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Historic Tradition Of The Upper Tuolumne

Source: Myths And Legends Of California And The Old Southwest

Yosemite Valley

(As given by Mr. Stephen Powers, 1877.)(4)

There is a lake-like expansion of the Upper Tuolumne some four miles
long and from a half mile to a mile wide, directly north of Hatchatchie
Valley (erroneously spelled Hetch Hetchy). It appears to have no name
among Americans, but the Indians call it 0-wai-a-nuh, which is
manifestly a dialectic variation of a-wai'-a, the generic word for
"lake." Nat. Screech, a veteran mountaineer and hunter, states that he
visited this region in 1850, and at that time there was a valley along
the river having the same dimensions that this lake now has. Again, in
1855, he happened to pass that way and discovered that the lake had been
formed as it now exists. He was at a loss to account for its origin; but
subsequently he acquired the Miwok language as spoken at Little Gap, and
while listening to the Indians one day he overheard them casually refer
to the formation of this lake in an extraordinary manner. On being
questioned they stated that there had been a tremendous cataclysm in
that valley, the bottom of it having fallen out apparently, whereby
the entire valley was submerged in the waters of the river. As nearly
as he could ascertain from their imperfect methods of reckoning time,
this occurred in 1851; and in that year, while in the town of Sonora,
Screech and many others remembered to have heard a huge explosion in
that direction which they then supposed was caused by a local earthquake.

On Drew's Ranch, Middle Fork of the Tuolumne, lives an aged squaw called
Dish-i, who was in the valley when this remarkable event occurred.
According to her account the earth dropped in beneath their feet, and
waters of the river leaped up and came rushing upon them in a vast,
roaring flood, almost perpendicular like a wall of rock. At first the
Indians were stricken dumb, and motionless with terror, but when they
saw the waters coming, they escaped for life, though thirty or forty
were overtaken and drowned. Another squaw named Isabel says that the
stubs of trees, which are still plainly visible deep down in the
pellucid waters, are considered by the old superstitious Indians to be
evil spirits, the demons of the place, reaching up their arms, and that
they fear them greatly.

(4) (Vol. 3, Part 2, U. S. Geographical and Geological Survey of the
Rocky Mountain region: Contributions to North American Ethnology, 1877.)

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