Visitor Guide
Get Our Newsletter
Blog Celebrating Local Native American Cultures
12/22/2022Museums, History & Culture |   

The Yosemite and the Southern Yosemite region are home to several Native American cultures, including the Mono, Chukchansi, and Ahwaneechee tribes. Each of these cultures has a rich history and unique traditions that have shaped their way of life for centuries and shaped much of the region as well.

Many Thousands of Years Of Living Here

Archeological evidence has proven that Native Americans have been calling the Sierra Nevada region home for at least 8,000 – 12,000 years. Within Yosemite itself, Indians have been residing here for at least 4,000 years.

The Different Nations That Called Yosemite Home

During the 19th century, east of the Sierra Crest lived the Mono Lake Paiute, while west of the crest, it was the Southern Sierra Miwuk. The word “Miwuk” or sometimes spelled “Miwok” or “Me-Wuk” translates as “people.” It’s used to identify persons who are descended from any of the several Miwok groups in California.


Within Yosemite Valley proper, the group that originally lived there was called the “Ahwahneechees.” The name derived from the valley’s name “Ahwahnee” meaning gaping mouth. They believed the Great Spirit guided them from their original home to this location. In their new home surrounded by vertical walls of granite and with warlike prowess, they were secure from attack. The tribe was respected by all others that lived in the mountains. Unfortunately, an evil came over into the valley, and through wars and pestilence, decimated the tribe. The surviving members them left Yosemite Valley.

How The Yosemite Name Came To Be

Through the region's oral history, a noble youth from the Tribe who had lived among the Monos married a tribe maiden. They had a son named Teneiya. When he had grown, he gathered the remnants of the tribe and returned to the Valley of Ahwahnee. It was many years later, when the Mariposa Battalion entered the valley, the battalion's physician, Dr. L.H. Bunnell, misunderstood Tenaiya. In Dr. Bunnell's words:

As I did not take a fancy to any of the names proposed, I remarked that “an American name would be the most appropriate;” that “I could not see any necessity for going to a foreign country for a name for American scenery—the grandest that had ever yet been looked upon. That it would be better to give it an Indian name than to import a strange and inexpressive one; that the name of the tribe who had occupied it, would be more appropriate than any I had heard suggested.” I then proposed “that we give the valley the name of Yo-sem-i-ty, as it was suggestive, euphonious, and certainly American; that by so doing, the name of the tribe of Indians which we met leaving their homes in this valley, perhaps never to return, would be perpetuated.” . . . . upon a viva voce vote being taken, it was almost unanimously adopted.

Gold Fever – The Beginning Of Plight Against The Natives

When gold was discovered in the Sierra, the rush of European settlers arrived and began to affect the original residents. Many miners with this “fever” wouldn’t let people, nature, or anything else stop them from getting rich. In the process, thousands of Miwok were killed or died of starvation.

Over the 20th century, the number of Miwok residing in the valley continued to decline. The older Indian village was disbanded in the early 1930’s and replaced with cabins. Over the coming decades, the NPS slowly removed the housing until it was completely removed in 1969.

In today’s era, there are still fifteen families living IN the valley with hundreds calling Madera county home.

Our annual Visit Yosemite | Madera County Visitors Guide can answer all your questions about visiting California's Gateway to Yosemite. From the park itself to the museums, wineries, art galleries and more throughout Madera County, our guide can help you plan the perfect vacation. Please note that we mail to the USA only, but anyone can download the guide.
Visit Yosemite - Madera County
Oakhurst Visitor Center, 40343 Highway 41, Oakhurst, CA 93644
(559) 683-4636
Email us!

Summer Hours - 7 days a week: 8:30 am to 4:30 pm
Winter Hours - Monday thru Saturday 8:30 am to 4:30 pm

Developed by Drozian Webworks | ©2023 Southern Yosemite Visitors Bureau. All Rights Reserved.