Yosemite Valley Plan, A Threat To Indian Culture

Cultural Genocide

Legends of the Yosemite Miwoks


Yosemite’s most distinctive monument, Half Dome, dominates most Valley views. Standing at the eastern end of Yosemite Valley, Half Dome rises to an elevation of 8,842 feet. At 87 million years old, the type of granite making up the dome is the youngest plutonic rock in the Valley. (Plutonic rock is formed beneath the earth’s surface by intense heat, pressure and slow cooling.)
The remaining portions of granite on Half Dome’s face are believed to have sheered off during its cooling phase 100 million years ago, deep under the Pacific seabed. Succeeding glaciers deposited some of the debris in moraines along the Valley floor.

If you ever read the book “Legends of the Yosemite Miwoks”, you might come across the legend of Tissayack, the legend of Yosemite’s beautiful Half Dome.
The book was done by the Yosemite Association. In the “Legends of the Yosemite Miwok” written by Yosemite National Park Indian Ethnologist Craig Bates and others you will read a ‘sanitized’ version of Tissayack. I write sanitized because in his book Craig D. Bates stripped all references of the original Yosemite Indian people. There are no Paiutes mentioned in the legend of Half Dome in his story.

Bates, who at the time of his early employment at Yosemite National Park was married to a Mewuk woman and we believe wanted to convey that Yosemite was a Miwok homeland, but that is not true to many Paiutes. Bates is also not a Native American.
What we Paiutes are going to do is relay the real story of the legend of Half Dome, and reveal the real meaning of Tissayack, something the Miwoks could not figure out what it meant. If they did they would have mentioned it before. This is because Tissayack is not a word found in the Miwok language.

Here is the Legend of Tissayack, the legend of Half Dome and what was left out by Craig D. Bates:

Many, many generations ago, long before the Creator had completed the fashioning of the magnificent cliffs in the Valley of Ahwahnee, there dwelt in the arid desert around Mono Lake an Indian couple. Learning from other Indians of the beautiful and fertile Valley of Ahwahnee, they decided to go there and make it their dwelling place. They began their journey into the Sierra Nevada towards Yosemite Valley, he carrying deer skins, and she holding a baby cradle in her arms and carrying a (wono) basket on her back. When the couple reached the site of present-day Mirror Lake, they began to quarrel. She wanted to go back to Mono Lake, but he refused, saying that no oaks or other trees grew there. He would not listen to her when she said she would plant seeds.

In despair, the girl began to cry and ran back toward the Paiute homeland of Mono Lake. Her husband grew angry and ran after her. To escape she threw the wono basket at him and it became Basket Dome. She continued running and threw the baby cradle at her husband. Today, we experience it as the Royal Arches. Because they had brought anger into Yosemite, the Creator became upset at the couple. The Creator in his anger turned the two into stone. He became North Dome and she became what we know as Half Dome. The Mono Lake Paiute girl regretted the quarrel and the rock wall she became, Half Dome, began to cry, thus forming Mirror Lake.

Today, you can still see the marks of those tears as they run down her face. And if you look very carefully at Half Dome, you can see it is fashioned after the way the Mono tribe looked, hair bobbed and cut in bangs. Her rock face stained with tears facing eastward towards their ancient homeland of Mono Lake.

In olden times the first white explorers called her South Dome, later Half Dome, but in Paiute she is known as T’ssiyakka or the English pronunciation Tissayack.

For decades many white historians have scratched their heads to the meaning of Half Dome’s Tissayack. Mistakenly they kept asking Mariposa Indians, also known as Miwoks, believing them to be the original Yosemite Indians and tellers of the legend, but if they had asked Paiutes at Mono Lake they would have translated it for them.

T’ssiyakka means “crying girl” or in Paiute “girl-cry”, which fits the legend of Half Dome and not the “Legends of the Yosemite Miwoks” of the girl turned to stone with tears running down her face. T’sia is girl and Yakka or yaga is cry in Paiute.

