In Neocene times, which occurred during the late Tertiary Period and encompassed both the Pliocene and Miocene Epochs, Lake Truckee was formed from a basalt lava flow that dammed the upper Truckee River canyon just below the present-day site of Hirshdale, California. The lake covered an area of some 73 square miles, its surface level reached an elevation of at least 6,000 feet above mean sea level (MSL), and the lake attained a maximum depth of 465 feet. Lake Truckee remained through part of the glacial (Pleistocene) period until the river eventually wore down the obstruction and subsequently drained the lake.(1)
It was during this Pleistocene, or glacial epoch, that an ancient fault line in the Sierra Nevada Mountains was further carved and filled by glaciers and glacial melt, thereby forming Lake Tahoe and the Lake Tahoe Basin. Scientific examination of Lake Tahoe's bottom has found that lakebed sediments extend at least 2,600 feet below the lake's floor.(2) The maximum prehistoric depth has been reported to have been 7,000 feet.(3)
It was during this Wisconsin age, and as recently as 12,500 years ago, that much of the area now contained within the upper Truckee River Basin was covered in snowpack and glaciers, while much of the lower Truckee River Basin was covered by the pre-historic Lake Lahontan. Lake Lahontan, along with Lake Bonneville, which covered northwestern Utah and parts of eastern Nevada, represented the Great Basin's major Ice Age lakes which inundated vast portions of Nevada and Utah. The cooler temperatures and far more abundant precipitation that were prevalent during this period resulted in a more lush and hospitable environment for both flora and fauna throughout this region. Now, only the Great Salt Lake remains as a reminder of the prehistoric presence of Lake Bonneville, and only Pyramid Lake and Walker Lake remain as major lake remnants of Lake Lahontan.
Lake Lahontan experienced several peaking enlargements at approximately 65,000, 45,000, 30,000, and as recently as 12,500 years ago, and at other times nearly dried up.(4) At its peak surface elevation (highstand), which occurred approximately 65,000 years ago, Lake Lahontan covered an estimated 8,655 square miles in northwestern Nevada, an area equal to almost eight percent of the State of Nevada's present surface area. This Ice Age lake was fed by the flows of the Truckee, Carson, Walker, Humboldt, Susan and Quinn rivers, attained a maximum surface elevation of approximately 4,380 feet MSL, and reached a maximum depth of at least 886 feet where Pyramid Lake (in the Truckee River Basin), the lowest point in the system, now remains.(5) Lake Lahontan also covered the Lahontan Valley wetlands (Stillwater National Wildlife Refuge and the Carson Lake and Pasture in the Carson River Basin) to a depth of 500-700 feet.(6) Also in the lower Carson River Basin, Lake Lahontan covered the site of the Fallon townsite by almost 420 feet, and in the Walker River Basin it created a pool in Walker Lake some 520 feet deep.(7)
At its peak surface elevation, the north-south extent of Lake Lahontan stretched from just below the Nevada-Oregon border in the north to just south of Walker Lake to present-day Hawthorne, Nevada, a point some eight miles past Walker Lake's present southern shoreline. Lake Lahontan also extended well up the lower Truckee River canyon towards, but not quite reaching, the Truckee Meadows and the present-day cities of Reno and Sparks, Nevada, to a point near the present-day location of Lockwood near Lagomarsino Canyon.(8) In the Carson River Basin, Lake Lahontan extended up the Carson River to a point just below the present-day community of Dayton in Lyon County. And in the Walker River Basin, Lake Lahontan extended its reach through the Adrian Pass, a low-lying valley connecting the lower Carson River Basin to the north end of Mason Valley, down the Campbell Valley to fill the Walker Lake sub-basin and then up the Walker River to a point just below the present-day city of Yerington in Mason Valley.
It was also around this time of the late glacial period that Lake Tahoe continued to be formed and filled by the movement and the melting of massive Ice Age glaciers. The outlet to Lake Tahoe was established near present-day Tahoe City, located on the lake's northwestern shore, in Placer County, California. From this outflow to Lake Tahoe, the Truckee River begins its course, first southwest and then west, giving the impression that the lake perhaps drains westward down the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada Mountains and into the American River Basin. After flowing only about two miles, however, the Truckee River turns north toward the present-day town of Truckee, located in Nevada County, California. At this point the Truckee River turns northeast and then east, traveling through the upper Truckee River canyon towards the Truckee Meadows and the present-day cities of Reno and Sparks in Washoe County, Nevada. After passing through the Truckee Meadows, the river flows into the lower Truckee River canyon where, during several extended periods between 65,000-12,500 years ago, the Truckee River's waters would enter Lake Lahontan only a short distance downstream near present-day Lockwood. Today, however, only the faint indication of ancient shorelines remain of this ancient Ice Age lake, and the Truckee River now continues on its course for approximately 30 miles beyond the Truckee Meadows to Wadsworth, where it turns north, travels another 25 miles and finally enters Pyramid Lake, a terminal lake without any outflow.
While flowing a seemingly short distance of only 105 miles from its Lake Tahoe outlet to its terminus at Pyramid Lake, the Truckee River's importance to a variety of water users in this arid and water-starved region would be magnified many times. During particularly wet years, the Truckee River's flows in its lower reaches were generally sufficient to also feed Lake Winnemucca, a low marshy body of water located just to the east of Pyramid Lake. Lake Winnemucca, also referred to as Mud Lake, more often than not resembled more of a mud flat than a true lake. Even so, this body of water offered important wetland habitat to numerous waterfowl which visited this area during their migratory treks along the eastern edge of the Pacific Flyway. Finally, after 33 years of water diversions upstream at Derby Dam into the Carson River Basin, Lake Winnemucca completely dried up in 1938.(9)
The record of man's existence in and around Lake Lahontan and in the lower Truckee and Carson River basins began at Fishbone Cave, located on the eastern shore of the dry lake bed of Winnemucca Lake. The cave's excavation produced bones of horses, camels, and marmots, as well as burned human bones. Little else was revealed about these Paleo-Indians who lived on the shores of Lake Lahontan and its remnant bodies of water towards the end of the Wisconsin period. This period of time, however, corresponds to the approximate period when the last land bridge existed between Siberia and Alaska. For extended periods during the Wisconsin Age, a period that lasted from 75,000 to 10,000 years ago, the world's oceans were approximately 300 to 330 feet lower than they are today. During certain intervals within this period, namely approximately 40,000-35,000 years ago, 28,000-23,000 years ago, and 13,000-10,000 years ago, these two continents were connected by a land bridge and migrations of prey and pursuing hunter were possible along a route down the Pacific coastline, which was relatively free of ice fields and glaciers.(10)
Various tribes of Paiute (Pah Ute), Shoshone, and Washoe (Washo) Indians inhabited the Lake Tahoe Basin, the Truckee Meadows, and the lower reaches of the Truckee River and the lands surrounding Pyramid Lake and Lake Winnemucca. The abundant fish in the Truckee River and Pyramid Lake, primarily the cui-ui (Chasmistes cujus) and the Pyramid Lake cutthroat trout (Oncorhynchus clarki henshawi), a strain of the Lahontan cutthroat trout, established an early heritage of dependency on the bounty of these bodies of water and their fisheries by local native American peoples. In particular, the cui-ui fish species, an omnivorous lake sucker endemic only to Pyramid Lake and the lower Truckee River, was a staple food for the people of this lake region, who were called "Kuyuidokado," or cui-ui eaters.(11)
1823 Most maps of this period showed vast regions of unexplored territory in the western United States between the Rocky Mountains and the Central Valley of California. Some more imaginative cartographers also depicted the existence of the mythical San Buenaventura River, a large river which was believed to run due west from the Rocky Mountains, across the barren desert expanse of western Utah and Nevada, eventually flowing into San Francisco Bay.(12) The seed to the existence of the San Buenaventura River was originally planted by early Spanish missionaries who had explored the area around the Great Salt Lake in 1776 and imagined a mighty inland waterway flowing out of this lake to the west across terrible deserts, through the lofty Sierra Nevada Mountains, and onward to the Pacific Ocean.(13)
1826(Fall) Jedediah Strong Smith, leader of a party of fifteen trappers of the Rocky Mountain Fur Company, traversed the southern tip of Nevada along the Virgin and Colorado rivers, ending up at the San Gabriel Mission near the present site of Los Angeles, California. Disregarding the Mexican government's request to return the way he had come, Smith left Los Angeles in early 1827 and headed north through the San Joaquin Valley. Then, with only two other companions, he crossed the Sierra Nevada Mountains near Ebbetts Pass, crossed the Walker River and skirted Walker Lake to the south,(14) coming within seventy-five miles of the Truckee Meadows. After enduring incredible hardships crossing the central portion of Nevada in 44 days, Smith finally returned to his Great Salt Lake trapping headquarters in early July of 1827.(15)
1828(November) Peter Skene Ogden, a trapper for the Hudson Bay Company, led a party of trappers south from the Columbia River basin and first discovered the Humboldt River, arriving near the vicinity of present-day Winnemucca, located in Humboldt County, Nevada. At first the weather was accommodating and his party enjoyed a few days of trapping. However, as a harsh introduction to this region's highly variable weather conditions at this time of year, a sudden blizzard forced a hasty evacuation eastward along the Humboldt River Valley towards the Salt Lake Valley.(16) Known by many names--Ogden's River, Mary's River, Paul's River, Barren River, and Unknown River--the Humboldt River was later named by John C. Frémont after Baron Alexander von Humboldt, a German scientist whom Frémont admired, but who had never even seen the river.(17) This river valley would soon become the most important transportation corridor for early emigrants traversing the Great Basin on their way to California by means of the Overland Trail and Emigrant Trail.
1829(Spring) Peter Ogden returned to the Humboldt River and, not pressed by adverse weather as he had been the previous November, his party followed the river along its course to the Humboldt Sink, where the remaining waters of this river system disappeared completely. While camped along the Humboldt River near present-day Lovelock in Pershing County, Nevada, local Indians recounted to Ogden the first description of the Truckee River, stating that it had no beaver but was abundant with salmon (trout).(18) The lack of potential commercial trapping value probably precluded further interest by Ogden in verifying the presence of the Truckee River at that time.
1829(Summer-Fall) It is believed that during Peter Ogden's second trip to the Humboldt River area in 1829, he continued beyond the Humboldt Sink, crossed the Carson Sink and Desert (i.e., the infamous Forty-Mile Desert), and discovered the Carson and Walker rivers and perhaps Walker Lake as well. Despite his early exploration of Northern Nevada, which preceded the arrival of John Charles Frémont (1844) by almost 15 years, little would remain within Nevada to bear Peter Ogden's name. Later explorers would claim considerably more honor and fame than this pioneering British fur trapper, explorer, and adventurer.(19)
1833 Joseph Walker, chief lieutenant for Captain Benjamin Louis Eulale de Bonneville, both of whom were employed by the Hudson Bay Company, led a party of explorers and trappers along Ogden's "Unknown River" (the Humboldt River) all the way to California via the Humboldt River, the Humboldt Sink, the Carson Sink, and then up into the Sierra Nevada Mountains by either the Carson River or the Walker River.(20) This represented the first recorded east-to-west passage through Nevada using the Humboldt River corridor, a route later travelers and emigrants would soon follow. It is also believed that Walker and his men were the first whites to trade directly with the Washoe Indians of Carson Valley.(21)
1837 Washington Irving's Adventures of Captain Bonneville in the Rocky Mountains and Far West was published, and subsequently aroused widespread interest in the region we now call the Great Basin. This publication also led to the commissioning of Captain John Charles Frémont to explore the territory more extensively.(22)
1841(Spring) The Bartleson-Bidwell emigrant party made the first successful crossing of the Great Basin, reportedly without even a guide or a map.(23) Coming down the Humboldt River, the party divided and was then reunited. Many of the party fell ill and were subsequently befriended by local Indians who gave them pine nuts and fish. After crossing the Humboldt and Carson Sinks, they reached the base of the Sierra Nevada Mountains on the West Walker River in October. The party then spent the next two weeks crossing the mountains, probably at Sonora Pass.(24) Finally, on the last day of October 1841, six months after their trip had begun near Independence, Missouri, they reached the San Joaquin Valley in California without loss of life. Reports of their successful crossing of the Great Basin and the Sierra Nevada Mountains would inspire others to attempt the passage west.
1842 Influential U.S. Senator Thomas H. Benton of Missouri made arrangements for his son-in-law, John Charles Frémont, to lead exploring expeditions into the little-known region beyond the Rocky Mountains. Frémont was a lieutenant in the U.S. Army Topographical Corps and had considerable experience as a surveyor and map maker.(25)
1844 (January 10) Traveling south from the Columbia River basin, John C. Frémont, conducting an expedition for the U.S. Bureau of Topographical Engineers, became the first white man recorded to have seen Pyramid Lake(26) and five days later, on January 15th, Frémont reached the lower Truckee River.(27) Based on the large pyramid structure on Pyramid Lake's eastern side, Frémont gave the lake its present name, but his naming of the Truckee River as the Salmon Trout River would not prove enduring. Frémont's party enjoyed the hospitality of the local Paiute Indians and the munificence of the local waters which teemed with an "incredibly large" Pyramid Lake sub-species of the Lahontan cutthroat trout (Salmo clarkii henshawi), some weighing well over 40 pounds and attaining a length of up to four feet.(28) In his diary and record of his travels, Frémont commented that "Their flavor was excellent--superior, in fact, to that of any fish I have ever known. They were of extraordinary size--about as large as the Columbia river salmon--generally from two to four feet in length."(29) The fish relied on the Truckee River for their spawning runs in early spring, traveling up the entire river's length as far as Lake Tahoe and Donner Lake where they needed the cool, pristine waters and clean gravel beds to lay their eggs. Within 100 years, however, due to a combination of over-fishing, river impediments to upstream spawning in the form of dams for irrigation, logging, and hydroelectric power generation, sawdust choking the gravel beds, reduced inflows into Pyramid Lake due to diversions at Derby Dam, and extensive pollution from logging, paper milling, and ore processing, this once-abundant and magnificent fish species would become extinct by the early 1940s.
From Pyramid Lake, the Frémont Expedition followed the Truckee River to a location near present-day Wadsworth, where the river flows from the west. As Frémont was looking for the mythical San Buenaventura River that was supposed to drain from east to west through the Sierra Nevada Mountains to the Pacific Ocean, he did not continue further up the Truckee River, but instead proceeded south into the Lahontan Valley and soon crossed the Carson River.(30) Later Frémont named this river after his expedition guide, Kit Carson.
