One hundred sixty two years have passed since the foothills were set aflame with the fires of vengeance by the murder of 3 men on the Fresno River, and a posse of 74 men set out to exact the proverbial pound of flesh from a band of renegade Indians. Led by Mariposa County Sheriff James Burney, the self appointed avengers left their gold diggings at Agua Fria and naively marched into what is now Madera County to engage the Native Americans here on their own turf. What resulted was the first battle of the Indian War of 1851.
When news of the December massacre at Jim Savage’s Fresno River trading post reached Mariposa, the nearest population center, 400 men impulsively threw down their gold pans and declared their intention to take up arms against the natives, but within two weeks that number had dwindled by more than three fourths. On January 6, 1851, 73 miners joined Sheriff Burney, who was elected captain of the paramilitary expeditionary force, which included J.W. Riley and young Skeane Skeenes, the company’s 1st and 2nd Lieutenants respectively. Acting as guide for the group was mountain man, Jim Savage.
For five days the posse confidently followed Savage while he in turn traced the enemy. As one member of the group put it, “From his long acquaintance with the Indians, Mr. Savage has learned their ways so thoroughly that they cannot deceive him. No dog can follow a trail like he can.”
With complete confidence in their guide, the miners moved up the Fresno River on the evening of Jan. 11, 1851...