Mariposa History and Genealogy Research



The following story was told by Dorsey Ramsden in 1934 regarding his father's (Dorsey, Sr.) involvement in the Mariposa Indian War.

In 1850 the troubles between the gold miners and the Indians in the foothill section of California were rapidly coming to a head. The miners and the settlers rapidly coming to a head. The miners and the settlers were encroaching more and more upon the lands of the Indians, and the Indians, in retaliation, were marauding, stealing horses and mules, and causing other mischief. In 1850, or early 1851, a party of men, under Sheriff Burney of Mariposa, set out after a band of Indians. In this party was Dorsey Ramsden, Sr. The posse followed the Indians into the vicinity of Pilot Peak, which rises north of Ahwahnee Valley, and as they came around the mountain, the white men encountered a large encampment of Indians in what was then called Hogan's potato patch (now known as O'Neals Meadow).

The Indians were taken by complete surprise and took off into the brush, with the exception of one old squaw, who was shot by the whites. After destroying the Indian supplies and burning the camp, the posse went down the Peak toward Ahwahnee Valley. Bad blood had developed between two of the men in the party and in the dusk and confusion one man's gun fired.

It was always a question in Dorsey Sr.'s mind as to whether or not this was an accident. The gun fired was an old five-ball gun, meaning that it fired five balls at one time with the shot spreading like buckshot from a shotgun. As a result of the shot, one man, Lieutenant Skeene, was fatally wounded and another seriously injured. One of the balls passed through the shoulder portion of a vest worn by Dorsey Ramsden but did not touch him.

The party went on down into the valley to the flats along the creek on what was later to become the Ahwahnee Sanitorium property. There the group built a temporary fortification. Lt. Skeene died the following day and he was buried within the fortification which was then burned so the Indians would not find the body. The party then took off down the valley to the Fresno River and down that river toward the plains. It had been rumored that the Indians were gathering from all the foothill country. (Since there was, in reality, no source of outside information available to the posse, it is highly likely that the rumor was the result of the lively imagination of posse members.)

Many of the men of the Burney posse later returned as part of the Mariposa Battalion and helped to complete the campaign which resulted in treaties with the Indians and subsequently, the discovery of Yosemite.

Dorsey Ramsden said that the vest, through which the ball had passed, was kept by the family for many years as a memento of the Indian campaign. It was black velvet studded with gold stars.

An additional now related by George Crooks attributed to one of the Roans (a large Ahwahnee area Indian family) was that when the Indians fled the potato patch, a papoose, was left hanging in its basket from the limb of a tree. The baby was later recovered by the Indians.

There is a sequel to the above story. One day when Eleanor Sell Crooks was a young girl, she and her mother were walking across the Ahwahnee Tavern ranch field with Mr. Femmons, owner of a fruit ranch above Ahwahnee Valley to the east. Femmons said, "Now Eleanor, I want to show you something. This is where Lt. Skeene is buried. Nobody cares now. You are young and you will remember.

Sometime in the 1950's a representative of the Veterans Administration came to the Ahwahnee store asking if anyone in the neighborhood might know where Lt. Skeene was buried. Because of Femmon's foresight, Eleanor was able to take the man to the grave site. When they dug into the area, buttons from a military uniform were discovered.

Since members of both the Crooks and Ramsden families had long acquaintance with the local Indians, the Miwoks, they held the accounts of the exploits of the Mariposa Battalion and other dealings with the Indians in some contempt. At the time of the so-called war the Indians did not possess guns nor were they war-like. They were not above taking property belonging to the whites, not necessarily stealing but because they did not have a concept of ownership. Once after having read an account of the Indian War written by a man whos name I recall as being Richardson, I asked Pap if he knew of the man. Pap's reply was:"That old s.o.b. My father always thought that he was the one who shot Skeene. He doesn't know what he is talking about."

contributed by Carol Lackey