From the Carson River, Frémont continued south to the Walker River and Bridgeport Valley, turned north and then proceeded up into the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Frémont named the Walker River for another guide who had accompanied his party, Joseph Walker, who had been through the area in 1833. After ignoring the warnings of his local Indian guides, Frémont's party persisted in their efforts to cross the mountains and suffered many hardships in the deep winter snows, eventually abandoning the howitzer they had brought with them in Deep Creek Canyon above Antelope Valley in the Walker River Basin just west from present Topaz Lake.(31)
From Deep Creek Canyon, Frémont's party traveled northwest through the mountains, crossed over into the Carson River Basin and discovered Grover Hot Springs in Hot Springs Valley above present-day Markleeville, California.(32) From here his party of 39 men proceeded further up into the mountains traveling through Hope Valley and crossed the summit in the vicinity of Carson Pass. At this point Frémont viewed Lake Tahoe for the first time on February 14th from Red Lake Peak (10,061 feet), located 16 miles due south of the lake. Frémont party's difficulties only intensified as they continued down the western slope of the Sierras into the Sacramento Valley. Eventually, on March 6, 1844, they arrived at Sutter's Fort near the American River in present-day Sacramento and were formally greeted by Captain John Augustus Sutter.(33) Here they were able to rest their remaining livestock and replenish their supplies in anticipation of their return trip. From Sutter's Fort, Frémont headed south through the San Joaquin Valley and then recrossed Nevada through Las Vegas, perhaps camping very near the street later named in his honor in the heart of that city.(34) It was Frémont who first recognized the unique geophysical structure of the Great Basin and named it so.(35) Interestingly, for all his exploration and extensive documentation of the Great Basin and Nevada, other than a street in Downtown Las Vegas and a relatively abundant species of cottonwood (Populus fremontii), little remains as a tribute to this individual's extensive and remarkable accomplishments.(36)
1844 (May) An emigrant party left Council Bluffs, Iowa, in May on their way to California. In crossing the Great Basin they became the first party to use the direct route to California via the Humboldt River, the Truckee River, Donner Lake and Donner Pass. Upon arriving at the headwaters of the Humboldt River they were met by a Paiute Indian named Truckee who offered to guide them.(37) Unlike earlier emigrant parties, however, when the Stevens-Murphy-Townsend part arrived at the Humboldt Sink, instead of turning southwest across the dreaded Forty-Mile Desert towards the Carson Sink and the Carson River, they turned west towards a river which their Indian guide had described. By doing so they arrived at the Truckee River near Wadsworth. Upon reaching this point, they were so appreciative of their Indian guide's services that they named the river after him.(38) It was reported that this same individual was also the chief of the entire Paiute nation and had been a guide for John Frémont, who had called him Captain Truckee. So came the Truckee River by its name, replacing that of the Salmon Trout River given it by Frémont earlier this same year. To traverse Donner Pass above Donner Lake, the emigrants had to actually dismantle their wagons, build windlasses, and hoist their livestock, wagons, and belongings, item by item, over the steep precipices.(39) During this trip, it was reported that six members of the party, one of them being Daniel Murphy, left the main body and rode up the Truckee River from Donner Creek and became the first white persons to stand upon the shores of Lake Tahoe, probably near the present-day site of Tahoe City, California.(40)
1845(December) John Frémont undertook his third expedition into the west and his second into the Great Basin region.(41) The Third Frémont Expedition would separate at Whitton Spring (now known as Chase Spring) in Independence Valley east of the Ruby Mountains in eastern Nevada. The main group, under Theodore Talbot and guided by Joseph Walker, journeyed down the Humboldt River while a smaller party under the command of Frémont headed off to the south, eventually arriving at Walker Lake nineteen days later. Three days later the Talbot-Walker group joined Frémont at the lake. From Walker Lake, Frémont sent the main party south via the Owens Valley while he took a smaller group up to the north through the upper Truckee River Canyon and over Donner Pass.(42)
1846(May 12) The Donner wagon train party(43) left Independence, Missouri, dawdled their way west and soon became one of the last wagon trains on the trail that year. In addition to their leisurely pace, the party soon became bedeviled by a number of difficulties during their trip. First they became lost traveling through the Wasatch Mountains in Utah, failed to find the Humboldt River and added an extra 100 miles circling the southern end of the Ruby Mountains before turning north again and meeting the Humboldt River near the site of the present-day City of Elko. Subsequent feuds, a murder of one of their members (by James Reed, who was then exiled from the party), roving bands of hostile Indians, and abandoned provisions plagued this unfortunate group of emigrants across the Great Basin.(44) Finally, on October 19th the near-starved party entered the Truckee Meadows via the lower Truckee River Canyon, proceeded around the eastern hills enclosing the valley (the Virginia Range) and tarried for five days at Donner Springs on the north side of Rattlesnake Mountain. On October 21, as William Pike and his brother-in-law, William Foster, were preparing to go ahead of the party to Sutter's Fort for supplies, Pike's pepperbox pistol accidently fired, killing Pike within two hours. William Pike was laid to rest in a shallow grave near the party's camp site as snow began to fall in the Truckee Meadows. On October 25th the party again began their trek west and soon became blanketed by early heavy snowfalls around Donner Lake near the present-day town of Truckee, California.(45) By November 6, 1846, a lead group attempting to force their way over the summit encountered snowdrifts ten feet tall. The party then retreated back to Donner Lake where they built shelters against the continually falling snow. The two Donner families actually made their winter camp approximately six miles east of the lake at the junction of Prosser and Alder creeks, a site now covered by Prosser Reservoir. Here they would remain virtually entombed until Spring. Of the 87 members in the original party, only 47 would eventually be rescued through the efforts of six rescue parties sent out from Sutter's Fort, located in present-day Sacramento, California. Interestingly, the first successful rescue party to reach the stranded travelers (and the fourth party sent out by John Augustus Sutter) was led by James Reed, the same man who had been exiled earlier from the Donner party for murdering another member.(46) The last of the party's survivors were not rescued until April 21, 1847, almost six months after they had become trapped by extremely heavy snowfall in late October 1846.(47) Word of the Donner Party's calamity virtually halted overland travel by means of this direct Truckee River route for the next several years. Those that did venture forth and arrived late in the Truckee Meadows would generally lay over there through the winter before attempting to traverse Donner Summit.
1848 The Treaty of Guadelupe Hidalgo was signed with Mexico ending the Mexican War and ceding to the United States what was to become the "Southwest" United States, consisting of all or parts of the future states of California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, and Wyoming. While no fighting took place in Nevada, Americans in California, assisted by John C. Frémont, staged a successful revolt against Mexico.(48)
1848(January 24) Gold was discovered by James W. Marshall and a construction crew at Sutter's sawmill on the South Fork of the American River at Coloma, California. This discovery would precipitate the greatest gold rush in American history. Reports of the discovery did not begin to circulate widely in the eastern United States until late summer when it was too late to begin the long overland trip to California. In December, the discovery received widespread attention when President James K. Polk spoke of the rich gold fields in his message to Congress.(49)
1849(January) The rush to the gold fields of California began in earnest and an unprecedented era of westward migration began, giving rise to the name "Forty-Niners" to these early California-bound fortune seekers. In January 1849 alone, more than 50 sailing ships left East Coast ports on the extended journey around South America and Cape Horn to California.(50) California's population would virtually explode over the next four years from approximately 14,000 persons in 1848 to over 100,000 persons by 1850 and to 250,000 persons by late 1852.(51) Early overland travelers used the natural transportation corridor laid down by the route of the Humboldt River through the heart of the Great Basin. At this river's terminus, the Humboldt Sink, those travelers electing the more southern route of the Emigrant Trail via the Carson Pass (Carson River West Fork) and Sonora Pass (West Walker River) found that the Forty-Mile Desert, located at the western end of the Humboldt Sink, presented an imposing and forbidding barrier to their passage. Similarly, those traveling the more direct Truckee River route found that Donner Pass afforded a no less formidable impediment to overland travel through this area. In fact, from the present-day location of Verdi, Nevada, located approximately five miles west of Reno, to the town of Truckee, much of the upper Truckee River canyon was virtually impassable by the heavy wagons. Early travelers along this route were forced to use the more northerly Dog Valley route, which ran northwest from Verdi through Dog Valley, over two summits, then southwest through Hoke Valley and through the areas which would later become Stampede and Prosser reservoirs. From there the trail led to the future site of Truckee west and the Donner Lake area, then over Donner Summit.
1849 Compared to today, early emigrant parties traveling up the Truckee River through the lower Truckee River canyon between Wadsworth and Reno were presented a much different view of the Truckee Meadows upon reaching Vista, located at the eastern edge of this valley. Opening before them was an expansive, verdant valley, a stark contrast to the seemingly endless miles of barren desert and narrow rocky canyons they had just left behind. While there is no geologic indication that the valley was once an ancient lakebed, it was most probably inundated with water over much of its surface during pluvial periods when Lake Lahontan existed only several miles downstream. In the mid-1800s, the eastern third of the Truckee Meadows consisted of marshy lowlands generally covered in thick grasses, bulrushes, and cattails. At Vista a rock dike, commonly called the Vista reef, partly impeded the Truckee River's exit into the lower Truckee River canyon, creating an obstruction which further inundated this area during spring flooding.(52) Fortunately, most early travelers arrived at this point in late summer or early fall, therefore avoiding hazardous high-water flood conditions. The Truckee River's course through the Truckee Meadows was bordered by expanses of low, boggy fields and marshlands, thick with willows and, further back upon more secure footing, cottonwoods.(53) Early travelers who did not wish to cross the steep-banked Steamboat Creek, located just upstream from Vista near the present-day Truckee Meadows Water Reclamation Facility (formerly the Reno-Sparks joint sewage treatment plant), and subsequently become immersed in this extensive bog, generally went south along the eastern range of hills now called the Virginia Range, and cut through Hidden Valley towards Huffaker Hills. They then turned west and skirted Rattlesnake Mountain on its north side, generally pausing there to refresh themselves at Donner Springs, as the Donner Party had done several years prior. From here they followed the present route of Peckham Lane approximately to its intersection with South Virginia Street, then turned northwest towards the river crossing near the present Mayberry Bridge. To the west, beyond this marshy floor of the Truckee Meadows, rose a barren, sandy ledge covered in sage and large rocks, extending to the very foothills of the Carson Range of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.
1850 Congress established the Utah Territory comprising most of what is now the State of Utah, most of Nevada, and parts of Colorado and Wyoming.(54) Brigham Young, leader of the Mormon Church in Salt Lake City, became the first Territorial Governor and dispatched Mormon settlers throughout the new territory, establishing the first farming communities and trading posts.
1850 California became the 31st state of the Union. Eventually, California adopted the "California Doctrine" with respect to its administration of water rights, a doctrine consisting of a combination of both the common law doctrine of riparian water rights and the statutory "doctrine of prior appropriation" (appropriative water rights). The principles underlying these two doctrines are diametrically opposed. Riparian water rights allow persons who own land adjacent to a body of water to make "reasonable" use of those waters without regard to the time of use or to any actual use at all. Such rights cannot be sold or transferred for use on other (non-riparian) lands. In the Western states where the land along and contiguous to a stream had not passed from government ownership into private ownership, no riparian rights prevailed and the appropriation doctrine would apply, but would be subject to other upper or lower riparian rights. This combination of water rights concepts would eventually provoke numerous controversies and many legal battles.(55)
1851 During an Indian expedition organized by the State of California, Lake Tahoe received its first official name--Lake Bigler--in honor of California's third governor, John Bigler.(56) Later, in 1870, the California Legislature would officially designate the lake as Lake Bigler. It would not be until 1945 that the California Legislature would rescind the 1870 act and provide a universal consensus for the name Lake Tahoe.
1852 The first permanent settlement along the Truckee River took place when a Morman pioneer named Jamison, who was reportedly the first white settler in the Truckee Meadows, established a trading post very near the present-day site of the Truckee Meadows Water Reclamation Facility and just downstream from the inflow of Steamboat Creek and began supplying goods to the emigrants passing through the valley. At that time the site was known as "Jamison's Station," the first of several names that would become attached to this general location.(57)
1853 California's Surveyor-General gave his formal approval to the name of Lake Bigler for Lake Tahoe; however, as John Bigler, California's third governor, was openly sympathetic to the plight of the Southern States, naming the lake after an avowed "Copperhead" did not receive universal approval and consequently other names appeared on maps of this area as well.(58)
1853 The Grosch brothers, Ethan and Hosea, arrived in Gold Canyon, located up from Dayton, Nevada, in the Carson River Basin, and were immediately disappointed in their prospects of ever making a significant gold strike. They knew enough about geology, however, to take a special interest in the blue mud that emanated from the digging sites, recognizing it to be "silver lead." Later they identified at least four major veins of the silver ore; preliminary assays estimated the value of the discarded troublesome "mud" at $3,500 a ton. Amazingly, the importance of their discovery would remain a virtual secret for another several years, and even then another individual would be credited with the discovery.(59)
1855 The community of Franktown, located approximately 10 miles north of Carson City, was established by Orson Hyde, probate judge of Carson County, Utah Territory, in the Wassau (Washoe) Valley. Initially a sawmill was constructed on the site, making it an important enterprise in furnishing timber to the Comstock mines. Later the Dall Mill, a quartz mill of 60 stamps, was built on the site and employed hundreds of workmen. The creek supplying the water power was initially named Dall Creek, then Hobart Creek, and finally Franktown Creek. Fertile farms, supplied by runoff from the eastern slopes of the Carson Range, surrounded the town. Upon the completion of the Virginia & Truckee Railroad between Carson City and Virginia City in 1869, the milling business rapidly lost its importance and the once prosperous town declined.(60)
1857 The Grosch brothers, who were reportedly the first to realize the significance of the blue mud that emanated from the gold digging sites in Gold Canyon near Virginia City, both died in this year: Hosea injured his foot with a pick and died of gangrene while Ethan died from exposure in a Sierra snow storm while on his way to California to raise capital to more fully exploit the extensive silver claims they had staked out in Gold Canyon. Upon Ethan Grosch's departure for California, a Canadian miner and drifter named Henry Thompkins Paige Comstock moved into the Grosch's stone cabin and let it be known that he had been promised a share in Grosch's enterprise in return for keeping claim-jumpers away. Most historians agree that Comstock was unaware of the fortune in silver lying beneath the claims he was protecting. Comstock was known throughout the area as a lazy braggart; history recorded him as having an uncanny talent for being in the right place at the right time.(61)
1858 The first cattle were introduced into the Truckee Meadows when Granville W. Huffaker, a native of Wayne County, Kentucky, drove a herd of 500 cattle from Salt Lake City. By 1859 Huffaker had established an extensive ranching operation centrally located in the valley near the hills that now bear his name. Also at the site was located Langton's Stage Line and the first Post Office, which was operational by 1862. For ten years Huffaker's, as the community was called, was a most active stage-stop and center of activity in the Truckee Meadows. By 1868 a school house had been constructed and the Athenian Literary Society flourished for the more cultured.(62)
