Jim Savage

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For the New Zealand Paralympic athlete, see Jim Savage (athlete).

Jim Savage or James D. Savage, (1817–1852) was a California pioneer. He was a 49er, businessman, American soldier in the Mexican American War, and commander of the California Militia, Mariposa Battalion in the Mariposa War, and the discoverer of the Yosemite Valley.

Early years[edit]

James D. Savage was born in Morgan County, Illinois in 1817. When he was sixteen, his family settled in Princeton, Bureau County, Illinois. Although poorly educated he had a gift for learning languages. Savage married and moved to Peru, Illinois, where his daughter was born. In April 1846, Savage and his brother, Morgan, decided to migrate to California. At Independence, Missouri, they joined the party led by former Missouri Governor Lilburn Boggs for the trip to California. During the six-month journey, both his wife and child died.


Mexican American War[edit]

Boggs' party arrived in California in late October 1846, and Savage joined John Fremonts, California Battalion during the California Campaign of the Mexican American War. In April 1847, Frémont disbanded the battalion and Savage went to the San Joaquin Valley where he lived with the Tularenos and learned their language. He eventually married several daughters of the tribal leaders of the tribes in the Sierra foothill region and led them in war against other tribes as one of their chieftains.

Gold rush[edit]

After the discovery of gold at Sutters Mill, Savage established his own trading posts on Mariposa Creek and the Merced and Fresno Rivers where he traded for gold with the local tribes. In October 1850, he traveled to San Francisco with a band of Indians, and was said to have rolled a barrel full of gold dust through the lobby of the hotel where he was staying. When he returned to his post on the Fresno River, he found it had been raided and his employees killed by some of the tribesmen he had been trading with.


When local militia failed to quell the uprising of the tribes, the governor of California, John McDougall put Savage at the head of a unit of State Militia called the Mariposa Battalion with the rank of Major. On March 25, 1851, Savage marched at the head of a company of the Mariposa Battalion which included a Doctor Lafayette Bunnell, who wrote about the expedition. Marching into the Sierra wilderness, they came upon Yosemite Valley at Inspiration Point and became the first non-indigenous discoverers of Yosemite Valley. Discovery was not the main purpose of the trip: the Battalion rode out in search of Native American tribal leaders believed to have been involved in recent raids on American settlements. After campaigns up the rivers into the mountains and taking control of the Yosemite, the tribes submitted to moving to a reservation ending the Mariposa War and the Mariposa Battalion was disbanded.

Last years[edit]

Savage returned to his work as a trader, establishing posts at the new reservations. On July 2, 1852, white squatters entered the Kings River Reservation and several natives were massacred by whites led by Walter Harvey. Savage publicly denounced the action to pacify the tribes, and called upon the United States Indian Commissioners to conduct an inquiry. A council was to be held in August. While on his way to the council, Savage met Harvey, and an argument ensued in which Harvey demanded that Savage retract his statements about him. Savage struck Harvey on the chin, and Harvey pulled a pistol and killed Savage with four shots. Harvey was arrested and tried for murder, but not convicted. The fact that the judge trying the case had been placed on the bench by Harvey may have been a reason for the acquittal.