Down the Rabbit Hole—Massacre Lakes edition (2 of 3)

Read the first post in the series here or the third here

I love working in a library! I might bitch sometimes (who doesn’t) but the fact that I spend my days in the middle of a vast repository of knowledge, learning and scholarship is an absolute privilege.

So after writing earlier on Massacre Lakes I was able to look at the book and follow the sources (good citations are a beautiful beautiful thing) and I found this great little further explanation of what happened there in 1850. There is one more citation I hope to look at, at least, but this is such a little wonderfully evocative piece of writing:

 “little further on are the MASSACRE LAKES (R), dry sinks. In 1850, a large and well-equipped train elected to take the Applegate Cut-off into northern California. In this area, reached by way of High Rock Canyon (L), they were attacked by Indians. Rashly leaving the shelter of their wagons the immigrants charged on their foe and though they vanquished the Indians, 40 men were killed. In fearful haste the dead were gathered and interred in a common grave. Then oxen drew wagons back and forth over the spot in an attempt to disguise it and save it from desecration.”

Of course this also raises more questions, so on we go!

What Happened at Massacre Lakes? (1 of 3)

Looking east-ish from the dune tops toward Dr. Seuss’s farmstead.

One of the more striking places I’ve been lately has been Massacre Lakes in northern Washoe County with the Middle Lake’s Dr. Seuss–feeling old ranch site, obsidian strewn dunes, alabaster lake beds, and enormously moving sky. We barely even scratched the surface of the place on this first, a little fearful of rain, visit, but I can’t wait to be back.

Obsidian, obsidian, everywhere. From the top of the dune it caught sunlight and looked like broken glass strewn everywhere


Nice little obsidian rock


There is plenty of evidence of human intervention here


Another view of Dr. Seuss’s farmstead, check out @dannvdan on instagram for some more from this striking place!

But there is a thing, that name. Not exactly the kind of the name that says, “Hey, happy things happened here!” What did happen at Massacre Lakes? Well, first a little background from Wikipedia. The Massacre Lakes are a part of Long Valley, a closed, no water flows out, basin (endorheic is the technical term from Wikipedia). The lakes themselves extend into the ridge of the lava flows to the east toward the Sheldon Wildlife Refuge.

How did this striking place become Massacre Lakes? Well, you might guess. From Nevada Place Names: A Geographical Dictionary by Helen S. Carlson (Why don’t I own this book? Although this entry luckily included in the Google Books preview, page 164):

“A large and well-equipped wagon train was attacked near here in 1850 by Indians of the High Rock Canyon country. Forty men of the emigrant party were killed in the battle and interred in a common grave.”

So there you have it. Somewhere nearby there is a mass grave (I think if human history has taught us anything, one thing you can expect near a massacre site is a mass grave). But knowing more raises questions. Why was the train particularly “well-equipped”? How is it that exactly “40” “men” were killed. How many survivors were there? How many native casualties? What are the sources? (They of course are given, but the citation page isn’t in the Google Books preview so that will have to wait until I get to the library.) If it were a “massacre” then why does the source say “battle”?

Some of these things are surely just lost in the past, carried away by the persistent and prevalent wind, but don’t we owe it to ourselves to learn what we can?

* Continue reading here.