1858 First recorded appropriation of water in the Truckee Meadows.
1859(June 12 or 13) Patrick McLaughlin and Peter O'Riley discovered specks of gold mixed with blue mud at the top of Sixmile Canyon near present-day Virginia City in Storey County, Nevada, and only about a mile away from Gold Canyon. By the end of the summer samples were sent to professional assayers in Grass Valley and Nevada City, California.(63) The ore samples were found to contain high quantities of silver, valued at $3,000 to the ton, along with quantities of gold valued at $876 per ton.(64) The Comstock Lode, as it would come to be called, marked one of the richest silver strikes in North American history, and began a population influx to Northern Nevada and the Truckee Meadows which would rapidly accelerate the demands for the region's natural resources, particularly lumber and water. Based on Philipp Deidesheimer's invention of the square set method of timbering mines, which allowed voluminous subterranean caverns of ore to be readily extracted and replaced with a rigid timber structure, the Comstock's appetite for the region's richly-timbered forests became ravenous.(65) The development of the Comstock mines, burrowing deep into the ground and tapping scalding pockets of geothermal waters, began a process of both water diversions (for cooling spray misters) and mine dewatering (the four-mile long Sutro Tunnel) in an effort to cool the mines and drain the scalding geothermal waters from the depths. Little concern was shown for the sources of these waters and an era of interbasin water diversions began. Water supplies were initially diverted from below Hobart Creek Reservoir on Franktown Creek (Hobart Creek) in the Sierra Nevada Mountains (in the Truckee River Basin) to Virginia City (located in the Carson River Basin). Water was also diverted from Lake Tahoe and the Lake Tahoe Basin at Incline Village for flumes to float logs over to sawmills in Washoe Valley to make the square-cut timbers for shoring up the caverns carved in the deep recesses of the Comstock. Other waters were diverted to provide for the needs of the mines' workers and the steady influx of new residents. The heavy demands for timber, particularly for the mines and railroads, began a process of extensive logging and saw mill operations throughout the Sierra Nevada Mountains. These operations quickly and severely degraded the quality of the Carson River's waters and in the Truckee River, sawdust choked the river's banks and bed, even creating sawdust bars at the river's terminus at Pyramid Lake, barriers which proved impassable to native fish attempting to spawn upstream. The discovery of silver in Northern Nevada marked the beginning of an era of environmental degradation unparalleled in the state's history, denuding vast expanses of forests, eroding the now-barren hillsides, polluting rivers and streams with sawdust and logging debris, diverting waters vast distances from their natural flow, and creating the state's only "Superfund" site along a vast extent of the lower reach of the Carson River due to mercury discharges from silver ore processing.(66)
1859 Federal surveyors concluded that any trans-Sierra railroad route should follow the course of the Truckee River through the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. This decision was destined to make Reno Nevada's first major city.(67)
1859(November 29) To preserve Indian rights to Pyramid Lake, located approximately 30 miles northeast of Reno, lands around the lake were withdrawn from the public domain by the United States General Land Office. This date was important as it would later establish the priority date ("prior appropriation doctrine") for water rights for irrigation of agricultural lands under the federal reservation doctrine (Winters Rights Decision of 1908). It was argued, however, that the more appropriate date was actually March 23, 1875, as this was the date that the reservation was formally proclaimed by Executive Order of the President of the United States. Pyramid Lake Indian Reservation water rights (eventually adjudicated as Claims 1 and 2 of the 1944 Orr Ditch Decree with the 1859 priority date) became the oldest on the Truckee River and consist of almost 30,000 acre-feet of water per year based on approximately 3,130 acres of bottom lands and 2,745 acres of bench lands deemed irrigable within the reservation.(68) At the time of granting, water rights were intended solely for irrigation and not for the restoration or preservation of Pyramid Lake itself.
1860 First located by Felix Monet, Steamboat Springs, situated at the southernmost end of the Truckee Meadows, was named by early emigrants for the puffing and blowing vents which mark this location and are indicative of the area's geothermal activity. In 1861, Doctor Ellis erected a hospital with adjacent bathhouses. With the coming of the Comstock and the Virginia & Truckee Railroad in 1871, Steamboat Springs became an important rail terminal where supplies for the mines were transferred to freight wagons for the steep haul to Virginia City. Its fine hotel, commodious dance-hall and elegant bar were frequented by the legendary silver kings, politicos, gamblers and news chroniclers. The waters received national acclaim by President Ulysses S. Grant when he visited them in 1879. Waning fortunes of the Comstock reduced attendance and fire destroyed the luxurious buildings erected on the site, but the therapeutic waters remain to this day.(69)
1860 A log bridge was constructed across the Truckee River near where the present-day town of Verdi, Nevada, is now located. Known as O'Neil's Crossing, the site served as a stage stop during the 1860's on the heavily traveled Henness Pass Turnpike and Toll Road and the Dutch Flat and Donner Lake Road. In 1864, the Crystal Peak Company laid out a town on the site some two miles from Verdi's present location. The company owned mining and lumbering interests near the settlement which was then called Crystal Peak. Modern Verdi came into being with the construction of the Central Pacific Railroad through Nevada in 1867-69 when it became a major mill town and terminal for the shipment of ties and construction timbers.(70)
1860(May and June) Based on the kidnaping of two young Indian women by three white men who were subsequently killed by a band of rescuing Indians, the Pyramid Lake Indian War ensued. In the first major confrontation (May 12th), a poorly organized group of white miners and settlers led by Major William Ormsby were ambushed while proceeding down the Truckee River to attack the Paiute Indians near Pyramid Lake, resulting in an initial Indian victory in which 76 white men were killed, including Major Ormsby. In a later confrontation (June 2nd) in which the Indians were badly outnumbered by better organized white troops, the attacking white men proved victorious, killing almost 160 Indians while suffering a loss of only 3 or 4 of their own number.(71) No further hostilities ensued; the Indians were driven off their reservation, but later were allowed to return so long as they agreed to use peaceful means to settle disputes and grievances.(72)
1860(1860-1867) Galena, located in the Sierra Nevada foothills to the southwest of the Truckee Meadows, was first established as a mining property by R.S. and Andrew Hatch. The hatch brothers established a quartz mill and smelter which were among the earliest erected on this side of the Sierras. Local gold ore contained a heavy admixture of lead sulfide, or "galena," which made the mining operations unprofitable. By 1863, the community had developed as an important lumbering center with eleven sawmills in operation. The community soon boasted stores, lodging houses, a justice court, a school and community hall, saloons, and dozens of homes. After disastrous fires in 1865 and 1867, Galena was abandoned.(73)
1860s Early Truckee-Donner area settlement began based primarily on logging and railroad construction and operations. This began a period of extensive Truckee River pollution, primarily due to sawdust and other logging and milling debris being discharged directly into the river's waters by numerous lumber mills in the area. Silt loading from timber clear-cutting and resultant hillside runoff significantly degraded the river's water quality and seriously impact the river's native wildlife.
1860 Charles William Fuller claimed land near an obscure ford on the Truckee River and built a bridge about six feet downstream from the present site of the Virginia Street Bridge in Downtown Reno. The following year he sold the site and bridge to a Honey Lake rancher named Myron Charles Lake. The winter after that (1862) the bridge was washed out after a record snowfall in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Lake subsequently rebuilt the bridge that same year and the location became known as "Lake's Crossing," Reno's new name.(74)
1861(March 2) By an Act of Congress, signed by President James Buchanan, the region of Nevada achieved territorial status, separate from Utah. Later, President Abraham Lincoln appointed James W. Nye of New York to serve as Nevada's first Territorial Governor. The new Territorial Secretary, Orion Clemens, arrived in this year, bringing with him his brother Sam. Finding few employment opportunities in Carson City, Samuel Clemens first tried his hand at mining, then ascended to the Comstock and eventually proved far more adept as a reporter for Virginia City's Territorial Enterprise, whereupon he began using the pen name "Mark Twain" on his news stories.(75)
Click here for Chart on Nevada County Formation
1861 The Territory of Nevada was created with nine original counties consisting of Churchill, Douglas, Esmeralda, Humboldt, Lyon, Ormsby, Storey, Washoe, and Lake. Lake County would later be renamed Roop County (1863), and even later (1883) incorporated into Washoe County when the state line was finalized between Nevada and California and showed that the Honey Lake and Susanville areas were actually located within California.(76)
1861 Work began on the first irrigation ditches in the Truckee Meadows--the Pioneer Ditch, diverting Truckee River water from a point just upstream from the present-day Greg Street Bridge and providing water to pasture lands located around what is now the University of Nevada, Reno, farmland, and the Cochran Ditch, which took water out of the Truckee River at what is now Wingfield Park in Downtown Reno to be diverted to farmland south of Reno.(77) These first diversion ditches provided irrigation waters to the lower-lying, more readily irrigable lands of the Truckee Meadows.(78)
1861 Lumbering operations began in the Glenbrook area of Lake Tahoe in this year. By 1872, the consolidation of V-flume systems in and near Clear Creek Canyon made it possible to float lumber, cordwood, and sawed material from Spooner's Summit on present-day U.S. Highway 50 to Carson City and thereby eliminate the need to use wagons to haul the Lake Tahoe Basin's lumber over the nine-year old Lake Bigler Toll Road (King's Canyon Road). In 1873, the new Carson & Tahoe Lumber & Fluming Company assumed all operations, becoming the largest Comstock wood and lumber combine. During its time, it controlled over 50,000 acres of timberland, operated four sawmills, two lake steam tugs, two logging railroads, a planing mill and box factory in Carson City, and employed some 500 men in its logging camps. During its existence, it had taken 750 million board feet of lumber and 500,000 cords of wood from the Lake Tahoe Basin. Timber depletion and reduced Comstock mining closed the company in 1898.(79)
1861(July 19) James W. Nye, Governor and Acting Superintendent of Indian Affairs for the Territory of Nevada, wrote to the Secretary of Interior: "Lake Bigler [Tahoe], lying in the county of the Washoes, and from which they formerly obtained large quantities of the best kind of fish, is now taken possession of by the whites, and has become a watering place, to which large numbers from this Territory and California resort, and from which this poor Tribe are virtually excluded."(80)
1861(November 21) The first Nevada Territorial Legislature made it "unlawful to catch fish in any of the waters within the Territory of Nevada, by the use of any drag, or any kind of net, or any fish basket, or pot, pond or weir, or by any poison or by any deleterious substance, or by obstructing, in any manner, the natural transit of fish."(81)
1862(May 20) As a means for the federal government to encourage the settlement of the Western states and territories and promote the spread of small farms in the sparsely settled West, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Homestead Act. This law, which was amended several times and finally repealed in 1977, provided that anyone who was either the head of a family, 21 years old, or a veteran of 14 days of active service in the U.S. armed forces, and who was a citizen (or had filed a declaration of intent to become a citizen), could acquire 160 acres of land in the public domain(82) and acquire title to it after residing on the land for a period of five years and completing certain requirements as to cultivation. The period of residence was later reduced to 14 months, and entry by anyone already owning 160 acres of other lands was prohibited. The act contained no water-development requirements or restrictions.(83) Later federal homestead laws were essentially modifications of the 1862 act. The subsequent opening of federal property under this act, and the 1877 Desert Land Entry Act (Desert Land Act), created land rushes as immigrants and existing citizens alike were lured by the prospects of owning their own land on very reasonable terms.(84)
1862 On the advice of Dr. Henry De Groot, a noted researcher on the origins of the Washoe (Washo) Indian Tribe's naming of Lake Tahoe, William Henry Knight caused the United States Land Office to approve the name of "Tahoe" for the lake which had been previously named by California interests "Lake Bigler" in 1851. The original name--"Tah-hoe-ee," meaning big lake or water--was further researched by Dr. De Groot (1880) and subsequently abbreviated to "Ta-hoe."(85)
1862(December) The Nevada Territorial Legislature granted Myron C. Lake, who owned a bridge across the Truckee River near the site of the present-day Virginia Street Bridge, a 10-year monopoly (with a 2 percent tax on gross receipts for the territorial school fund) to operate a toll road between Junction House in the south (at the present intersection of South Virginia Street and Peckham Lane), across Lake's Crossing (as the site of his bridge across the Truckee River was then known), and north to the California state line, a distance of about 20 miles.(86)
1862(December 19) The second Nevada Territorial Legislature made it unlawful for "any sawmill, slaughterhouse, brewery or tannery to obstruct the natural flow of water of any stream, or to allow any sawdust, chips, shavings, slabs, offal, refuse, tan bark, or other offensive matter to enter the stream so as to damage the purity of the water." The law was intended to protect irrigation water and agricultural land rather than fish and wildlife, and the mines were exempt from its provisions.(87) Unfortunately, the law did not apply to such contamination of waters before they entered Nevada, and the sawdust in the Truckee River from upstream California logging and milling operations continued unabated.
1863 Coburn's Station--the precursor of the present town of Truckee--was founded.(88)
1863 The Hunter Creek Water Company constructed the Hunter Creek Ditch, diverting waters of a tributary to the Truckee River in the Truckee Meadows.(89)
1864(January 31) As reported in the Virginia Daily Union (Virginia City): "Madison Chase, local Indian Agent at Pyramid Lake, yesterday brought to Virginia [City] about one thousands pounds of trout, which were caught by the Indians at a locality in the Truckee River about three miles above the lake...finest lot of fish ever brought to this market... ranged from one to five pounds each...as the business promises to be a profitable one to all interested parties, our market will hereafter receive a large supply of fish from that quarter every few days."(90)
1864 The Winter's Ranch (Rancho Del Sierra) was completed in the northern portion of Washoe Valley some 10 miles north of Carson City. The large carpenter-Gothic style structure was the ranch home of Theodore and Maggie Winters and their seven children. Originally, the area was settled by Mormons and the ranch site, consisting of some 6,000 acres, was purchased by Theodore Winters and his brother. In addition to the ranch house, the property also contained a large barn and race track. Winters raised outstanding race horses, which he race here, as well as operated a dairy business and raised beef cattle, work horses, and sheep. Winters was also active in politics and was elected to the Nevada Territorial Legislature.(91)
1864(June 11) As noted in the Virginia Daily Union (Virginia City): "...Lake Tahoe is being rapidly depleted of fish...it is only the trout which are spawning in shallow places, that are speared...fifteen or twenty boats now engaged in this business...at the rate they are at present being taken, the fine delicious trout, which throng its waters will become so scarce...may fish all day and not get a bite."(92)
1864(June 19) A censure appeared in the Virginia Daily Union (Virginia City) after previously (see January 31, 1864 entry) expressing that city's appreciation for the bounty of the Truckee River and its fishery: "Like Lake Tahoe, this stream [the Truckee River] is in danger of losing its former reputation...Hitherto it has been the resort of such multitudes of finny beauties, that to take large quantities of them required neither skill nor patience...between the wholesale slaughter in the [Pyramid] lake and at the dam at the lower recrossing [railroad crossing], they are like 'angel's visits'...this course persisted will soon render them a thing of the past, and cannot be too highly censured."(93)
1864 Evidencing concern over the growing threat to fish life, the last Nevada Territorial Legislature (before statehood) enacted a closed season for trout during the spawning months of January to April. To promote compliance, a reward was offered to those persons reporting out-of-season poaching.(94) Unfortunately, the Pyramid Lake Indians claimed immunity from territorial (and later state) laws and were therefore employed by wholesalers at Wadsworth to fish the Truckee River specifically during these closed seasons for the relatively large and abundant Pyramid Lake cutthroat trout.(95)
1864(October 31) Nevada was admitted to the Union as the 36th state. Ultimately, in 1885, by a decision of the Nevada Supreme Court, the state adopted the "prior appropriation doctrine" with respect to the state's administration of water rights. Under this doctrine, the first person to take a quantity of surface water (and later groundwater) and put it to beneficial use has a higher priority of right than a subsequent user. Under drought conditions, the demands of higher priority users are satisfied before junior users receive water.(96) This statutory doctrine of prior appropriation used exclusively in Nevada would come into conflict with the common law doctrine of riparian water rights in use in the State of California regarding the diversion and use of the waters shared between these two states, specifically, Lake Tahoe and the Truckee, Carson, and Walker rivers.
