[Illustration: The Steamer at the Wharf, Tahoe Tavern, Lake Tahoe]
[Illustration: Donner Lake, on the Automobile Highway from Sacramento to Truckee and Lake Tahoe]
[Illustration: The Canyon of the Truckee River in Winter]
[Illustration: Automobiling along the Picturesque Truckee River, on the way to Lake Tahoe]
Through privations and hardships untold the survivors were ultimately enabled to reach Sutter’s Fort, only to find the most vile and fearful stories set in circulation about them. Four separate relief parties were sent from California, and their adventures were almost as tragic as those of the sufferers they sought to help. Bret Harte, in his Gabriel Conroy, has told much—though in the exaggerated and unjust form the stories were first circulated—of the Donner tragedy, and it has been made the subject of much newspaper and other writing and discussion.
An unusual trip that can be taken from Tahoe Tavern is down to the foot of Donner Lake and then, turning to the left, follow the old emigrant and stage-road. It has not been used for fifty years, but it is full of interest. There are many objects that remain to tell of its fascinating history. Over it came many who afterwards became pioneers in hewing out this new land from the raw material of which lasting commonwealths are made. Turning south to Cold Stream, it passes by Summit Valley on to Starved Camp. The stumps of the trees cut down by the unfortunate pioneers are still standing.
It was always a difficult road to negotiate, the divide between Mt. Lincoln and Anderson Peak being over 7500 feet high. But those heroes of 1848-49 made it, triumphing over every barrier and winning for themselves what Joaquin Miller so poetically has accorded them, where he declares that “the snow-clad Sierras are their everlasting monuments.”
This road is now, in places, almost obliterated. One section for three miles is grown up. Trees and chaparral cover it and hide it from the face of any but the most studiously observant. When the road that takes to the north of Donner Lake was built in 1861-62 and goes directly and on an easier grade by Emigrant Gap to Dutch Flat, this road by Cold Stream was totally abandoned. For years the county road officials have ignored its existence, and now it is as if it never had been, save for its memories and the fragments of wagons, broken and abandoned in the fierce conflict with stern Nature, and suggesting the heart-break and struggle the effort to reach California caused in those early days.
LAKE TAHOE AND THE TRUCKEE RIVER
As is well known, the Truckee River is the only outlet to Lake Tahoe. This outlet is on the northwest side of the Lake, between Tahoe City and Tahoe Tavern, and is now entirely controlled by the concrete dam and head-gates referred to in the chapter on “Public uses of the Water of Lake Tahoe.”