Sunday, June 3, 2012

The White Guy who “Discovered” Tahoe

The cliche is that history is written by the victors. It might be more accurate to just say that much of history was written by white guys (who were obviously victors in a lot of the conflicts around the world over the last thousand years or so).
Even so, it seems awkward at best that John Fremont, a U.S. senator from California would have his memory morph from politician and explorer to “discoverer” of Lake Tahoe. This “discovery” by John Fremont took place in 1844.

Scientists say that people have lived in and around the Lake Tahoe Basin for nearly 10,000 years. If fact, possibly the oldest human remains ever discovered in North America were found just a few dozen miles east of Lake Tahoe.
It only makes sense that the lake, with its rich resources of water and fish and all manner of other plants and animals would be attractive to North America's early inhabitants. The Washoe, Tahoe's Native Americans, have a history that is thousands of years old. They spent summers hunting and fishing at the lake, and when the snows of winter buried everything, the Washoe went over the East Shore mountains and down to Carson Valley to spend the winter.
In short, people in Tahoe go back much further than the Roman Empire, past the Greeks, further back than the Egyptians. People in the Tahoe area may go back as far as the earliest civilization in Mesopotamia. Maybe even further. Ten thousand years is a long time.
The hubris of guys like Fremont (and his treatment by history writers) claiming discovery of a place that has thousands of years of human history is off-putting.
It's worth noting that some accounts of land discovery are gradually being rewritten to change the presentation. We now see statements like, “Columbus was the first major European explorer to set foot in the Americas.” Yet even as I write this, Wikipedia's entry on Fremont calls him “the first American to see Lake Tahoe.” 
Like native people everywhere, Tahoe's inhabitants of ten thousand years are still waiting for the “White Guy” lens to be taken off of history's camera.

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