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Yosemite: A killer name for a national park
Half Dome at Yosemite National Park. - photo by 209 file photo

YOSEMITE -- More than a century after his death, the world hasn’t stopped talking about Dr. Lafayette Bunnell’s most important diagnosis.

The American Civil War surgeon, explorer and author is credited with naming Yosemite National Park and many of its features.

Bunnell was smart enough to chronicle it all, too, penning the “Discovery of the Yosemite” -- his account of the valley following Mariposa Wars between the U.S. Army and Ahwahneechees.

It’s true – the beauty of Yosemite National Park has a history full of terror and bloodshed.

Bunnell was a member of the Major Jim Savage’s Mariposa Battalion that stormed the Yosemite Valley in 1851, searching for Chief Tenaya and about 200 Ahwahneechees.

“Yosemite” is based on the Miwok word “yohhe’meti,’ which means “they are killers.” The Miwoks used the term to describe the Ahwahneechees. Others believe the name derives from “Uzamati,” meaning grizzly bear.

As history shows, either definition applies.

Tenaya’s tribe was feared by others native to Yosemite Valley and he later led a murderous assault on American prospectors.

Bunnell’s article was driven by interviews with Tenaya. Members of the Mariposa Battalion helped popularize the name with their letters and articles.

For more information on Yosemite National Park, including its history and culture, visit


209 staff reporter