THE LAKE OF THE SKY
IN THE HIGH
SIERRAS OF CALIFORNIA AND NEVADA
Its History, Indians, Discovery by Fremont, Legendary Lore, Various Namings, Physical Characteristics, Glacial Phenomena, Geology, Single Outlet, Automobile Routes, Historic Towns, Early Mining Excitements, Steamer Ride, Mineral Springs, Mountain and Lake Resorts, Trail and Camping Out Trips, Summer Residences, Fishing, Hunting, Flowers, Birds, Animals, Trees, and Chaparral, with a Full Account of the Tahoe National Forest, the Public Use of the Water of Lake Tahoe and Much Other Interesting Matter
GEORGE WHARTON JAMES
"Arizona, the Wonderland," "California, Romantic and Beautiful," "New Mexico, the Land of the Delight Makers," "Utah, the Land of Blossoming Valleys," "Quit Your Worrying," "Living the Radiant Life," etc.
With a map, and sixty-five plates, including a folding panorama View
L.C. PAGE & COMPANY BOSTON PUBLISHERS
Copyright, 1915, BY EDITH E. FARNSWORTH
All Rights Reserved
TO ROBERT M. WATSON
(To his friends "Bob")
Fearless Explorer, Expert Mountaineer, Peerless Guide, Truthful Fisherman, Humane Hunter, Delightful Raconteur, True-hearted Gentleman, Generous Communicator of a large and varied Knowledge, Brother to Man and Beast and Devoted Friend,
AND TO ANOTHER,
though younger brother of the same craft
These Pages are Cordially Dedicated with the Author's High Esteem and Affectionate Regards.
California is proving itself more and more the wonderland of the United States. Its hosts of annual visitors are increasing with marvelous rapidity; its population is growing by accretions from the other states faster than any other section in the civilized world. The reasons are not far to seek. They may be summarized in five words, viz., climate, topography, healthfulness, productiveness and all-around liveableness. Its climate is already a catch word to the nations; its healthfulness is attested by the thousands who have come here sick and almost hopeless and who are now rugged, robust and happy; its productiveness is demonstrated by the millions of dollars its citizens annually receive for the thousands of car-loads (one might almost say train-loads) of oranges, lemons, grape-fruit, walnuts, almonds, peaches, figs, apricots, onions, potatoes, asparagus and other fruits of its soil; and its all-around home qualities are best evidenced by the growth, in two or three decades, of scores of towns from a merely nominal population to five, ten, twenty, forty or fifty thousand, and of the cities of San Francisco, Los Angeles and Oakland to metropolises, the two former already claiming populations of half a million or thereabouts.
As far as its topography, its scenic qualities, are concerned, the world of tourists already has rendered any argument upon that line unnecessary. It is already beginning to rival Switzerland, though that Alpine land has crowded populations within a day's journey to draw from. One has but to name Monterey, the Mt. Shasta region, Los Angeles, San Diego and Coronado, the Yosemite, Lake Tahoe, the Big Trees, the King and Kern River Divide, Mono Lake and a score of other scenic regions in California to start tongues to wagging over interesting reminiscences, whether it be in London, Paris, Berlin, Madrid or Petrograd.
Books galore are being published to make California's charms better known, and it has long seemed strange to me that no book has been published on Lake Tahoe and its surrounding country of mountains, forests, glacial valleys, lakes and canyons, for I am confident that in one or two decades from now its circle of admirers and regular visitors will include people from all over the civilized world, all of whom will declare that it is incomparable as a lake resort, and that its infinite variety of charm, delight and healthful allurement can never adequately be told.
Discovered by the "Pathfinder" Fremont; described in the early days of California history and literature by John Le Conte, Mark Twain, Thomas Starr King, Ben C. Truman, and later by John Vance Cheney and others; for countless centuries the fishing haunt of the peaceable Nevada Washoes, who first called it Tahoe—High or Clear Water—and of the California Monos; the home of many of their interesting legends and folk-lore tales; occasionally the scene of fierce conflicts between the defending Indians and those who would drive them away, it early became the object of the jealous and inconsequent squabbling of politicians. Its discoverer had named it Mountain Lake, or Lake Bonpland, the latter name after the traveling and exploring companion of Baron von Humboldt, whose name is retained in the Humboldt River of Nevada, but when the first reasonably accurate survey of its shores was made, John Bigler was the occupant of the gubernatorial chair of the State of California and it was named after him. Then, later, for purely political reasons, it was changed to Tahoe, and finally back to Bigler, which name it still officially retains, though of the thousands who visit it annually but a very small proportion have ever heard that such a name was applied to it.
In turn, soon after its discovery, Tahoe became the scene of a mining excitement that failed to "pan out," the home of vast logging and lumber operations and the objective point to which several famous "Knights of the Lash" drove world-noted men and women in swinging Concord coaches. In summer it is the haunt of Nature's most dainty, glorious, and alluring picturesqueness; in winter the abode, during some days, of the Storm King with his cohorts of hosts of clouds, filled with rain, hail, sleet and snow, of fierce winds, of dread lightnings, of majestic displays of rudest power. Suddenly, after having covered peak and slope, meadow and shore, with snow to a depth of six, eight, ten or more feet, the Storm King retires and Solus again reigns supreme. And then! ah, then is the time to see Lake Tahoe and its surrounding country. The placid summer views are exquisite and soul-stirring, but what of Tahoe now? The days and nights are free from wind and frost, the sun tempers the cold and every hour is an exhilaration. The American people have not yet learned, as have the Europeans in the Alps, the marvelous delights and stimulations of the winter in such a place as Lake Tahoe. But they will learn in time, and though a prophet is generally without honor in his own country, I will assume a role not altogether foreign, and venture the assertion that I shall live to see the day when winter visitors to Lake Tahoe will number more than those who will visit it throughout the whole of the year (1914) in which I write. One of the surprises often expressed by those I have met here who have wintered in the Alps is that no provision is made for hotel accommodation during the winter at Lake Tahoe.
To return, however, to the charms of Tahoe that are already known to many thousands. Within the last two or three decades it has become the increasingly popular Mecca of the hunter, sportsman, and fisherman; the natural haunt of the thoughtful and studious lover of God's great and varied out-of-doors, and, since fashionable hotels were built, the chosen resort of many thousands of the wealthy, pleasure-loving and luxurious. What wonder that there should be a growing desire on the part of the citizens of the United States—and especially of California and Nevada—together with well-informed travelers from all parts of the world, for larger knowledge and fuller information about Lake Tahoe than has hitherto been available.
To meet this laudable desire has been my chief incitement in the preparation of the following pages, but I should be untrue to my own devotion to Lake Tahoe, which has extended over a period of more than thirty years, were I to ignore the influence the Lake's beauty has had over me, and the urge it has placed within me. Realizing and feeling these emotions I have constantly asked with Edward Rowland Sill:
What can I for such a world give back again?
And my only answer has been, and is, this:
Could I only hint the beauty— Some least shadow of the beauty, Unto men!
In looking over the files of more of less ephemeral literature, as well as the records of the explorations of early days, I have been astonished at the rich treasures of scientific and descriptive literature that have Lake Tahoe as their object. Not the least service this unpretentious volume will accomplish is the gathering together of these little-known jewels.
It will be noticed that I have used the word Sierran rather than Alpine throughout these pages. Why not? Why should the writer, describing the majestic, the glorious, the sublime of the later-formed mountain ranges of earth, designate them by a term coined for another and far-away range?
I would have the reader, however, be careful to pronounce it accurately. It is not Sy-eer-an, but See-ehr-ran, almost as if one were advising another to "See Aaron," the brother of Moses.
Tahoe is not Teh-o, nor is it Tah-ho, nor Tah-o. The Washoe Indians, from whom we get the name, pronounce it as if it were one syllable Tao, like a Chinese name, the "a" having the broad sound ah of the Continent.
Likewise Tallac is not pronounced with the accent on the last syllable (as is generally heard), but Talx-ac.
While these niceties of pronunciation are not of vast importance, they preserve to us the intonations of the original inhabitants, who, as far as we know, were the first human beings to gaze upon the face of this ever-glorious and beautiful Lake.
When Mark Twain and Thomas Starr King visited Tahoe it was largely in its primitive wildness, though logging operations for the securing of timber for the mines of Virginia City had been going on for some time and had led to the settlement at Glenbrook (where four great saw mills were in constant operation so long as weather permitted), and the stage-road from Placerville to Virginia City demanded stopping-stations, as Myers, Yanks, Rowlands and Lakeside.
But to-day, while the commercial operations have largely ceased, the scenic attractions of Lake Tahoe and its region have justified the erection of over twenty resorts and camps, at least two of them rivaling in extent and elaborateness of plant any of the gigantic resort hotels of either the Atlantic or Pacific coasts, the others varying in size and degree, according to the class of patronage they seek. That these provisions for the entertainment of travelers, yearly visitors, and health seekers will speedily increase with the years there can be no doubt, for there is but one Lake Tahoe, and its lovers will ultimately be legion. Already, also, it has begun to assert itself as a place of summer residence. Fifteen years ago private residences on Lake Tahoe might have been enumerated on the fingers of the two hands; now they number as many hundreds, and the sound of the hammer and saw is constantly heard, and dainty villas, bungalows, cottages, and rustic homes are springing up as if by magic.
