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Mariposa and the Invasion of Ahwahnee: Indigenous Histories of Resistance, Resilience, and Migration in Gold Rush California

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The Sierra Nevada mountain range has been home to a diverse array of indigenous nations since time immemorial. Academic histories have often delegated the stories and experiences of these Miwok, Yokuts, Mono, and Paiute peoples to a peripheral place. This dissertation examines the rich and diverse indigenous histories of the southern Sierra Nevada, focusing especially on the ways tribal communities actively resisted, negotiated, adapted and endured in the face of colonial violence and encroachment. Throughout the nineteenth century, tribal nations of the southern Sierra regions took up armed resistance against violent settlers, actively negotiated with settler and government forces, and adapted their societies to better cope with the traumatic threats they faced. Many tribal peoples in this period, for example, engaged in gold mining while simultaneously maintaining their traditional economies of hunting, gathering, and fishing. In response to the increasingly violent actions of Gold Rush settlers, an intertribal movement of resistance gradually crystalized in and around the Yosemite region. This movement was ultimately met with the “Mariposa War,” a disproportionately violent settler response which, with state sanction, aimed to crush all indigenous resistance to white settlement through forced removal.

California Indians, however, were not the only indigenous peoples to experience violence and discrimination in the Sierra regions. The historical literature leaves largely unexamined a rich and complex history of indigenous migration and diaspora in California. Cherokees and Wyandots from the American Midwest, Yaquis from Mexico, Māoris from New Zealand, and Aboriginal Australians—to name only a few—all converged upon Miwok, Yokuts, and Paiute lands from a wide variety of historical contexts. In many ways these indigenous emigrants straddled the spheres of “settler” and “indigenous” societies in Gold Rush California, often maintaining close relations with both. A critical examination of the particular ways all of these indigenous peoples understood and responded to settler violence and discrimination, along with their highly complex and dynamic relationships with each other, paints a highly complex picture of Native American history in California.

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