Native American Legends
The origin of Yosemite
A Miwok Legend
Long, long ago before the white man came to the West, a large happy
tribe of peaceful Indians lived among the trees of beautiful Oak
Canyon. This spectacular place is now known as Yosemite Valley,
situated in Yosemite National Park, California.
In the beginning these peaceful Indians were called Ah-wah-nees,
meaning "Deep Grass Valley," which was the first name
given to Yosemite Valley.
It is of interest to note that because of a printer's error at
a later date, the spelling of the tribe's name was inadvertently
changed to Yosemite. Now Yosemite National Park identifies the original
home of the Ah-wah-nee band (Yosemite), southern division of the
Today, the California State flag carries a picture of the grizzly
bear as a reminder of the State's official animal, Yo Semitee.
Ah-wah-nees were proud of their Chief, a tall and young athletic
man. Early one spring morning, he started off with his spears in
hand to hunt for trout in the nearby lake known as Sleeping Water.
Imagine his astonishment when he rounded a large boulder and came
face to face with an enormous grizzly bear, probably just out of
its winter hibernation!
Such an unexpected meeting caused both of them to rear back in
stunned surprise. Immediately, however, all of the fighting spirit
within each arose. They attacked one another furiously! The Chief
realized his fighting power was not equal to the great strength
of the grizzly.
"What can I do to help myself?" he wondered.
At that moment, he saw an oak limb within reach and grabbed it
for a weapon.
"I must do everything possible to subdue this bear, even if
it means my own death," he thought while he fought. "I
am determined that future Ah-wah-nee children will always remember
the proud and brave blood that flowed in the veins of their ancestors."
He pounded heavy blows, one after another, upon the head of the
grizzly bear. In return, the young Chief received innumerable cuts
from the bear's teeth and claws. They exchanged blows that could
have been death blows to either one, if each had not been determined
to survive. The grizzly bear's hunger drove him to attack; the Chief's
pride, courage, and great height strengthened his defense.
On and on they fought. Then when the Chief saw the eyes of the
bear glaze with a cold stare, he knew his great moment had come.
With his club raised overhead, the Chief brought down a whopping
smash upon the head of the bear, who then slowly slumped to the
ground. The Chief charged in to finish the task, making sure the
grizzly bear was dead.
Exhausted, the young Chief withdrew a short way to rest, but kept
his eyes upon the grizzly bear in case it revived. After some time,
when he was certain of the bear's death, the Chief stepped forward
and skinned the animal.
Later, dragging the bearskin behind him, the Chief returned to
his village and proclaimed his victory. Young and old braves gathered
to welcome him and to praise his success. The young braves took
off, following the trail where the bearskin dragged upon the ground.
They found the grizzly bear before any other wild animal had a chance
to claim it. Immediately, they set to work and butchered the bear
and then carried the parts back to their camp.
In the meantime, the braves prepared a huge fire and sent young
runners to the outlying camps, inviting all the people to an evening
The victory of their young Chief over the enormous grizzly bear
astounded all of the Ah-wah-nees. They cheered and cheered their
admiration for their great Chief. They renamed their hero, Chief
Yo Semitee, which means "Grizzly Bear."
Following the feast, the entire tribe gathered for a victory dance,
attired in all their fine beads and fine feathers. Chief Yo Semitee
sat and overlooked the celebration, smoking the peace pipe with
his tribal council. More feasting and dancing continued most of
the night, as Ah-wah-nees showed their affection for their young
and strong Chief.
Yo Semitee's children, and finally all of the tribe, became known
as Yo Semitees in honor of their brave Chief.
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