Near our home in Mammoth Lakes, California are beautiful Tenaya Lake and Tenaya Peak. They were named after Chief Tenaya. His father was from Yosemite Valley, but moved to Mono Lake and married a Mono Paiute woman and Tenaya was born there. Tenaya grew up among his mother's people and married a Mono Paiute woman and had several children. Fifty years later a medicine man advised Tenaya that it was time to return to the beautiful Yosemite Valley. Tenaya took about 200 - 300 people back into the Valley.
When the gold rush of 1849 started the white settlers and miners crowded into the hills and came closer and closer to the Indian’s tribal land. By 1851 conflicts between the miners and the Native Americans in the Sierra started to increase. The state of California decided to send the Natives to reservations. Chief Tenaya was captured and along with his people was moved to the Fresno River Indian Reservation. The Chief was very unhappy under restraint and after some appeals the Indian Commissioners permitted him and his followers to return to Yosemite under a promise that he would make no more trouble. He returned to the Valley and died in 1853.
Local legend has it that Tenaya morphs into a great grizzly bear to protect the tribe's formerly pristine lands.
Chief Tenaya believed strongly in the importance of a natural unspoiled world and for people to live in freedom and in harmony with nature.