park history

Yosemite is rich in Park culture and History. Explore the past and learn about the first inhabitants, the people that
made development possible and the culture that drove the park into the organism you see before you today.


the native story - informational links

Ahwahneechee Yosemite Indians called themselves Ahwahneechee “People of Ahwahnee” Ahwahnee, their name for Yosemite Valley, their home. Ahwahnee means “mouth” because the valley walls resemble a gaping bear’s mouth. Ahwahnee does not mean “deep, grassy valley.” For details see the article “Origin of the Word Yosemite.” Books and articles about the Ahwahneechee are available online, with the complete text and usually the original illustrations. The Ahwahneechee during discovery by Europeans was a mixed tribe of Northern Paiute, Southern Sierra Miwok, and other Native Americans.

The Southern Sierra Miwok (Me-wuk), which means “people”, originally lived in present Yosemite National Park and central western Sierra Nevada foothills in California.

The Northern Paiute or “Western Mono” originally came from the eastern Sierra Nevada area and settled in Hetch Hetchy Valley and, as part of Chief Tenaya’s tribe, Yosemite Valley. The word Paiute came from Fremont. Paiute call themselves Numa in their language, which means “people.”

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Buffalo Soldiers

Buffalo Soldiers, like their white counterparts in U.S. Army regiments, were among the first park rangers, in general, and backcountry rangers, in particular, patrolling parts of the West. African-American army regiments, formed just after the Civil War, had been dispatched westward where these black soldiers fought in the Indian Wars and were eventually given the name Buffalo Soldiers by the Cheyenne and other Plains Indians who saw a resemblance between their dark, curly hair and the matted cushion between the horns of the buffalo.

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learn the history

At first glance, Yosemite’s natural wonders are easy to observe. Sights around the park are iconic in the human experience of national parks. Beyond the rocks, plants, and animals, is a story about people in Yosemite written on that very same landscape. It tells a story of different cultures (sometimes working together, sometimes in violent clashes) creating the place we call Yosemite National Park and defining how we experience it. Yosemite’s rich human history tells a story of conflict, dreams, diversity, hardships, adventures, and preservation of one of the first national parks.