Then Lake Tahoe was comparatively hard to reach. Now, the trains of the Southern Pacific and the Lake Tahoe Railway and Transportation Company deposit one on the very edge of the Lake easier and with less personal exertion than is required to go to and from any large metropolitan hotel in one city to a similar hotel in another city.
It is almost inevitable that in such a book as this there should be some repetition. Just as one sees the same peaks and lakes, shore-line and trees from different portions of the Lake—though, of course, at slightly or widely differing angles—so in writing, the attention of the reader naturally is called again and again to the same scenes. But this book is written not so much with an eye to its literary quality, as to afford the visitor to Lake Tahoe—whether contemplative, actual, or retrospective—a truthful and comprehensive account and description of the Lake and its surroundings.
It will be observed that in many places I have capitalized the common noun Lake. Whenever this appears it signifies Lake Tahoe—the chief of all the lakes of the Sierras.
While it is very delightful to sit on the veranda or in the swinging seats of the Tavern lawn, or at the choice nooks of all the resorts from Tahoe City completely around the Lake, it is not possible to write a book on Lake Tahoe there. One must get out and feel the bigness of it all; climb its mountains, follow its trout streams; ride or walk or push one's way through its leafy coverts; dwell in the shade of its forests; row over its myriad of lakes; study its geology, before he can know or write about Tahoe.
This is what I have done.
And this is what I desire to urge most earnestly upon my reader. Don't lounge around the hotels all the time. Get all you want of that kind of recreation; then "go in" for the more strenuous fun of wandering and climbing. Go alone or in company, afoot or horseback, only go! Thus will Tahoe increase the number of its devoted visitants and my object in writing these pages be accomplished.
George Wharton James
TAHOE TAVERN, June 1914.
CHAPTER Introduction I Why "the Lake of the Sky"? II Fremont and the Discovery of Lake Tahoe III The Indians of Lake Tahoe IV Indian Legends of the Tahoe Region V The Various Names of Lake Tahoe VI John Le Conte's Physical Studies of Lake Tahoe VII How Lake Tahoe Was Formed VIII The Glacial History of Lake Tahoe IX The Lesser Lakes of the Tahoe Region and How They Were Formed X Donner Lake and Its Tragic History XI Lake Tahoe and the Truckee River XII By Rail to Lake Tahoe XIII The Wishbone Automobile Route to and Around Lake Tahoe XIV Tahoe Tavern XV Trail Trips in the Tahoe Region To Watson's Peak and Lake To Squaw Valley, Granite Chief Peak, Five Lakes and Deer Park Springs To Ellis Peak XVI Camping Out Trips in the Tahoe Region To Hell Hole and the Rubicon River XVII Historic Tahoe Towns XVIII By Steamer Around Lake Tahoe XIX Deer Park Springs XX Rubicon Springs XXI Emerald Bay and Camp XXII Al-Tahoe XXIII Glen Alpine Springs XXIV Fallen Leaf Lake and Its Resorts XXV Lakeside Park XXVI Glenbrook and Marlette Lake XXVII Carnelian Bay and Tahoe Country Club XXVIII Fishing in the Lakes of the Tahoe Region XXIX Hunting at Lake Tahoe XXX The Flowers of the Tahoe Region XXXI The Chaparral of the Tahoe Region XXXII How to Distinguish the Trees of the Tahoe Region XXXIII The Birds and Animals of the Tahoe Region XXXIV The Squaw Valley Mining Excitement XXXV The Fremont Howitzer and Lake Tahoe XXXVI The Mount Rose Observatory XXXVII Lake Tahoe in Winter Written by Dr. J.E. Church, Jr., University of Nevada. XXXVIII Lake Tahoe as a Summer Residence XXXIX The Tahoe National Forest XL Public Use of the Waters of Lake Tahoe
A Mark Twain at Lake Tahoe B Mark Twain and the Forest Rangers C Thomas Starr King at Lake Tahoe D Joseph LeConte at Lake Tahoe E John Vance Cheney at Lake Tahoe F The Resorts of Lake Tahoe
THE LAKE OF THE SKY LAKE TAHOE
WHY "THE LAKE OF THE SKY"?
Lake Tahoe is the largest lake at its altitude—twenty-three miles long by thirteen broad, 6225 feet above the level of the sea—with but one exception in the world. Then, too, it closely resembles the sky in its pure and perfect color. One often experiences, on looking down upon it from one of its many surrounding mountains, a feeling of surprise, as if the sky and earth had somehow been reversed and he was looking down upon the sky instead of the earth.
And, further, Lake Tahoe so exquisitely mirrors the purity of the sky; its general atmosphere is so perfect, that one feels it is peculiarly akin to the sky.
Mark Twain walked to Lake Tahoe in the early sixties, from Carson City, carrying a couple of blankets and an ax. He suggests that his readers will find it advantageous to go on horseback. It was a hot summer day, not calculated to make one of his temperament susceptible to fine scenic impressions, yet this is what he says:
We plodded on, two or three hours longer, and at last the Lake burst upon us—a noble sheet of blue water lifted six thousand three hundred feet above the level of the sea, and walled in by a rim of snow-clad mountain peaks that towered aloft full three thousand feet higher still. It was a vast oval, and one would have to use up eighty or a hundred good miles in traveling around it. As it lay there with the shadows of the mountains brilliantly photographed upon its still surface I thought it must surely be the fairest picture the whole earth affords!
And there you have it! Articulate or inarticulate, something like this is what every one thinks when he first sees Tahoe, and the oftener he sees it, and the more he knows it the more grand and glorious it becomes. It is immaterial that there are lakes perched upon higher mountain shelves, and that one or two of them, at equal or superior altitudes, are larger in size. Tahoe ranks in the forefront both for altitude and size, and in beauty and picturesqueness, majesty and sublimity, there is no mountain body of water on this earth that is its equal.
Why such superlatives in which world-travelers generally—in fact, invariably—agree? There must be some reason for it. Nay, there are many. To thousands the chief charm of Lake Tahoe is in the exquisite, rare, and astonishing colors of its waters. They are an endless source of delight to all who see them, no matter how insensible they may be, ordinarily, to the effect of color. There is no shade of blue or green that cannot here be found and the absolutely clear and pellucid quality of the water enhances the beauty and perfection of the tone.
One minister of San Francisco thus speaks of the coloring:
When the day is calm there is a ring around the Lake extending from a hundred yards to a mile from the shore which is the most brilliant green; within this ring there is another zone of the deepest blue, and this gives place to royal purple in the distance; and the color of the Lake changes from day to day and from hour to hour. It is never twice the same—sometimes the blue is lapis lazuli, then it is jade, then it is purple, and when the breeze gently ruffles the surface it is silvery-gray. The Lake has as many moods as an April day or a lovely woman. But its normal appearance is that of a floor of lapis lazuli set with a ring of emerald.
The depth of the water, varying as it does from a few feet to nearly or over 2000 feet, together with the peculiarly variable bottom of the Lake, have much to do with these color effects. The lake bottom on a clear wind-quiet day can be clearly seen except in the lowest depths. Here and there are patches of fairly level area, covered either with rocky bowlders, moss-covered rocks, or vari-colored sands. Then, suddenly, the eye falls upon a ledge, on the yonder side of which the water suddenly becomes deep blue. That ledge may denote a submarine precipice, a hundred, five hundred, a thousand or more feet deep, and the changes caused by such sudden and awful depths are beyond verbal description.
Many of the softer color-effects are produced by the light colored sands that are washed down into the shallower waters by the mountain streams. These vary considerably, from almost white and cream, to deep yellow, brown and red. Then the mosses that grow on the massive bowlders, rounded, square and irregular, of every conceivable size, that are strewn over the lake bottom, together with the equally varied rocks of the shore-line, some of them towering hundreds of feet above the water—these have their share in the general enchantment and revelry of color.
Emerald Bay and Meek's Bay are justly world-famed for their triumphs of color glories, for here there seem to be those peculiar combinations of varied objects, and depths, from the shallowest to the deepest, with the variations of colored sands and rocks on the bottom, as well as queer-shaped and colored bowlders lying on the vari-colored sands, that are not found elsewhere. The waving of the water gives a mottled effect surpassing the most delicate and richly-shaded marbles and onyxes. Watered-silks of the most perfect manufacture are but childish and puerile attempts at reproduction, and finest Turkish shawls, Bokhara rugs or Arab sheiks' dearest-prized Prayer Carpets are but glimmering suggestions of what the Master Artist himself has here produced.
There are not the glowing colors of sunrises and sunsets; but they are equally sublime, awe-inspiring and enchanting. There are Alpine-glows, and peach-blooms and opalescent fires, gleams and subtle suggestions that thrill moment by moment, and disappear as soon as seen, only to be followed by equally beautiful, enchanting and surprising effects, and with it all, is a mobility, a fluidity, a rippling, flowing, waving, tossing series of effects that belong only to enchanted water—water kissed into glory by the sun and moon, lured into softest beauty by the glamour of the stars, and etheralized by the quiet and subtle charms of the Milky Way, and of the Suns, Comets and Meteors that the eye of man has never gazed upon.