1865 The first session of the Nevada Legislature re-enacted the 1862 territorial statute prohibiting the dumping of sawdust in state waters.(97)
1865(March 25) From the Washoe Weekly Times (Washoe City in Washoe Valley): "The Washoe Indians have been supplying our citizens the past week with fresh trout taken from the Truckee. This stream affords the finest quality of trout to be found anywhere, many of them weighing from fifteen to twenty pounds."(98)
1865 The first major controversy over the waters of Lake Tahoe and the Truckee River began. Alexis Von Schmidt, a San Francisco civil engineer, formed the Lake Tahoe and San Francisco Water Works Company to supply water to San Francisco via an aqueduct from the Lake Tahoe area.(99) Surveys were undertaken to construct a canal from the lake's outlet at Tahoe City to Squaw Valley, where a tunnel was to be excavated through the Sierra Nevada Mountains to the west to take the water to the North Fork of the American River. The project would encounter insurmountable problems in 1870, however, when the California Legislature granted Truckee River improvement rights to the Donner Lumber and Boom Company.(100)
1866(March 1) The Nevada Legislature amended an Act (approved February 20, 1864) relating to wild game and fish such that "it shall be unlawful to catch...fish in any of the ...waters within the state, from and after the first day of April...up and to the first day of July...by means of any drag or drags, or any kind of net, or any fish basket or pot, pond or weir, or by any poison...or by obstructing...the natural transit of fish..."(101) This action represented a reversal of fish protection established by the 1864 Nevada Territorial Legislature, thereby opening the prime spawning months of January through March to unrestricted exploitation of the Truckee River's trout population.(102)
1866(March 3) The Nevada Legislature made its first attempt to obtain a record of water diversions in the state by approving Chapter 100 of the Nevada Revised Statutes. This act required any person intending to construct a ditch or flume to file a certificate with the county recorder setting forth the name by which the ditch would be known and the description of the place or places of use. The act also allowed for the "appointment of appraisers" to assess land through which ditches were to run when the consent of existing owners could not be obtained.(103)
1866(April 1) In what may have seemed like an April Fool's joke or merely journalistic exaggeration, the Carson Daily Appeal (Carson City) reported that "A Chinaman came into town yesterday with the largest specimen of a Lake Tahoe trout we have ever seen...a little more than thirty-eight pounds..."(104) [Actually, the present-day record Mackinaw, or lake trout caught in Lake Tahoe in 1975 weighed 37 pounds 6 ounces. However, this species was not introduced into Lake Tahoe until 1887. Therefore, if credible, the trout caught was most probably a spawning Pyramid Lake variety of Lahontan cutthroat trout.]
1866(May 17) Clearly indicating the widespread appreciation of the bounties of the waters of Northern Nevada, an article appeared in the Carson Daily Appeal (Carson City) stating "We have never known our fish market to be so well supplied as at present. Lake Tahoe, the Carson and the Truckee [rivers], are made to yield up their piscatorial treasures in great abundance. Our hotels, the restaurants and private tables, serve up trout with painful regularity..."(105)
1866(December 21) Indicating the early commercial use of the Truckee River for logging, the Territorial Enterprise (Virginia City) reported that "Eastman & White, whose sawmill is at Truckee Meadows, have let a contract to furnish them with two million feet of saw logs...being cut now in Truckee Canyon some six miles above Crystal Peak and will be flooded down the river with the spring floods."(106) Eventually, Truckee Meadows mills would be replaced by a mill at Verdi, and numerous other lumber mills around Truckee, California.
1867 The Truckee Lumber Company was established near Donner Lake. By 1868, this lumber mill alone had produced some 10,000 railroad ties and two million feet of bridge timber as part of a contract with the Central Pacific Railroad. The lumber mill also produced eight million board feet, a significant portion of the 66 million board feet produced by the dozen or so milling operations located in the immediate vicinity of Truckee.
1867(March 29) As reported in the Gold Hill News and the Territorial Enterprise (Virginia City): "This morning a wagon with 1,450 pounds of trout, arrived in Virginia [City] from Pyramid Lake. The whole wagon load was caught by the Indians...being the largest day's fishing ever made...we have never seen as many large trout...brought to market...". As a testament to the plentiful nature of the fish, it was noted that "...in the course of an hour an Indian will often take over 200 pounds..."(107)
1867(April 5) As noted in the Territorial Enterprise (Virginia City): "The Truckee...is about as full of fish as there is any sort of necessity for...trout of large size and choice quality are caught in any desired quantity." The first reference was also made to the now endangered cui-ui: "...besides which there is a species of fish resembling the smelt, which are found to be excellent eating...lower part of the river in the vicinity of Grand [Pyramid] Lake [supposedly they did not spawn above the "Big Bend" of the Truckee River at Wadsworth]...very peculiar fish is found called, we think, the 'Cuyo', a dark colored, scaly, homely looking fish... spawn...in such immense numbers that at time they almost seem to choke the passage of the waters...whole surface seems fairly alive with heads and fins...such a rushing noise as to stampede horses and cattle along the river."(108)
1868(January 10) In terms of an informal census, it was noted in the Carson Daily Appeal (Carson City) that Mr. H.G. Parker, Superintendent of Indian Affairs for Nevada reported that there were about 1,000 Piutes [sic] on the reservation at Pyramid Lake and that for every pound of fish sold by the Indians they receive two cents. Mr. Parker reported that "They come in possession of a good many dollars by this means..."(109)
1868(January 30) As reported in the Territorial Enterprise (Virginia City): "The Indians of the Reservation at Pyramid Lake, have again commenced spearing trout...there are other fine fish--even more delicious than the trout--in the waters of Pyramid Lake, but it is only at a certain (and very short) season that they venture from the lake into the river where they can be taken. A few of these fish--we have forgotten the name given them by the Paiutes [they were the cui-ui]--were offered in this market last year."(110)
1868(March) Myron Lake sold to the Central Pacific Railroad approximately 160 acres of land centrally located in what is now Downtown Reno. Two months later, on May 9th, the Central Pacific began auctioning townsites. The only structures of importance existing at that time included Lake's Hotel (located at the present Riverside Hotel site on the south side of the river) and a grist (grain) mill, located at the northern end of the bridge.(111)
1868(Spring) At the height of the bird breeding season, Robert Ridgway, a young, 17-year old naturalist and mentor of Spencer Fullerton Baird, who was the Director of the United States National Museum, accompanied a biological survey of the U.S. Geological Exploration led by Clarence King. The expedition explored wildlife along the 40th parallel(112) and traveled down the Truckee and Carson rivers. Ridgway identified 91 species of birds during a three-week trip to the lower Truckee River below Wadsworth, Nevada, an area relatively untouched at that time by the effects of modern society. Ridgway's accounting provided an important record of the flora and fauna of the "fertile valley of the river" and its "exceedingly dense willow-jungles...studded with fine large cottonwood trees..." This was lush and hospitable habitat that would be drastically altered through subsequent river channelization projects, draining of wetlands, increased use of adjoining lands for agriculture, and livestock grazing.(113) Despite having only a high school education, Ridgway went on to become one of America's most distinguished ornithologists(114) as Curator of Birds in the U.S. National Museum. Over one hundred years after Ridgway's visit, over a five-year period of 1972-1976, two University of Nevada, Reno, professors could identify only 65 species of birds in this same area, and of those, 17 were new to this area.(115) Consequently, by the 1970s, 42 of the original bird species identified by Ridgway in 1868 would completely disappear from the lower Truckee River.(116)
1868 The Central Pacific Railroad connected the town of Truckee, California, and the city of Reno, Nevada, via the upper Truckee River canyon route. This represented the first transportation corridor which followed the route of the Truckee River between these two communities. Numerous other railroads prospered around this time throughout the area, thereby promoting the logging industry, paper and pulp mills, and other early forms of commercial enterprise.
1868(April) Judge E. B. Crocker, brother of Charles Crocker, superintendent of construction for the Central Pacific (CP) Railroad, put forth the name of "Argenta" for Lake's Crossing (i.e., Reno), a name which stressed the importance of silver to the area. Two weeks later on May 9, 1868, the name was suddenly changed to Reno, named after a young (39 year- old) Union General, Jesse Lee Reno. Major General Reno was a native of Virginia, graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, and served in the Mexican War from 1846 to 1847. He was killed while leading his men in the Union victory of South Mountain, Maryland, on September 14, 1862. It was claimed that one of the CP's owners knew General Reno and insisted on the change. Reno subsequently became the junction for the Virginia & Truckee (V&T) Railroad track to be completed to Virginia City and the Comstock.(117) During its relatively brief history, Reno had been known as Jamison's Station (1852), Fuller's Ferry (1860), Lake's Crossing (1862), End of Track (1868), Argenta (1868), and finally, in May 1868, Reno.(118)
1868(May 22) In an early recognition of the need to establish Anaho Island in Pyramid Lake as a protected wildlife refuge, the Carson Daily Appeal (Carson City) wrote that "...returned yesterday from Pyramid lake...brought a great number of gull's and pelicans' eggs...gathered from the island...says that these eggs are to be found...in great abundance."(119)
1868(May 31) As reported in the Territorial Enterprise (Virginia City): "Mr. H. Hawes, who resides at the "Big Bend" of the Truckee [Wadsworth], and who brought the fish to this city, gives us some interesting particulars in regard to the fish. It is called by the Indians the "cooynea" [cui-ui], and is found in the waters of both Pyramid and Mud [Winnemucca] lakes,(120) which it only leaves in the spring for the purpose of spawning, when it comes up the Truckee River as far as the Big Bend, never farther, in schools of millions. They weigh from four to eight pounds, and have a head so ugly that all are beheaded before being brought to this market."(121)
1868 Alfalfa seed, also known as "Chile clover," which had been grown in California since the 1850s, reached the Truckee Meadows and became an intensive forage crop to cover the expanding agricultural fields along the river. Alfalfa was found to tolerate salt saturation in soils, variable climates, drought, and insects. As a legume, it actually adds fertility to soils while producing three to six cuttings of hay during the average growing season. Once planted it needs little cultivation for six to ten years, although now the rotation of alfalfa fields is becoming more frequent.(122) Ervin Crane, a pioneer Steamboat rancher, proved that alfalfa thrived best on sagebrush bench lands plowed and irrigated. By the mid-1870s, alfalfa was the reigning staple crop of the Truckee Meadows.(123)
1868 The Central Pacific Railroad lines reached Wadsworth on the lower Truckee River and wholesale harvesting of Pyramid Lake cutthroat trout began with shipments both west to San Francisco and east (1869) to Ogden, Utah, via Wells Fargo Express.(124) Although fishing records are questionable and represent only those fish harvested along the lower Truckee River, by 1888 it was reported that some 250,000 pounds (125 tons) of fish were shipped by rail from Wadsworth alone. It was also estimated that this amount constituted only about one-half of the total catch along the entire course of the Truckee River.(125)
1868(1868-1904) The Central Pacific's Truckee Wadsworth division was established at Wadsworth, Nevada (Big Bend). In 1882, work was begin on a new site across the Truckee River (on the south, or eastern side) and a fire on April 15, 1884, fanned by heavy winds, destroyed remaining buildings at the original site. Another fire at the new site in 1902, combined with a persistent lack of an adequate water supply, prompted the relocation of the division, with all buildings and even the workers' homes, to a new location east of Reno, a site which eventually became Sparks, Nevada.(126)
1868 Reno's first sewer lines were built around this time and consisted of pipes connected with each storefront and then extended down alleys or streets to the Truckee River, where raw sewage poured directly into the river. During the summer, when the stream channel frequently dried up entirely, the area was rank with piles of untreated waste awaiting the fall rains to carry it away downstream. This condition existed well into the 1900s.(127)
1868 Ice harvesting began in the Truckee, California, area, particularly on Donner Lake and on an earlier, and considerably smaller, Boca Reservoir. The Boca site was particularly well suited for this type of enterprise due to its location at the bottom of a depression where cold air would naturally sink, providing temperatures typically 10-20F colder than at Truckee.(128) Ice was used to cool the Comstock mines and for packing agricultural produce from early farming operations in California, thereby allowing California farmers in the Sacramento and San Joaquin valleys to rail ship agricultural production to eastern markets after 1869 when the transcontinental rail line was completed. At its peak, over 20 ice companies were active in the Truckee area. Ice harvesting operations would continue until approximately 1927 when natural ice was replaced by mechanical refrigeration.
1869(March 20) From the Territorial Enterprise (Virginia City): "Immense quantities of trout are being captured daily in the Truckee River. White men and Indians, with hook and line, spear and net, are busy in catching the speckled beauties, for fun and for profit. They weigh from half a pound to 15 pounds, and are cheaper than beef in the market at Reno and Wadsworth."(129)
1869 A Nevada Legislature joint resolution recognized the interstate nature of pollution in the Truckee River and the endangerment of native fish species and called upon the California Legislature to protect upstream waters from the dumping of sawdust.(130)
1869(May 10) The Central Pacific Railroad met the Union Pacific Railroad at Promontory Summit, just south of Promontory, Utah.(131) The nation had now been connected by rail lines and overland migration westward would no longer be the hazardous and daunting task it was.
1870(January 4) In an effort to bring some realism to the Lake Tahoe fish stories (see entry for April 1, 1866), the Gold Hill News reported that "...on authority of Captain John McKinney, of Tahoe City, who has made fishing a profession...the largest fish ever taken from those waters...weighed twenty-seven pounds..."(132) [Even so, the modern-day record Mackinaw trout caught in Lake Tahoe weighed in at 37 pounds and 6 ounces, although this species of fish was reportedly not introduced into Lake Tahoe until 1887.]
1870(January 15) As noted in the Reno Crescent: "Our markets and restaurants...we notice... most delicious looking speckled trout, taken from the pure transparent waters of our own beautiful Truckee [River]."(133)
1870(February 25) The first indication of concern over the viability of the Truckee River and Pyramid Lake fisheries was raised by the Territorial Enterprise (Virginia City) when it reported that: "A correspondent writing from Reno, complains that parties residing in the vicinity of Pyramid Lake have built a weir across the Truckee River which prevents the trout and other fish from coming up the river, as they usually do about this season..."(134)
1870(April) During the 1869-1870 legislative session, the California Legislature authorized the Donner Lumber and Boom Company to improve the channel of the Truckee River from its source at Lake Tahoe to the eastern boundary line of the State of California. It was stipulated, however, that any floodgate at Lake Tahoe's outlet was not to be more than five feet in height and was to only facilitate floating saw logs downstream to the town of Truckee.(135) Also required under this contract was the construction of adequate fish ladders, yet none were ever constructed.(136) The lumber company would erect a rock-filled timber crib dam at Tahoe City which would remain in operation until its replacement in 1913 by a concrete structure with vertical gates.
