The Story of Tenaya

Tenaya Lodge at Yosemite owes its name to legendary Chief Tenaya, last chief of the people who live in what is now known as Yosemite Valley.

Chief Tenaya's father had been chief of the people of Ahwahnee ("gaping mouth" in the local dialect), as Yosemite Valley was known to the Ahwahneechee (people of Ahwahnee). Most people identify the Ahwahneechee as a band of Southern Sierra Miwok.

A great sickness swept through the valley and the Ahwahneechee fled over the mountains and settled among the Paiutes, where Tenaya's father married a Paiute woman. Chief Tenaya himself was born among the Paiutes. When he reached adulthood, he was induced by an old medicine man and friend of his father to return to the valley of his ancestors and to welcome there all who sought his protection. He gathered together remnants of his father's band along with some Mono Paiutes and others and returned to resettle Yosemite Valley.

In the wake of the Gold Rush, as settlers hungry for yellow metal poured into the mountains, Tenaya, now an old man, and his band marched downriver to attack two trading posts. In 1851, the owner of those trading posts, James Savage, received permission from the governor to form the Mariposa Battalion and march into the mountains to find and subdue Tenaya. Tenaya was captured, but he and his people soon returned to their home. On a second expedition to Yosemite that same year, one of Chief Tenaya's sons was killed, but the chief and his people again returned and lived in Yosemite Valley. But soon after, Tenaya's braves killed some miners entering the valley. Yet another military expedition was mounted and Tenaya and his people were expelled or captured. Chief Tenaya himself fled over the mountains back to the east side of the Sierra, only to die in 1853 in a dispute with the Paiutes.

Tenaya was known for his cunning, his bravery and for welcoming diverse people into his band. Tenaya Lodge is named in his honor. 


As with so much of the early history of Yosemite, much mystery and controversy remains and many aspects of the story are disputed. Much of what is here comes from Lafayette Bunnell's account of The Discovery of Yosemite. Bunnell was in the first party of white men to invade Yosemite Valley, but his book was written many years later and some parts of his account are disputed.