The Lake of the Sky
by George Wharton James
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Gradually he persuaded the Hunter Brother to forgive him and they started off together toward the "Big Water"—Lake Tahoe. On the way the Hunter Brother taught the Little Brother how to shoot with a bow and arrow. By the time they reached the spot now known as Lakeside both their belts were filled with squirrels that they had shot.

At dusk they built a good fire and when there were plenty of glowing coals, Hunter Brother dug a long hole, and filling it with embers, laid the squirrels in a row on the coals covering them all up with earth.

He was tired and lay down by the fire to rest till the squirrels should be cooked. With his head resting on his arms, the warmth of the fire soothing him, he soon fell fast, fast asleep.

Little Brother sat by the fire and as the night grew darker, he grew hungrier and hungrier. He tried to waken his brother, but the latter seemed almost like one dead and he could not rouse him. At last he made up his mind he would eat by himself. Going to the improvised oven, he began to dig up the squirrels, counting them as they came to light. One was missing. Little Brother was troubled.

"How that? My brother had so many, I had so many!"—counting on his fingers—"One gone!" And he forgot how hungry he was as he dug for the missing squirrel.

All at once he came upon a bigger hole adjoining the cooking hole. While he stood wondering what to do, out popped a great big spider.

"I'll catch you!" cried the spider.

"No, you won't!" said the boy, and up he jumped and away he ran, followed by the spider. They raced over stock and stone, dodging about trees and stumbling over fallen logs for a long time. At last Little Brother could run no more. The spider grabbed him and carried him back to his hole, where he killed him.

It was almost daybreak when Hunter Brother awoke. He called his brother to bring more wood, for the fire was almost out. Getting no answer he went to look at the cooking squirrels.

Greatly surprised to see them lying there all uncovered, he, too, counted them. Discovering one gone, he thought his brother must have eaten it and was about to eat one himself when he saw the old spider stick his head out of the hole. Each made a spring, but the Hunter Brother was the quicker and killed the wicked spider with his knife.

Carefully he now went into the spider's hole. There, stretched out on the ground, lay Little Brother dead! Taking him up in his arms, he carried him outside. Now this Hunter Brother was a medicine-man of great power, so he lay down with Little Brother and breathed into his mouth and in a few minutes he came back to life and was all right.[1]

The Hunter Brother was very happy to have his Little Brother alive again. He built up the fire and while they sat eating their long-delayed meal Little Brother told all that had happened to him.

[Footnote 1: Susan who was telling this story offered no reason why he had not restored Duck, his own wife, to life.]

The sun was quite above the horizon before the meal was finished, and soon Hunter Brother was anxious to be moving on, so they took their way along the lake shore. On their way they talked and laughed one with another and seemed to agree very well, until they had gone around the lake and reached where Tahoe City now is. Here they quarreled and the Hunter Brother left Little Brother to return and go up the Big Mountain—Tallac—where he had heard there were many squirrels. After his departure, Little Brother decided to follow him and get him to make friends again. So he trudged along the lake shore until he came to Emerald Bay.

There lying on the log at the edge of the lake, lay a water-baby. It was asleep with its head resting on its arms and its beautiful, sunshine-golden-hair was spread over it.

"Oh," said Little Brother, "I'll get that beautiful sun-shine-hair as a present for my brother!" So he crept very softly down on the log, thinking to kill the water-baby before it awoke. But he was not successful in this, for the creature opened its eyes as he laid his hand on its hair, and a furious fight ensued. Sometimes it seemed as though Little Brother would be killed, but finally he was able to scalp the poor water-baby and get possession of the beautiful sunshine-golden-hair. Every one can see where this fight occurred. The red hill near Emerald Bay stands as a memorial of the struggle, for its color is caused by the blood of the slain water-baby.

Tucking his prize in his hunting shirt and hugging it close, Little Brother now went on, murmuring to himself, "Oh, my brother like this, my brother like this beautiful golden-sunshine-hair!"

But suddenly, as he was climbing upward, he noticed the water lapping at his heels, and when he turned to see whence it came, he found that the big lake behind him was rapidly rising, and even as he stood wondering, it arose above his ankles.

Then he remembered what he had heard of revengeful water-babies, but frightened though he was, he could not bear to throw away his prize. However, he knew he must do something, so he plucked out a few hairs from the scalp and threw them into the ascending waves. For a minute the water ceased to rise and he sped onward, but before long he felt the water at his heels again, and knew that once more he must gain a short respite by throwing out a few of the golden-sunshine-hairs. And ever and again he had to do this until at last he spied his brother ahead of him. "Ah, brother," he cried, drawing the scalp from his blouse, "see what a beautiful present I have for you!"

But when his brother turned toward him he saw only the angry, rising waters, and rushing forward he snatched the beautiful sunshine-golden-hair and cast it back into the waters, crying, "How you dare meddle with water-babies? Don't you know water surely come up and get you?"

And poor Little Brother felt very sad; but the danger he had been in seemed to have endeared him once more to Hunter Brother and they stood arm-in-arm and watched the waters recede.

But there were hollows in the land and when the waters went back they held the water and so were formed that chain of lakes on the other side of Tallac and Emerald Bay, the Velmas, Kalmia, Cascade, and others.

The rest of the story is confused and full of repetitions. The gist of it is that Little Brother was ever getting into trouble from which Hunter Brother had to rescue him, for which Little Brother was most grateful and would go off seeking for a present to give to the Big Brother who was so kind to him.

Once he got a young bear cub. He thought it was a dog. He petted it and brought it to his brother as a hunting-dog.

Finally, after Hunter Brother had made a first-class hunter of Little Brother so that he could use his bow and arrows with great success, they went down toward the Sacramento Valley hunting deer. They followed a fine buck over hill and dale but could not get a good shot at him. At last worn out by running and suffering greatly, the Little Brother lay down and died. When his brother found him, he did not attempt to bring him to life again but buried him under a pile of rocks and leaves.


Once upon a time there was an old Indian who lived over in Hope Valley with his two grand-daughters. He was a mean old man. He made the girls work very hard all day long. They had to gather wild grass seeds and acorns and grind them into flour all the time. The old man caught plenty of fish and frogs which he took off for his own eating, but he gave the girls none.

One day he came in with a woodchuck skin and told the girls to fill it with wild wheat flour. He did not tell them what he wanted it for. When the skin was full he left the campoodie without a word as to where he was going. But the bag leaked and a little stream of flour trickled out and marked his path. He went away off to a lake where he caught plenty of fish and frogs on which he feasted until he could eat no more. Then he lay down by his fire and was soon fast asleep.

Meanwhile in the campoodie the two girls were talking about the old man's meanness. "He makes us work so hard and we never have any fish to eat. He keeps it all himself," said the older girl.

"I wonder where he's gone now?" said the younger one, going to the door-way and looking out. Suddenly she noticed the little line of flour trailing off through the woods. "Ah, now I'll find him!" And just calling to her sister that she would be back soon, she darted off.

It was dark when she came back weeping. She threw herself on the ground outside the campoodie and poured out her story. She had found the old man lying there fast asleep, gorged with fish. The remnants of his feast lay all about him. She had not dared to waken him or speak to him, but coming home, had made up her mind to run away and not work for the mean old man any more.

To this the sister agreed, and at daybreak they were scurrying off through the forest.

All day they traveled and when night came they were still in the wilds far from any Indian camp.

Worn out, they lay down under a great pine and looked up at the stars.

"Oh," said the older girl, "see that fine Star-man up there! I'd like to marry him!"

"Oh, no!" said the younger, "he belongs to me. I'd like to marry him!"

They lay there telling what each would do could she only marry the Star-man, until they fell asleep. When they awoke in the morning, lo, they found themselves up in the sky, and the elder girl had a baby already—a star-baby! At first the girls were very good to the star-baby but it cried a great deal. One day the younger girl was very cross and put it outside of the campoodie. The poor baby cried all the more until the elder sister took pity on it, but when she had fed it and it still cried, the younger sister became very angry and told her sister to put that "brat" outside. The sister was tired too, so she put the poor baby outside.

When the baby could not make them come to him, he got up and went to find his grandfather, the Moon. He told him how mean his mother and aunt were to him. The old Moon was very angry. He took the star-baby by the hand and went tramping back through the sky to find the cruel mother and her sister.

Now, the girls had been getting rather tired of their sky-campoodie and they longed for their home on the earth. They used to go to a hole in the sky and look down on the earth, wishing they were there again. Indeed, at the time the star-baby went off to find his grandfather, the Moon, they were at the hole in the sky, amusing themselves by looking through and indulging in vain regrets that they were no longer there.

"Oh, sister," suddenly said the elder, "there goes our old grandfather! Poor old man! I wish we were with him! See, he's carrying big bags of wild wheat-flour and acorns!"

Just then the old Moon came tramping up, and the whole sky trembled. The people on earth said it was thundering. He grabbed the two girls by their hair and shaking them till they were almost dead, he hurled them down through the hole.

