Skip to content The Mariposa War (1850-1851)

The Mariposa War was a conflict between Native Americans and miners in California. It was sparked by the 1849 California Gold Rush, the discovery of the gold forged a California Trail which forked off southward from the Oregon Trail. Thousands of hopeful gold seekers crossed this trail into northern California, which at this point in time consisted of mostly Native Americans, and Californios (the descendants of early Spanish settlers). By the end of May 1849, it is estimated that 40,000+ had entered Native American territory. This added diversity, with the land now containing many different cultures, such as African Americans, and immigrants from Mexico, South America, Europe, Australia, and China. This international mix swelled California’s non-Native American population from some 14,000 in 1848 to 200,000 in 1852. Anglos soon took control of the gold fields and pushed Californios, as well as Chinese and African American gold seekers from the mines.

The gold rush also increased pressure on the Native Americans of California, miners forced Native Americans off their gold-rich lands. Many were pressed into service in the mines; others had their villages raided by the army and volunteer militia. Some Native American tribes fought back, in the Mariposa War when the Ahwahneechees, who were primarily Paiutes, and the Chowchilla Yokuts in the Sierra Nevada and San Joaquin Valley led raids on settler populations’ property in 1850 and 1851. The war eventually slowed down in 1860 when disease, starvation and violence had reduced California’s Native American population to about 35,000.

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