John C. Fremont’s sighting of Lake Tahoe

February 15, 2016

On February 14, 1844, John C. Frémont and Charles Preuss, climbed Red Lake Peak at Carson Pass (named after his guide Kit Carson) where they “discovered” Lake Tahoe, about 20 miles to the north.  Known as the Pathfinder, Frémont was an American military officer, explorer, and the first candidate of the anti-slavery Republican Party for the office of president of the U.S.  as well as a senator of California in 1850.

“Scenery and weather combined must render these mountains beautiful in summer; the purity and deep-blue color of the sky are singularly beautiful; the days are sunny and bright, and even warm in the noon hours; and if we could be free from the many anxieties that oppress us, even now we would be delighted here; but our provisions are getting fearfully scant.”  J.C. Frémont upon seeing Lake Tahoe

Frémont and Preuss each gave different names to the majestic lake.  Fremont calling it “Mountain Lake,” while Preuss’ map of 1848 identifies it as Lake Bonpland, in honor of the legendary French botanist Amie Jacques Alexandre Bonpland.  Neither name stuck.  The Washoe people called it Da-ow-a-ga (edge of the lake) and white settlers adopted the first two syllables of the name, coming up with the Anglicized “Ta-ho.”  In 1854 the lake was officially named Bigler after John Bigler, the third governor of California, who had led a rescue party from Placerville over Echo Summit to save a group of snowbound emigrants in 1852. Bigler was the official name until 1945, when the lake was at last legally established as Lake Tahoe.