There is one especially color-blessed spot. It is in Grecian Bay, between Rubicon Point and Emerald Bay. Here the shore formation is wild and irregular, with deep holes, majestic, grand and rugged rocks and some trees and shrubbery. Near the center of this is a deep hole, into which one of the mountain streams runs over a light-colored sandy bottom where the water is quite shallow. Around are vari-colored trees and shrubs, and these objects and conditions all combine to produce a mystic revelation of color gradations and harmonies, from emerald green and jade to the deepest amethystine or ultra-marine. When the wind slightly stirs the surface and these dancing ripples catch the sunbeams, one by one, in changeful and irregular measure, the eyes are dazzled with iridescences and living color-changes covering hundreds of acres, thousands of them, as exquisite, glorious and dazzling as revealed in the most perfect peacock's tail-feathers, or humming-bird's throat. Over such spots one sits in his boat spell-bound, color-entranced, and the ears of his soul listen to color music as thrilling, as enchanting as melodies by Foster and Balfe, minuets by Mozart and Haydn, arias by Handel, nocturnes and serenades by Chopin and Schumann, overtures by Rossini, massive choruses and chorals by Handel, Haydn and Mendelssohn, fugues by Bach, and concertos by Beethoven.
The blue alone is enough to impress it forever upon the observant mind. Its rich, deep, perfect splendor is a constant surprise. One steps from his hotel, not thinking of the Lake—the blue of it rises through the trees, over the rocks, everywhere, with startling vividness. Surely never before was so large and wonderful a lake of inky blue, sapphire blue, ultra-marine, amethystine richness spread out for man's enjoyment. And while the summer months show this in all its smooth placidity and quietude, there seems to be a deeper blue, a richer shade take possession of the waves in the fall, or when its smoothness is rudely dispelled by the storms of winter and spring.
So much for the color!
Yet there are those who are devoted to Lake Tahoe who seldom speak of the coloring of its waters. Perhaps they are fascinated by its fishing. This has become as world-famed as its colors. Thousands, hundreds of thousands, of the most gamey and delicately-flavored trout are caught here annually, both by experts and amateurs. The Federal and State governments, and private individuals yearly stock the main Lake and the hundred and one smaller lakes of the region with the finest species of trout obtainable, and the results fully justify the labor and expense.
To the mountain-lover the Tahoe region is an earthly paradise. One summer I climbed over twenty peaks, each over nine thousand feet high, and all gave me glimpses of Tahoe. Some of them went up close to 11,000 feet.
Are you an admirer of Alpine, nay, High Sierran, trees? You will find all the well-known, and several rare and entirely new species in this region. This field alone could well occupy a student, or a mere amateur tree-lover a whole summer in rambling, climbing, collecting and studying.
And as for geology—the Grand Canyon of Arizona has afforded me nature reading material for nearly three decades and I am delighted by reading it yet. Still I am free to confess the uplift of these high-sweeping Sierras, upon whose lofty summits
The high-born, beautiful snow comes down, Silent and soft as the terrible feet Of Time on the mosses of ruins;
the great glacial cirques, with their stupendous precipices from which the vast ice-sheets started, which gouged, smoothed, planed and grooved millions of acres of solid granite into lake-beds, polished domes and canyon walls and carried along millions of tons of rock debris to make scores of lateral and terminal moraines; together with the evidences of uplift, subsidence and volcanic outpouring of diorite and other molten rocks, afford one as vast and enjoyable a field for contemplation as any ordinary man can find in the Grand Canyon.
But why compare them? There is no need to do so. Each is supreme in its own right; different yet compelling, unlike yet equally engaging.
Then there are the ineffable climate of summer, the sunrises, the sunsets, the Indians, the flowers, the sweet-singing birds, the rowing, in winter the snow-shoeing, the camping-out, and, alas! I must say it—the hunting.
Why man will hunt save for food is beyond me. I deem it that every living thing has as much right to its life as I have to mine, but I find I am in a large minority among a certain class that finds at Lake Tahoe its hunting Mecca. Deer abound, and grouse and quail are quite common, and in the summer of 1913 I knew of four bears being shot.
Is it necessary to present further claims for Lake Tahoe? Every new hour finds a new charm, every new day calls for the louder praise, every added visit only fastens the chains of allurement deeper. For instance, this is the day of athletic maids, as well as men. We find them everywhere. Very well! Lake Tahoe is the physical culturist's heaven.
In any one of its score of camps he may sleep out of doors, on the porch, out under the pines, by the side of the Lake or in his tent or cottage with open doors and windows. At sunrise, or later, in his bathing suit, or when away from too close neighbors, clothed, as dear old Walt Whitman puts it, "in the natural and religious idea of nakedness," the cold waters of the Lake invite him to a healthful and invigorating plunge, with a stimulating and vivifying swim. A swift rub down with a crash towel, a rapid donning of rude walking togs and off, instanter, for a mile climb up one of the trails, a scramble over a rocky way to some hidden Sierran lake, some sheltered tree nook, some elevated outlook point, and, after feasting the eyes on the glories of incomparable and soul-elevating scenes, he returns to camp, eats a hearty breakfast, with a clear conscience, a vigorous appetite aided by hunger sauce, guided by the normal instincts of taste, all of which have been toned up by the morning's exercise—what wonder that such an one radiates Life and Vim, Energy and Health, Joy and Content.
Do you know what the lure must be when a busy man, an active man, an alert man, a man saturated with the nervous spirit of American commercial life, sits down in one of the seats overlooking the Lake, or spreads out his full length upon the grass, or on the beds of Sierran moss, which make a deliciously restful cushion, and stays there! He does nothing; doesn't even look consciously at the blue waters of the Lake, on the ineffable blue of the sky, or the rich green of the trees or the glory of the flowers—he simply sits or sprawls or lies and, though the influence is different, the effect is the same as that expressed in the old hymn:
My soul would ever stay, In such a frame as this, And sit and sing itself away, To everlasting bliss.
There's the idea! Calm, rest, peace, bliss. Those are what you get at Lake Tahoe. And with them come renewed health, increased vigor, strengthened courage, new power to go forth and seize the problems of life, with a surer grasp, a more certain touch, a more clearly and definitely assured end.
There are some peculiarities of Lake Tahoe that should be noted, although they are of a very different character from the foolish and sensational statements that used to be made in the early days of its history among white men. A serious advertising folder years ago sagely informed the traveling public as follows: "A strange phenomenon in connection with the Truckee River is the fact that the Lake from which it flows (Tahoe) has no inlet, so far as any one knows, and the lake into which it flows (Pyramid Lake, Nevada), has no outlet."
How utterly absurd this is. Lake Tahoe has upward of a hundred feeders, among which may be named Glenbrook, the Upper Truckee, Fallen Leaf Creek, Eagle Creek, Meek's Creek, General Creek, McKinney Creek, Madden Creek, Blackwood Creek, and Ward Creek, all of these being constant streams, pouring many thousands of inches of water daily into the Lake even at the lowest flow, and in the snow-melting and rainy seasons sending down their floods in great abundance.
To many it is a singular fact that Lake Tahoe never freezes over in winter. This is owing to its great depth, possibly aided by the ruffling and consequent disturbance of its surface by the strong northeasterly winter winds. The vast body of water, with such tremendous depth, maintains too high a temperature to be affected by surface reductions in temperature. Experiments show that the temperature in summer on the surface is 68 degrees Fahr. At 100 feet 55 degrees; at 300 feet 46 degrees; at 1506 feet 39 degrees.
Twenty years ago the thermometer at Lake Tahoe registered 18 degrees F. below zero, and in 1910 it was 10 degrees F. below. Both these years Emerald Bay froze over. Perhaps the reason for this is found in the fact that the entrance to the bay is very shallow, and that this meager depth is subject to change in surface temperature, becoming warmer in summer and colder in winter. This narrow ridge once solidly frozen, the warmth of the larger body of water would have no effect upon the now-confined smaller body of Emerald Bay. Once a firm hold taken by the ice, it would slowly spread its fingers and aid in the reduction of the temperature beyond, first producing slush-ice, and then the more solid crystal ice, until the whole surface would be frozen solid.
An explanation of the non-freezing of the main Lake has been offered by several local "authorities" as owing to the presence of a number of hot springs either in the bed of the Lake or near enough to its shores materially to affect its temperature. But I know of few or no "facts" to justify such an explanation.
When I first visited Lake Tahoe over thirty years ago I was seriously and solemnly informed by several (who evidently believed their own assertions) that, owing to the great elevation of the Lake, the density of the water, etc., etc., it was impossible for any one to swim in Lake Tahoe. I was assured that several who had tried had had narrow escapes from drowning. While the utter absurdity of the statements was self-evident I decided I would give myself a practical demonstration. To be perfectly safe I purchased a clothes-line, then, hiring a row-boat, went as far away from shore as was desirable, undressed, tied one end of the rope around the seat, the other around my body, and—jumped in. I did not sink. Far from it. I was never more stimulated to swim in my life. My ten or fifteen feet dive took me into colder water than I had ever experienced before and I felt as if suddenly, and at one fell swoop, I were flayed alive. Gasping for breath I made for the boat, climbed in, and in the delicious glow that came with the reaction decided that it was quite as important to feel of the temperature of lake water before you leaped, as it was to render yourself safe from sinking by anchoring yourself to a clothesline.
