Weather Window | Titus family has deep Truckee roots

Mark Mclaughlin
Special to the Bonanza
Engineer Frank A. Titus at the throttle of Engine No. 3 on the Lake Tahoe Railway, circa 1905.
Courtesy Frank L. Titus |

TAHOE/TRUCKEE, Calif. — EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second installment in a three-part series about the Titus family. Click here for the first installment.

Truckee is celebrating the 150th anniversary of its founding in 1863, a significant benchmark for the historic town.

To honor the event, we continue with highlights from the family history of native-born, longtime Truckee resident Frank Lovell Titus, whose ancestors settled in Nevada Territory before moving to Truckee at the turn of the 20th century.

The Titus family legacy reaches deep into our regional history, and today, at age 91, Frank is one of the remaining few who can share personal experiences from Truckee’s pioneer days. Frank’s paternal grandparents, John C. and Julia Titus, were newlyweds living in Bishop, Calif., when their first son Charles was born in December 1875. Tragically, the baby died five weeks later. In early 1877, John C. Titus was promoted to foreman of the Kirman Home Ranch, a huge cattle operation with its headquarters located outside Carson City, near Genoa, Nev. Their second son, Frank Adolph, was born there in March 1877. Two more sons were born in Nevada, John “Jr.” Walter (1879) and William “Will” Elmer (1883).

In the early 1890s, when the boys were young, father John Charles Titus moved to Truckee looking for work. At the time his main source of income was hauling hay and wood by wagon. Upon his arrival in Truckee, John C. found a good job as slaughter house foreman for local butcher Joseph Marzen, Jr.

Unfortunately John C. wouldn’t be on the job for long. During a heavy snowstorm on Feb. 5, 1893, John C. suffered a serious injury in a freak accident while delivering meat from the slaughterhouse west of Truckee to Marzen’s Front Street butcher shop. As his team of horses trotted through a railroad underpass that night, John C.’s sleigh was suddenly raised higher by plowed snow in the tunnel. He ducked, but his neck was jammed into a support timber and the force broke his back. Initially paralyzed, he slowly recovered but was rendered incapable of resuming the strenuous work of moving beef and driving teams of mules or horses.

John C. returned to Genoa where he worked as a guard at the Nevada State Prison in Carson City. During his days as a cowboy with the Kirman ranches, John C. had picked up tracking skills from the Pyramid Lake Indians, a talent he often employed when pursuing escaped prisoners.

In 1906, he tracked down a wanted fugitive who had broken out of his cell by burrowing through a rock wall and then into the floor of a hidden cave near the prison quarry. By placing a small stone on each side of his nostrils the escapee managed to breathe while lying invisible under a thin layer of dirt. But John C. discovered the very small hole leading into the clandestine lair, and when he stepped on the hidden convict’s chest the jig was up.

As young men in the early 1900s, John C.’s sons John Jr. and Will left Nevada and moved to Truckee where they set up a partnership cutting ice and wood. By 1910 the Titus brother’s business was annually shipping 3,000 to 12,000 tons of natural ice for delivery via Southern Pacific Railroad. Will and John Jr. dissolved their partnership in April 1910, but each kept their hand in the declining ice and wood industries.

John Jr. established a drayage company in Truckee that delivered goods short distances and Will also diversified his business interests. During some winters the Titus brothers delivered the mail on skis between Truckee and Tahoe City. Logging and cutting ice were dangerous occupations. John Jr. sustained a frost bite injury to one of his legs, which over time refused to heal. Infection forced Truckee’s young doctor J.H. Bernard to amputate the leg above the knee, a procedure done on a table in the family’s Truckee home. Fortunately, the wooden prosthesis that replaced it served him well for many years. In 1938 Will lost an arm in a lumber mill accident.

Oldest brother Frank Adolph was a longtime employee of the Bliss family business in Tahoe logging and transportation. Duane L. Bliss was president of Carson-Tahoe Lumber & Fluming Co., the largest commercial timber harvester in the Tahoe Basin. Bliss’ lumber company used steamships to pull large rafts of logged trees from around the lake to saw mills located at Glenbrook on Tahoe’s east shore. The tree trunks were then cut into lumber for the Comstock mines in Virginia City.

Frank A. got his first job working for Bliss at the Glenbrook lumber mills when he was about 15-years-old. His dad had also worked there for a time after the Kirman ranches were sold. Frank A. progressed to become an engineer on the Bliss-operated steamers that churned across Lake Tahoe every day.

Stay tuned for part three.

Visit the Truckee Donner Historical Society’s Old Jail Museum on Jibboom Street in Truckee this summer, which is featuring time capsule exhibits of Titus family memorabilia.

Historian Mark McLaughlin is a nationally published author and professional speaker. Find Mark’s books at stores or You can reach him at Follow Mark’s blog:

Support Local Journalism


Support Local Journalism

Readers around Lake Tahoe, Truckee, and beyond make the Sierra Sun's work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Your donation will help us continue to cover COVID-19 and our other vital local news.