Dennis Cassinelli: Mark Twain, Lake Tahoe Timber Baron Part 1: The Irish Brigade
Young Samuel Clemens came to the Nevada Territory with his brother, Orion, by stagecoach in 1861. For several years, Sam tried his hand at different vocations, searching for one that didn’t require much physical effort to perform. These included prospecting, mining, logging and newspaper reporting for Virginia City’s Territorial Enterprise, where Samuel Clemens worked when he changed his name to Mark Twain. In 1874, Mark Twain wrote his classic book about his adventures in Nevada, “Roughing It.”
One of the first ventures attempted by Twain was in September 1861 when he and a friend named John Kinney noticed there was a demand for timber and firewood in the booming Nevada Territory.
Twain and Kinney decided to cash in on the industry and stake out a timber claim at Lake Bigler (Tahoe) west of Carson City and become timber barons.
The two barons didn’t even own horses, so they hiked up the trail to stake their claim in the forest along the lakeshore, intending to get rich on the venture as timber demand soared.
Few of the landmarks Twain described in the book had names we would recognize today. There were only descriptions of topographic features and some highly exaggerated estimations of mountain elevations.
Also, Twain was writing from memory about things that had happened 13 years previously.
Several subsequent researchers have attempted to determine the route taken by Twain and Kinney to the lumber camp and determine its exact location. As usually happens with Twain’s writing, historical accuracy is often sacrificed for humor and the creation of an interesting story.
It appears to me the pair hiked up a route that followed close to modern U.S. Highway 50 over Spooner Summit and down to the Glenbrook area. When they reached the lakeshore, they found an abandoned skiff and used it to row around what’s now known as Deadman Point to a place known as Skunk Harbor, a distance of three miles. There they discovered the timber claim that had been staked out by Territorial Governor James Nye and his brother, John. Twain and Kinney knew of these men and their associates and referred to them as “The Irish Brigade.”
The wannabe timber barons spent the night at the Nye camp and helped themselves to some supplies they found stashed away in storage. They then rowed the skiff another three miles north to a place with a nice little cove, and set up a camp of their own. Twain and Kinney set about marking the perimeter of an area of 300 acres and pinning “notices” on trees. They cut down six trees and let them fall along the boundary to indicate the extent of the claim. Since law required a cabin be built, they constructed a brush lean-to shelter.
The Nevada Board on Geographic Names has recommended to the U.S. Board on Domestic Geographic Names it should approve naming the little cove just north of Thunderbird Lodge “Sam Clemens Cove,” in honor of the visit made there some century-and-a-half ago by the young man who would within 18 months become Mark Twain. The name can now be used on maps.
In Part 2 of the story, I’ll tell how Twain and Kinney accidentally set a forest fire that destroyed their timber claim.
This article is by Dayton author and historian Dennis Cassinelli, who can be contacted on his blog at denniscassinelli.com. All Dennis’ books sold through this publication will be at a 50 percent discount plus $3 for each shipment for postage and packaging.