Dr. Lafayette Bunnell gave Yosemite Valley its name among Americans.
As revealed by archeological finds, the Yosemite Valley has been inhabited for nearly 3000 years. The Paiute and Sierra Miwok peoples lived in the area long before the first explorations by American settlers into the region. A band of Paiute called the Ahwahneechee were living in the Yosemite Valley when the first known group of European Americans entered it.
The California Gold Rush in the mid-19th century dramatically increased travel by European-Americans in the area, causing competition for resources between the regional Paiute and Miwok and the miners and hangers on. In 1851 as part of the Mariposa Wars intended to suppress Native American resistance, United States Army Major Jim Savage led the Mariposa Battalion into the west end of Yosemite Valley. He was pursuing forces of around 200 Ahwahneechee led by Chief Tenaya.
Accounts from this battalion were the first well-documented reports of ethnic Europeans entering Yosemite Valley. Attached to Savage's unit was Dr. Lafayette Bunnell, the company physician, who later wrote about his awestruck impressions of the valley in The Discovery of the Yosemite. Bunnell is credited with naming Yosemite Valley, based on his interviews with Chief Tenaya. Bunnell wrote that Chief Tenaya was the founder of the Pai-Ute Colony of Ah-wah-nee. The Miwok, a neighboring tribe, and most white settlers considered the Ahwahneechee to be especially violent because of their frequent territorial disputes. The Miwok term for the Pai-Ute band was yohhe'meti, meaning "they are killers". Correspondence and articles written by members of the battalion helped to popularize the natural wonders of the Yosemite Valley and the surrounding area.
Chief Tenaya and his Ahwahneechee were eventually captured and their village burned; they were removed to a reservation near Fresno, California. The chief and some others were later allowed to return to Yosemite Valley. In the spring of 1852 they attacked a group of eight gold miners, and then moved east to flee law enforcement. Near Mono Lake, they took refuge with the nearby Mono tribe of Paiute. They stole horses from their hosts and moved away, but the Mono Paiutes tracked down and killed many of the Ahwahneechee, including Chief Tenaya. The Mono Paiute took the survivors as captives back to Mono Lake and absorbed them into the Mono Lake Paiute tribe.