The Story of a Yosemite Miwok Chief
By Elizabeth of Woodland School


Chief Tenaya was born with the Mono tribe, (probably in about 1830) who lived on the eastern side of the Sierras near Mono Lake. Later in his life he gathered his father's old tribe around him, and made the trip to Yosemite Valley. Tenaya and his people claimed Yosemite Valley as the birthright of his tribe. Tenaya and his small tribe were able to live in Yosemite for many years in peace.

Tenaya had very dark eyes, generous mouth (without thick lips) and a broad nose. His hair was very long and black. He was full in strength and very adventurous. It is said he once fought the most feared beast in Yosemite, "The Bear." The time had long passed when the young chief would normally have arranged for a wife. If Tenaya ever got married, it was a sign that he would stay with the village for life. Late in his life he ended up getting married to a woman named Loiya. Loiya came all the way from The Tuolumne River area. She was traveling with her family at the time. Her skin was much darker than Tenaya's. Loiya loved to prepare the most delicious foods and loved all nature.

Chief Tenaya was a wonderful poet and a beautiful dreamer. At cry ceremonies, ( a ceremony when someone had died) Tenaya was the one who got to sing and dance around the fire. The cry ceremonies lasted for five days. A day before it started, they would take a piece of milkweed and tie five knots in it. For every day of the ceremony, they would untie one knot.

Tenaya and Loiya had three sons, Latta, Till and Seethkill. They were very active. Seethkill had been the most active baby. He was fun and full of tricks. Instead of making a fire, he preferred using a neighbor's. He enjoyed trapping mice and training them. He was considered to be the finest flautist in the village. His sound was easy on the ear, like a rabbit pelt.

Till, the middle son, had shown strong interest in the people and their languages. He took great pains in learning new languages when feasts came around. Till was bigger and stronger than Seethkill. Of course, Seethkill was younger than Till. But Seethkill's shoulders and chest were very strong and his legs were small. Till's ankles were like Tenaya's, very small. It was Till who often got to carry news to neighbors. He was the strongest, but not the fastest runner in the village.

Latta, the oldest son, was the steady one. First born sons may be favored more carefully and constantly than the others. He was the first son and received most of the attention.

Tenaya loved his sons and wanted each of them to have a happy and wonderful life in Yosemite. He wished the best for all three sons.

In 1851, after many conflicts with the white settlers, Tenaya and his tribe were moved to King's River and Tejon reservations. Tenaya, Chief of the "Grizzlies", was affected by the change of his surroundings and by the humiliation of defeat. He suffered from the hot weather and lack of freedom. Tenaya and a group of his followers escaped. The army followed them and a battle occurred. Tenaya was captured and one of his sons killed. Upon being brought to the reservation Tenaya spoke:

"My people do not want anything from the Great Father you tell us about. The Great Spirit is our Father and he has supplied us with all we need. We do not want anything from white men. Let us remain in the mountains where we were born, where the ashes of our fathers have been given to the winds."

Tenaya was finally allowed to depart the reservation with his family and he joined some of his old tribe, too. Soon after they returned to Yosemite, the Mono tribe had set a plan for Tenaya to be killed. The Monos killed him and many other of his warriors. His death was very sad, but at least he died in his homeland, Yosemite.