But I would not have my reader assume from the recital of this experience that Lake Tahoe is always too cold for swimming. Such is not the case. Indeed in June, July, August and September the swimming is delightful to those who enjoy "the cool, silver shock of the plunge in a pool's living water," that Browning's Saul so vividly pictures for us. Hundreds of people—men, women and children—in these months indulge in the daily luxury, especially in the coves and beaches where the water is not too deep, and the sun's ardent rays woo them into comfortable warmth.
After a warm day's tramp or ride over the trails, too, there is nothing more delicious than a plunge into one of the lakes. A short, crisp swim, a vigorous rub down, and a resumption of the walk or ride and one feels fit enough to conquer a world.
It can be imagined, too, what a lively scene the Lake presents in the height of the season, when, from the scores of hotels, resorts, camps, private residences, fishermen's camps, etc.; fishing-boats, row-boats, launches, motor-boats, and yachts ply to and fro in every direction, unconsciously vying with each other to attract the eye of the onlooker. The pure blue of the Lake, with its emerald ring and varying shades of color, added to by the iridescent gleam that possesses the surface when it is slightly rippled by a gentle breeze, contrasting with the active, vivid, moving boats of differing sizes, splashed with every conceivable color by the hats and costumes of the occupants—all these conspire to demand the eye, to enchain the attention, to harmlessly hypnotize, as it were, those who sit on the shore and look.
And when is added to this the spontaneous shouts and shrieks of delight that the feminine "fishermen" give when they are successful and make a catch, the half-frenzied and altogether delighted announcements thereof, the whole-hearted or the half-jealous, half-envious return-congratulations, while now and then the large steamer, Tahoe, or an elegant private yacht, as the Tevis's Consuelo, crosses the scene, one may partially but never fully conceive the joy and radiant happiness, the satisfaction and content that Lake Tahoe inspires and produces.
Lake Tahoe covers about 190 square miles, and its watershed is about 500 square miles. The boundary line between Nevada and California strikes the Lake on the northern border at the 120th meridian, and a point at that spot is called the State Line Point. The latitude parallel of this northern entrance is 39 deg. 15". The boundary line goes due south until about 38 deg. 58" and then strikes off at an oblique angle to the southeast, making the southern line close to Lakeside Park, a few miles east of the 120th meridian.
FREMONT AND THE DISCOVERY OF LAKE TAHOE
Like so many other great discoveries that were to have an important effect upon the lives of countless numbers of people, the discovery of Lake Tahoe was accidental. Nor did its finder comprehend the vast influence it was to possess, not only upon the residents of California and Nevada, but upon the travel-loving and sight-seeing portion of the population of the whole world.
John C. Fremont, popularly acclaimed "the pathfinder," was its discoverer, on the 14th day of February, 1844. In the journal of his 1843-44 expedition he thus records the first sight of it:
Accompanied by Mr. Preuss, I ascended to-day the highest peak to the right from which we had a beautiful view of a mountain lake at our feet, about fifteen miles in length, and so nearly surrounded by mountains that we could not discover an outlet.
It cannot be deemed out of place in these pages, owing to the significance of the discovery by Fremont, to give a brief account of the exploration and its purposes, in the carrying out of which Tahoe was revealed to the intrepid and distinguished explorer.
Fortunately for us, Fremont left a full story of his experiences in the Nevada country, complete in detail, and as fresh and vivid as if but written yesterday. This account, with illuminating Introduction, and explanatory notes by James U. Smith, from whose pioneer father Smith Valley is named, was republished in the Second Biennial Report of the Nevada Historical Society, from which, with the kind permission of the secretary, Professor Jeanne Elizabeth Wier, the following extracts are made.
Fremont had already made his first exploration of the Rocky Mountains and South Pass in the summer of 1842. It was in this expedition that, standing on the highest peak of the Rockies, he looked down into the vast area beyond, known as the Great Basin, comprising with its mountain ranges the whole western portion of the continent of North America. This he determined to explore, and it was on this second expedition that Lakes Pyramid and Tahoe, the Truckee River, etc., were discovered.
Later, Fremont made his third western journey, that in which he came into conflict with the Mexican officials of California, became governor of California, and was finally placed under arrest by General Kearny, and taken back to Washington to be tried for mutiny. The results of that unfortunate Kearny conflict are well known.
At the official close of the dispute he made his fourth expedition and finally his fifth, all of which are fully treated in Smucker's and Bigelow's Life of Fremont.
To return now to the second expedition. In the words of Mr. Smith:
The object of the expedition was purely for the purpose of exploring and otherwise getting scientific information about the great territory between the Missouri frontier and the Pacific Ocean. Emigrants were making their way westward to the new Oregon Territory, and hunters and trappers had been visiting portions of that region. Farther north the fur companies had their posts and did a regular business with the trappers and Indians. But little was known about the regions further south, and especially the great territory between the Rocky and Sierra Nevada Mountain chains, and that little was freely adulterated with fiction.
Great Salt Lake was supposed to be a very strange and wonderful lake, the islands of which were covered with woods and flowers, through which roamed all kinds of game, and whose waters were sucked down in a great awe-inspiring whirlpool into an underground passage under the mountains and valleys to the distant sea. Another myth, or rather pair of myths, in which geographers placed sufficient faith to give a place on the maps of the time, was the great Buenaventura River, and that semi-tropical Mary's Lake, the waters from which found their way through the Sierra Nevadas to San Francisco Bay. Mary's Lake was supposed to be a body of water such as a traveler dreams about, whose clear waters were bordered by meadows ever green, a place on whose shores he could pitch his tent and cast aside all thought or care of the morrow. Fremont counted on this lake as a place where he could recuperate and make ready for a final dash eastward across the unknown country to the Rocky Mountains and thence home to the Mississippi River. Contrast these anticipations with the hardships and fears he encountered while groping his way through the Black Rock Desert, north of Pyramid Lake.
But Fremont was a good leader followed by courageous men, and disappointments did not make weaklings of either him or his men. His party, on leaving Missouri, consisted of thirty-nine men—Creoles, Canadian-Frenchmen, Americans, a German or two, a free negro and two Indians. Charles Preuss was Fremont's assistant in topography, and it is likely that he made his sketches, several of which were published in the original report. Another member of the party, and one who joined it in the Rocky Mountains and is of special interest to us, was Christopher Carson, commonly known as "Kit" Carson. Fremont speaks of him in very friendly and flattering terms. At the time of the meeting with Carson, he says: "I had here the satisfaction to meet our good buffalo hunter of 1842, Christopher Carson, whose services I considered myself fortunate to secure again." On another occasion, when Carson had successfully performed a responsible errand, he says: "Reaching St. Vrain's Fort ... we found ... my true and reliable friend, Kit Carson." Fremont left Kansas City, Mo., May 29, 1843.
His general route was along the old "Oregon Trail," then the new "Oregon Trail," but at many places his route was different. He followed up the Kansas River instead of the Platte. But he crossed the Rocky Mountains over the South Pass, which is that of the Union Pacific Railroad, and was common to the Oregon Trail and the emigrant road to California. During nearly the whole journey to Oregon Fremont divided his party. One part he placed in charge of Fitzpatrick. This consisted of the carts with the bulk of the supplies and about half of the men. The other part consisted of a mounted party with packhorses and the howitzer. Fremont, of course, took charge of the latter party, for, traveling light as it did, he was able to make detours covering country he wished to explore, always, however, using the other train as a base of supplies. The course of the other party was generally along the emigrant road to Oregon.
After crossing the Rocky Mountains, Fremont went south with his party to explore Great Salt Lake. Thence he returned north again to the emigrant road, which then followed in a general way the Snake or Lewis River to the Columbia, with the exception of the great bend in northeastern Oregon which was traversed by a shorter route. Along the bank of the Columbia the road followed to the Mission Station at the Dalles, or great narrows of the river. At this point many of the emigrants transferred their baggage to barges and floated with the current to their destination on the Willamette River. Others continued by land down the river. Fremont's division reached the Dalles November 4th. Fitzpatrick's train did not come in until the 21st. The latter left his carts at the mouth of the Walla Walla River according to Fremont's orders; and, after making pack-saddles, transferred what was left of his baggage to the backs of his mules for the trip down to the Dalles. In the meantime Fremont, with Preuss and two of the other men, had gone down to Fort Vancouver in canoes. This was the headquarters of the Hudson Bay Company for the West. Here supplies for the return journey were obtained.
Having transported these supplies up to the Dalles in barges propelled by Indians, he was ready to take up the final preparation for the homeward journey. It is best to let him describe these preparations in his own words. He says:
"The camp was now occupied in making the necessary preparations for our homeward journey, which, though homeward, contemplated a new route, and a great circuit to the south and southeast, and the exploration of the Great Basin between the Rocky Mountains and the Sierra Nevada.
"Three principal objects were indicated, by report, or by maps, as being on this route, the character or existence of which I wished to ascertain, and which I assumed as landmarks, or leading points, on the projected line of return. The first of these points was the Tlamath Lake, on the tableland between the head of Fall River (this is now called by its French name, the Des Chutes River), which comes to the Columbia, and the Sacramento, which goes to the Bay of San Francisco, and from which lake a river of the same name makes its way westwardly direct to the ocean.
