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The Mariposa War (December 1850 - June 1851) was a conflict between Native Americans and miners in what was then the immense county of Mariposa in California.

Causes of the War

The Mariposa War was sparked by the 1849 California Gold Rush, the discovery of the gold forged a California Trail which forked off southward from the Oregon Trail. Thousands of hopeful gold seekers crossed this trail into northern California, which at this point in time consisted of mostly Native Americans, and Californios (the descendants of early Spanish settlers). By the end of May 1849, it is estimated that 40,000+ had entered Native American territory. This added diversity, with the land now containing many different immigrants from Mexico, South America, Europe, Australia, and China. This international mix swelled California's non-Native American population from some 14,000 in 1848 to 200,000 in 1852.

Outbreak of the War

The gold rush increased pressure on the Native Americans of California, because miners forced Native Americans off their gold-rich lands. Many were pressed into service in the mines; others had their villages raided by the army and volunteer militia. Some Native American tribes fought back, in the Mariposa War when the Ahwahneechees, and the Chowchilla in the Sierra Nevada and San Joaquin Valley led a raid on the Fresno River post of James D. Savage, in December 1850.

In retaliation Mariposa County Sheriff James Burney led local militia in an indecisive clash with the natives on January 11, 1851 on a mountainside near present-day Oakhurst, California.

Mariposa Battalion

An appeal to the Governor John McDougal for help led to the organization of the Mariposa Battalion under "Major" James D. Savage, commanding companies led by Captain John J. Kuykendall, Captain John Boling, and Captain William Dill. Meanwhile a federal Indian commission, sought a peaceful solution. On March 19, 1851, the Commissioners signed a treaty at Camp Fremont with six tribes. However, the Ahwahneechees and Chowchillas were absent, so the campaign against them began on March 19.

1st Campaign

Captain Kuykendall's Company A went south to the King's and upper Kaweah Rivers and to the Tulare Valley. Arriving at the King's River, scouts located a large Chowchilla village. A quick march brought the troops to the site, and the Indians offered battle. Company A charged into their camp, routing and killing a number, while others were ridden down and taken prisoners. Kuykendall's Company pursued the fugitives in a running flight until compelled to leave their horses. This allowed the Chowchilla to elude pursuit. Kuykendall continued to the headwaters of the Kahweah River, but failed to locate the fugitives. A few days later, a Chowchilla delegation entered their camp to sue for peace. The offer of peace was accepted and arrangements were made to transport them to the reservation on the San Joaquin River. Kuykendall returned to the Battalion camp on Mariposa Creek in early April.

Meanwhile, in their first campaign, the companies of Boling and Dill followed the natives into the mountains, marching in rain, sleet and 3 to 5 foot snow drifts. They discovered the Ahwahneechees Yosemite Valley refuge on March 27 but found few natives.

2nd Campaign

The second campaign began on April 13, against the Chowchillas, and destroyed their food stores, but again the natives were able to elude their pursuers. However, the death of their chief induced the Chowchillas to surrender and accept reservation status.

3rd Campaign

When the Ahwahneechees refused to come to Camp Barbour and make peace, a third campaign was launched against them. The Ahwahneechees were captured at Lake Tenaija (named for their chief) on May 22, and forced to accept reservation life. The company escorted the natives to the reservation and returned to the Mariposa Creek post. On July 1, the Mariposa Battalion mustered out, marking the end of the Mariposa War.

See also


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