1870 Also during the 1869-1870 session of the California Legislature, the name Lake Bigler, which had been first assigned to Lake Tahoe in 1851 during an Indian expedition, was officially legalized in honor of California's third governor, John Bigler.(137) Even so, the U.S. Land Office continued to refer to the lake as Lake Tahoe on its maps, a name which eventually prevailed when the California Legislature officially rescinded the name Lake Bigler in 1945.(138)
1870(July 9) The Reno Crescent reported on "Something New" in the Truckee River: "We notice that the boulders in the bed of the Truckee are this season covered with a growth of moss [no doubt a euphemism for algae]--a phenomenon never before observed by the oldest inhabitant..."(139) This should hardly have come as any great surprise as only two years earlier, in 1868, Reno installed sewer pipes which dumped raw sewage directly into the river.
1870 Alexis von Schmidt intensified his efforts to divert waters from Lake Tahoe (see 1865 entry) by offering to provide the City of San Francisco twenty million gallons of water daily in return for $10 million and monopoly control of that city's water works by Schmidt's Lake Tahoe and San Francisco Water Works Company. By the end of 1870, Schmidt had acquired land at the lake's outlet at Tahoe City for $3 per acre and constructed a small dam at the site.(140)
1871(January 14) As prophetically reported in the Nevada State Journal (Reno): "We learn that last week some parties were engaged in killing fish by means of exploding giant powder in the river. Though fish are plenty in the Truckee now, if this manner of killing them is not stopped promptly, the day is not far distant when the waters of our beautiful Truckee will have but very few fish in them..."(141)
1871(February 25) As a rebuke to the fishing practices taking place on the Pyramid Lake Indian Reservation, the Nevada State Journal (Reno) reported: "...[we] deplore the action of parties in placing obstructions across the Truckee River below Wadsworth, whereby the trout were prevented from ascending the stream...the dam at the [Indian} agency...is arranged with a chute through which the fish might ascend, were they not prevented by Indians employed to spear them as they attempt to pass through. So closely is this chute guarded that not a fish is able to pass above the dam..."(142)
1871(March 2) Legislation was passed making it unlawful for any person between the first day of January and the first day of September to catch any trout in any of the waters of Nevada with any seine, gillnet, or any spear, weir, fence, baskets, trap, explosive material or other substance or implements, or in any manner except by hook and line; and it was made unlawful at any time for any person to catch fish by any poisonous deleterious or stupefying drug, explosive material or other substance. The law also provided that fish ladders needed to be constructed within 30 days at mill dams, except that the Carson River (with its numerous dams, weirs, and stamping mills) was exempt from this provision. All other acts relating to fish were repealed.(143)
1871(Spring) Larger, mature female Pyramid Lake cutthroat trout loaded with eggs were first reported unable to reach the Truckee Meadows due to downstream dams and numerous nets, snares, and fish traps impeding their progress to upstream spawning beds.(144)
1871(March 18) In response to the numerous public concerns about the damming of the Truckee River below Wadsworth, George Balcom, Pyramid Lake Indian Agent, wrote a letter to the Reno Crescent in which he stated: "I am the newly appointed Indian Agent...[the reservation dam has] not only a chute, but an open sluice about six feet wide, falling gradually over the tiers of brush and stone lapping each other, in such a manner that fish can pass up stream...that all the fish may come up the sportsmen may desire, and the Indians partly support themselves by the sale of what they catch..."(145)
1871(March 20) In a story from the Reno Crescent reprinted in the Reese River Reveille (Austin) it was noted that "...the Truckee River is being cleaned out of the delicious trout for which that stream is famous. Owing to the obstructions in the river, few if any fish succeed in making their annual trip to the head of navigation...no fish are to be seen in the upper portion of the river, while below the [Indian reservation] dam...they are being caught by the wagon load..."(146)
1871 The first white-Indian violence along the Truckee River since the Pyramid Lake Indian War of 1860 erupted. During the spawning run of October 1870 through April 1871, the Pyramid Lake Indian Reservation's "irrigation" dam blocked much of the upstream run due to an inadequate fish ladder. Truckee Meadows residents felt this represented a deliberate action to allow the Indians to trap the spawning Pyramid Lake cutthroat trout for sale to Wadsworth fish wholesalers. The Nevada State Journal reported that "Wadsworth parties" were deliberately damming the river, preventing the fish from passing, while selling the catch along the railroad.(147) The annual run at Reno was reported to be far below normal. After receiving little satisfaction from the Indian Bureau and Nevada's Congressional delegation, some Truckee Meadows residents took matters into their own hands and dynamited the reservation dam.(148) On April 1st the Reno Crescent casually noted that "We understand that the Reservation dam...took a start one day this week and left its mooring..." It was also noted in this same edition: "Thursday night, 2,500 pounds of Truckee trout were unloaded at the Reno [railroad] Depot. A ton went west from this place and a ton east from Wadsworth. How long will it be before trout in the Truckee River will be as scarce as hen's teeth if this wholesale slaughter continues?"(149)
1871(April 14) The Territorial Enterprise (Virginia City) reported on the success of the demise of the [reservation] dam on the lower Truckee River: "...no new dam has been built across the Truckee in the place of the one lately blown up with giant powder by the Renoites...the river is alive with trout, all pushing up the stream...about 1,000 pounds of trout...were shipped from Wadsworth evening before last." As astutely noted later in the Reese River Reveille (Austin) on April 17th with respect to this matter: "...that the fish are prevented from spawning by whites instead of Indians does not improve matters."(150)
1871(May 28) In reporting on logging operations in the Truckee River, the Territorial Enterprise (Virginia City) reported that "The lumbermen on the Truckee River find it a difficult matter to float logs down that stream this season...Senator Eastman, who owns a mill (Eastman & White) 2-1/2 miles below Reno...that by building a plank dam nearly across the river he has been enabled to get a considerable lot of logs into his boom. On the Truckee the sawmill men wish to see the snow go off with a rush, while on the Carson [River] the quartz mill owners desire that it may be all summer about it."(151)
1871 Alexis von Schmidt made a formal proposal to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors: For $10 million Lake Tahoe waters could be diverted from the Truckee River to Squaw Valley, flow five miles through a tunnel to the North Fork of the American River, and then proceed through an aqueduct, a reservoir, and a pipeline to San Francisco. Along the way the system was to provide water to mining, farming, and municipal customers. The project was approved by the city supervisors, but was vetoed by the mayor who feared both the monopoly Schmidt proposed as well as legal suits over Lake Tahoe water rights.(152)
1871(July 29) The Gold Hill News provided one account of a popular fishing technique in Lake Tahoe by noting that "...the trout are not very plentiful in the lake, but in the brooks they just swarm...don't use hooks at all, but go for them with a big club..."(153)
1872 The Orr Ditch was completed in the Truckee Meadows, taking water out of the Truckee River on its north side just downstream from the present-day Mayberry Drive Bridge. The ditch would then run in basically an easterly direction, paralleling the river for about two miles to Henry Orr's ranch located on the river's north bank.
1872(September 1) The first through train traversed the 52-mile route recently completed which linked Virginia City with Reno by rail. Chinese laborers had begun grading the roadbed from Reno south to Steamboat Springs in the summer of 1871. On August 24, 1872, Virginia & Truckee Railroad Superintendent Henry M. Yerington drove the last spike in the line a mile west of Carson City. The last train traversed the route on May 31, 1950.(154)
1873 A group of farmers paid Henry Orr for his water rights and began to bring the Orr Ditch northward toward Spanish Spring Valley where the water was sold to ranches north and east of Reno.(155) The return flows eventually came back into the Truckee River via the North Truckee Drain at a point nearly opposite the confluence with the Steamboat Creek and the discharge point of the present-day Truckee Meadows Water Reclamation Facility.
1873 A masonry diversion dam located at the foot of Sierra Street in downtown Reno and used by the Reno Flour Mill effectively blocked upstream spawning runs of Pyramid Lake cutthroat trout.(156) Five years after its construction, and only after a Washoe County Grand Jury ordered the owners prosecuted for violation of state fish protection laws, would the owners submit and add the required fish ladders.(157)
1873(March 15) As noted in the Nevada State Journal: "...trout are plenty in the Truckee and it is no more than right that all who live along the borders of the beautiful stream should have an equal show...the dam of the mill company [Reno Flour Mill]...has no aperture through which the fish can get above...they accumulated between the two bridges and are slaughtered unmercilessly..."(158)
1873(April 8) In noting the effectiveness of river impediments to prevent Pyramid Lake cutthroat trout from reaching their upper basin spawning beds, the Truckee Republican reported that "Scarcely any trout have made their appearance at Boca or Truckee...and our citizens are complaining...that there are artificial obstructions both at Reno and between Boca and Verdi which prevent their coming."(159)
1873(April 17) The Territorial Enterprise (Virginia City) provided an insightful account of the characteristics and habits of the now-endangered Pyramid Lake cui-ui fish species: "This peculiar fish is now to be seen in our principal markets in abundance...name 'Couoa,' is pronounced 'Kew-yew-way' by the Piutes [sic]...very singular kind of fish...are all decapitated before they are brought to our markets...reason given...the heads weight as much as their bodies, and are so repulsive in appearance that few who saw the head would care to eat the fish...are very round and solid...meat is white, sweet and of very fine grain...never seen for more than five or six days in the Truckee...suddenly disappear... seen no more till their next run...While in Pyramid Lake...never seen...remain altogether in deep water."(160)
1873(July 18) Reporting on the extensive logging operations taking place in the Lake Tahoe Basin, the Gold Hill News reported that "Some idea can be formed of the immense amount of lumber turned out by the Glenbrook [Nevada] mills, from the fact that every day or two, rafts of logs containing 250,000 [board] feet of lumber are towed across Lake Tahoe to the mills from Sugar Pine Point [California]..."(161)
1873(August 16) In conflict with the reservation count of 1868 attributed to Mr. H.G. Parker, Superintendent of Indian Affairs for Nevada, in which the Carson Daily Appeal reported 1,000 Paiutes on the Pyramid Lake Indian Reservation, an article in the Nevada State Journal (Reno) made mention of "...a tribe of about 6,000 Indians, 400 of whom have their lodges along its [Pyramid Lake's] banks and live on the fish and game that throng its waters and shores...prolific with life...beneath the waters swarm the salmon trout, king of game fish...absolutely numberless in these virgin waters..."(162)
1873(August) The first waters from the Truckee River Basin reached Gold Hill and Virginia City, located in the Carson River Basin. The water system, over 21 miles in length, was capable of delivering 2.2 million gallons of water in 24 hours (6.75 acre-feet per day or almost 2,500 acre-feet per year).(163) The system consisted of a diversion dam below Hobart Creek Reservoir on Franktown Creek, which flows into Washoe Lake from the eastern slopes of the Carson Range. From this point of diversion, the water flowed through four miles of box flumes to a pressure pipe almost eight miles in length that transported the water across the Washoe depression (Washoe Valley) to the east to Five-Mile Reservoir in the Virginia Range, and finally through a 5.66-mile flume which took the waters to Gold Hill and Virginia City.
