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Jim Savage was born in the Midwest between 1815 and 1820. Around the age of fifteen, his family settled in Princeton, Illinois. On the pioneer road to California, he lost his wife and child to the harsh overland trip. He established trading posts on the Mariposa, Merced and Fresno rivers. Savage was reputed to have gone native and to have become a chief of the Mariposa tribes. In October 1850, he traveled to San Francisco with a band of Indians and when he returned to his posts on the Fresno river, he found he had been raided.

The governor of California, John McDougall put Savage at the head of a group of mercenaries called the Mariposa Battalion with the rank of major. On March 25, 1851, Savage marched at the head of the Mariposa Battalion which included a Doctor Lafayette Bunnell. Marching into the Sierra wilderness, they came upon Yosemite Valley at Inspiration Point and became the first non-indigenous discoverers of Yosemite Valley. Discovery was not the main purpose of the trip: the Battalion rode out in search of Native American tribal leaders involved in recent raids on American settlements. After taking control of the Yosemite, the Mariposa Indian War was ended and the Mariposa Battalion was disbanded.

Upon returning to his work as a trader, white settlers began to resent Jim Savage's power, and they declared war on him, Under the leadership of a Captain Walter Harvey, they declared he could not set foot in King's River territory under penalty of death. In August, 1852, Savage crossed the King's River and confronted Captain Harvey. "I understand Captain, that you say I am no gentleman." Harvey replied he had made such a statement. Savage struck the captain on the chin, and Harvey pulled a pistol and killed Savage with four shots.


  • Dickson, Samuel (1957). Tales of San Francisco. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press. OCLC 1664568.  


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