Down, down, they went, straight down to where their old grandfather was walking along, little suspecting what was coming. They both hit him and, coming as they did with such force, they made a deep hole in the earth in which they were almost buried.

That hole is over by Gardnerville. In that hole Indians can always find plenty of wild-grub—wild-wheat, wild potato, wild acorn—plenty there. Snow very deep. No difference. Always plenty wild grub there. I see that hole. I believe that story!


Long, long ago, away over in Paiuti-land there were some young boys and girls playing. They played all sorts of games, but they liked hand-ball best. And as they played, they sang songs of gladness.

There was one old woman, their grandmother, who would not play with them. She had a little baby, her youngest grandchild, whom she was trying to quiet, but the little one cried and cried continuously.

By-and-by the old woman heard a noise outside. She was frightened and called to the young folks. "Some one's coming! You better stop! Better hide! Maybe Evil One, devil, coming!"

But the young folks paid no attention to her warning. They kept on playing harder than ever. The old woman covered the baby with a big basket and hid her own face in her shawl.

Then the Evil One came in. All the young folks turned to see who was coming in and as soon as they looked upon his face they fell dead. Only the old woman and the baby were left; for the Evil One did not see them.

When he was gone, the old woman snatched up the baby and hurried off down to the river. As she was hurrying along she met an old man.

"Where are you going?" said he. Then the old woman saw that it was the Evil One himself. She was afraid but she did not want him to know it. She kept the baby covered in the basket and answered, "I'm going to the river to get wild potatoes!"

"Where are all the girls?" asked the Evil One.

"Oh, they are all over behind the big mountain, playing ball!"

The Evil One went off to find them, because he thought there were still some left, and the old woman quickly dug a big hole and hid herself and the baby away in it.

When the Evil One found that the old woman had told him a lie, he was very angry. He came back and hunted all day long till sundown for her that he might kill her. But he could not find any trace of her. He finally went home and then the old woman took the baby and hid on the top of a big rock, over near where Sheridan now is.

In the morning the Evil One came back to hunt further, but without success.

"I guess that the old woman is dead," said he, "or maybe she's gone across the river." But the Evil One loses his power if he touches water, so he dare not cross the river to follow her.

The old woman watched him from the top of the rock. Many times she feared lest he should find her, and she covered the baby more closely.

At last when he had given up the hunt, she saw him take a great basket and set it down in the road. Into this basket he put great bunches of elderberry roots, and as he put each bunch in, he gave it a name—Washoe, Digger, Paiuti, and so on. Then he put the lid on tightly and went off through the forest.

The old woman watched till the Evil One had gone. Creeping quietly down, she came with the child—she was a little girl now, not a wee baby any more—and sat down near the basket.

Presently there was a murmuring in the basket. "Oh, grandmother, what's that noise?" said the little girl.

"Never mind," said the grandmother, "don't you touch the basket!"

But the little girl kept teasing, "Oh, grandmother, what's in there?"

And the old woman would say, "Don't you touch it!"

The old woman turned her back just one minute and the little girl slipped up and raised the lid ever so little. There was a great whirring noise; the lid flew off and out came all the Indians. Off through the air they flew—Washoes to Washoe land; Diggers to Digger land; Paiutis to Nevada—each Indian to his own home.

The story given above is the one told by Jackson, but his wife, Susan, tells the same story with these essential differences. In her narrative there is no Evil One. The old woman scolded the young people for playing, but they are not all killed. It is the old woman herself who took a Paiuti water-bottle and after filling it with water, took wild seeds and placed them in the bottle, naming them the different Indian tribes. The seeds swelled in the water until they were as big as eggs and out of these the Indians hatched like chickens, and began to fight. It is the noise of the fighting that the baby hears.

As in Jackson's story the baby lets them out, but it is the wind that carries them off to their various homes.


The Indians were having a "big time" in a great log cabin. All the birds were there too, for in those days the Indians, birds, and animals could talk to each other.

They were dancing all around the room and all were merry as could be. They had a huge wooden drum and, as they passed this, the dancers kicked it to make music.

Now, among the birds who were there was a big blue-jay. He was a very saucy fellow, just full of mean tricks. When he came to the drum, he kicked it so hard that he broke it all to pieces. Of course this caused a great commotion. Every one was so provoked by his rudeness that they threw him out of the door.

It was raining hard and the impudence was soon washed out of Mr. Blue-Jay. He begged at the door in vain, and at last he huddled up on the branch of a tree, thinking himself greatly abused.

As he sat there, suddenly, far off, he saw a strange light. Now the Blue-Jay has an infinite amount of curiosity, so away he flew to investigate, quite forgetting his troubles.

It was fire which the Indian god had brought down to earth. The Jay got a piece and soon came flying back to the great cabin where the dance was still going on.

When he called now at the door, saying that he had something wonderful to show them, they knew that he was telling the truth. They let him come in, crowding about him to see this wonderful thing. They did not know what to make of this strange new thing. Lest anything should happen to it, they dug a hole and buried the fire most carefully.

Tired out with the night's dancing the Indians all went off to rest, leaving the birds to watch the precious fire. But the birds were tired too, and it was not long before they were fast asleep. All except the owl. He was wide awake and he, being very wise, knew that the fire must be put in a safer place. He went out and calling the yellow snake, the rat, and the little "hummer" bird, he explained what he wanted them to do. The snake was to worm his way in under the logs and wait there till the hummer-bird brought him the fire. The rat was to go in and chew all the birds' wings so that they should not be able to catch the little hummer. They were all so fast asleep that the rat was able to do this very easily.

All went just as they planned. The snake took the fire and hid a little spark of it in every buckeye tree. And there the Indians found it when they needed it. For rubbing a piece of cedar and buckeye together, they very quickly make the spark, and produce fire.


The following legend was published some years ago in Sunset Magazine. It was written by Miss Nonette V. McGlashan, who heard it from a Washoe squaw. The story was told with strange gestures and weird pathos:

The ong was a big bird, bigger than the houses of the white man. Its body was like the eagle's, and its wings were longer than the tallest pines. Its face was that of an Indian, but covered with hard scales, and its feet were webbed. Its nest was deep down in the bottom of the Lake, out in the center, and out of the nest rushed all the waters which fill the Lake. There are no rivers to feed the Lake, only the waters from the ong's nest. All the waters flow back near the bottom, in great under-currents, and after passing through the meshes of the nest are sent forth again. Every plant and bird and animal that gets into these under-currents, and sometimes the great trout that are swept into the net-like nest are there held fast to furnish food for the ong.

He ate everything, he liked everything, but best of all he liked the taste of human flesh. No one ever heard or saw anything of such poor mortals as were drowned in these waters, for their bodies were carried to the ong's nest and no morsel ever escaped him. Sometimes he would fly about the shores in quest of some child or woman or hunter, yet he was a great coward and was never known to attack any one in camp, or when two or more were together. No arrow could pierce his feathers, nor could the strongest spear do more than glance from the scales on his face and legs, yet his coward's heart made him afraid for his toes had no claws, and his mouth no beak.

Late one fall, the Washoes were making their final hunt before going to the valleys and leaving the Lake locked in its winter snows. The chief's daughter was sixteen years old, and before leaving the Lake he must select the greatest hero in the tribe for her husband, for such had been the custom of the Washoe chiefs ever since the tribe came out of the Northland. Fairer than ever maiden had been was this daughter, and every unmarried brave and warrior in the tribe wished that he had performed deeds of greater prowess, that he might be certain of winning the prize. That last night at the Lake, around the big council fire, each was to recount to the chief the noblest achievement of his life, and when all were heard the chief would choose, and the women join the circle and the wedding take place. For many years the warriors had looked forward to this event, and the tribe had become famed because of acts of reckless daring performed by those who hoped to wed the chief's daughter.

It was the morning of the final day and much game and great stores of dried trout were packed ready for the journey. All were preparing for the wedding festivities, and the fact that no one knew who would be the bridegroom, among all that band of warriors, lent intensest excitement to the event. All were joyous and happy except the maiden and the handsome young brave to whom she had given her heart. In spite of custom or tradition her love had long since gone out to one whose feet had been too young to press the war-path when last the tribe gave battle to their hereditary foes, the Paiutis. He never had done deed of valor, nor could he even claim the right to sit with the warriors around the council fire. All day long he had been sitting alone on the jutting cliffs which overhang the water, far away from the laughter and shouts of the camp, eagerly, prayerfully watching the great Lake. Surely the Great Spirit would hear his prayer, yet he had been here for days and weeks in unavailing prayer and waiting.

