Ahwahnechee people

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"Mariposa Indian Encampment, Yosemite Valley, California" by Albert Bierstadt, ca. 1872
Chief George Dick

The Ahwahnechee (also known as Ahwahnees and Ahwahneechee) are a Native American people who traditionally lived in the Yosemite Valley. They are related to the Northern Paiute and Mono tribes. The Ahwahnechee people's heritage can be found all over Yosemite National Park.[1]


The Ahwahnechee lived in Yosemite Valley for centuries.[2] European-American contact began after 1833. In 1851, during the Mariposa War, California State Militia troops of the Mariposa Battalion burned Ahwahnechee villages and took their food stores.[3] In 1852, a Mariposa expedition of US Federal troops heard a report that Ahwahnechee Indians killed two European-American miners at Bridalveil Meadows. The troops executed five Ahwahnechee men.[4]

Chief Tenaya (d. 1853) was a leader in Yosemite Valley. His father was Ahwahnechee.[5] He led his band away from Yosemite to settle with Paiutes in eastern California.[6] Tenaya has descendants living today.

The official canon says that the Ahwahnechee of Yosemite "became extinct" as a people in the 19th century; however, the US Federal government has evicted Yosemite Native people from the park in 1851, 1906, 1929, and 1969.[7]

Jay Johnson, an Ahwahnechee leader in the Mariposa Indian Council, hopes to get federal reocognition for Yosemite Indians.[7]

Plant use[edit]

The Ahwahnechee performed controlled burns in the Yosemite Valley that controlled undergrowth and maintained the oak population. Acorns were a central staple to their diet. Black oak acorns provided almost 60% of their diet.[8]

National Park Service naturalist, Will Neely created a list of the plants commonly used by the Ahwahnechee. Black oak, sugar pine, western juniper, canyon live oak, interior live oak, foothill pine, buckeye, pinyon pine nuts provided acorns and seeds for food. Other plants provided smaller seeds. Mariposa tulip, Golden Brodiaea, common camas, squaw root, and Bolander's yampah provided edible bulbs and roots. Greens eaten by the Ahwahnechee included broad-leaved lupine, common monkey flower, nude buckwheat, California thistle, miner's lettuce, sorrel, clover, umbrella plant, crimson columbine, and alum root. Strawberry, blackberry, raspberry, thimbleberry, wild grape, gooseberry, currant, blue elderberry, western choke cherry, Sierra plum, and greenleaf manzanita provided berries and fruits.[8]

The Ahwahnechee brewed drinks from whiteleaf manzanita and western juniper. Commonly used medicine plants included Yerba santa, yarrow, giant hyssop, Brewer's angelica, sagebrush, showy milkweed, mountain dogbane, balsamroot, California barberry, fleabane, mint, knotweed, wild rose, meadow goldenrod, mule ears, pearly everlasting, and the California laurel.[8]

The tribe used Soap plant and meadow rue to make soap. They used fibers from Mountain dogbane, showy milkweed, wild grape, and soap plant for cordage.[8]

Baskets were woven from splints of American dogwood, big-leaf maple, buckbrush, deer brush, willow, and California hazelnut[8] Additional bracken fern would add black colors to the basket and Redbud would provide red.

The tribe made bows from Incense-cedar, and Pacific dogwood. They built homes from Incense-cedar.[8]

Ahwahnechee place names[edit]

Some Ahwahnechee tribal names for areas around Yosemite Valley include the following:


The Ahwahnee Hotel and Ahwahneechee Village, a recreated 19th century tribal village, in Yosemite Valley are both named for the tribe, as are the Ahwahnee Heritage Days. Ahwahnee, California and Ahwahnee Estates, California are also named after the tribe.


  1. ^ "Above California". Above California. Retrieved 2013-12-28. 
  2. ^ Mazel, 97
  3. ^ Mazel, 100
  4. ^ Mazel, 98-99
  5. ^ L. H. Bunnell: Discovery of Yosemite: Chapter XVIII. (retrieved 8 Dec 2009)
  6. ^ Mazel, 99
  7. ^ a b Mazel, 162
  8. ^ a b c d e f Schaffer, Jeffrey P. "The Living Yosemite–The Ahwahnechee." 100 Yosemite Hikes. (retrieved 8 Dec 2009)
  9. ^ My Yosemite: A Guide for Young Adventurers, Mike Graf
  10. ^ Jackson, Helen Hunt. "Bits of Travel at Home (1878)." Yosemite Online Library. (retrieved 10 Dec 2009)