Canku Ota


(Many Paths)


An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


February 24, 2001 - Issue 30



Madera Students Take on
1851 Mariposa Indian War


by Charles McCarthy Fresno Bee


 art Wagon Boss by Charles Russell

MADERA -- History students who ride covered wagons next month in the Madera County mountains will have to decide whose rights were trampled in the 1851 Mariposa Indian War.

That's the conflict that led Maj. James D. Savage and his army of about 200 settlers 150 years ago to accidentally discover Yosemite Valley. They were chasing a band of American Indians suspected of sacking Savage's trading post, killing his clerk and two other men.

"Go to 'Savage damage claims,'" teacher Bill Coate told a class of fourth-graders scanning Internet files Thursday at Sierra Vista Elementary School. "Jim Savage said the Indians stole a bunch of stuff."

Many of his Sierra Vista students will be aboard March 20 when Coate's annual wagon train follows the call to "giddyap" along the same Fresno River Trail used by Savage, his troops and the American Indian raiders 150 years ago.

On March 26, Coate will circle the wagons near a large acorn "grinding rock" used by the early-day American Indians. It's about 15 miles from the present-day town of Raymond.

At an outdoor council, the youngsters will decide whether the American Indians had a right to attack Savage's nearby trading post. Or were the settlers just defending their own rights?

A show of hands Thursday among 35 fourth-graders showed that all believed the settlers were right. But after Coate challenged the class, most changed their minds about the American Indians.

"This is your home ... the river, the woods," Coate said. "All of a sudden, strangers come in. And they act like they own the place."

A girl named Britany, new in the class after moving from Texas, joined in about the settlers: "They look funny. They talk funny."

Coate continued the debate with the fifth-graders in his next class. It should have been called the Madera County Indian War, he said while quizzing the children about the geography, the people involved, property rights and cultural clash.

The American Indians were wrong, a fifth-grader named Zach told Coate, "because he Savage set up his trading post. He did a lot of work."

"The Indians were there first," Coate advised. "It was their land. It was their home."

Zach countered: "Yes, but it's not legally theirs. They only had the land. They didn't have property."

It wasn't a debate without documentation. Coate's classes have downloaded a wealth of material from Internet research. Among the documents is a $25,150 inventory of Savage's claimed losses. It includes $13,000 worth of trading-post merchandise, 18 mules, 12 head of oxen and "two fine horses."

Savage blamed the Chowchilla, Chukchansee and Pohuniche tribes for the deadly raid. His claim was addressed to Adam Johnson, United States Sub-Agent Valley of San Joaquin. Savage noted that he had built his trading post with official government sanction.

Coate's students also have a March 8, 1851, letter printed in the Alta California newspaper. The letter tells of "Another Indian Massacre" near what is now the foothill community of O'Neals.

Four settlers were killed in that "ambuscade."

Whatever verdict Coate's students reach on this year's wagon track won't be the first for his Madera Method of making history real, using everything from the Internet to covered wagons.

Last year's wagon train led Coate's students from the Raymond Cemetery to the old Madera County courthouse.

There, in a July mock trial, the students helped set straight the history of a long-unsolved 1902 killing of a Raymond hotel owner, allegedly by U.S. Army Cavalry troopers.

Coate expects this year's wagon train to follow in last year's foot- and hoofprints. If there's controversy, so be it. That's history.

"But we have a lot to learn between now and then,'' Coate warned this year's students.

The reporter can be reached at or 675-6804.

Yosemite Park


Yosemite Park History




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