Long, long ago before the white man came to the West, a large happy tribe of peaceful Indians lived among the trees of beautiful Oak Canyon. This spectacular place is now known as Yosemite Valley, situated in Yosemite National Park, California.
In the beginning these peaceful Indians were called Ah-wah-nees, meaning "Deep Grass Valley," which was the first name given to Yosemite Valley.
It is of interest to note that because of a printer's error at a later date, the spelling of the tribe's name was inadvertently changed to Yosemite. Now Yosemite National Park identifies the original home of the Ah-wah-nee band (Yosemite), southern division of the Miwok Tribe.
Today, the California State flag carries a picture of the grizzly bear as a reminder of the State's official animal, Yo Semitee.
Ah-wah-nees were proud of their Chief, a tall and young athletic man. Early one spring morning, he started off with his spears in hand to hunt for trout in the nearby lake known as Sleeping Water.
Imagine his astonishment when he rounded a large boulder and came face to face with an enormous grizzly bear, probably just out of its winter hibernation!
Such an unexpected meeting caused both of them to rear back in stunned surprise. Immediately, however, all of the fighting spirit within each arose. They attacked one another furiously! The Chief realized his fighting power was not equal to the great strength of the grizzly.
"What can I do to help myself?" he wondered.
At that moment, he saw an oak limb within reach and grabbed it for a weapon.
"I must do everything possible to subdue this bear, even if it means my own death," he thought while he fought. "I am determined that future Ah-wah-nee children will always remember the proud and brave blood that flowed in the veins of their ancestors."
He pounded heavy blows, one after another, upon the head of the grizzly bear. In return, the young Chief received innumerable cuts from the bear's teeth and claws. They exchanged blows that could have been death blows to either one, if each had not been determined to survive. The grizzly bear's hunger drove him to attack; the Chief's pride, courage, and great height strengthened his defense.
On and on they fought. Then when the Chief saw the eyes of the bear glaze with a cold stare, he knew his great moment had come. With his club raised overhead, the Chief brought down a whopping smash upon the head of the bear, who then slowly slumped to the ground. The Chief charged in to finish the task, making sure the grizzly bear was dead.
Exhausted, the young Chief withdrew a short way to rest, but kept his eyes upon the grizzly bear in case it revived. After some time, when he was certain of the bear's death, the Chief stepped forward and skinned the animal.
Later, dragging the bearskin behind him, the Chief returned to his village and proclaimed his victory. Young and old braves gathered to welcome him and to praise his success. The young braves took off, following the trail where the bearskin dragged upon the ground. They found the grizzly bear before any other wild animal had a chance to claim it. Immediately, they set to work and butchered the bear and then carried the parts back to their camp.
In the meantime, the braves prepared a huge fire and sent young runners to the outlying camps, inviting all the people to an evening of feasting.
The victory of their young Chief over the enormous grizzly bear astounded all of the Ah-wah-nees. They cheered and cheered their admiration for their great Chief. They renamed their hero, Chief Yo Semitee, which means "Grizzly Bear."
Following the feast, the entire tribe gathered for a victory dance, attired in all their fine beads and fine feathers. Chief Yo Semitee sat and overlooked the celebration, smoking the peace pipe with his tribal council. More feasting and dancing continued most of the night, as Ah-wah-nees showed their affection for their young and strong Chief.
Yo Semitee's children, and finally all of the tribe, became known as Yo Semitees in honour of their brave Chief.