There are several variations of the legend of Half Dome and all but one does not mention Tissayack as a Mono Paiute. Interestingly Yosemite’s Craig Bates chose the one that did not mention the Mono Paiute maiden. As usual the Yosemite National Park Service does not believe anything the Indian people say, but instead they would rather rely on the “stories” of Craig D. Bates. The Park says that if is not written down or documented that we are just making that up. But Paiutes of the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada can prove what we are saying and even show that the Park was the one who supplied the answer.

1909804_111933571098_6573197_n  In 1997, Yosemite National Park Service and the Yosemite Fund paid another California Indian ethnologist named Brian Bibby, who knows Bates quite well, to interview elders who were descendent to the original Indians of Yosemite.
The Park was looking for Miwok history and what they got was actually Paiute Yosemite Indian history. One of Bibby’s informants was Gene Watts who’s great-grandmother was Leanna Tom, a Mono Lake Paiute married to Mono Lake Paiute Bridgeport Tom. (See Photo) Leanna Tom was an important basket maker and matriarch of those now claiming to be Southern Sierra Miwuks. Gene Watts told Brian Bibby that his great-grandmother, Leanna Tom, only spoke to him in Paiute and not Miwok.
Watts stated in the official Yosemite Oral History project, January 22nd 1997, that he recalled his great-grandmother calling Half Dome the Paiute name of Tassiyakka. This information is located at Yosemite National Park.

T’sia is girl and Yakka or yagga is cry in Paiute, or “Crying Girl”.

Even in the Legend of Half Dome in Yosemite Indians; Yesterday and Today (1941) by Elizabeth H. Godfrey, that Bates copied for his book “Legends of the Yosemite Miwok”, the Indian couple came from “the arid plains” and that they were entering Yosemite from the eastern side. Here is why. Mirror Lake, in the Half Dome legend, is on the route between Mono Lake and Yosemite Valley. If the couple was coming from the west or Mariposa they would have reached Yosemite Valley first before they were by Mirror Lake, because Mirror Lake is located on the far eastern side of the Valley.

Plus it was documented in the book “The Discovery of Yosemite” by Lafayette H. Bunnell, that Miwoks were afraid to enter Yosemite Valley when James Savage questioned his ally Chief Bautista, leader of the Southern Sierra Miwuk. They did not enter Yosemite Valley until they came in with James Savage, the leader of the Mariposa Battalion.

The legend of Half Dome had been ‘counterfeited’ by the Miwok workers of the military which came in and occupied Yosemite after the Paiutes. Here is what Bunnell wrote in his book, The Discovery of the Yosemite, about that:

“The names of the different objects and localities of especial interest have now become well established by use. It is not a matter of so much surprise that there is such a difference in the orthography of the names. I only wonder that they have been retained in a condition to be recognized. It is not altogether the fault of the interpreters that discrepancies exist in interpretation or pronunciation, although both are often undesignedly warped to conform to the ideality of the interpreter. Many of the names have been modernized and adorned with transparencies in order to illuminate the subject of which the parties were writing. Those who once inhabited this region (The Ahwahnees), and gave distinctive appellations, have all disappeared. The names given by them can be but indifferently preserved or counterfeited by their camp followers, the “California Diggers (Miwoks)”.1909804_111933576098_2839983_n

So the Legend of Half Dome, the story of Tissayack, is a legend directly tied to the Yosemite-Mono Lake Paiute people, and not the group on the western side of the Sierra Nevada as has been falsely written in books created by employees of Yosemite National Park.

In an interesting side note when a friend posted the original legend of Tissayack on his blog an employee of Yosemite National Park said that we Paiutes were lying and trying to interject our families into the history of Yosemite. But unknown to him Leanna Tom is one of the main matriarchs of the non-profit group they support. Gene Watts is their relative, not ours. So is the Park calling their ancestors and matriarch liars?


May 9, 2015 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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