1874(April 4) The Nevada State Journal (Reno) reported on excellent, if not excessive, fishing conditions: "Phi Bates, of Long Valley...succeeded in pulling out 73 of the nicest trout ever mortal man set eyes upon...Phi and Ned Reed went out and together managed to corral over 200 pounds. If they keep up their luck there will soon be no trout in the river."(164)
1874 The City of Reno petitioned the California Legislature to prohibit the dumping of sawdust in the upper Truckee River. A "delta" of sawdust from upstream milling had formed in less than ten years at the entrance to Pyramid Lake, effectively closing the mouth of the Truckee River to fish attempting to spawn upstream.(165)
1874(August 20) In an article providing insights into the early topography of the Truckee River through Reno and the Truckee Meadows before extensive flood control measures were taken by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in the 1950s and 1960s to remove islands and meanders, and straighten and deepen the river's channel, the Nevada State Journal (Reno) related a visit to Poor and Cossitt's islands, located about a mile and a half from Reno. The account noted "there are four islands, formed by the branching of the Truckee, from one to five acres in extent, thickly covered with willows and cotton wood...wild flowers, gooseberries and currants, grow abundantly...shade made so perfect by the overhanging trees that scarcely a ray of sunshine penetrated..."(166)
1874(September 2) The importance of farming and irrigation to the early Truckee Meadows economy was noted by the Nevada State Journal (Reno): "The farmers on the Truckee Meadows have reason to congratulate themselves on their hay crop this season...M.C. [Myron] Lake and Len Savage, two of our largest ranchers, have lately sold to the Virginia and Truckee Railroad 100 tons [of hay] each, receiving...market price."(167)
1874(November) In a letter from the Pyramid Lake Indian Agent to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, it was reported that the entire Truckee River channel into Pyramid Lake was blocked by logging debris and sawdust, consequently diverting the river's entire flow into Mud [Winnemucca] Lake.(168)
1875(January 9) In the Governor's message to the Nevada Legislature, as reprinted in the Nevada State Journal (Reno), he noted "A subject of importance to many citizens of the State...is the preservation of the fisheries of the Truckee River...unless preventive measures are soon adopted and rigidly enforced, their certain destruction is imminent...The mouth of the Truckee [at Pyramid Lake]...is closed by a bar of sawdust at least a mile in length, three hundred yards in breadth and three feet in depth...I saw hundreds of fine trout dead and rotten upon the shores...The air was poisoned with the stench of their decay..."(169)
1875(February 16) In recognizing the importance of the Truckee River fishery to both the Pyramid Lake Indians and the railroad, the Silver State (Winnemucca) noted: "The Piutes [sic] are doing a lively business in Truckee trout...permitted to ride free of charge on trains...taking advantage of the free pass or dead-head system, bring fish from [the] Truckee [River] almost every day and sell it in this market."(170)
1875(March 23) By Executive Order, retroactive to November 29, 1859 when lands were first set aside for this purpose, President Ulysses S. Grant formally proclaimed the creation of the Pyramid Lake Indian Reservation for the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe.(171) The reservation occupied almost 477,000 acres with its dominant feature, the 108,000-acre Pyramid Lake, located at the terminus of the Truckee River.(172) Later, to halt the decline in Pyramid Lake's water level, the Paiute Tribe would attempt to show that since its cultural heritage was clearly one of fishing and not farming, the reserved water rights (federal "reservation doctrine") established for the reservation should have been based on the water necessary to sustain the lake's fishery, rather than a lesser amount of water based on agriculture and the concept of "practicably irrigable acreage."(173)
1875 The "Bonanza Kings" of the Comstock completed their Pacific Lumber and Flume operation from the Lake Tahoe Basin to near the site of Huffaker's in the southern portion of Truckee Meadows, a small community which had been established in the valley in 1859. For fifteen miles "trestled logs were propelled by waters rushing faster than any train.7" At the terminus of the flume, the Virginia & Truckee Railroad opened a depot and telegraph office and constructed a spur where workers transferred timbers. From there, the timbers were transported to the Comstock via the rail line from Reno to Virginia City which had been completed in 1872.(174)
1875 Work began on the Highland Ditch, which diverted Truckee River waters from a point just east of Verdi to serve the irrigation needs of the Truckee Meadows and Reno's growing municipal water requirements. This was a joint construction project of the Highland Ditch and Water Company and several large ranchers in the Truckee Meadows.(175)
1875 Recognition of the doctrine of riparian ownership of water rights in Nevada was provided legal support through the early court case of Barnes v. Sabron. It would not be until 1885 that the Nevada Supreme Court would reject this concept and formally approve and adopt the prior appropriation doctrine for all the state's water supplies.(176)
1875 A large dam was constructed on the Truckee River for the lumber mill at Verdi. This structure, which essentially diverted the entire flow of the river through a large holding pond for retaining logs flowing downstream, effectively closed the upper Truckee River to Pyramid Lake cutthroat trout spawning runs. Under threat of litigation, an inadequate fish ladder was eventually added to the dam in 1877.(177) This river impediment to spawning fish provided credible justification to upstream California log milling operators who questioned the need to install fish ladders on their dams as virtually no spawning fish ever reached their locations.(178)
1875 Due to rapidly depleted stocks of native fish species in the Truckee River above Verdi, Nevada, the California Fish Commission released the first foreign fish species--brook trout and whitefish--into the Truckee River above Boca (the outlet of the Little Truckee River).(179)
1875 A second flume and pipe system, diverting waters from the Truckee River Basin to the Carson River Basin, was constructed from Franktown Creek (a tributary of Washoe Lake and eventually Steamboat Creek) below Hobart Creek Reservoir, across Washoe Valley to Five-Mile Reservoir in the Virginia Range to serve the water needs of Gold Hill and Virginia City. Like the first system installed in 1873, the capacity of this system was also 2.2 million gallons per day.(180)
1876(January 21) As concerns over the viability of the Truckee River fishery intensified, it was noted in both the Nevada State Journal (Reno) and the Truckee Republican that "...[Legislation is needed] that will prevent white men from employing Indians to catch trout...fish business is increasing because more cunning and diabolical contrivances... brought into requisition... fish in the Truckee is decreasing each year, notwithstanding the increased shipments...Unless stopped soon trout-fishing will be a thing of the past...In 1872 the total amount of fish shipped from the Truckee River was 109,812 pounds; in 1873, 150,657 pounds; in 1874, 161,696 pounds; making a total in three years of 422,165 pounds. No trout stream in America could stand such a drain for any considerable length of time...fish ladders are worse than useless...constitute a narrow raceway...in which the Indians...catch every single trout."(181)
1876(January 22) The Nevada State Journal (Reno) reported that part of a stock of one half million young salmon were placed in Lake Tahoe and Donner Lake. The batch was procured from the U.S. Fishery on the McCloud River and donated to the State of California.(182)
1876(April 1) The Reno Evening Gazette provided a report from a Mr. John Whitehead of Pyramid Lake, who informed the paper that sawdust and sediment had formed a delta at the mouth of the Truckee River such that most of the river's water was being diverted into Mud [Winnemucca] Lake, thereby resulting in a scarcity of fish in the river. It was noted that due to the diversion, Mud Lake had risen 12 feet above its high water mark while Pyramid Lake had fallen a similar proportion.(183)
1876(August 12) As an indication of the munificence of Pyramid Lake, the Nevada State Journal (Reno) noted that "A gentleman from Pyramid Lake says that in places on the lake are to be seen thousands of pelicans, gulls, ducks, geese and other waterfowl...pelicans often so gorge themselves with fish that they will hardly attempt to fly when approached... may be shot by scores within 50 yards of the shore...trouble is...the pelicans...are worth nothing...unless a market could be found for their feathers and skins."(184)
1876 As the water diversions from Franktown Creek and Hobart Creek Reservoir rapidly proved insufficient for the growing needs of the Comstock, the Virginia and Gold Hill Water Company received permission to draw water from Marlette Lake, a body of water located in the Carson Range and which drained into Lake Tahoe.(185) This action would directly divert the waters of the Lake Tahoe Basin to Virginia City and the Carson River Basin. This would not be an easy task, however, as Marlette Lake lay on the western slope of the Carson Range and the water would have to be transported around (or through) to the eastern slope where the Franktown Creek flume and pipe system was already in place.
1877(January 20) The Nevada State Journal (Reno) provided a report from Mr. A.J. Barnes, U.S. Indian Agent for the Pyramid Lake Indian Reservation to the effect that "...prosperous fishing season...commenced about the middle of October and will last until April...Indians are taking about 1,200 pounds of trout daily from the river and lake...sell to the trader for ten cents a pound...ships to Wadsworth...supplies outside markets..."(186)
1877(February 24) As noted in the Truckee Republican: "We see by the Reno papers that the trout have begun their annual pilgrimages up the [Truckee] river...We suppose they will get up as far as Jack Foulk's dam, at Verdi, and will be slaughtered by the thousands as they were last year...We do not believe that fifty pounds of fish were caught in the river above that point, all last spring."(187)
1877(March 3) The Desert Land Entry Act (Desert Land Act) was passed by Congress in recognition of the limited application of the 1862 Homestead Act. As first approved, it provided that title to 640 acres (one section) of arid land could be procured by conducting water to the land and reclaiming 20 percent (128 acres) of it. In 1890, the total acreage was reduced to 320 acres. In order to receive a patent, at least 40 acres (12.5 percent) had to be irrigated.(188)
1877(March 5) In an Act to provide for the preservation of fish in the waters of Nevada, it was apparent why the railroads [illegally] employed the Indians to catch fish: Section 4 provided that "shall not be lawful for any person...between the first days of January and June of each year, to catch or kill, any...trout...with any seine, gill-net, or any spear, grab-hook, weir, fence, basket, trap, explosive material...or in any manner except by hook and line..." On the other hand, the Indians were afforded somewhat different and more preferential treatment. According to Section 9 of this Act: "Nothing in this Act... construed to prohibit or prevent Indians from taking trout...at any time...by the same means as heretofore usually used and employed by them [including all of the above prohibited means, except, possibly, explosives]; provided that the same are for their own use..."(189) In this case, apparently, "own use" was loosely interpreted to also include the sale of fish by the Indians to the railroads.
1877(March 10) As reported in the Nevada State Journal (Reno): "Since the 25th of last October, when the fish season commenced, there has been shipped from Wadsworth by M. Rahael 110,000 pounds of trout. During the same period other parties have shipped from the same place nearly 20,000 pounds. The season will close in about 40 days more."(190)
1877 The original Donner Lake Dam was constructed.(191)
1877 Another petition of anti-sawdust Joint Resolution of the Nevada Legislature was sent to Sacramento, California.(192)
1877 The office of the Nevada Fish Commissioner was created and Nevada fish planting began in the Truckee River.(193) As was noted in the Nevada State Journal (Reno) on April 22nd about the appointment of the first fish commissioner: "Fish Commissioner H.G. Parker was in town...looking after the interest and welfare of the fish in the Truckee...do all possible to prevent unlawful destruction of fish...that 35,000 salmon has been placed in the Truckee...taking measures to stock Washoe Lake with cat fish... pay personal attention to those Verdi dams and see that the fish ladders are put in...the mill men hereafter burn their sawdust...keeping it out of the river."(194)
1877(August) Myron Lake's wooden bridge across the Truckee River at the South Virginia Street site was replaced by a modern iron bridge.(195)
1878 (October 1) Reported in the Gold Hill News: "Two large boxes of salmon eggs arrived at the freight depot in Virginia [City] yesterday, consigned to Fish Commissioner Parker... when hatched the young salmon will be placed in the Carson River, the Truckee, and other of our rivers and lakes. A few will also be placed in the large reservoirs of the Virginia and Gold Hill Water Company, by way of experiment."(196)
1878 (October 30) The Nevada State Journal (Reno) provided a valuable account of the existence of Duck Lake near Pyramid Lake: "...situated just west of the Pyramid Lake Indian Reservation [actually on the reservation], and immediately south of Pyramid Lake, the two being divided by a strip of land something over half a mile in width...no connection with each other...no body of water flowing into it...Duck Lake...two miles wide and five in length...The day we saw it was almost entirely covered...must have been twenty thousand of them...majority being mallard [ducks], though there were a few teal, also a large number of mud hen, and around the shores were many snipe...feast for the hunters..."(197)
1878 (December 5) The Nevada State Journal (Reno) reported that the fishermen around Pyramid Lake wanted a law to prevent the trout from being taken out of the lake during the months of June, July, and August. It was noted that every summer "thousands of pounds" of fish were destroyed on account of the hot weather.(198)
1879(January 10) The Nevada State Journal (Reno) made reference that according to their reliable informants, there existed four dams in the Truckee River between Wadsworth and Reno without fish ladders, hence making it impossible for the trout to come upstream.(199)
1879 (July 2) After many years of controversy over fishing rights on Pyramid Lake, the Nevada State Journal (Reno) reported that on July 1st the [U.S.] Supreme Court "rendered a decision in the Pyramid Lake case...The decision...is to the effect that Pyramid Lake is within a valid Indian reservation...This decision leaves the Indians in peaceful possession of the contested fishing lands."(200)
1879 The original Independence Lake Dam was constructed on Independence Creek, a tributary of the Little Truckee River. The dam had a storage capacity of 3,000 acre-feet and was used primarily for logging operations along that stream's course.(201)
1879 (February 5) Quote in the Reno Evening Gazette: "Since the high water, the river has been a riley [turbid], whirling, tumbling mass of sawdust . . . A poor lonesome little fish wouldn't know his own mother two feet away and many of the citizens have been measuring their drink by the board [foot] measure."(202) While no doubt an example of journalistic zealousness, it was a fact that extensive upstream logging and milling operations, with direct discharge of sawdust and other milling debris, had severely degraded the quality of the waters of the Truckee River, frequently making it unfit to drink by Reno's residents. Furthermore, the numerous flumes used to float the logs off the steep hillsides and then down the river to the mills were lubricated with tallow, dogfish oil, or rancid butter, much of which also ended up in the river. In the winter of 1879, it was reported that the Truckee River looked like melted butter as it flowed under the Virginia Street Bridge in downtown Reno.
1879 Congress created the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) as part of the U.S. Department of the Interior with a mission to undertake serious exploration, mapping, and scientific study of the nation's resources, particularly water resources of the West.(203)
1880 (January 24) Attesting to the widespread appeal of the bounty of the Pyramid Lake and Truckee River fisheries, from the Eureka Sentinel it was noted that "...fully 1,500 pounds of fresh and salt water fish are consumed in Eureka weekly...Nearly all the trout used are brought from Wadsworth."(204)
1880 (February 2) As noted in the Nevada State Journal (Reno): "The sawdust in the [Truckee] river is keeping the trout from making their annual pilgrimage up to their spawning grounds. But if you speak to a mill man about it, he will swear upon a stack of black cats that no sawdust is thrown into the water. Queer." And later, on March 17th, this same paper reported that "The sawdust is so thick in the river that the mixture has about the consistency of mush, and unless the fish invent "snow plows" they will hardly get up this far." The following day the paper reported that "The fish have reached Clark's [present-day location of Sierra Pacific Power Company's Tracy-Clark Power Plant] down at the canyon and are plowing their way through the sawdust mush, trying to reach the spawning grounds."(205)
1880 (March 11) First mention is made of efforts to begin canning Truckee River trout. The Nevada State Journal (Reno) reported that Eugene Griswold was trying the experiment of canning Pyramid Lake cutthroat trout by "putting up" 2.000 cans, and if the scheme works well Mr. Griswold would engage in the business on a large scale at Wadsworth.(206)
1880 (March 21) The Nevada State Journal (Reno) reported on a new fish law before the California Legislature which would make it a misdemeanor for any person to put lime, gas-tar, or any other substance deleterious to fish in the waters of that state, and provides that sawdust shall not be deemed deleterious." It was noted in this article that "The fish laws of California and Nevada are so timed that one goes into effect about the time the other [state's law] goes out..." and that it would be wise for the fishermen to keep this paper away "...from Lake Tahoe trout, for they might study the thing out and keep on the safe side by crossing the [state] line."(207)
1880 (March 25) More mention is made of efforts to can Truckee River [Pyramid Lake cutthroat] trout. The Nevada State Journal (Reno) reported that the Griswold Trout Cannery at Wadsworth, Nevada, "...is not likely to prove successful...may not prove objectionable in the start, but be of temporary benefit...experience of other parts of the country...demonstrates that they are not the kind that will benefit regions with limited supplies of fish...Truckee River cannot meet the demand of an extensive cannery for more than two seasons..."(208)
1880 The timber-cribbed dams constructed at the mouth of Gray Creek, a Truckee River tributary located approximately three miles below Hirschdale and two miles above Floriston, were washed out due to severe flooding within the Gray Creek watershed. These dams were used to create ice ponds for supplying ice to Reno and San Francisco. This was the first reported extensive damage created by this hydrologically unstable watershed and tributary to the Truckee River, but it would certainly not be the last.(209)
1880(July) The Truckee & Steamboat Irrigating Canal Company, organized in 1877, completed the 33-mile long Steamboat Ditch along the western side of the Truckee Meadows to provide irrigation water to farmlands as far south as Steamboat and Pleasant Valley, where the ditch emptied into Steamboat Creek.(210)
1880(August 30) In speaking to the issue of the primary purpose (see 1908 Winters Rights Decision) of the Pyramid Lake Paiute Indian Reservation, at least in the late 1800s, in his annual report to the Secretary of Interior, Indian Agent James E. Spencer noted that "Of much more value...than all the farming-lands on Pyramid Lake Reservation are its fisheries in the Lake and in the Truckee River, provided they could be thoroughly protected from trespassers...lake and river are very prolific in a most valuable fish...commands a high price...brings them annually a large revenue...chief means of support...most available source of income...propose to spare no efforts to give this fishery complete protection...enter my solemn protest, against such a proposed dismemberment of any of the reservations under my charge"(211)
1880 The total disappearance of Pyramid Lake cutthroat trout above the Verdi dam was recorded. The California Fish Commission replaced this species of cutthroat trout in California waters by an imported species of McCloud River (Alaska) trout, Eastern brook trout, and other non-native trout varieties.(212)
1880 At Lake Tahoe, a 4,000 foot-long tramway was built by the Sierra Nevada Wood and Lumber Company up a steep grade near present-day Incline Village, Nevada. A unique steam-powered cable railway carried cordwood and lumber a vertical height of 1,800 feet to the summit, at which point the logs were dumped into a V-flume and sluiced to lumber mills in Washoe Valley. From there they were carried by wagons up to the Comstock.(213) This began a period of extensive deforestation of the Lake Tahoe Basin. By 1896 most suitable trees within the basin (estimated at up to 60 percent of all mature trees) were cut down and the tramway and flume operation was shut down.(214)
1880 The Highland Reservoir, served by an extension of the Highland Ditch (originally constructed in 1875) to Peavine Creek,(215) was constructed to the north of Reno and began providing municipal and industrial water to the City of Reno. As an open, unfiltered water system, taking water directly from the Truckee River by an open canal which was easily fouled by feedlots and decaying carcasses of range stock, it was not surprising when Reno residents often complained that their municipal water "looks thick and nasty, and tastes and smells just as nasty as it looks, having the flavor of rotten wood, dead fish and general staleness." Making matters even worse, a strainer at the Highland Reservoir outlet frequently came loose, admitting trout and other fish into the municipal water system's distribution pipes. As the pipe diameters through the network narrowed, the water subsequently transformed the contents of the pipes into infamous "Reno chowder" by the time it reached the kitchen sink.(216)
1880(September 18) Dr. Henry De Groot published an article in the Mining and Scientific Press on the origin and meaning of the term "Tahoe," a name which early Washoe (Washo) Indians had used for this lake. The original pronunciation--"Tah-hoe-ee," meaning big lake or water--was abbreviated on his suggestion to "Ta-hoe."(217) And so, finally, Lake Tahoe came by its name. Even so, the State of California continued to cling to its Lake Bigler naming until 1945, at which time the California Legislature finally and officially adopted the Lake Tahoe name as well.(218)
1881(1881-1896) Beginning in this year, Sand Harbor at Lake Tahoe near present-day Incline Village, Nevada, played an important role in the operations of the Sierra Nevada Wood and Lumber Company, one of the three large combines harvesting lumber from the Lake Tahoe Basin for use by the Comstock mines. The steamer "Niagara" towed log rafts from company land at the south end of Lake Tahoe to Sand Harbor where they were loaded on narrow-gauge railway cars and transported two miles north to a sawmill at Mill Creek. From that point they were transported over the incline tramway and down a V-flume to Washoe Valley for transport to the Comstock.(219)
1881 With the waning fortunes at the Comstock mines, Nevada's Twenty-Year Depression began.(220) Eventually, this depression (1881-1900) caused Nevada's population to fall by 32 percent from 62,266 persons in 1880 to only 42,355 persons by 1900. Storey County's population (Virginia City) fell from a peak of 19,528 persons in 1875 to only 3,673 persons by the turn of the century.(221) The railroad and (irrigated) agriculture, however, fostered continued development in the Truckee Meadows. Washoe County's population rose from 3,953 persons in 1875 to 9,141 persons by 1890.(222) From 1890 until 1950 Washoe County would remain the most populous county in the state, but by 1951 Clark County would assume, and thereafter retain, that title.