The afternoon was well-nigh spent and the heart of the young brave had grown cold as stone. In his bitter despair he sprang to his feet to defy the Great Spirit in whom he had trusted, but ere he could utter the words his very soul stood still for joy. Slowly rising from the center of the Lake, he saw the ong. Circling high in the heavens, the monster swept now here, now there, in search of prey. The young brave stood erect and waited. When the ong was nearest he moved about slightly to attract its notice. He had not long to wait. With a mighty swoop, the bird dashed to earth, and as it arose, the young brave was seen to be clasped fast in its talons. A great cry of horror arose from the camp, but it was the sweetest note the young brave had ever heard. The bird flew straight up into the sky until Lake and forest and mountains seemed small and dim. When it reached a great height it would drop its prey into the Lake and let the current draw it to its nest. Such was its custom, and for this the brave had prepared by unwinding from his waist a long buckskin cord and tying himself firmly to the ong's leg. The clumsy feet could not grasp him so tightly as to prevent his movements. At last the great feet opened wide, but the Indian did not fall. In a mighty rage, the ong tried in vain to grasp him in his teeth, but the strong web between the bird's toes sheltered him. Again and again the bird tried to use his horrid teeth, and each time his huge body would fall through the air in such twistings and contortions that those who watched below stared in bewilderment. But what the watchers could not see was that every time the huge mouth opened to snap him, the young brave hurled a handful of poisoned arrowheads into the mouth and down the big throat, their sharp points cutting deep into the unprotected flesh. The bird tried to dislodge him by rubbing his feet together, but the thong held firm. Now it plunged headlong into the Lake, but its feet were so tied that it could not swim, and though it lashed the waters into foam with its great wings, and though the man was nearly drowned and wholly exhausted, the poison caused the frightened bird such agony that it suddenly arose and tried to escape by flying toward the center of the Lake. The contest had lasted long and the darkness crept over the Lake, and into the darkness the bird vanished.

The women had been long in their huts ere the council fire was kindled and the warriors gravely seated themselves in its circle. No such trifling event as the loss of a young brave could be allowed to interfere with so important an event, and from most of their minds he had vanished. It was not so very unusual for the ong to claim a victim, and, besides, the youth had been warned by his elders that he should not go hunting alone as had been his habit of late.

But while the warriors were working themselves up into a fine frenzy of eloquence in trying to remind the old chief of their bygone deeds of daring, an Indian maiden was paddling a canoe swiftly and silently toward the middle of the Lake. Nona, the chief's daughter understood no more than the rest why her lover had not been dropped into the Lake, nor why the ong had acted so queerly, but she knew that she could die with her lover. She took her own frail canoe because it was so light and easy to row, though it was made for her when a girl, and would scarcely support her weight now. It mattered nothing to her if the water splashed over the sides; it mattered nothing how she reached her lover. She kept saying his name over softly to herself, "Tahoe! My darling Tahoe!"

When the council was finished, the women went to her hut to bid her come and hear the decision her father was about to render. The consternation caused by her disappearance lasted until the rosy dawn tinged the Washoe peaks and disclosed to the astounded tribe the body of the ong floating on the waters above its nest, and beside it an empty canoe. In the foreground, and gently approaching the shore was the strangest craft that ever floated on water! It was one of the great ong's wings, and the sail was the tip of the other wing! Standing upon it, clasped in each other's arms, were the young brave, Tahoe, and the daughter of the chief. In the shouts of the tribe, shouts in which warriors and women and children mingled their voices with that of the chief, Tahoe was proclaimed the hero of heroes! The decision was rendered, but the ong's nest remains, and the drowned never rise in Lake Tahoe.



We have already seen that Fremont, the discoverer of Lake Tahoe, first called it Lake Bonpland, after Humboldt's scientific co-traveler. That name, however, never came in general use. When the great westward emigration began it seemed naturally to be called by its Indian name, Tahoe.

In Innocents Abroad Mark Twain thus petulantly and humorously expresses his dislike of the name, Tahoe, and sarcastically defines its meaning.

"Sorrow and misfortune overtake the legislature that still from year to year permits Tahoe to retain its unmusical cognomen! Tahoe! It suggests no crystal waters, no picturesque shores, no sublimity. Tahoe for a sea in the clouds; a sea that has character, and asserts it in solemn calms, at times, at times in savage storms; a sea, whose royal seclusion is guarded by a cordon of sentinel peaks that lift their frosty fronts nine thousand feet above the level world; a sea whose every aspect is impressive, whose belongings are all beautiful, whose lonely majesty types the Deity!

"Tahoe means grasshoppers. It means grasshopper soup. It is Indian, and suggestive of Indians. They say it is Pi-ute—possibly it is Digger. I am satisfied it was named by the Diggers—those degraded savages who roast their dead relatives, then mix the human grease and ashes of bones with tar, and 'gaum' it thick all over their heads and foreheads and ears, and go caterwauling about the hills and call it mourning. These are the gentry that named the Lake.

"People say that Tahoe means 'Silver Lake'—'Limpid Water'—'Falling Leaf.' Bosh! It means grasshopper soup, the favorite dish of the Digger tribe—and of the Pi-utes as well. It isn't worth while, in these practical times, for people to talk about Indian poetry—there never was any in them—except in the Fenimore Cooper Indians. But they are an extinct tribe that never existed. I know the Noble Red Man. I have camped with the Indians; I have been on the warpath with them, taken part in the chase with them—for grasshoppers; helped them steal cattle; I have roamed with them, scalped them, had them for breakfast. I would gladly eat the whole race if I had a chance.

"But I am growing unreliable."

With all due deference to the wisdom—as well as the humor—of Mark Twain as applied to Lake Tahoe, I emphatically disagree with him as to the Indians of the Tahoe region, and also as to the name of the Lake. Tahoe is quite as good-sounding a name as Como, Lucerne, Katrine or Lomond. A name, so long as it is euphonious, is pleasing or not, more because of its associations than anything else. The genuine Indian, as he was prior to the coming of the white man, was uncorrupted, uncivilized, unvitiated, undemoralized, undiseased in body, mind and soul, a nature-observer, nature-lover and nature-worshiper. He was full of poetic conceptions and fired with a vivid imagination that created stories to account for the existence of unusual, peculiar or exceptional natural objects, that, in brilliancy of conception, daring invention, striking ingenuity and vigor of detail surpass, or at least equal, the best imaginative work of Kipling or Mark Twain himself. It seems to me that his—the Indian's—name for this Lake—Tahoe—is both euphonious and full of poetic and scientific suggestion. It is poetic in that it expresses in a word the unequaled height and purity of so large a body of water, and scientific in that it is truthful and accurate.

But Fremont, the discoverer, evidently did not ask or seek to know its Indian name. As stated elsewhere he erroneously conceived it to be the headquarters of one of the forks of the American river, flowing into the Sacramento, and he so depicts it on his map, giving to it the two names "Mountain Lake" or "Lake Bonpland." But neither of these names was acceptable and they practically dropped out of sight.

When the first actual determination of Tahoe's outlet through the Truckee River was made is not definitely known, but its approximate location was well enough established in 1853 to enable the official map-maker of the new State of California to depict it with reasonable accuracy, and, for some reason, to name it Lake Bigler, after John Bigler, the third Governor of California.

Citizens are still living both in Nevada and California who well remember when the Lake held this name, and the majority of people undoubtedly used it until 1862. Officially, also, it was known as Lake Bigler in 1862, for in the Nevada Statutes there is recorded an Act approved December 19, 1862, authorizing certain parties to construct a railroad "to be known as the Lake Bigler and Virginia Railroad Co., to commence at a point on the Kingsbury-McDonald road known as the Kingsbury and McDonald Toll House, thence along the southern and eastern shores of Lake Bigler, and in most direct practical route, to the divide between Virginia City and Washoe Valley on east side Washoe Lake, over and through the most practical pass to Virginia City," and a further right to construct branch road from Virginia to Carson City, Nevada.

In 1861, however, while Downey was Governor of California (he having been elected Lieut. Governor, and taking the office on the resignation of Governor Latham in January 1860), an attempt was made to change the name from Bigler to the fanciful one of Tula Tulia, but fortunately it failed and the old name remained in general use.

But in 1862 another effort was made in an entirely different direction and this time with success. It was brought about through the work of William Henry Knight, still living in Los Angeles, who has kindly furnished the following account:

In the year 1859 I was the youngest member of an overland company which crossed the plains and mountains from St. Joseph, Mo., to California. Our train was in three divisions and consisted of about twenty persons, and forty horses and mules.

One morning in the middle of August we left our camp at the eastern base of the double summit of the Sierra Nevadas and began our ascent. Mounted on my faithful steed, Old Pete, I pushed on in advance of the caravan, in order to get the first view of the already famous mountain lake, then known as Lake Bigler. The road wound through the defile and around the southern border of the Lake on the margin of which we camped for two days.

As I approached the summit I turned from the main road and followed a trail to the right which led to the top of a bare rock overlooking the valley beyond and furnishing an unobstructed view.