"This lake and river are often called Klamet, but I have chosen to write the name according to the Indian pronunciation. The position of this lake, on the line of inland communication between Oregon and California; its proximity to the demarcation boundary of latitude 42 deg.; its imputed double character of lake, or meadow, according to the season of the year; and the hostile and warlike character attributed to the Indians about it;—all make it a desirable object to visit and examine. From this lake our course was intended to be about southeast, to a reported lake called Mary's, at some days' journey in the Great Basin; and thence, still on southeast, to the reputed Buenaventura River, which has a place in so many maps, and countenanced the belief of the existence of a great river flowing from the Rocky Mountains to the Bay of San Francisco. From the Buenaventura the next point was intended to be in that section of the Rocky Mountains which includes the heads of Arkansas River, and of the opposite waters of the California Gulf; and thence down the Arkansas to Bent's Fort, and home.
"This was our projected line of return—a great part of it absolutely new to geographical, botanical, and geological science—and the subject of reports in relation to lakes, rivers, deserts, and savages, hardly above the condition of mere wild animals, which inflamed desire to know what this terra incognita really contained. It was a serious enterprise, at the commencement of winter, to undertake the traverse of such a region, and with a party consisting only of twenty-five persons, and they of many nations—American, French, German, Canadian, Indian, and colored—and most of them young, several being under twenty-one years of age.
"All knew that a strange country was to be explored, and dangers and hardships to be encountered; but no one blenched at the prospect. On the contrary, courage and confidence animated the whole party. Cheerfulness, readiness, subordination, prompt obedience, characterized all; nor did any extremity or peril and privation, to which we were afterward exposed, ever belie, or derogate from, the fine spirit of this brave and generous commencement.
"The course of the narrative will show at what point, and for what reasons, we were prevented from the complete execution of this plan, after having made considerable progress upon it, and how we were forced by desert plains and mountain ranges, and deep snows, far to the south and near to the Pacific Ocean, and along the western base of the Sierra Nevada; where, indeed, a new and ample field of exploration opened itself before us."
From these quotations it is evident that Fremont had no idea of entering California at this time. He was simply driven to it by circumstances over which he had no control.
Leaving the Dalles, Fremont followed up the Des Chutes River to its headwaters in southeastern Oregon, thence he crossed over the divide to the waters of the Klamath, which he followed southward to what is known as Klamath Marsh. This he called "Klamath Lake."
Now started the hunt for Mary's Lake and the San Buenaventura River. The party came down through southeastern Oregon into Nevada, where they camped on the night of December 26, in Coleman Valley, on what is called Twelve-Mile Creek, and about eleven miles from the present California line. It may be noted here that at that time the parallel between Nevada and California on the south and Oregon on the north, was the southern boundary of the territory of the United States. Fremont was, therefore, about to cross into Mexican territory.
He then progressed southward through what are now Washoe, Humboldt, Churchill and Lyon counties, and over the California line into Mono County, back again into Douglas, and thence over the mountains south of Lake Tahoe, but did not find Mary's Lake, nor the places upon which he relied to recruit his animals and give rest to his party. He did, however, find Pyramid Lake. This being the body of water into which the Truckee River flows, and the Truckee being the only outlet to Lake Tahoe, it is well that this portion of the account be given in full. Fremont and Carson were on ahead. The day was January 10, 1843. Fremont writes:
Leaving a signal for the party to encamp, we continued our way up the hollow, intending to see what lay beyond the mountain. The hollow was several miles long, forming a good pass (some maps designate this pass as Fremont Pass, others as San Emidio Canyon), the snow deepened to about a foot as we neared the summit. Beyond, a defile between the mountains descended rapidly about two thousand feet; and, filling up all the lower space, was a sheet of green water, some twenty miles broad (Pyramid Lake). It broke upon our eyes like the ocean. The neighboring peaks rose high above us. One peak, on the eastern side of the lake, rises nearly forty-four hundred feet above the lake, and on the side (toward which Fremont was looking) one peak rises 4925 feet above the lake; and we ascended one of them to obtain a better view.
The waves were curling in the breeze, and their dark-green color showed it to be a body of deep water. For a long time we sat enjoying the view, for we had become fatigued with mountains, and the free expanse of moving waves was very grateful. It was set like a gem in the mountains, which, from our position, seemed to inclose it almost entirely. At the western end it communicated with the line of basins we had left a few days since; and on the opposite side it swept a ridge of snowy mountains, the foot of the great Sierra. Its position at first inclined us to believe it Mary's Lake, but the rugged mountains were so entirely discordant with descriptions of its low rushy shores and open country, that we concluded it some unknown body of water, which it afterwards proved to be.
On January 13th we followed again a broad Indian trail along the shore of the lake to the southward. For a short space we had room enough in the bottom; but, after traveling a short distance, the water swept the foot of the precipitous mountains, the peaks of which are about 3000 feet above the lake. The trail wound around the base of these precipices, against which the water dashed below, by a way nearly impracticable for the howitzer. During a greater part of the morning the lake was nearly hid by a snowstorm, and the waves broke on the narrow beach in a long line of foaming surf, five or six feet high. The day was unpleasantly cold, the wind driving the snow sharp against our faces; and, having advanced only about twelve miles, we encamped in a bottom formed by a ravine, covered with good grass, which was fresh and green.
We did not get the howitzer into camp, but were obliged to leave it on the rocks until morning. The next morning the snow was rapidly melting under a warm sun. Part of the morning was occupied in bringing up the gun; and, making only nine miles, we encamped on the shore, opposite a very remarkable rock in the lake, which had attracted our attention for many miles. It rose, according to our estimate, 600 feet above the water, and, from the point we viewed it, presented a pretty exact outline of the great pyramid of Cheops. Like other rocks, along the shore, it seemed to be incrusted with calcareous cement. This striking feature suggested a name for the lake, and I called it Pyramid Lake; and though it may be deemed by some a fanciful resemblance, I can undertake to say that the future traveler will find much more striking resemblance between this rock and the pyramids of Egypt than there is between them and the object from which they take their name....
The elevation of this lake above the sea is 4890 feet, being nearly 700 feet higher than the Great Salt Lake, from which it lies nearly west, and distant about eight degrees of longitude. The position and elevation of this lake make it an object of geographical interest. It is the nearest lake to the western rim, as the Great Salt Lake is to the eastern rim of the Great Basin which lies between the base of the Rocky Mountains and the Sierra Nevada—and the extent and character of which, its whole circumference and contents, it is so desirable to know.
The Indians then directed him to a river of which he says:
Groves of large cottonwood, which we could see at the mouth, indicated that it was a stream of considerable size, and, at all events, we had the pleasure to know that now we were in a country where human beings could live. Reaching the groves, we found the inlet of a large fresh-water stream (the Truckee River), and all at once were satisfied that it was neither Mary's River nor the waters of the Sacramento, but that we had discovered a large interior lake, which the Indians informed us had no outlet. It is about 35 miles long, and, by the mark of the water-line along the shore, the spring level is about 12 feet above its present waters.
In the meantime, such a salmon-trout feast as is seldom seen was going on in our camp, and every variety of manner in which fish could be prepared—boiled, fried and roasted in the ashes—was put into requisition; and every few minutes an Indian would be seen running off to spear a fresh one. Whether these Indians had seen whites before, we could not be certain; but they were evidently in communication with others who had, as one of them had some brass buttons, and we noticed several other articles of civilized manufacture. We could obtain from them but little information about the country. They made on the ground a drawing of the river, which they represented as issuing from another lake in the mountains three or four days distant, in a direction a little west of south; beyond which, they drew a mountain; and further still, two rivers; on one of which they told us that people like ourselves traveled.
They still wandered to the south, passing near where Dayton, Nevada, now is, and reaching Bridgeport and Mono and Twin Lakes. Here they struck north and west again and soon had to leave the howitzer. Passing through Antelope Valley they reached Markleeville in deep snow, passed Graver's Springs, entered Faith and Hope Valleys, and here it was Fremont gained his view of Lake Tahoe. It was February 14, 1844. He says:
The dividing ridge of the Sierra is in sight from this encampment. Accompanied by Mr. Preuss, I ascended to-day the highest peak to the right [probably Stevens Peak, 10,100 feet above sea-level], from which we had a beautiful view of a mountain lake at our feet, about fifteen miles in length, and so entirely surrounded by mountains that we could not discover an outlet [Lake Tahoe]. We had taken with us a glass, but though we enjoyed an extended view, the valley was half hidden in mist, as when we had seen it before. Snow could be distinguished on the higher parts of the coast mountains, eastward, as far as the eye could extend. It ranged over a terrible mass of broken snowy mountains, fading off blue in the distance. The rock composing the summit consists of very coarse, dark, volcanic conglomerate; the lower parts appeared to be of a slaty structure. The highest trees were a few scattered cedars and aspens. From the immediate foot of the peak, we were two hours reaching the summit, and one hour and a quarter in descending. The day had been very bright, still, and clear, and spring seemed to be advancing rapidly. While the sun is in the sky the snow melts rapidly, and gushing springs cover the face of the mountain in all exposed places, but their surface freezes instantly with the disappearance of the sun.
I obtained to-night some observations, and the result from these, and others made during our stay, gives for the latitude 38 deg. 41' 57", longitude 120 deg. 25' 57" [the correct longitude for this place is 119 deg. 58'], and rate of the chronometer 25.82.
The next night they encamped on the headwaters of a little creek, where at last the water found its way to the Pacific. The following morning they started early.