1881(August 31) In another testament relative to the importance of the Pyramid Lake fishery to the Paiute Indian Tribe, the new Indian Agent, Joseph M. McMaster noted in his annual report to the Secretary of Interior that "The most important means of livelihood to the Indians besides working for white people is their fisheries, the trout from Pyramid Lake and Walker Lake being accounted the very finest, and bring as high a price as any known to the writer." With respect to the numerous acts of trespassing on reservation lands, Mr. McMaster wrote: "And now if the department would order a survey of the reservation so that the lines could be positively defined, and authorize a sufficient force of Indian police, trespassers could be kept off or made to suffer, and the Indians get the benefit which is their due from the fisheries in these waters which have been reserved to them."(223)
1882(April 17) As noted in the Elko Independent: "The shipment of fresh Truckee River trout from Wadsworth, thus far this season, amounts to 140,500 pounds." Later it was reported in the Nevada State Journal (Reno) on January 24, 1883, that for all of 1882, 200,000 pounds of Pyramid Lake cutthroat trout were shipped from Wadsworth.(224)
1882(June 28) In an illuminating, if not imaginative, account of the food chain of Pyramid Lake, the Nevada State Journal (Reno) reported that "a few days ago a man caught a 16-pound trout at Pyramid Lake. Inside the trout was a 4-pound sucker [cui-ui], and in the sucker was a half-pound chub. Singular to say, there was nothing inside the chub but worms."(225)
1882(August) The problem of waste disposal continued to plague the City of Reno and the Truckee Meadows. Raw sewage was dumped directly into the Truckee River in downtown Reno or, even worse, into the dry riverbed during the late summer months. As the Nevada State Journal so eloquently put it: "There has been a great deal of talk lately both in print and personally about the fearful stenches that greet the uncultured nose at almost every point in Reno."(226)
1882(August 29) In his annual report to the Secretary of Interior, Indian Agent Joseph M. McMaster noted that the "...[Pyramid Lake Indians] have an important fishery, which last season furnished over 70,000 pounds [of trout], for which the price was 8 cents per pound, or $5,600..."(227)
1882(August 30) As agriculture continued to expand in the Truckee Meadows, the scarcity of Truckee River water relative to needs became ever more apparent, particularly by late summer. As noted by the Nevada State Journal (Reno) one hot, dry August day: "The scarcity of water in the river bed is very marked, though easily accounted for in the many ditches taking water above the town. It only needs one more ditch to finish the business and convert the raging Truckee into a totally dry creek."(228)
1882(August-September) Israel Cook Russell surveyed Pyramid Lake. Records of this and earlier visits (Frémont, 1844, and King, 1878) indicate that the under natural conditions the lake covered approximately 140,000 acres (220 square miles) and its lake level fluctuated as much as 20 feet between wet and dry periods. This surface area would correspond to a lake surface elevation of approximately 3,863 feet above mean sea level (MSL) and a lake volume of approximately 29,600,000 acre-feet.(229) After diversions began at Derby Dam in 1905, Pyramid Lake's surface elevation would begin a more or less steady decline and eventually reach its recorded low point (nadir) in 1967 (February 6 and March 6) at a surface elevation of 3,783.9 feet MSL. This level corresponded to a surface area of 106,800 acres (170 square miles) and a volume of 19,980,000 acre-feet.
1882 A sample of Pyramid Lake water recorded a total dissolved solids (TDS) content of 3,500 milligrams per liter (mg/l). By comparison, TDS concentration of seawater is about 35,000 mg/l while TDS concentrations in the Truckee River just below the Lake Tahoe dam are typically 100 mg/l. By the mid-1990s, Pyramid Lake TDS concentrations had risen to approximately 5,100 mg/l,(230) reflecting the combination of effects from high levels of lake-surface evaporation and reduced Truckee River inflows.(231)
1882(September 23) As reported in the Nevada State Journal (Reno) and reprinted from the Truckee Republican: "...understands that tons of trout [italics added] are being caught in Pyramid and Mud [Winnemucca] Lakes daily. At the latter place a number of white men, Italians and Chinese are fishing, while none but Indians are allowed to take trout from Pyramid Lake. The fish sell for eight cents per pound at the lakes. They are mostly shipped to Sacramento and San Francisco. A few find their way to the Comstock."(232)
1883(January) A new Pyramid Lake Indian Reservation irrigation dam (see 1871 entry) built the previous summer became blocked by ice, thereby preventing passage of Pyramid Lake cutthroat trout from the reservation and allowing the Indians to sell up to one ton of trout per day to shippers at Wadsworth.(233) As was prophetically reported in a Reno newspaper: "To keep the fish out of the river at this time will cause an immense depletion in their number next year, and if followed up for a few years would render them nearly extinct."(234) Unfortunately, this prophesy proved true in less than 60 years. Even so, no drastic measures were precipitated this time as in 1871 when the objectionable dam was dynamited by Truckee Meadows residents.
1883(January 26) The Elko Free Press reported that "It is said that 200,000 pounds of trout were shipped from Wadsworth last year."(235)
1883(February 1) The Reese River Reveille (Austin) reported that the "Griswold Trout Cannery at Wadsworth is doing good business...The supply of fish in the great lakes of Nevada is practically unlimited...success...depends wholly upon how the market is cultivated."(236)
1883(February 5) Passed by the Nevada Legislature: Assembly Joint Resolution requesting that the State of California quit depositing sawdust in the Truckee River, because of the detrimental impact on fish.(237)
1883(March 2) The Nevada State Journal (Reno) noted that the "...trout canning establishment of Griswold & Co., of Wadsworth has been closed down for a few days on account of a scarcity of [Pyramid Lake cutthroat] trout."(238)
1883(August 11) In his annual report to the Secretary of Interior, Indian Agent Joseph M. McMaster noted that "...Their [Paiute Indians'] fishing at Pyramid Lake is of great value to them, as it affords them employment for half the year, and last year sales were something over 75,000 [pounds of trout]...the average price, seven cents [per pound], $5,250...actual sales to outside parties..."(239)
1884(February 24) In an informative account of the state of Reno's water treatment process, the Nevada State Journal (Reno) reported on the clogging of Reno's water pipes with fish, noting that "The accumulation of fish in the pipes has effectually shut off the water from a number of places in town."(240)
1884(August 4) A cloudburst in the Sierra Nevada Mountains caused flood waters from Gray Creek to wash out the main trestle of the Central Pacific Railroad at Iceland, located between Hirschdale and Floriston in the upper Truckee River canyon.(241) The Gray Creek watershed is characterized by extremely steep terrain, unstable soil conditions, extensive logging, and over-grazing by livestock.
1885(March 25) As reprinted in the Silver State (Winnemucca) and based on a story in the Truckee Republican: "...trout have never been more plentiful in the Truckee River than during the present season. Over 160,000 pounds of trout have been shipped from Wadsworth... Indians carry away, free of charge, on the various trains, nearly one-fourth as much fish as is shipped..."(242)
1885(April) In the case of Jones v. Adams in which the 1870 lower court case of Van Sickle v. Haines was affirmed,(243) the Nevada Supreme Court formally approved the doctrine of "prior appropriation" for all the state's water supplies, rejecting an earlier (1875) lower court decision which had given recognition to the doctrine of riparian ownership along Nevada's streams.(244)
1885(August 20) In his annual report to the Secretary of Interior, the new Indian Agent, W.D.C. Gibson, noted that the "...[Paiute Indians'] catch in the lake amounted to 80,000 pounds, and netted them $5,600..."(245)
1886 The Reno Reduction Works, a modern custom mill for complex metallurgical ore separation, erected a high masonry dam on the Truckee River east of the Central Pacific Railroad yards in Sparks. Lacking any fish ladder as was required under Nevada law, this structure completely blocked upstream transit of fish on spawning runs from Pyramid Lake. Furthermore, the mill discharged its chemical wastes and rock residues directly into the Truckee River, an activity fully legal in Nevada at the time.(246)
1886(September) J.L. Stevenson founded the Reno Electric Light Company using rented space at the Reno Reduction Works, located about a block east of the present Wells Street Overpass and on the north bank of the Truckee River. The company installed a water powered dynamo using the dam recently erected at the site and began selling electrical power to the City of Reno for street lamps and other public buildings.(247)
1886(October 25) Providing an indication of the extensive wetland area that existed prior to the 1960s in the Truckee Meadows from approximately the present-day Truckee River Bridge on East McCarran Avenue all the way to Vista, the Carson City Free Lance reported on this area: "Glendale, a place on the borders of the Truckee River a few miles below Reno is the present mecca of sportsmen. In the vicinity are several small lakes and chains of grass-bordered ponds, pools and sloughs, such as are loved and hunted by the mallard duck. Teal and other ducks abound...coming down from the stormy north...to refresh themselves and to be shot."(248) This area was largely drained between 1963 and 1968 when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers undertook extensive flood-control work and river channelization through the Truckee Meadows and destroyed the Vista reefs, a natural obstruction at the entrance to the lower Truckee River canyon which allowed the river's waters to seasonally inundate much of the eastern portion of the Truckee Meadows.
1887(January 26) Senate Joint Resolution was passed by the Nevada Legislature requesting action be taken by the State of California to prevent sawdust from being dumped in the Truckee River.(249)
1887(February 18) Assembly Concurrent Resolution was passed by the Nevada Legislature appointing a committee and appropriating necessary funds to meet with California to resolve the sawdust matter in the Truckee River.(250)
1887 Tapping the waters of Marlette Lake in the Lake Tahoe Basin,(251) a third pressure pipe was installed across Washoe Valley in essentially the same location as the first two (see entries under 1873 and 1875).(252) When completed, the water system constituted the most extensive interbasin transfer of water within the state. The completed system, serving the municipal and mining water needs of Virginia City and Gold Hill with waters from the Lake Tahoe Basin and a Truckee River tributary (Franktown Creek, which enters the Truckee River via Washoe Lake and Steamboat Creek), consisted of three reservoirs (Marlette Lake--Lake Tahoe Basin, Hobart Creek Reservoir--Truckee River Basin, and Five-Mile Reservoir--Carson River Basin), over 21 miles of pressure pipes across the Washoe depression (Washoe Valley), approximately 46 miles of covered box flume, and a tunnel through the Carson Range some 3,994 feet in length.(253)
1887 It is generally believed that in this year H.H. Bence, a Nevada land surveyor, first located a possible canal route which would link the lower Truckee River Basin and the lower Carson River Basin when he was surveying government land in the Carson and Humboldt sinks.(254)
1887 The California Fish Commission conducted an inspection of the lower Truckee River, noting dams without fish ladders and the existence of other man-made impediments to upstream fish passage.(255)
1887(May) Public meetings were held in Reno to address a petition to the Washoe County Commissioners about local health hazards. In testimony before the commissioners, Colonel George Waring, a San Francisco engineer hired to plan a new Reno municipal waste system, recommended that all the city's wastes be combined and dumped directly into the Truckee River, noting that this would "...not affect the stream to any noticeable extent, [since] nearly all the particles of matter will be devoured by the fishes."(256)
1887 The first recorded introduction of the Mackinaw (lake) trout (Salvelinus namaycush) into Lake Tahoe was made. Additional plantings were made at various times in the late 1800s. Small plants in the Truckee River and Walker Lake in 1907-1908 failed due to the lack of suitable water conditions. The Mackinaw trout requires deep, cool waters and rocky bottoms with little or no decaying organic matter to deplete the oxygen content. As a bottom spawning fish, its propagation was relatively immune from the over-fishing taking place in Lake Tahoe's spawning streams which were used by other trout species. The Mackinaw would soon become the dominant sport fish in Lake Tahoe, and there was some speculation that the eventual demise of (Pyramid Lake) Lahontan cutthroat trout in Lake Tahoe was attributed to an epizoötic carried by this trout upon its introduction.(257)
1887 The Nevada and Lake Tahoe Water and Manufacturing Company proposed a four-mile tunnel through the Carson Range of the Sierra Nevada Mountains to connect Lake Tahoe and the Carson Valley to the east. Rivalries among potential water users in Nevada prevented any effective cooperative efforts on this project.(258)
1888 The Highland Ditch, originally constructed in 1875 and then extended in 1880 to Peavine Creek and the Highland Reservoir to serve as the primary domestic water service for Reno, was further extended to its full 14-mile length.(259)
1889 A second dam was constructed at Donner Lake by Francis G. Newlands.(260) Later, as a United States Senator from Nevada, Newlands would promote the passage of the Federal Reclamation Act of 1902 and the construction of the Truckee-Carson (Newlands) Irrigation Project in Churchill County, Nevada, which would eventually use a portion of the stored waters in this lake for irrigation purposes.