Thus my first view of that beautiful sheet of water was from a projecting cliff 1000 feet above its surface, and it embraced not only the entire outline of the Lake with its charming bays and rocky headlands but also the magnificent forests of giant pines and firs in which it was embosomed, and the dozen or more lofty mountain peaks thrusting their white summits into the sky at altitudes varying from 8000 to 11,000 feet above sea level.

The view was, indeed, the most wonderful combination of towering mountains, widespreading valley, gleaming lakes, umbrageous forests, rugged buttresses of granite, flashing streams, tumbling waterfalls, and overarching sky of deepest cerulean hue—all blended into one perfect mosaic of the beautiful, the picturesque, and the majestic, that mortal eye ever rested upon.

No imagination can conceive the beauty, sublimity and inspiration of that scene, especially to one who had for weary months been traversing dusty, treeless and barren plains. The contrast was overwhelming. Tears filled my eyes as I gazed upon the fairy scene. I recall the entrancing picture to-day, in all its splendid detail, so vividly was it photographed upon my brain.

Since that hour I have crossed the continent ten times, over various railway routes, visited most of the States of the Union, and seven foreign countries, heard the testimony of others whose travels have been world-wide, and I doubt if another scene of equal enchantment exists on the face of the globe.

In 1861, two years after my visit to Tahoe, I gathered the data for compiling the first general map of the Pacific States, which embraced the region from British Columbia to Mexico, and from the Rocky Mountains to the coast. It was ready for the engraver in February, 1862. I had instructed the draughtsman, V. Wackenreuder, afterward connected with the State Geological Survey, to omit the name of Lake Bigler, which was on contemporary maps.

I invited John S. Hittell, editor of the Alta California, a leading San Francisco daily, and Dr. Henry DeGroot, writer on the Evening Bulletin and correspondent of the able Sacramento Union, to come round to Bancroft's publishing house and inspect the map.

Dr. DeGroot had just returned from a visit to the Comstock silver mines in the Washoe district of Western Nevada. He suddenly turned to me and said: "Why, Knight, you have left off the name of Lake Bigler." I remarked that many people had expressed dissatisfaction with that name, bestowed in honor of a Governor of California who had not distinguished himself by any signal achievement, and I thought that now would be a good time to select an appropriate name and fix it forever on that beautiful sheet of water.

The suggestion met with favor, and several names were proposed—Washington, Lincoln, then war President, Fremont, an early explorer, and other historic names. I asked Dr. DeGroot if he knew what the native Indians called the Lake.

He drew a memorandum from his pocket and read over a list of Indian names local to that region, and exclaimed: "Here it is; they call it 'Tahoe,' meaning 'big water,' or 'high water,' or 'water in a high place.' The word rhymes with Washoe."

I did not quite like the name at first mention, but its significance was so striking that I asked if they—Hittell and DeGroot—would favor its adoption and back it up with the support of their newspapers, and they agreed to do so.

They advocated the adoption of the new name in their respective journals, the country papers almost unanimously fell into line, I inserted it on the map which bore my name—William Henry Knight—as compiler, and which was published by the Bancroft house in 1862.

I immediately wrote to the Land Office at Washington, reported what I had done, and the sentiment that prevailed in California, and requested the Federal official to substitute the name of Tahoe for Bigler on the next annual map to be issued by his office, and in all the printed matter of the Department of the Interior thereafter. This was done.

But a curious thing happened. Nevada was under a territorial government appointed by the Democratic administration of President Buchanan. The Territorial Legislature was in session when the subject was agitated by the California newspapers. A young statesman of that body, thirsting for fame, rose to his feet and in vociferous tones and with frenzied gestures, denounced this high-handed action of California in changing the name of that Lake without consulting the sister commonwealth of Nevada, as, according to the map, half of that noble sheet of water was in Nevada, and such action would require joint jurisdiction. But his impassioned words were wasted on the desert air of the Sagebrush State. He could not muster enough votes to enact his indignation into a law, and the calm surface of Lake Tahoe was unruffled by the tempestuous commotion raging in legislative halls at Carson City.

It was thus that the beautiful, euphonious, and significant name of "Tahoe" was first placed on my own map, and subsequently appeared on all other maps of the State, because it was universally accepted as a fitting substitute for the former name of "Bigler." A traveled writer refers to the Lake and the name selected in these terms:

"Thus it was that we went to Lake Tahoe, the beautiful 'Big Water' of the Washoe Indians—Tahoe with the indigo shade of its waters emphasized by its snow-capped setting. The very first glance lifts one's soul above the petty cares of the lower valleys, and one feels the significance of the Indian title—'Big Water'—not referring to size alone, but to the greatness of influence, just as the all-pervading Power is the 'Big Spirit.'"

One would naturally think that there had been changes enough. But no! In spite of the fact that the Federal government had accepted the change to Tahoe, and that the popular usage had signified the general approval of the name, the Hon. W.A. King, of Nevada County, during the Governorship of Haight, in California, introduced into the assembly a bill declaring that Lake Bigler should be "the official name of the said lake and the only name to be regarded as legal in official documents, deeds, conveyances, leases and other instruments of writing to be placed on state or county records, or used in reports made by state, county or municipal officers."

Historian Hittell thus comments on this: "The bill, which appears to have been well modulated to the taste and feelings of the legislature, went through with great success. It passed the Assembly on February 1, the Senate on February 7; and on February 10 it was approved by the Governor. It remains a monument, if not to Bigler, at least to the legislature that passed it; while the name of the Lake will doubtless continue to be Tahoe and its sometime former designation of Bigler be forgotten."

Now if Mark Twain really objected to the name Tahoe why did he not join the Biglerites and insist upon the preservation of that name?

On the Centennial Map of 1876 it was named "Lake Bigler or Lake Tahoe," showing that some one evidently was aware that, officially, it was still Lake Bigler.

And so, in fact, it is to this date, as far as official action can make it so, and it is interesting to conjecture what the results might be were some malicious person, or some "legal-minded stickler for rigid adherence to the law," to bring suit against those whose deeds, titles, leases, or other documents declare it to be Lake Tahoe.



In certain numbers (November and December 1883 and January 1884) of the Overland Monthly, Professor John Le Conte, of the State University, Berkeley, California, presented the results of his physical studies of Lake Tahoe in three elaborate chapters. From these the following quotations of general interest are taken:

Hundreds of Alpine lakes of various sizes, with their clear, deep, cold, emerald or azure waters, are embosomed among the crags of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The most extensive, as well as the most celebrated, of these bodies of fresh water is Lake Tahoe.

This Lake, ... occupies an elevated valley at a point where the Sierra Nevada divides into two ranges. It is, as it were, ingulfed between two lofty and nearly parallel ridges, one lying to the east and the other to the west. As the crest of the principal range of the Sierra runs near the western margin of this Lake, this valley is thrown on the eastern slope of this great mountain system.

The boundary line between the States of California and Nevada makes an angle of about 131 degrees in this Lake, near its southern extremity, precisely at the intersection of the 39th parallel of north latitude with the 120th meridian west from Greenwich. Inasmuch as, north of this angle, this boundary line follows the 120th meridian, which traverses the Lake longitudinally from two to four miles from its eastern shore-line, it follows that more than two-thirds of its area falls within the jurisdiction of California, the remaining third being within the boundary of Nevada. It is only within a comparatively recent period that the geographical coordinates of this Lake have been accurately determined.

Its greatest dimension deviates but slightly from a medium line. Its maximum length is about 21.6 miles, and its greatest width is about 12 miles. In consequence of the irregularity of its outline, it is difficult to estimate its exact area; but it cannot deviate much from 192 to 195 square miles.

The railroad surveys indicate that the elevation of the surface of its waters above the level of the ocean is about 6247 feet.

Its drainage basin, including in this its own area, is estimated to be about five hundred square miles. Probably more than a hundred affluents of various capacities, deriving their waters from the amphitheater of snow-clad mountains which rise on all sides from 3000 to 4000 feet above its surface, contribute their quota to supply this Lake. The largest of these affluents is the Upper Truckee River, which falls into its southern extremity.

