James D. Savage was born in 1817 in Cayuga County, New York and moved to Illinois as a a child. He was described as a strong man with blue eyes and a magnificent physique. It was said that he was smart as a whip, shrewd in business and adept with languages. Savage arrived in California in 1846 where he volunteered for John C. Fremont's California Battalion and fought in the Mexican-American war. After the war, he moved to San Joaquin Valley settling among the local Indian tribe, he learned to speak the language becoming accepted and even selected Chief of several Tribes earning the nickname "El Rey Tularenos". Legend says he took from 3 to 33 chief's daughters as wives. When a flood of prospectors and wealth seekers entered the valley Savage established trading posts where he traded for gold and huge profits.
Despite his relationship with the Indians Savage joined a band of men to fight them after several attacks and rumors of war. Governor John MacDougal eventually commissioned Savage as Major in the California Militia forming the Mariposa Battalion to fight the Indians. In 1851 a tentative surrender agreement was reached. While trailing renegades, Savage and his men ventured into the mysterious Yosemite Valley becoming some of the first white men to enter and behold its beauty.
On the 16th day of August, 1852,
Major Savage rode to Campbell's trading post located approximately 1/2 mile SW of here near Poole's Ferry on the Kings River. Inside was newly elected Tulare county Judge, Walter Harvey who Savage had publicly denounced for his part in the massacre of innocent natives by white squatters. Harvey was reported to have declared, Savage would never return alive if he was ever seen there. Savage called Harvey out and remarked "I understand Major Harvey, that you say I am no gentleman" to which Harvey replied "Yes, I have frequently made that statement". Savage slapped Harvey dropping his pistol. Harvey then shot the unarmed Savage at least four times. Savage fell, mortally wounded. Harvey was tried but never convicted to the murder. Although differing accounts of the event exist, it is certain that Major James D. Savage; pioneer, entrepreneur, explorer, soldier and hero, died that day leaving a legacy to the generations who followed.