The creek acquired a regular breadth of about 20 feet, and we soon began to hear the rushing of water below the icy surface, over which we traveled to avoid the snow; a few miles below we broke through, where the water was several feet deep, and halted to make a fire and dry our clothes. We continued a few miles further, walking being very laborious without snowshoes.
I was now perfectly satisfied that we had struck the stream on which Mr. Sutter lived; and, turning about, made a hard push, and reached the camp at dark. Here we had the pleasure to find all the remaining animals, 57 in number, safely arrived at the grassy hill near camp; and here, also, we were agreeably surprised with the sight of an abundance of salt. Some of the horse-guard had gone to a neighboring hut for pine nuts, and discovered unexpectedly a large cake of very white, fine grained salt, which the Indians told them they had brought from the other side of the mountain; they used it to eat with their pine nuts, and readily sold it for goods.
On the 19th, the people were occupied in making a road and bringing up the baggage; and, on the afternoon of the next day, February 20, we encamped, with the animals and all the materiel of the camp, on the summit of the pass [Carson Pass, at the head of Hope Valley] in the dividing ridge, 1000 miles by our traveled road from the Dalles to the Columbia.
The people, who had not yet been to this point, climbed the neighboring peak to enjoy a look at the valley.
The temperature of boiling water gave for the elevation of the encampment, 9338 feet above the sea.
This was 2000 feet higher than the South Pass in the Rocky Mountains, and several peaks in view rose several thousand feet still higher. Thus, at the extremity of the continent, and near the coast, the phenomenon was seen of a range of mountains still higher than the great Rocky Mountains themselves. This extraordinary fact accounts for the Great Basin, and shows that there must be a system of small lakes and rivers scattered over a flat country, and which the extended and lofty range of the Sierra Nevada prevents from escaping to the Pacific Ocean. Latitude 38 deg. 44', longitude 120 deg. 28'. [This latitude is that of Stevens Peak, the highest in that ridge, 10,100 feet, and of course he did not go over the top of that peak, when Carson Pass, 1600 feet lower, was in plain view; this pass is the lowest one visible from the route on which they had come; another pass much lower leads out from the other or northern end of Hope Valley, but was not visible from their trail. The summit of Carson Pass is approximately latitude 38 deg. 41' 50"; longitude 119 deg. 59'. Fremont's longitude readings are unreliable, owing to error in his chronometer.]
From this point on, following the south fork of the American River, sixteen days from the summit landed Fremont and his party at Sutler's Fort, March 8. Of their arrival Fremont says:
A more forlorn and pitiable sight than they presented cannot well be imagined. They were all on foot, each man weak and emaciated, leading a horse or mule as weak and emaciated as themselves. They had experienced great difficulty in descending the mountains, made slippery by rains and melting snows, and many horses fell over precipices and were killed, and with some were lost the packs they carried. Among these was a mule with the plants which we had collected since leaving Fort Hall, along a line of 2000 miles of travel. Out of 67 horses and mules, with which we commenced crossing the Sierra, only 33 reached the valley of the Sacramento, and they only in a condition to be led along.
In concluding this chapter it should not be overlooked that on his maps of the expedition of 1843-44 Fremont called the mountain lake he had discovered "Lake Bonpland." He says in a private letter: "I gave to the basin river its name of Humboldt and to the mountain lake the name of his companion traveler, Bonpland, and so put it in the map of that expedition."
Amade Bonpland was born at Rochelle, France, in 1773. He was educated as a physician but became a noted botanist. He accompanied Humboldt to America, and subsequently became a joint author with the great traveler and scientist of several valuable works on the botany, natural-history, etc., of the New World. He was detained as a prisoner for nearly ten years by Dictator Francia of Paraguay to prevent him from, or to punish him for, attempting to cultivate the mate, or Paraguay tea, in that country. He died in 1858 at Montevideo, the Capital of Uruguay, in South America.
His name as applied to Lake Tahoe is practically unknown, save to the curious investigator or historian. Other names given by Fremont have "stuck" to this day, amongst them being Humboldt, Walker, Owen, Kern and Carson rivers, Pyramid and Walker lakes, etc.
The vicissitudes of the naming of Lake Tahoe is of sufficient interest to occupy a whole chapter, to which the reader is referred.
THE INDIANS OF LAKE TAHOE
Since Lake Tahoe was the natural habitat of one of the most deliciously edible fishes found in the world, the Indians of the region were bound, very early in their history here, to settle upon its shores. These were the Paiutis and the Washoes. The former, however, ranging further east in Nevada, were always regarded as interlopers by the latter if they came too near to the Lake, and there are legends current of several great struggles in which many lives were lost, where the Washoes battled with the Paiutis to keep them from this favored locality.
Prior to the coming of the emigrant bands in the early 'forties of the last century, the only white men the Indians ever saw were occasional trappers who wandered into the new and strange land. Then, the beautiful Indian name, soft and limpid as an Indian maiden's eyes, was Wasiu—not the harsh, Anglicized, Washoe. Their range seemed to be from Washoe and Carson valleys on the east in winter, up to Tahoe and over the Sierras for fishing and hunting in the summer. They never ventured far westward, as the Monos and other mountain tribes claimed the mountain regions for their acorns and the game (deer, etc.), which abounded there.
While in the early days of the settlements of whites upon their lands the Washoes now and again rose in protest, and a few lives were lost, in the main they have been a peaceable and inoffensive tribe. The Paiutis were far more independent and warlike, placing their yoke upon the weaker tribe. Indeed, when I first talked with the older Washoes and Paiutis thirty years ago they were full of stories of big wars between themselves. They showed me rocks near to the present town of Verdi, on the line of the Southern Pacific, on which their ancestors had made certain inscriptions which they interpreted as warnings to the Paiutis not to dare trespass beyond that sign, and the Paiutis had similar notices inscribed upon bowlders near to their boundary lines. As a result of one of their fights the Washoes were forbidden the use of horses, and it is only since the whites have exercised control that the weaker tribe has dared to disregard this prohibition.
To-day they number in the region of six hundred men, women and children. On account of their nomadic habits it is impossible to secure a complete census.
In appearance they are heavy and fat, though now and again a man of fine, muscular form and good height is found. The women have broad, shapeless figures and clumsy, deliberate movements. The older they get the more repulsive and filthy they become. While young some of the women have pleasing, intelligent and alert faces, while children of both sexes are attractive and interesting. But with them as with all aboriginal people who have absorbed the vices and none of the virtues of the whites, the Washoes are fast losing power, vigor and strength by disease and dissipation. The smoke of the campoodie fire is also ruinous to their eyes and ophthalmia is prevalent among them. It is no uncommon thing to see a man or woman entirely blind.
The old-time methods of clothing have entirely disappeared. When I first knew them it was not unusual to find an old Indian wrapped in a blanket made of twisted rabbit-skins, but I doubt if one could be found to-day. The white man's overalls, blouse and ordinary coat and vest for the men, with calico in variegated colors for the women, seem to have completely taken the place of their own primitive dress. A pair of moccasins, however, now and again, may be found in use at a dance or on some special occasion.
They still paint and tattoo their faces, hands and wrists, in lines, triangles and circles. On their bodies also stripes of irregular design and varying colors are often used, all having a symbolic meaning originally, now lost, however, at least to all the younger members of the tribe. Painting the face has a definite and useful purpose. It softens the skin and prevents the frosts of winter from cracking it.
Their dwellings are of the rudest character, mere brush shacks in summer, and in winter, nondescript structures of brush, old boards, railroad ties, tin cans, barrel-staves, old carpet, canvas, anything that will sustain a roof and keep out wind, rain and as much of the cold as possible. Their name for this structure is campoodie. Of course there is no pretense of sanitation, cleanliness or domestic privacy. The whole family herds together around the smoking fire, thus early beginning the destruction of their eyesight by the never-ceasing and irritating smoke.
Their native food consists of fish, the products of the chase, which include deer, antelope, an occasional bear, rabbits, squirrels and even coyotes, mountain-lions and wildcats, with acorns, manzanita berries, currants and the seeds of wild peaches and the various grasses, together with a large assortment of roots. While they gather and eat pine nuts, they generally save them for purposes of barter or sale. Their carrying baskets contain a good wheelbarrow load and are called mo-ke-wit.
They are great gamblers, their chief game being a guessing contest, where sides are chosen, the fortune of each side depending on its ability to guess who holds a certain decorated stick. Men and women alike play the game, though generally the sexes separate and play by themselves. Quiet chanting or singing often accompanies the game. All alike smoke the cigarette.
Of their religious beliefs little can be said. The fact is their simple nature-worship and the superstitions connected with it have been abolished, practically, by their association with the whites, and we have given them nothing as substitutes. As Mrs. W.W. Price says in a letter to me:
In several talks with Susan and Jackson, after the death of Susan's sister, I endeavored to find out some of their religious beliefs. But these talks were not very satisfactory. Neither one knew what he did believe. Their old Indian religion—whatever it may have been—seemed to have passed, and the religion of the white man had not taken very deep hold.
While Susan felt that she must cut her hair short and burn all her sister's things and do just so much wailing each day to drive off the evil spirits (on the occasion of her sister's death), she took most comfort in doing as "white woman" do—putting on a black dress.