The only outlet to the Lake is the Truckee River, which carries the surplus waters from a point on its northwestern shore out through a magnificent mountain gorge, thence northeast, through the arid plains of Nevada, into Pyramid Lake. This river in its tortuous course runs a distance of over one hundred miles, and for about seventy miles (from Truckee to Wadsworth) the Central Pacific Railroad follows its windings. According to the railroad surveys, this river makes the following descent:

_Fall_ _Distance Fall per Mile_ Lake Tahoe to Truckee 15 Miles 401 Ft. 28.64 Ft Truckee to Boca 8 " 313 " 39.12 " Boca to State Line 11 " 395 " 35.91 " State Line to Verdi 5 " 211 " 42.21 " Verdi to Reno 11 " 420 " 38.18 " Reno to Vista 8 " 103 " 12.87 " Vista to Clark's 12 " 141 " 11.75 " Clark's to Wadsworth 15 " 186 " 12.40 " Wadsworth to Pyramid Lake 18[1] " 187[1] " 10.39 " _ __ __ Lake Tahoe to Pyramid Lake 103 " 2357 " 23.11 "

[Footnote 1: The elevation of Pyramid Lake above the sea-level has never, as far as we know, been accurately determined. Henry Gannet, in his Lists of Elevation (4th ed., Washington, 1877, p. 143), gives its altitude above the sea as 4890 feet; and credits this number to the Pacific Railroad Reports. But as this exact number appears in Fremont's Report of Exploring Expedition to Oregon and North California in the Years 1843-44. (Doc. No. 166, p. 217), it is probable that the first rude and necessarily imperfect estimate has been copied by subsequent authorities. This number is evidently more than 800 feet too great; for the railroad station at Wadsworth (about eighteen or twenty miles from the lake), where the line of the railroad leaves the banks of the Truckee River, is only 4077 feet above the sea-level. So that these numbers would make Pyramid Lake 813 feet above the level of its affluent at Wadsworth; which, of course, is impossible. Under this state of facts, I have assumed the elevation of this lake to be 3890 feet.]

During the summer of 1873, the writer embraced the opportunity afforded by a six weeks' sojourn on the shores of the Lake to undertake some physical studies in relation to this largest of the "gems of the Sierra." Furnished with a good sounding-line and a self-registering thermometer, he was enabled to secure some interesting and trustworthy physical results.

(1.) Depth. It is well known that considerable diversity of opinion has prevailed in relation to the actual depth of Lake Tahoe. Sensational newsmongers have unhesitatingly asserted that, in some portions, it is absolutely fathomless. It is needless to say that actual soundings served to dispel or to rectify this popular impression. The soundings indicated that there is a deep subaqueous channel traversing the whole Lake in its greatest dimension, or south and north. Beginning at the southern end, near the Lake House, and advancing along the long axis of the Lake directly north towards the Hot Springs at the northern end—a distance of about eighteen miles—we have the following depths:

Station Depth in Feet Depth in Meters

1 ............... 900 274.32

2 ............... 1385 422.14

3 ............... 1495 455.67

4 ............... 1500 457.19

5 ............... 1506 459.02

6 ............... 1540 469.38

7 ............... 1504 458.41

8 ............... 1600 487.67

9 ............... 1640 499.86

10 ............... 1645 501.39

These figures show that this lake exceeds in depth the deepest of the Swiss lakes (the Lake of Geneva), which has a maximum depth of 334 meters. On the Italian side of the Alps, however, Lakes Maggiore and Como are said to have depths respectively of 796.43 and 586.73 meters. These two lakes are so little elevated above the sea that their bottoms are depressed 587 and 374 meters below the level of the Mediterranean.

(2.) Relation of Temperature to Depth. By means of a self-registering thermometer (Six's) secured to the sounding-line, a great number of observations were made on the temperature of the water of the Lake at various depths and in different portions of the same. These experiments were executed between the 11th and 18th of August, 1873. The same general results were obtained in all parts of the Lake. The following table contains the abstract of the average results, after correcting the thermometric indications by comparison with a standard thermometer:

Obs. in Feet in Meters F. deg. in C._

1 ...... 0-Surface 0-Surface 67 19.44

2 ...... 50 15.24 63 17.22

3 ...... 100 30.48 55 12.78

4 ...... 150 45.72 50 10.00

5 ...... 200 60.96 48 8.89

6 ...... 250 76.20 47 8.33

7 ...... 300 91.44 46 7.78

8 ...... 330 (Bottom) 100.58 45.5 7.50

9 ...... 400 121.92 45 7.22

10 ...... 480 (Bottom) 146.30 44.5 6.94

11 ...... 500 152.40 44 6.67

12 ...... 600 182.88 43 6.11

13 ...... 772 (Bottom) 235.30 41 5.00

14 ...... 1506 (Bottom) 459.02 39.2 4.00

It will be seen from the foregoing numbers that the temperature of the water decreases with increasing depth to about 700 or 800 feet (213 or 244 meters), and below this depth it remains sensibly the same down to 1506 feet (459 meters). This constant temperature which prevails at all depths below say 250 meters is about 4 degrees Cent. (39.2 Fah.). This is precisely what might have been expected; for it is a well established physical property of fresh water, that it attains its maximum density at the above-indicated temperature. In other words, a mass of fresh water at the temperature of 4 deg. Cent. has a greater weight under a given volume (that is, a cubic unit of it is heavier at this temperature) than it is at any temperature either higher or lower. Hence, when the ice-cold water of the snow-fed streams of spring and summer reaches the Lake, it naturally tends to sink as soon as its temperature rises to 4 deg. Cent.; and, conversely, when winter sets in, as soon as the summer-heated surface water is cooled to 4 deg., it tends to sink. Any further rise of temperature of the surface water during the warm season, or fall of temperature during the cold season, alike produces expansion, and thus causes it to float on the heavier water below; so that water at 4 deg. Cent., perpetually remains at the bottom, while the varying temperature of the seasons and the penetration of the solar heat only influence a surface stratum of about 250 meters in thickness. It is evident that the continual outflow of water from its shallow outlet cannot disturb the mass of liquid occupying the deeper portions of the Lake. It thus results that the temperature of the surface stratum of such bodies of fresh water for a certain depth fluctuates with the climate and with the seasons; but at the bottom of deep lakes it undergoes little or no change throughout the year, and approaches to that which corresponds to the maximum density of fresh water.

(3.) Why the Water does not freeze in Winter. Residents on the shore of Lake Tahoe testify that, with the exception of shallow and detached portions, the water of the Lake never freezes in the coldest winters. During the winter months, the temperature of atmosphere about this Lake must fall as low, probably, as 0 degrees Fah. (-17.78 deg. Cent.). According to the observations of Dr. George M. Bourne, the minimum temperature recorded during the winter of 1873-74 was 6 deg. Fah. (-14.44 deg. Cent.). As it is evident that during the winter season the temperature of the air must frequently remain for days, and perhaps weeks, far below the freezing point of water, the fact that the water of the Lake does not congeal has been regarded as an anomalous phenomenon. Some persons imagine that this may be due to the existence of subaqueous hot springs in the bed of the Lake—an opinion which may seem to be fortified by the fact that hot springs do occur at the northern extremity of the Lake. But there is no evidence that the temperature of any considerable body of water in the Lake is sensibly increased by such springs. Even in the immediate vicinity of the hot springs (which have in summer a maximum temperature of 55 deg. C. or 131 F.), the supply of warm water is so limited that it exercises no appreciable influence on the temperature of that portion of the Lake. This is further corroborated by the fact that no local fogs hang over this or any other portion of the Lake during the winter which would most certainly be the case if any considerable body of hot water found its way into the Lake.

The true explanation of the phenomenon may, doubtless, be found in the high specific heat of water, the great depth of the Lake, and in the agitation of its waters by the strong winds of winter. In relation to the influence of depth, it is sufficient to remark that, before the conditions preceding congelation can obtain, the whole mass of water—embracing a stratum of 250 meters in thickness—must be cooled down to 4 deg. Cent.; for this must occur before the vertical circulation is arrested and the colder water floats on the surface. In consequence of the great specific heat of water, to cool such a mass of the liquid through an average temperature of 8 deg. Cent, requires a long time, and the cold weather is over before it is accomplished. In the shallower portions, the surface of the water may reach the temperature of congelation, but the agitations due to the action of strong winds soon breaks up the thin pellicle of ice, which is quickly melted by the heat generated by the mechanical action of the waves. Nevertheless, in shallow and detached portions of the Lake, which are sheltered from the action of winds and waves—as in Emerald Bay—ice several inches in thickness is sometimes formed.

(4.) Why Bodies of the Drowned do not Rise. A number of persons have been drowned in Lake Tahoe—some fourteen between 1860 and 1874—and it is the uniform testimony of the residents, that in no case, where the accident occurred in deep water, were the bodies ever recovered. This striking fact has caused wonder-seekers to propound the most extraordinary theories to account for it. Thus one of them says, "The water of the Lake is purity itself, but on account of the highly rarified state of the air it is not very buoyant, and swimmers find some little fatigue; or, in other words, they are compelled to keep swimming all the time they are in the water; and objects which float easily in other water sink here like lead." Again he says, "Not a thing ever floats on the surface of this Lake, save and except the boats which ply upon it."

It is scarcely necessary to remark that it is impossible that the diminution of atmospheric pressure, due to an elevation of 6250 feet (1905 meters) above the sea-level, could sensibly affect the density of the water. In fact, the coefficient of compressibility of this liquid is so small that the withdrawal of the above indicated amount of pressure (about one-fifth of an atmosphere) would not lower its density more than one hundred-thousandth part! The truth is, that the specific gravity is not lower than that of any other fresh water of equal purity and corresponding temperature. It is not less buoyant nor more difficult to swim in than any other fresh water; and consequently the fact that the bodies of the drowned do not rise to the surface cannot be accounted for by ascribing marvelous properties to its waters.

