The stones that tell of Truckee’s history |

The stones that tell of Truckee’s history

During the last three Ice Ages, glaciers covered the Truckee River basin and surrounding mountains, carving out Donner Lake and many other lakes.

Much evidence of this glacial action can still be seen by examining the smoothed and striated rock along old Highway 40 near Donner Pass. To the east, today’s Nevada desert was covered by a huge inland sea.

The earliest known inhabitants to occupy the Truckee area were prehistoric nomadic tribes who spent their winters in the Nevada desert and California valleys. During the summers these ancient hunters climbed both sides of the Sierra into the high country.

These inhabitants, believed to be ancestors of the Washoe, Maidu and Paiute Indian tribes, traveled through the pristine mountain meadows and forests collecting edible and medicinal roots, seeds and marsh plants. In the higher elevations they manufactured stone tools and hunted local game and fished in the many lakes and streams while living in temporary brush shelters.

Archaeological evidence of these ancient people who returned year after year during the Middle Archaic Period can be found in petroglyphs carved into solid granite near the crest of Donner Summit as well as in the abundance of flaked stone artifacts, broken tools and dart points which have been discovered throughout the Truckee basin.

When Stampede Dam was completed in 1969, an ancient Indian ceremonial circle of stones in Stampede Valley dating back 15,000 years was carefully removed to an area adjacent to Truckee River Regional Park and placed exactly in their original position by volunteers and members of the Truckee-Donner Historical Society under the direction of Carroll Maynard, Roy Baker and Dorothy Fordham.

In 1983 an archaeological excavation at the location of today’s McDonald’s restaurant revealed that the site was associated with a large prehistoric Indian camp dating back 3,500 years. The findings included layer after layer of stone artifacts indicating that the site was once a major tool-manufacturing area.

Resident archeologist Susan Lindstrom has found evidence of a Washoe village at the mouth of Donner Creek and other sites all along Interstate 80, Donner Lake park and throughout the Truckee River basin. Today’s “bug station” sits atop a large site dating back 8,000 years.

In one study Lindstrom noted that downtown Truckee rests on top of a former Washoe Indian village site named “K’ubuna detde’yi,” and below Truckee, at Trout Creek, was another village site named “Pele ma’lam detde’yi.” The Washoe name for the Truckee River was “a’wakhu wa’t’a.”

Perhaps the most tangible reminder of Truckee’s Native American roots sits on the hillside above the Town of Truckee. Rocking Stone Tower is believed to be one of 25 such stones known in the world.

Reminiscent of a Druid monument, Rocking Stone has diligently stood guard over the community as long as anyone can remember. At one time the slightest breeze or touch of the hand could set the 17-ton smaller boulder rocking.

According to a Washoe Legend, the large flat rock provided a place where the ancient hunters could dry their food, while the continuous movements of the smaller stone kept it safe from scavenging birds and animals. It was also believed that Rocking Stone was a very sacred place that served as a natural altar to worship the Spirit God.

“This story may well be a local non-Washoe legend,” says Lindstrom. “I have never found any ethnographic evidence to support it.”

One geologist who recently examined the site believes that native tribes painstakingly chipped away the mother rock to flatten the top and somehow rolled the smaller boulder on top, thus creating a primitive monument. Other experts believe that Rocking Stone is merely a relic of the glacial age.

While experts may never agree on its origin, there is little doubt that it must have provided ancient people a first-class view of the 20 mile-long lake that once covered the entire Truckee basin.

“Echoes From The Past” appears every other week in the Sierra Sun. Guy Coates is vice president and research historian for the Truckee-Donner Historical Society. He can be reached through the Society at 582-0893 or by e-mail at


Historical Society

Board meetings are held the second Tuesday of each month at 6 p.m. at the Gateway Cabin in Meadow Park. Regular meetings and/or programs are held the fourth Tuesday of each month. The Historical Society sells books and historical photographs and oversees the historic Jail Museum which is opened on weekends from Memorial Day through Labor Day. For information about becoming a volunteer or member of the Historical Society, call 582-0893.

Truckee Railroad


The Regulators are a fun-loving group of local citizens dedicated celebrating the spirit and heritage of the Old West by participating in private and public functions, parades, wild west stunt shows and living history events. For information about volunteering or becoming a regulator, call Dennis Cook at 587-7662.

E Clampus Vitus

The Chief Truckee Chapter, E Clampus Vitus, holds their meetings at 7 p.m. on the second Friday of each month at the TDHS Gateway Cabin. The Clampers are a historical fraternity rooted in the Gold Rush who work and have fun monumenting and preserving Western History. For further information, contact Lee Schegg at 587-7654 or e-mail at

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