1889 The U.S. Geological Survey began limited measurement of Nevada streams.(261)
1889(March 9) The Nevada Legislature enacted Chapter 113 of the Nevada Revised Statues, a very lengthy and comprehensive act designed to regulate the use of water for irrigation and other purposes, to settle the priority of water rights, to provide for the condemnation of land for reservoirs, to record claims to water rights, and to appoint water commissioners. The act, which contained 33 sections, clearly indicated the state's increased interest in enhancing the control and use of water for irrigation purposes brought about by the great expansion of irrigated lands along the Truckee, Carson, Walker, Humboldt, and Muddy rivers, their tributaries, and many smaller streams. Of importance was Section 9 which required that any water user make a filing prior to September 1, 1889, under oath, with the proper county recorder, giving the pertinent data regarding his diversion and use of water. The county recorders were required to prepare an index book of such water claims.(262) This chapter was subsequently repealed by the 1893 Nevada Legislature.(263)
1889(Winter-Spring, 1888-1889) Over a 6-month period, it was reported that 100 tons of Pyramid Lake cutthroat trout caught by commercial fishermen along the lower Truckee River and in Pyramid Lake were shipped by Wells Fargo express and railroad freight lines to many parts of the United States. It was also noted that many more tons were being removed from the lake and Truckee River by white sportsmen and Indians using "efficient" steel gaff hooks instead of stone spear points.(264)
1889(May) The Washoe County Commissioners finally took action to address Reno's sewage problem by announcing Town Order No. 30, which required that all Reno households be connected to sewer pipes which the city had been laying since 1887 by means of convict labor. Another symbol of the frontier lifestyle--the home privy--had been regulated out of existence.(265)
1889(June-July) The USGS commenced the first federally-funded hydrologic watershed investigations in the Truckee and Carson River basins. These studies would continue intermittently until the newly organized U.S. Reclamation Service (USRS, renamed the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, USBR, in 1923) commenced its investigations in the summer of 1902 just after its creation. One of the USGS team's engineers, a Colonel Lyman Bridges, claimed that 500,000 acres could be reclaimed [for irrigation purposes] on the Truckee River alone.(266)
1889(August 21) It was reported in the Nevada State Journal that only six weeks after the USGS team had begun its study of the Truckee and Carson River basins, a USGS spokesman informed the Reno press that "the Truckee River will be turned above Wadsworth to the plains and plateaus southeast of Wadsworth [i.e., Lahontan Valley]." It was astutely noted by the writer that six weeks did not appear to be sufficient time for USGS survey crews to map a connection between the Truckee and Carson rivers. It was therefore suggested that the USGS engineers were merely verifying a route that was already known locally,(267) and very possibly the same route noted by the land surveyor H.H. Bence in 1887.
1889 The possibility of constructing an irrigation canal from the lower Truckee River to the Carson Sink (Lahontan Valley) was reported in the U.S. Geological Survey Annual Report--1889-90; Part II, Irrigation. This report also sounded the first note of caution regarding such a proposed reclamation irrigation project by recognizing that while the water would be utilized primarily within Nevada, any comprehensive system of water use from these river sources was made more complex by differences in jurisdiction and water privileges between the states of California and Nevada(268) [i.e., riparian water rights of the lakeshore property owners at Lake Tahoe versus the appropriative water rights of the federal government and project farmers in the Lahontan Valley.] This represented the first official warning that the water stored in Lake Tahoe, in particular, may not be readily available for an irrigation project in the Nevada desert that was beginning to take shape.
1889 The California Legislature passed an anti-sawdust statute, although it would take more than five years to effectively halt discharges of logging debris and construct fish ladders.(269)
1889(November) A group of prominent Reno businessmen formed the Reno Water, Land and Light Company, which subsequently purchased and consolidated a number of local water and gas companies. One of the principal organizers of this new endeavor was Francis G. Newlands, who later served as a U.S. Senator from Nevada and gained notoriety for his support of the Federal Reclamation Act (1902) and the construction of the Truckee-Carson Irrigation Project (1905).(270) Interestingly, Newlands had previously been the spokesman for the Comstock Union Mill and Mining Company, which had fought against irrigation interests in the Carson Valley.(271)
1890 Francis G. Newlands, who was quickly assuming a prominent role in western water matters, proposed a network of reservoirs in the Sierra Nevada Mountains to serve the future development of Nevada. According to Newlands, Lake Tahoe afforded the "cheapest reservoir space known in the West."(272)
1890 After this year, annual restocking of fish in the Truckee River became necessary to keep the population numerous enough to meet the demands of sport fishing. Nevada's restocking stressed the McCloud River (Alaska) trout variety and Eastern brook trout and these efforts were supported by the Virginia & Gold Hill Water Company, which annually contributed over 250,000 fry from its Marlette Lake fish hatchery.(273)
1890 Extensive flooding on the Truckee River's tributaries inundated the Truckee Meadows while mud flows emanating from Gray Creek caused the Truckee River to run red through Reno for over a week. It became increasingly apparent that additional upstream flood control was needed on major Truckee River tributaries, particularly the Little Truckee River, Martis Creek, and Prosser Creek.
1890 H.H. Bence, a Nevada land surveyor (see entry under 1887), was employed by Francis G. Newlands to survey a possible canal route and estimate the quantity of potentially irrigable land in the Lahontan Valley near Fallon, Nevada.(274)
1891 The Reno Hydroelectric Power Plant was constructed with a capacity of 250 cubic feet per second (cfs). Later, in 1909, an additional capacity of 46 cfs would be added to this power-generating facility.
1891 In an effort to limit over-fishing of Pyramid Lake cutthroat trout in the Truckee River, the Nevada Legislature passed a statute prohibiting common carriers (railroads) from shipping fish during the closed (spawning) season of late winter and early spring.(275) At first, this effectively controlled commercial fishing on Pyramid Lake and in the lower Truckee River by restricting railroad shipment from Wadsworth.
1891 Annual National Irrigation Congresses began to be held in major western cities as a recognition that irrigation projects represented the salvation for the settlement of arid lands in the West. These meetings typically ended with a petition to the federal government to provide assistance in this reclamation effort, in a manner similar to the various Homestead Acts. It was strongly suggested that it was the federal government's obligation to provide water to arid Western lands so that they could be settled and farmed on the same advantageous basis.(276)
1891(August 17) Noting a particularly good fishing year for the Pyramid Lake Paiute Indian Tribe, in his annual report to the Secretary of Interior, Indian Agent C.C. Warner noted that "...One of the greatest sources of revenue and support of these Indians is derived from the sale of fish caught in the Truckee River and Pyramid Lake, both of which contain an inexhaustible supply of the finest of trout...in a period of five months, they caught and sold...110,000 pounds of fish, for which they received $8,305.77 in cash..." In addition to the more detailed accounting than his predecessors, this agent also raised an ominous warning pertaining to a recent fish law passed by the Nevada Legislature which the agent estimated would "...lessen their receipts at least 75 percent." (277)
1891(September 1) Pyramid Lake's maximum surface elevation in recent history was recorded at 3,878.2 feet above mean sea level (MSL).(278) According the bathometic tables of the lake,(279) this surface elevation corresponded to a lake volume of approximately 31,730,000 acre-feet, a surface area of 144,000 acres (225 square miles), and a maximum lake depth of 419 feet. By comparison, Pyramid Lakes lowest point (nadir) was recorded to have been reached on February 6, and March 6, 1967, when it attained a surface elevation of 3,783.9 feet MSL, corresponding to a volume of approximately 19,980,000 acre-feet, a surface area of 106,800 acres (167 square miles), and a maximum lake depth of 325 feet. Compared to 1891, this represented a decrease in Pyramid Lake's surface elvation and lake depth of 94 feet, a decreased volume of 11,750,000 acre-feet, and a decrease in surface area of 37,200 acres, or approximately 58 square miles.
1892 In response to the 1891 Nevada statute which was intended to limit commercial fishing on Pyramid Lake and along the lower Truckee River through transport restrictions placed on common carriers (railroads), the reservation agent closed the upstream Indian irrigation dam on the lower Truckee River and effectively held the winter-spring fish run below Wadsworth. To circumvent the new law, suppliers used wagons instead of railroad cars to haul the fish to market.(280)
1893 A severe national recession, lasting from 1893 through 1897, precluded serious efforts by the federal government to undertake new spending programs, particularly reclamation irrigation projects in the West.(281)
1894(April 6) As reported in the Genoa Weekly Courier pertaining to Indian fishing at Lake Tahoe: "...Indians...up this week and went back loaded with fish which they got in Taylor Creek [at the south end of Lake Tahoe], where the fish are now on their annual spawning expedition...carry away about three tons of fish every spring, besides destroying millions of spawn. If there is a law to protect trout while they are spawning, it should be enforced...no reason why the Indians should be exempt."(282)
1894(August 18) Congress approved what was commonly called the "Carey Act," which was expected to be a major milestone in the reclamation of desert lands in the Western states. The act's purpose was to aid the public-land states in the reclamation of desert lands, provide for the granting to each of the states containing desert lands an amount not to exceed one million acres, and direct that the states cause these lands to be reclaimed, occupied, and irrigated. It was further provided that 20 acres out of each 160 acres be cultivated by settlers within 10 years after passage of the act. With few exceptions, the Carey Act did not measure up to initial expectations.(283)
1895(March 16) Recognizing the growing risk to the viability of the Truckee River fishery, the Nevada Legislature passed a law stating "It shall not be lawful for any person or persons between the first day of October of each year and the first day of June each year to catch or kill any...trout..."(284)
1895(May 4) In a defeat for the fish, the Wadsworth Dispatch reported that a "...portion of the fish law was declared unconstitutional, in the [Nevada] Supreme Court recently. A section of the remaining portion of the law is that it is not a misdemeanor to carry fish; so any person sharp enough to catch them without detection, can ship them without fear. Express and railroad companies can transport them and not be subject to prosecution."(285)
1895 Many water customers of the Reno Water, Land and Light Company, which had been organized in 1889, began to suspect that the frequent summer "fevers" and other seemingly inexplicable illnesses suffered by the local population were due to Reno's untreated drinking water, much of which came directly from the Highland Ditch and Reservoir. Water samples sent to California for testing proved to be alive with harmful organisms and water company officials, confronted with such overwhelming evidence, subsequently advised customers to boil their water before drinking it.(286)
1895(November 23) It was reported in the Wadsworth Dispatch that the California authorities have stopped the sale of Nevada trout in their markets and that Wells Fargo & Company railroad express agents and the Sierra Pacific Railway Company would not accept shipments for California points.(287)
1896(February 15) As noted in the Wadsworth Dispatch: "...California Fish Commissioners... decided to discontinue stocking the Truckee River in California...all the fish...go down the river...On account of the wretched condition of the fish-ladders at the dams in Nevada they are unable to return to the headwaters..."(288)
1896(September 28) The Indian Agent for Nevada, I.J. Wooten, noted that "...Pyramid Lake abounds in salmon trout, which can be caught almost the year round...The Indians at one time received a large income from the sale of fish caught in Pyramid lake, but this industry has, by enactment of unjust State legislation (see 1891 and November 1895 entries), been totally destroyed and the Indians have seriously felt the loss of revenue from their fish."(289)
1897(March 9) Backpedaling on the preservation of the Truckee River fishery, the Nevada Legislature passed a law reducing the "no-take" period from October 1st-June 1st to October 1st-April 1st.(290)
1898(March 25) The Genoa Weekly Courier made note that the California Fish Commission had warned the Indians that no spearing or taking of spawn trout about Lake Tahoe would be tolerated this year and threatened to arrest every Indian "detected" in violation of the law.(291) [Also see April 6, 1894 entry for background information on this matter.]
1898 The California Fish Commission published the findings from its study of the lower Truckee River, stating that the Pyramid Lake Indian Reservation's irrigation dam represented the single most critical impediment to Pyramid Lake cutthroat trout migration on the Truckee River.(292)
1898(June 10) The Genoa Weekly Courier reported that "Between three and four thousand Mackinaw (lake) trout from the Sisson hatchery were planted in Lake Tahoe last week."(293) From is first recorded introduction to Lake Tahoe in 1887, this species would eventually become the most important sport fish in the lake, and, according to speculation, bring about the ultimate demise of Lake Tahoe's cutthroat trout population (1922-1928) through the introduction of an epizoötic carried by the Mackinaw trout species.(294)
1898(September 6) As pointed out in the Tuscarora Times-Review: "The Truckee River, once the grandest trout stream on the coast, is now declared to be almost depopulated of all but catfish."(295)
1899 The John Wesley Powell USGS irrigation investigation established stream-gaging stations on the Truckee River and its tributaries. This constituted one of the first steps towards a comprehensive quantitative investigation of the overall water supply potential of the Truckee River Basin. These studies became crucial in the approval and subsequent development of the Truckee-Carson (Newlands) Irrigation Project in 1902, to be located in Churchill County, Nevada.
1899 Reno's electric utility company--Reno Water, Land and Light Company--constructed a hydropower plant and associated diversion dam two miles upstream from downtown Reno, further impeding upstream passage of spawning fish from Pyramid Lake.(296)
1899 The Farad hydroelectric power plant, located about 18 miles upstream from Reno, was constructed with a capacity of 325 cubic feet per second. The construction of this facility was based on an electrical power contract with the Comstock Pumping Association of Virginia City. Water was diverted from the Truckee River into a flume at Floriston about a mile upstream from Farad. In 1906, an additional 75 cfs would be added to the flume's capacity. Total electrical capacity of this facility was rated at 2.5 megawatts.(297)
1899(July 25) In assessing the business potential of the Pyramid Lake fishery, Indian Agent Fred B. Spriggs declared that "...another industry of importance to these [Pyramid Lake] Indians which should be given more attention is fishing...profitable income from this source if properly attended...Pyramid Lake...filled with a splendid species of marketable trout." In a spark of surprising entrepreneurship (and possible self interest), Indian Agent Spriggs suggested that "...the Government [should] build the Indians a large boathouse and wharf on the lake, provide all the fishermen with boats of their own, and instruct the agent to personally superintend the disposal of their catch.(298)
1899 The Floriston Pulp and Paper Company (FP&PC), located at the present-day site of the community of Floriston, California, commenced operations with the daily discharge of up to 150,000 gallons of acidic waste directly into the Truckee River.(299) By 1903, the Truckee River's water quality had deteriorated to the point where the Reno Evening Gazette reported that the river's water at the Virginia Street bridge in downtown Reno consisted of a "blend between black and brown with soapy bubbles covering the surface."(300) Despite court-ordered injunctions and the threat of a Nevada suit filed with the U.S. Supreme Court, direct and indirect (hillside spraying and evaporation ponds) discharges would continue up until late 1930 when the plant would cease operation and be dismantled. This facility would constitute the major source of pollutants in the Truckee River and severely degrade Reno's municipal water quality for a period of some 30 years. Of possible significance in the persistence of its operations was the fact that the FP&PC was owned by the Fleishhacker banking and investment firm of San Francisco, an entity which also controlled the Reno Water, Land and Light Company.(301)