.

When I joined the Indians in camp that
night I inquired of them about the sound I
had heard. They replied that it was not a
dog that a long time ago an Indian boy
had been drowned in the lake, and that
every time any one passed there he always
cried after them, and that no one dared to


go in the lake; for lie would catch them by
the legs and pull them down and they would
be drowned. I then concluded that it must
have been some unseen water-fowl that
made the cry, and at that time I thought
that, the Indians were trying to impose on
my credulity, but I am now convinced that
they fully believed the story they told me.
Po-ho'-no Lake, the headwaters of the
Bridal Veil Creek, was also thought to be
haunted by troubled spirits, which affected
the stream clear down in the Yosemite
Valley; and the Indians believed that an
evil wind there had been the cause of some
fatal accidents many years ago. The word
Po-ho'-no means a puffing wind, and has
also been translated "Evil Wind," on ac-
count of the superstition above referred to.


Tee-hee'-nay was a beautiful Ah-wah'-nee
maiden, said to be the most beautiful of her
tribe, and she was beloved by Kos-su'-kah,
a strong and valiant young brave. Valuable
presents had been made to the bride's par-
ents, and they had given their consent to an
early marriage, which was to be celebrated
by a great feast.

Photograph by Fixke.


940 Feet.

The source of this stream is supposed by the
Indians to be haunted by troubled spirits,
which affect the water along- its whole course.
The word Po-ho'-no means a "puffing- wind."


To provide ah abundance of venison and
other meat for this banquet, Kos-suVkah
gathered together his young companions
and went into the mountains in search of
game. In order that Tee-hea'-nay might
know of his welfare and the success of the
hunt, it was agreed between the lovers that
at sunset Kos-su'kah should go to the high
rock to the east of Cho'-lak,* and should
shoot an arrow into the Valley, to which
should be attached a number of grouse
feathers corresponding to the number of
deer that had fallen before the skill of the

At the time appointed Tee-hee'-nay went
near the foot of the great cliff and waited,
with her eyes raised to the towering rocks
above, hoping with her keen sight to see the
form of her lover outlined against the sky,
but no form could she see, and no arrow
fell into the Valley. As darkness gathered,
gloomy forebodings took possession of her,
and she climbed part way up the canyon
called Le-ham'-i-teet because the arrow-
wood grew there, and finally she stood at

* Yosemite Falls.

t Now known as Indian Canyon.


the very foot of the rocky wall which rose
to dizzy heights above her, and there she
waited through the long night.

With the first streak of dawn she bounded
swiftly up the rough canyon, for she was
fully convinced that some terrible fate had
overtaken the brave Kos-su'-kah, and soon
she stood upon the lofty summit,* where
she found her lover's footsteps leading to-
wards the edge of the precipice. Drawing
nearer she was startled to find that a por-
tion of the cliff had given way, and, upon
peering over the brink, what was her hor-
ror to discover the blood-stained and life-
less body of Kos-su'-kah lying on a rocky
ledge far beneath.

Summoning assistance by means of a sig-
nal fire, which was seen from the Valley
below, a rope was made of sapling tama-
racks lashed firmly together with thongs
from one of the deer that was to have
furnished the marriage feast, and Tee-hee'-
nay herself insisted on being lowered over
the precipice to recover the body of her
lover. This was at last successfully accom-
plished, and when his ghastly form lay once

* Yosemite Point.


more upon the rocky summit, she threw
herself on his bosom and gave way to a
passionate outburst of grief .

Finally she became quiet, but when they
stooped to raise her they found that her
spirit had fled to join the lost Kos-su'-kah,
and that the lovers were re-united in death.

The fateful arrow that was the cause of
so much sorrow could never be found,
and the Indians believe that it was taken
away by the spirits of Kos-su'-kah and
Tee-hee'-nay. In memory of them, and of
this tragedy, the slender spire of rock* that
rises heavenward near the top of the cliff ,at
this point is known among the Indians as
Hum-mo 7 , or the Lost Arrow.

* Sometimes called "The Devil's Thumb."


Secure stage seats in advance.

Take only hand baggage, unless for a
protracted visit. For a short trip, an out-
ing suit and two or three waists, with a
change for evening wear, will be found
sufficient. The free baggage allowance on
the stage lines is fifty pounds.

Men will find flannel or negligee shirts
the most comfortable.

In April, May and June wear warm cloth-
ing and take heavy wraps. In July, August
and September wear medium clothing, with
light wraps. In October and November
wear warm clothing, with heavy wraps.
The nights are cool at all seasons.

Dusters are always advisable, and ladies
should provide some light head covering to
protect the hair from dust. Sun bonnets
are frequently worn.

Short skirts are most convenient.

Divided skirts are proper for trail trips,
as ladies are required to ride astride.


Heavy denim for skirt and bloomers is very
satisfactory. Such skirts can be hired in
the Valley.

Waists of soft material and neutral
shades are appropriate. Avoid white.

Something absolutely soft for neckwear
will be found a great comfort, both by men
and women.

Leggings, stout, comfortable shoes, and
heavy, loose gloves, will be found very

A soft felt hat is preferable to straw. One
that will shade the eyes is best. A cloth
traveling cap is the worst thing to wear.

Smoked glasses will sometimes save the
wearer a headache.

Except in April, May and November, an
umbrella is apt to be a useless encumbrance.

If the skin is sensitive, and one wishes to
avoid painful sunburn, the use of a pure
cream and soft cloth is preferable to water,
and far more efficacious.

A week is the shortest time that should
be allowed for a trip to Yosemite. Two
weeks are better. The grandeur of the
Valley cannot be fully appreciated in a few


Those not accustomed to stagiiig or moun-
tain climbing should make some allowance
in their itineraries for rest. Many visitors
spoil their pleasure by getting too tired.

Take a little more money than you think
will be needed. You may want to prolong
your stay.

Hunting, or the possession of firearms, is
not permitted in the Yosemite National
Park. Fishing is allowed, and in June and
July an expert angler is likely to be well
rewarded. Bods and tackle may be hired
in the Valley.

There is no hardship, risk or danger in
any part of the Yosemite trip. Many old
people and children visit the Valley with-
out difficulty.

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Online LibraryGalen ClarkIndians of the Yosemite Valley and vicinity : thier [sic] history, customs and traditions → online text (page 4 of 5)