The most interesting result of my talks with Jackson was the following ghost story, which he told me to show that Indians sometimes did live again after death. His grandmother had told him the story and had heard it herself from the man to whom it had happened. It is as follows: "An Indian woman died, leaving a little child and her husband. The latter spent the accustomed four days and nights watching at her grave without food or drink. On the fourth night the grave suddenly opened and the woman stepped out before him. 'Give me my child,' said she. The man said not a word but went quickly and brought the little child. The woman did not speak but took the child and suckled it. Then holding it close in her arms, she began to walk slowly away. The man followed her, but he did not speak. On, on they went, through forest and meadow, up hill and down dale.
"By and by the man made a movement as though he would take hold of her to stop her. But the woman warded him off with a wave of her hand. 'Touch me not,' she said. 'If you touch me, you must die too!' She stood and suckled the child once more, then laid him gently in her husband's arms. 'Go home,' she said, and faded from his sight.
"Home he went with the child, full of awe and fear.
"A few days afterwards the child died, though there was nothing the matter with it. The man, however, lived to be very old."
Jackson was not sure whether he believed this story or not. But his manner of telling it indicated that it was very real to him.
Now and again near Tallac one may see one of the dances of the Washoes. Though war is past with them they still occasionally indulge in their War Dance and its consequent Scalp Dance. There are not more than ten or a dozen of the old warriors still living who actually engaged in warfare in the old days, and these are too old and feeble to dance. But as the young men sing and throw their arms and limbs about in the growing frenzy of the arousing dance, and the tom-tom throbs its stimulating beat through the air, these old men's eyes flash, and their quavering voices become steady and strong in the excitement, and they live in the conflicts of the past.
Another of the dances that is still kept up is the Puberty Dance. Many white people have seen this, but not having any clew to its significance, it seemed absurd and frivolous. When a girl enters the door of young womanhood the Washoe idea is to make this an occasion for developing wiriness, strength, and vigor. Contrary to the method of the white race, she is made, for four consecutive days, to exert herself to the utmost. She must walk and climb mountains, ride and run, and when night comes on the fourth day, she and her mother, and as many of the tribe as are available, begin to dance at sunset and keep it up all night. The girl herself is designated by a long and slim pole which she carries in her hand, and which towers above her head. By her side stands her mother. The leader of the dance begins a song, a simple, rhythmic, weird chant, the words of which are archaic and have no significance to the Indians of to-day, but merely give syllables to hang the tune upon. As the leader sings he slowly moves his legs in a kind of oblique walk. The young men take his hand and follow. The women unite, and a rude circle is made, generally, however, open, at the place where the dance-leader stands. After once or twice around, the leader moves first one foot, then the other, sideways, at the same time jogging his body up and down in fairly rapid movement, in perfect time to his song. In a few moments all are bobbing up and down, with the onward side-shuffling movement, and the real dance is on. This continues according to the will of the leader. When his voice gives a sudden drawling drop that dance ends. There are a few minutes for relaxation and breath, and then he lines out a new song, with new syllables, and a new dance begins. This continues practically all night, the dance-leader showing his memory power or his composing genius by the number of new songs he introduces. I have counted as many as thirty to forty different tunes on one occasion.
Just at sunrise the mother of the girl fetches one or two buckets of cold water, while the maiden undresses. The water is suddenly dashed over her "to make her vigorous and strong," and the dance comes to an end.
This rude and rough treatment, in the early days, was made to have all the potency and sanctity of a religious rite. The reason for it was clear. The Washoes were surrounded by people with whom they were often at war. Indian warfare takes no cognizance of sex or its special disabilities. In order that their women should not be regarded as hors de combat, or enfeebled, at such times and thus hamper the movement of the tribe in case a sudden flight was needed, the shamans or medicine men taught that strength, activity and vigor were just as possible at that time as any other. "Those Above" commanded that it be so. Hence all the sanctity and seriousness of a religious rite was thrown around these dances, and though the Indians of to-day have lost many of their old customs, this is one that is still rigorously observed.
Another singular custom that still obtains is where, after the birth of a first child, the husband and father is required to fast and work arduously from the day of the birth until the child's navel shrivels off. This is to make him strong and vigorous, so that he may be able to give as much strength to his second and later children as he did to the first.
As soon as a girl matures she is marriageable. Several and simple are the ways in which a Washoe youth shows his preference and desire for marriage. Equally simple are the girl's signs of acceptance or rejection. There is no ceremony as the White Race understands that term, though to the Indian there is everything that is necessary to make the rite as binding as it is to his white brother and sister.
Though polygamy has always been practiced, the custom to-day limits the wives to two, and only a few men have more than one wife. Where plural wives are taken they are generally sisters. There is little intermarriage among other tribes. Though it occasionally occurs it is fiercely frowned upon and all parties are made to feel uncomfortable.
Prostitution with the whites and Chinese is not uncommon, and children born of such relationship have just as good a standing as those born in wedlock. The Indian sees no sense in punishing an innocent child for what it is in no way responsible for. He frankly argues that only a silly fool of a white man or woman would do so cruel and idiotic a thing.
Children are invariably welcomed and made much of at birth, though it is seldom a Washoe woman has more than four or five babies. They are always nursed by the mother, and not often weaned until they are four or five years old.
In the early days the labor of the sexes was clearly defined. The man was the hunter and the warrior, the guardian of the family. The woman was the gatherer of the seeds, the preparer of the food, the care-taker of the children. To-day there is not much difference in the division of labor. The breaking down of all the old customs by contact with the whites has made men and women alike indifferent to what work they do so that the family larder and purse are replenished thereby.
In the early days the Washoes were expert hunters of bear and deer. They used to cross over into the mountains of California for this purpose, and the women would accompany them. A camp would be established just below the snow line, and while the men and youths went out hunting the women gathered acorns. My informant, an old Indian, was a lad of eighteen at the time of which he spoke. In effect he said: "One day while I was out I found the tracks of a bear which I followed to a cave. Then I went to camp. But we Indians are not like you white men. You would have rushed in and shouted to everybody, 'I've found a bear's track!' Instead I waited until night and when all the squaws had gone to bed I leisurely told the men who were chatting around the camp fire. They wished to know if I knew where the cave was, and of course I assured them I could go directly to it. The next morning early my uncle quietly aroused me, saying, 'Let's go and get that bear.' I was scared but had to go. When we arrived he took some pieces of pitch-pine from his pocket, and lighting them, gave me one, and told me to stand at the mouth of the cave ready to shoot the bear, while he went in and drove it out. I didn't like the idea, but I daren't confess my cowardice, for he at once went in. In a few moments I heard terrific growlings and roarings and then the bear rushed out. I banged away and he fell, and I was proud to tell my uncle, when he came out, that I had killed the bear. 'No, you didn't,' said he; 'your shots all went wild. Here's the shot that killed him,' and sure enough it was a shot of a different size from that of my gun."
"Another time when I found a bear in a cave he said, 'You must go in this time and drive out the bear.' I was sure I couldn't do it, but he insisted, and thrusting the lighted sticks into my hands bade me crawl in, keeping my eyes fixed the while, as soon as I saw them, upon those of the bear. I was to keep my back to the wall, and when I got well in, was to dash the light behind the bear and give a yell. I crawled in all right and soon got to where I could just about stand up, but when I saw the bear and he began to growl I was scared and backed out pretty quick and said I didn't have light enough. My uncle grabbed the sticks from me, called me a coward, rushed in, and as the bear dashed out shot and killed it."
It is generally thought that Indians are good shots, but the testimony of the hunters of the Tahoe region is that the Washoes are very poor shots. One hunter tells me he has seen an Indian take as fine a standing shot as one need desire, again and again, and miss every time. On one occasion he was hunting deer with an Indian. The latter had gone up a steep slope, when, suddenly, he began to fire, and kept it up until fourteen shots were fired. Said he: "I was sure he must have a bunch of deer and was making a big killing, and hurried up to his side. When I got there I found he had sent all those shot after one buck, and had succeeded only in breaking its leg. With one shot I killed the wounded animal, went up to it and was about to cut its throat, when he begged me not to do so, asserting that if I cut the deer's throat that way I should never get a standing shot again, the deer would always be able to smell me."
This is a quaint superstition. The Indians believe that though the particular deer be slain it has the power of communicating with living deer and informing them of the peculiar "smell" of the hunter. Hence, as in the olden days they had no guns, only bows and arrows, and were compelled to creep up much nearer to their prey than is needful with a gun, anything that seemed to add to the deer's power of scenting the hunter must studiously be avoided.
And, although the gun had rendered the old methods of hunting unnecessary, this particular precaution still persisted and had all the force of established custom.
My friend then continued: "Another superstition I found out as I cleaned this deer. I cut out the paunch, the heart and the liver and offered them to the Indian. He refused them, saying it was food fit only for women, children and old men. If he were to eat them he would never have luck in hunting again."
This superstition is common with many Indian tribes. It is based upon the idea that one becomes like that which he eats. If one eats the heart of a mountain-lion or bear he becomes daring and courageous. But to eat the heart of the timid deer is to make oneself timorous and cowardly.
As soon after puberty as possible a boy is taken out by his father or uncle on a hunt. Prior to that time he is not allowed to go. But before he can eat of the product of the chase he must himself kill a deer with large enough horns to allow him to crawl through them.