The distribution of temperature with depth affords a natural and satisfactory explanation of the phenomenon, and renders entirely superfluous any assumption of extraordinary lightness in the water. The true reason why the bodies of the drowned do not rise to the surface is evidently owing to the fact that when they sink into water which is only 4 deg. Cent. (7.2 deg. Fah.) above the freezing temperature, the gases usually generated by decomposition are not produced in the intestines; in other words, at this low temperature the bodies do not become inflated, and therefore do not rise to the surface. The same phenomenon would doubtless occur in any other body of fresh water under similar physical conditions.[2]

[Footnote 2: It should be noted that since 1874 there have been remarkably few deaths from drowning in Lake Tahoe, and that the major cases of those referred to by Dr. LeConte were of workmen and others who were generally under the influence of intoxicants.]

(5.) Transparency of the Water. All visitors to this beautiful Lake are struck with the extraordinary transparency of the water. At a depth of 15 to 20 meters (49.21 to 65.62 feet), every object on the bottom—on a calm sunny day—is seen with the greatest distinctness. On the 6th of September, 1873, the writer executed a series of experiments with the view of testing the transparency of the water. A number of other experiments were made August 28 and 29, under less favorable conditions. By securing a white object of considerable size—a horizontally adjusted dinner-plate about 9.5 inches in diameter—to the sounding-line, it was ascertained that (at noon) it was plainly visible at a vertical depth of 33 meters, or 108.27 English feet. It must be recollected that the light reaching the eye from such submerged objects must have traversed a thickness of water equal to at least twice the measured depth; in the above case, it must have been at least 66 meters, or 216.54 feet. Furthermore, when it is considered that the amount of light regularly reflected from such a surface as that of a dinner-plate, under large angles of incidence in relation to the surface, is known to be a very small fraction of the incident beam (probably not exceeding three or four per cent.), it is evident that solar light must penetrate to vastly greater depths in these pellucid waters.

Moreover, it is quite certain that if the experiments in relation to the depths corresponding to the limit of visibility of the submerged white disk had been executed in winter instead of summer, much larger numbers would have been obtained. For it is now well ascertained, by means of the researches of Dr. F.A. Forel of Lausanne, that the waters of Alpine lakes are decidedly more transparent in winter than in summer. Indeed, it is reasonable that when the affluents of such lakes are locked in the icy fetters of winter, much less suspended matter is carried into them than in summer, when all the sub-glacial streams are in active operation.

Professor Le Conte goes into this subject (as he later does into the subject of the color of Lake Tahoe) somewhat exhaustively in a purely scientific manner and in too great length for the purposes of this chapter, hence the scientific or curious reader is referred to the original articles for further information and discussion.

Color of the Waters of Lake Tahoe. One of the most striking features of this charming mountain Lake is the beautiful hues presented by its pellucid waters. On a calm, clear, sunny day, wherever the depth is not less than from fifty to sixty meters, to an observer floating above its surface, the water assumes various shades of blue; from a brilliant Cyan blue (greenish-blue) to the most magnificent ultramarine blue or deep indigo blue. The shades of blue increasing in darkness in the order of the colors of the solar spectrum, are as follows: Cyan-blue (greenish blue), Prussian-blue, Cobalt-blue, genuine ultramarine-blue, and artificial ultramarine-blue (violet blue). While traversing one portion of the Lake in a steamer, a lady endowed with a remarkable natural appreciation and discrimination of shades of color declared that the exact tint of the water at this point was "Marie-Louise blue."

The waters of this Lake exhibit the most brilliant blueness in the deep portions, which are remote from the fouling influences of the sediment-bearing affluents, and the washings of the shores. On a bright and calm day, when viewed in the distance, it had the ultramarine hue; but when looked fair down upon, it was of almost inky blackness—a solid dark blue qualified by a trace of purple or violet. Under these favorable conditions, the appearance presented was not unlike that of the liquid in a vast natural dyeing-vat.

A clouded state of the sky, as was to be expected, produced the well-known effects due to the diminished intensity of light; the shades of blue became darker, and, in extreme cases, almost black-blue. According to our observations, the obscurations of the sky by the interposition of clouds produced no other modifications of tints than those due to a diminution of luminosity.

In places where the depth is comparatively small and the bottom is visibly white, the water assumes various shades of green; from a delicate apple-green to the most exquisite emerald-green. Near the southern and western shores of the Lake, the white, sandy bottom brings out the green tints very strikingly. In the charming cul-de-sac called "Emerald Bay," it is remarkably conspicuous and exquisitely beautiful. In places where the stratum of water covering white portions of the bottom is only a few meters in thickness, the green hue is not perceptible, unless viewed from such a distance that the rays of light emitted obliquely from the white surface have traversed a considerable thickness of the liquid before reaching the eye of the observer.

The experiments with the submerged white dinner-plate, in testing the transparency of the water, incidentally manifested, to some extent, the influence of depth on the color of the water. The white disk presented a bluish-green tint at the depth of from nine to twelve meters; at about fifteen meters it assumed a greenish-blue hue, and the blue element increased in distinctness with augmenting depth, until the disk became invisible or undistinguishable in the surrounding mass of blue waters. The water intervening between the white disk and the observer did not present the brilliant and vivid green tint which characterized that which is seen in the shallow portions of the Lake, where the bottom is white. But this is not surprising, when we consider the small amount of diffused light which can reach the eye from so limited a surface of diffusion.

In studying the chromatic tints of these waters, a hollow pasteboard cylinder, five or six centimeters in diameter, and sixty or seventy centimeters in length, was sometimes employed for the purpose of excluding the surface reflection and the disturbances due to the small ripples on the water. When quietly floating in a small row-boat, one end of this exploring tube was plunged under the water, and the eye of the observer at the other extremity received the rays of light emanating from the deeper portions of the liquid. The light thus reaching the eye presented essentially the same variety of tints in the various portions of the Lake as those which have been previously indicated.

Hence it appears that under various condition—such as depth, purity, state of sky and color of bottom—the waters of this Lake manifest nearly all the chromatic tints presented in the solar spectrum between greenish-yellow and the darkest ultramarine-blue, bordering upon black-blue.

It is well known that the waters of oceans and seas exhibit similar gradations of chromatic hues in certain regions. Navigators have been struck with the variety and richness of tints presented, in certain portions, by the waters of the Mediterranean Sea, the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, and especially those of the Caribbean Sea. In some regions of the oceans and seas, the green hues, and particularly those tinged with yellow, are observed in comparatively deep waters, or, at least, where the depths are sufficiently great to prevent the bottom from being visible. But this phenomenon seems to require the presence of a considerable amount of suspended matter in the water. In no portion of Lake Tahoe did I observe any of the green tints, except where the light-colored bottom was visible. This was, probably, owing to the circumstance that no considerable quantity of suspended matter existed in any of the waters observed.

Rhythmical Variations of Level in Lakes: or "Seiches."—As might be expected, the waters of Lake Tahoe are subject to fluctuations of level, depending upon the variable supplies furnished by its numerous affluents. In mid-winter, when these streams are bound in icy fetters, the level falls; while in the months of May and June, when the snows of the amphitheater of mountain-slopes are melting most rapidly, the level of the Lake rises, and a maximum amount of water escapes through its outlet. According to the observations of Capt. John McKinney, made at his residence on the western shore of this Lake, the average seasonal fluctuation of level is about 0.61 of a meter; but in extreme seasons it sometimes amounts to 1.37 meters. The Lake of Geneva, in like manner, is liable to fluctuations of level amounting to from 1.95 to 2.60 meters, from the melting of the Alpine snows.

But besides these variations of level due to the variable quantities of water discharged into them by their affluents, many lakes of moderate dimensions are liable to rhythmical oscillations of level of short duration, which are, obviously, but produced by fluctuations in the supply of water. It is to this kind of species of variation of level that our attention will be directed in the sequel.

This interesting phenomenon was first recognized in the Lake of Geneva; but was subsequently found to be common to all the Swiss lakes, as well as to those of Scotland. It is, therefore, a general phenomenon, which may be observed in all lakes of moderate dimensions. The inhabitants of the shores of the Lake of Geneva have long designated this rhythmical oscillation of the level of the water by the term of Seiche; and this designation has been adopted by scientific writers.

