When gold miner and wilderness romantic Lafayette Bunnell first rode into Yosemite Valley on March 21, 1851, he thought he had arrived, if not in heaven, in Eden. “I have seen the power and glory of a supreme being,” he wrote, and “the majesty of his handiwork.” Bunnell was not alone that day. In fact, he was accompanying one of the most aggressive militias in western American history, the Mariposa Battalion, commanded by James Savage. A veteran of Indian wars, Savage was there to rid...


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