A friend of mine was out with a Washoe Indian whose boy was along on his first hunting expedition. They hunted a deer for nearly three days, but as soon as they found tracks the father, after studying them awhile, said: "This a little fellow. No good. He not big enough"—thus signifying to his son that his horns were not large enough to allow him to crawl through, hence it was no use following the animal further.
The Indian is quite sure that deer can smell him and know when he is on the hunt. He becomes skillful in detecting and following their tracks, and knows just how to circle around their hiding-place and suddenly walk in upon them. My friend, referred to above, who is a great hunter, was once out with a Washoe. They had had three "bad" days, when suddenly they found a deer's track. It was fresh, but when they came to the hole where he had lain down to rest, though the place was quite warm, the deer had gone. The Indian at once exclaimed: "That deer smell me. I must get rid of the Indian smell." Accordingly he scooped out a hole in the ground, heated a number of rocks in it, then, spreading fir boughs over them, lay down over the rocks and took a "fir-sweat" for fully ten to fifteen minutes. As he arose he exclaimed: "Deer no smell me to-morrow," and my friend said he did no longer smell like an Indian, but like burnt fir wood.
Turning to the Indian, however, he said: "You're all right, but how about me?" to which the reply instantly came: "You all right. Deer only smell Indian. He not smell white man."
Chief among the women's work is the making of baskets. The best Washoe basket makers are not surpassed by any weavers in the world. At Tallac, Fallen Leaf, Glen Alpine and several other resorts basket-makers may be found, preparing their splints, weaving or trying to sell their baskets.
Not far from Tahoe Tavern, about a quarter a mile away in the direction of Tahoe City, is the little curio store of A. Cohn, whose headquarters are in Carson City, the capital of the State of Nevada. Mr. and Mrs. Cohn hold a unique position in their particular field. Some twenty-five years ago they purchased a beautiful basket from a Washoe Indian woman, named Dat-so-la-le in Washoe, or Luisa Keyser in American, for she was the wife of Charley Keyser, a general roustabout Indian, well known to the citizens of Carson. Luisa was a large, heavy, more than buxom—literally a fat,—ungainly squaw. But her fingers were under the perfect control of a remarkably artistic brain. She was not merely an artist but a genius. She saw exquisite baskets in her dreams, and had the patience, persistence and determination to keep on weaving until she was able to reproduce them in actuality. She also was possessed by an indomitable resolution to be the maker of the finest baskets of the Washoe tribe. While she was still a young woman she gained the goal of her ambition, and it was just about this time that she offered one of her baskets to Mr. Cohn. He saw it was an excellent basket, that the shape was perfect, the color-harmony superior to any he had seen before, the stitch small, fine, and even, the weave generally perfect, the design original and worked out with artistic ability. He saw all this, yet, because it was Indian work, and the woman was a rude, coarse mountain of flesh, a feminine Falstaff, of a lower order of beings and without Falstaff's geniality and wit, he passed the basket by as merely worth a dollar or two extra, and placed it side by side with the work of other Washoe and Paiuti squaws. A Salt Lake dealer came into the store soon thereafter and saw this basket. "How much?" he asked. The price was given—rather high thought Mr. Cohn—. "Twenty-five dollars!" "I'll take it!" came the speedy response.
A month or two later Cohn received a photograph from the purchaser, accompanied by a letter. "You know the basket, herewith photographed, which I purchased from you. Have you any more by the same weaver, or of as good a weave? If so, how many, and at what price? Wire reply at my expense."
Then Mr. Cohn awoke, and he's been awake ever since. He wired his list of Dat-so-la-le's baskets, but he has had no reply, and that was twenty-five years ago. He then made arrangements with Dat-so-la-le and her husband. He provides them house, food, clothing and a certain amount of cash yearly, and he takes all the work Luisa makes. Every basket as soon as begun is noted as carefully as every breeding of a thoroughbred horse or dog. Also the date the basket is finished. It is then numbered and photographed and either offered for sale at a certain price, which is never changed, or is put in the safety-deposit vault of the bank, to await the time when such aboriginal masterpieces will be eagerly sought after by the growingly intelligent and appreciative of our citizens, for their museums or collections, as specimens of work of a people—the first American families—who will then, possibly, have passed away. The photographs, here reproduced, are of some of Dat-so-la-le's finest work.
INDIAN LEGENDS OF THE TAHOE REGION
As all students of the Indian are well aware these aboriginal and out-of-door dwellers in the forests, canyons, mountains, valleys, and on lake and seashores are great observers of Nature, and her many and varied phenomena. He who deems the Indian dull, stolid and unimpressionable, simply because in the presence of the White Race he is reserved and taciturn, little knows the observing and reflecting power hidden behind so self-restrained a demeanor. Wherever natural objects, therefore, are of a peculiar, striking, unusual, unique, or superior character, it is reasonable to assume that the Indians, living within sight of them, should possess myths, legends, folk-lore, creation-stories or the like in connection with their creation, preservation, or present-day existence. This is found exemplified in the legends of Havasupais, Hopis, Navajos and Wallapais as to the origin of the Grand Canyon of Arizona, of the Yohamities, Monos, Chuc-Chances, and others, of the distinctive features of the Yosemite Valley, the Hetch-Hetchy, etc.
While the present-day, half-educated, half-civilized Washoes are by no means representatives of the highest elements of natural enlightenment among the Indian race, they do possess legends about Tahoe, the following being the most interesting.
All these stories, except the last, were gathered by Mrs. W.W. Price of Fallen Leaf Lodge, from Indians with whom she has been very familiar for several years, named Jackson and his wife Susan. There has been no attempt to dress them up in literary fashion. They are given as near to the Indians' mode of telling as possible. They are wonderfully different from certain stories recently published in current magazines, professing to be Legends of Lake Tahoe. These latter are pure fiction, and to those familiar with Indian thought, reveal their origin in the imaginative brain of white writers who have but faint conceptions of Indian mentality. Mrs. Price is a graduate of Stanford University, and took great pains to preserve the Indians' exact mode of expression. As she herself writes:
Long before the white man saw and wondered over the beauty of Tahoe, theorizing over its origin and concocting curious tales about its "unfathomable" depths, the Indians knew and loved it. And as among all other peoples, legends have grown up to account for every phenomenon of Nature, so among the Washoe Indians stories about Tahoe have been handed down from generation to generation.
I do not vouch for these legends. The modern Indian too often tells what he thinks you want to know,—if only you will cross his hand with silver. But there are touches here and there that make me feel that for the most part they are remnants of very old legends.
THE ORIGIN OF TAHOE, FALLEN LEAF, AND OTHER LAKES
Long, long ago, before the white man came to Nevada, there lived in the meadow over beyond Glenbrook a good Indian. But though he was good, he was much annoyed by the Evil Spirit, who constantly interfered with all that he tried to do. Finally, he determined that he must move away and get over into the valleys of California. But when he tried to escape, the Evil One was always there ready to trip him in some way or other.
In his trouble the Good Spirit came to his aid, giving him a leafy branch which had certain magic qualities. He was to start on his journey. If he saw the Evil One coming he was to drop a bit of the branch and water would immediately spring up. The Evil One could not cross water, and thus, being delayed by going around, would give the Indian time to escape.
The Indian made his way well along to where Tallac Hotel now is, when, looking back, he saw the Evil One off in the distance approaching with such strides that his heart was filled with great fear. In his terror he tried to pluck a leaf but it snapped off and he dropped almost his whole branch. To his delight and relief the waters began to rise and soon "Tahoe"—Big Water—lay between him and his enemy.
Free-heartedly he hurried on his way up the canyon, but when he reached the spot where the head of Fallen Leaf Lake lies, he turned to reassure himself. Away off the Evil One was advancing. A new terror filled his soul. In his hand there remained of his magic branch only one little twig with a single leaf on it.
Plucking the leaf, he threw it down and watched it fall waveringly through the air. As it touched earth the waters again began to rise and "Doolagoga"—Fallen Leaf—sprang into being and on its surface floated the little leaf, as many leaves now float in the fall of the year.
Turning, he sped up the ravine, dropping bits of his twig as fear directed him, and in his path, Lily, Grass, and Heather lakes came up to guard his way.
At last he was over the crest of the mountain and found himself safe in the long-wished-for Valley of California.
THE LEGEND OF THE TWO BROTHERS
Once long ago in Paiuti-land, Nevada, there lived two brothers. The older was a hunter and brought home much game. His wife, whose name was Duck, used to cook this for him, but she was very stingy to the younger brother, and often times he was hungry. When he begged her for food, she scolded him and drove him out of the campoodie, saying, "Got none for you."
One day when the older brother was off hunting Duck was cleaning some fish. She had been very cross to Little Brother, refusing to give him any food, and he was terribly hungry. Presently he came creeping up behind her and when he saw all the fish he became very angry. He took up a big club and before Duck could turn around he hit her on the head and killed her. Paying no attention to her dead body he cooked and ate all the fish he wanted and then lay down in the sunshine on a big rock and went fast asleep.
By and by his Hunter Brother came home. Of course when he found his wife dead, he was filled with great anger at his young brother, though his anger was lessened when he thought of his wife's cruelty. He shook him very roughly and said, "I no like you any more! I go away. Leave you alone!" But Little Brother begged, "Don't be angry! Don't be angry! Let's go far away! I help you all the time! Don't be angry!"