These Seiches were first signalized in the Lake of Geneva in 1730, by Fatio de Duillier, who ascribed them to the checking of the flow of the waters of the Rhone on the shoal near Geneva by the force of the wind at mid-day. Addison and Jallabert, in 1742, supposed them to be caused by sudden increments in the discharge of the affluents, due to the augmentation in the amount of snow melted after mid-day; or to the sudden increase in the flow of the Arve, checking the outflow of water by the Rhone. Bertrand supposed that electrified clouds might locally attract and elevate the waters of the lake, and thus produce oscillations of level. H.B. de Saussure, in 1799, attributed the phenomenon to rapid local variations of atmospheric pressure on different parts of the lake. J.P.E. Vaucher, in 1802 and 1804, adopted de Saussure's explanation, and confirmed it by many excellent observations. He, moreover, established that Seiches, more or less considerable, occur in all the Swiss lakes; and that they take place at all seasons of the year, and at all times of the day; but, in general, more frequently in spring and autumn. As regards the cause of the phenomenon, Vaucher shows how rapid local alterations of atmospheric pressure would produce oscillations in the level of the lake, and compares them to the vibrations of a liquid in a recurved tube or siphon. Finally, Arago maintained that Seiches may arise from various causes, and traced the analogy between them and certain remarkable oscillations of the sea, including those arising from earthquakes.

But physical science is indebted to Professor F.A. Forel, of Lausanne, for the most complete and exhaustive investigation in relation to the phenomena of Seiches. This accomplished physicist began his researches in 1869, and has continued them up to the present time. He has been able to demonstrate that these rhythmical oscillations occur in nearly all the Swiss Lakes (he studied the phenomena in nine of them), and that they follow in all cases the same general laws. Those of the Lake of Geneva have received the most elaborate and prolonged investigation. In March, 1876, Forel established a self-registering tide-gauge (limni-metre enregistreur) on the northern shore of this lake, at Morges; and, with the cooeperation of P. Plantamour, another one was installed in June, 1877, at Secheron, near the city of Geneva, at the southern extremity. Since these dates, these two instruments have, respectively, been registering oscillations of the level of the water of the Lake of Geneva; and they are so sensitive as to indicate the waves generated by a steamer navigating the lake at a distance of ten or fifteen kilometers.

From a most searching investigation of all the phenomena presented by the Seiches in the Swiss Lakes, Forel deduces the conclusion that they are really movements of steady uninodal oscillations (balanced undulations), in which the whole mass of water in the lake rhythmically swings from shore to shore. And, moreover, he shows that the water oscillates according to the two principal dimensions of the lake; thus, giving rise to longitudinal Seiches and transverse Seiches. They occur in series of tautochronous oscillations of decreasing amplitude; the first wave produced by the action of a given cause having a maximum amplitude.

Causes. The disturbances of hydrostatic equilibrium which generate Seiches may be produced by a variety of causes. Among these, the following may be cited: (a) Sudden local variations of atmospheric pressure on different parts of the lake. (b) A descending wind, striking the surface of the lake over a limited area, (c) Thunder-storms, hail-storms, and water-spouts; and especially when the accompanying winds act vertically. (d) The fall of a large avalanche, or of a land-slide into the lake. (e) And lastly, earthquakes.

Observations show that the most frequent and evident of these causes are variations of atmospheric pressure and local storms. With regard to earthquake shocks as a cause of such fluctuations of level, it is a singular and significant fact that since Forel has established the delicate self-registering apparatus on the shores of the Lake of Geneva, no less than twelve earthquake shocks have been experienced in this portion of Switzerland, and they have had no sensible influence on these sensitive instruments. In fact, a little consideration in relation to the character of such shocks renders it highly improbable that such brief tremors of the earth's crust could have been any agency in the generation of rhythmical oscillations of the whole mass of water in the lake. Indeed, it is very questionable whether any earthquake waves are ever produced in the ocean, except when the sea-bottom undergoes a permanent vertical displacement.

Lake Tahoe. From inquiries made of the inhabitants of the shores of Lake Tahoe, I was not able to discover that any rhythmical oscillations of the level of its waters have ever been noticed. Some residents declared that they had observed sudden fluctuations of level, which, from their suddenness, they were disposed to ascribe to disturbances of the bottom of the Lake due to volcanic agencies, although they were unable to coordinate such oscillations with any earthquake manifestations on the adjacent shores.

It is evident, however, that until arrangements are consummated for recording systematic observations on the variations of the level of this Lake, we cannot expect that its Seiches will be detected. Of course, self-registering gauges would give the most satisfactory results; but any graduated gauge, systematically observed, would soon furnish evidence of the phenomenon. For the longitudinal Seiches, "Hot Springs," at the northern extremity of the Lake, or "Lake House," at the southern end, would be eligible stations for gauges; and for the transverse Seiches, Glenbrook, on the eastern shore, or Capt. McKinney's on the western margin, would afford good stations. As far as I am aware, true Seiches have never been observed in any of the American lakes. This fact is the more remarkable from the circumstance that long-continued and careful observations have been made on the fluctuations of level of several of the large Canadian lakes, with the view of testing the possible existence of lunar tides. Perhaps these lakes may be too large to manifest the uninodal rhythmical oscillations which have been so successfully studied by Forel in the smaller lakes of Switzerland.[3]

Be this as it may, there can be no doubt that Lake Tahoe is a body of water in all respects adapted for the manifestation of this species of oscillation; and that, like the Swiss lakes, it is subject to Seiches. Indeed, the far greater simplicity in the configuration of the basin of Lake Tahoe than that of the Lake of Geneva must render the phenomena much less complicated in the former than in the latter.

Professor LeConte then gives his computations as to the probable duration of the oscillations on Lake Tahoe, should they occur there.

[Footnote 3: It is proper to add that Fluctuations of level in the North American lakes have been noticed by various observers, from the time of the Jesuit Fathers of the period of Marquette, in 1673, down to the present epoch. Among those who have discussed this problem may be mentioned in chronological order: Fra Marquette in 1673, Baron La Hontan 1689, Charlevoix 1721, Carver 1766, Weld 1796, Major S.A. Storrow 1817, Capt. Henry Whiting 1819, H.R. Schoolcraft 1820, Gen. Dearborn 1826-29.]



Lindgren, the geologist, affirms that after the Sierra Nevada range was thrust up, high into the heavens, vast and long continued erosion "planed down this range to a surface of comparatively gentle topography." He claims that it must originally have been of great height. Traces of this eroded range (Cretaceous) "still remain in a number of flat-topped hills and ridges that rise above the later tertiary surface. There is reason to believe that this planed-down mountain range had a symmetrical structure, for somewhat to the east of the present divide is a well-marked old crest line extending from the Grizzly Peak Mountains on the north, in Plumas County, at least as far south as Pyramid Peak, in Eldorado County. At sometime in the later part of the Cretaceous period the first breaks took place, changing the structure of the range from symmetrical to monoclinal and outlining the present form of the Sierra Nevada."

This great disturbance he thinks, "was of a two-fold character, consisting of the lifting up of a large area including at least a part of the present Great Basin [Nevada and Utah] and a simultaneous breaking and settling of the higher portions of the arch. Along the eastern margin a system of fractures was thus outlined which toward the close of the Tertiary was to be still further emphasized. The main break probably extended from a point south of Mono Lake to Antelope Valley and from Markleeville northward toward Sierra Valley. A large part of the crust block to the west of this dislocation also sank down. This sunken area is now indicated by Lake Tahoe and by its northward continuation, Sierra Valley, separated from each other only by masses of Tertiary lavas.... It is worthy of note that within the area of the range no volcanic eruptions accompanied this subsidence."

He continues: "As a consequence of this uplift the erosive power of the streams was rejuvenated, the Cretaceous surface of gentle outline was dissected, and the rivers began to cut back behind the old divide, carrying their heads nearly to the present crest line that separates the slope of the Sierra from the depression of Lake Tahoe."

These rivers are the great gold bearing streams that caused the mining excitement of 1849. They all head near the Tahoe region, and include the Yuba, Feather, American, Mokelumne, Calaveras, Cataract, and Tuolumne.

Here, then, were two crest lines—the old Cretaceous line of which the Crystal Range immediately overlooking Desolation Valley on the west, with Pyramid and Agassiz Peaks as its salient points,—and the new Tertiary crest line, reaching somewhat irregularly from Honey Lake in the north to Mono Lake in the south. At the north of Lake Tahoe, "southwest of Reno, a large andesitic volcano poured forth lavas which extend between the Truckee River Canyon and the Washoe Valley. In the region extending northward from Lake Tahoe to Sierra Valley enormous andesitic eruptions took place, and the products of these volcanoes are now piled up as high mountains, among which Mount Pluto nearly attains 9000 feet."

These are the volcanic lavas which united the two crests forming the eastern and western borders of the Tahoe basin or depression, and through which the Truckee River had in some way to find passage ere it could discharge its waters into Pyramid Lake, resting in the bosom of the Great Basin.

Here, then, we have the crude Tahoe basin ready for the reception of water. This came from the snow and rainfall on its large and mountainous drainage area, a hundred greater and lesser streams directly and indirectly discharging their flow into its tremendous gulf.

Its later topography has been materially modified by glacial action, and this is fully discussed by Professor Joseph Le Conte in the following chapter.

It should not be forgotten, however, that while Mt. Pluto was being formed, other vast volcanic outpourings were taking place. Well back to the west of the Tahoe region great volcanoes poured out rhyolite, a massive rock of light gray to pink color and of fine grain, which shows small crystals of quartz and sanidine in a streaky and glossy ground mass. On the summits nearer to Tahoe the volcanic outflows were of andesite, a rough and porous rock of dark gray to dark brown color. Lindgren says: "By far the greater part of the andesite occurs in the form of a tuffaceous breccia in numerous superimposed flows. These breccias must have issued from fissures near the summit of the range and were, either before their eruption or at the time of issue, mixed with enormous quantities of water, forming mud flows sufficiently fluid to spread down the slope for distances of fifty or sixty miles. The derivation of the water and the exact mode of eruption are difficult to determine.... Towards the summits the breccias gradually lose their stratified character and become more firmly cemented. Over large areas in the Truckee quadrangle the andesite masses consist of breccias containing numerous dykes and necks of massive andesite....

"The andesite volcanoes were mainly located along the crest of the Sierra, in fact, almost continuously from Thompson Peak, west of Honey Lake, down to latitude 38 deg. degrees 10'. Farther south the eruptions diminished greatly in intensity.... Along the first summit of the range west of Tahoe the greatest number of vents are found. Beginning at Webber Lake on the north, they include Mount Lola, Castle Peak, Mount Lincoln, Tinker Knob, Mount Mildred and Twin Peak. The andesite masses here in places attain a thickness of 2000 feet. An interval followed in the northern part of the Pyramid Peak quadrangle where no important volcanoes were located, but they appear again in full force in Alpine County. Round Top, attaining an elevation of 10,430 feet, and the adjacent peaks, were the sources of the enormous flows which covered a large part of Eldorado County. Still another volcanic complex with many eruptive vents is that situated in the western part of Alpine County, near Markleeville, which culminates in Highland Peak and Raymond Peak, the former almost reaching 11,000 feet. The total thickness of the volcanic flows in this locality is as much as 4000 feet."

It is to these breccias we owe the volcanic appearances in the Truckee River Canyon, a few miles before reaching the Lake. There are several layers of the andesites breccias at the head of Bear Creek Canyon, above Deer Park Springs.

"None of the craters," says Lindgren, "of these volcanoes are preserved, and at the time of their greatest activity they may have reached a height of several thousand feet above the present summits."



We have already seen in the preceding chapter how the great basin, in which Lake Tahoe rests, was turned out in the rough from Nature's workshop. It must now be smoothed down, its angularities removed, its sharpest features eliminated, and soft and fertile banks prepared upon which trees, shrubs, plants and flowers might spring forth to give beauty to an otherwise naked and barren scene.

It is almost impossible for one to picture the Tahoe basin at this time. There may have been water in it, or there may not. All the great mountain peaks, most of them, perhaps, much higher by several thousands of feet than at present, were rude, rough, jagged masses, fresh from the factory of God. There was not a tree, not a shrub, not a flower, not a blade of grass. No bird sang its cheering song, or delighted the eye with its gorgeous plumage; not even a frog croaked, a cicada rattled, or a serpent hissed. All was barren desolation, fearful silence and ghastly newness.

What were the forces that produced so marvelous a change?

Snowflakes,—"flowers of the air",—as John Muir so poetically calls them. They accomplished the work. Falling alone they could have done nothing, but coming down in vast numbers, day after day, they piled up and became a power. Snow forms glaciers, and glaciers are mighty forces that create things.

Let us, if possible, stand and watch the Master Workman doing the work that is to make this region our source of present day joy. We will make the ascent and stand on the summit of Pyramid Peak. This is now 10,020 feet above sea level, rising almost sheer above Desolation Valley immediately at our feet.

The first thing that arrests the visitor's attention is the peculiar shape of the peak upon which he stands, and of the whole of the Crystal Range. Both east and west it is a great precipice, with a razor-like edge, which seems to have been especially designed for the purpose of arresting the clouds and snow blown over the mountain, ranges of the High Sierras, and preventing their contents falling upon the waste and thirsty, almost desert-areas of western Nevada, which lie a few miles further east.

Whence do the rains and snow-storms come?

One hundred and fifty miles, a trifle more or less, to the westward is the vast bosom of the Pacific Ocean. Its warm current is constantly kissed by the fervid sun and its water allured, in the shape of mist and fog, to ascend into the heavens above. Here it is gently wafted by the steady ocean breezes over the land to the east. In the summer the wind currents now and again swing the clouds thus formed northward, and Oregon and Washington receive rain from the operation of the sun upon the Pacific Ocean of the south. In June and July, however, the Tahoe region sees occasional rains which clear the atmosphere, freshen the flowers and trees, and give an added charm to everything. But in the fall and winter the winds send the clouds more directly eastward, and in crossing the Sierran summits the mist and fog become colder and colder, until, when the clouds are arrested by the stern barriers of the Crystal Range, and necessity compels them to discharge their burden, they scatter snow so profusely that one who sees this region only in the summer has no conception of its winter appearance. The snow does not fall as in ordinary storms, but, in these altitudes, the very heavens seem to press down, ladened with snow, and it falls in sheets to a depth of five, ten, twenty, thirty and even more feet, on the level.

Look now, however, at the western edge of the Crystal Range. It has no "slopes." It is composed of a series of absolute precipices, on the edge of one of which we stand. These precipices, and the razor edge, are fortified and buttressed by arms which reach out westward and form rude crescents, called by the French geologists cirques, for here the snow lodges, and is packed to great density and solidity with all the force, fervor and fury of the mountain winds.

But the snow does not fall alone on the western cirques. It discharges with such prodigality, and the wind demands its release with such precipitancy, that it lodges in equally vast masses on the eastern slopes of the Crystal Range. For, while the eastern side of this range is steep enough to be termed in general parlance "precipitous," it has a decided slope when compared with the sheer drop of the western side. Here the configuration and arrangement of the rock-masses also have created a number of cirques, where remnants of the winter's snow masses are yet to be seen. These snow masses are baby glaciers, or snow being slowly manufactured into glaciers, or, as some authorities think, the remnants of the vast glaciers that once covered this whole region with their heavy and slowly-moving icy cap.

On the Tallac Range the snow fell heavily toward Desolation Valley, but also on the steep and precipitous slopes that faced the north. So also with the Angora Range. Its western exposure, however, is of a fairly gentle slope, so that the snow was blown over to the eastern side, where there are several precipitous cirques of stupendous size for the preservation of the accumulated and accumulating snow.

Now let us, in imagination, ascend in a balloon over this region and hover there, seeking to reconstruct, by mental images, the appearance it must have assumed and the action that took place in the ages long ago.

Snow, thirty, fifty, one hundred or more feet deep lay, on the level, and on the mountain slopes or in precipitous cirques twice, thrice, or ten times those depths. Snow thus packed together soon changes its character. From the light airy flake, it becomes, in masses, what the geologists term neve. This is a granular snow, intermediate between snow and ice. A little lower down this neve is converted into true glacial ice-beds, which grow longer, broader, deeper and thicker as the neve presses down from above.

Lay minds conceive of these great ice-beds of transformed snow as inert, immovable bodies. They think the snow lies upon the surface of the rocks or earth. The scientific observer knows better. By the very inertia of its own vast and almost inconceivable weight the glacier is compelled to move. Imagine the millions of millions of tons of ice of these sloping masses, pressing down upon the hundreds of thousands of tons of ice that lie below. Slowly the mass begins to move. But all parts of it do not move with equal velocity. The center travels quicker than the margins, and the velocity of the surface is greater than that of the bottom. Naturally the velocity increases with the slope, and when the ice begins to soften in the summer time its rate of motion is increased.

But not only does the ice move. There have been other forces set in motion as well as that of the ice. The fierce attacks of the storms, the insidious forces of frost, of expansion and contraction, of lightning, etc., have shattered and loosened vast masses of the mountain summits. Some of these have weathered into toppling masses, which required only a heavy wind or slight contractions to send them from their uncertain bases onto the snow or ice beneath. And the other causes mentioned all had their influences in breaking up the peaks and ridges and depositing great jagged bowlders of rock in the slowly-moving glaciers.

Little by little these masses of rock worked their way down lower into the ice-bed. Sometime they must reach the bottom, yet, though they rest upon granite, and granite would cleave to granite, the irresistible pressure from above forces the ice and rock masses forward. Thus the sharp-edged blocks of granite become the blades in the tools that are to help cut out the contours of a world's surface. In other words the mass of glacial ice is the grooving or smoothing plane, and the granite blocks, aided by the ice, become the many and diverse blades in this vast and irresistible tool. Some cut deep and square, others with flutings and bevelings, or curves, but each helps in the great work of planing off, in some way, the rocky masses over which they move. Hence it will be seen that the grooving and marking, the fluting and beveling, the planing and smoothing processes of the ice are materially aided and abetted by the very hardness and weight of the granite and other rocks it carries with it.

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