Weather Window: Chief Truckee had a vison of peace |

Weather Window: Chief Truckee had a vison of peace

Photo courtesy Mark McLaughlin

For countless generations, the Indians of the Tahoe region regarded the Truckee River as a vital resource for their survival. They hunted game or foraged for berries and medicinal plants along its banks. The Washoe and Paiute tribes fished for the large cutthroat trout that abounded in the clear, cold mountain water, an important addition to their limited diet of pine nuts, seeds and small game.

In late 1843, the scientific, map-making expedition commanded by Captain John C. Fremont, a topographical engineer, was surveying a route eastward across the Sierra Nevada from Sutterand#8217;s Fort. Fremontand#8217;s outfit stumbled onto the Paiutesand#8217; traditional fishing grounds at Pyramid Lake, the terminus of the Truckee River. The natives treated the hungry explorers to a feast of grilled fish, which inspired Fremont to name the stream that fed the lake, Salmon Trout River.

In the fall of 1844, a California-bound wagon train of American pioneers crossed present-day Nevada along the Humboldt River, but then stalled where it petered out, unsure of how to cross the desert in front of them. A friendly Paiute chief named Tru-ki-zo used diagrams drawn in the sand to show that on the other side of the desert a great river flowed east out of the mountains. He told them to follow the stream west until they reached a lake (Donner).

The emigrants were skeptical, but Tru-ki-zo led them to the river. Along the way, he repeatedly spoke words that sounded like and#8220;tro-kay,and#8221; or something phonetically similar. It wasnand#8217;t long before his Paiute name of Tru-ki-zo and his frequently-spoken phrase somehow merged to become Truckee, which he adopted as his proper name. (Truckeeand#8217;s granddaughter, Sarah Winnemucca, wrote that the Indian word and#8220;Truckeeand#8221; means and#8220;all rightand#8221; or and#8220;very well.and#8221;)

Truckeeand#8217;s assistance enabled the Stephens Party to reach the life-sustaining river and they named it Truckee in the chiefand#8217;s honor. They become the first wagon train to cross the Sierra and open the California Trail. Fortunately Fremontand#8217;s name of Salmon Trout was forgotten and the river was named for an important indigenous person from our region.

In a time when most Paiutes were seriously concerned about the invasion of European-descent people into their traditional homeland, Truckee considered all people the children of a common ancestor, and therefore brothers. The chief often reminded the members of his tribe of an ancient tale that prophesied the return of long-lost white brothers of the Paiutes, the reconciliation of white and dark-skinned peoples, and lasting peace.

During the Mexican-American War, Truckee performed bravely for the United States, leading fellow Indians in their own unit. After the conflict, Captain Truckee was awarded a commendation for service and he returned to his people proudly wearing a blue uniform with brass buttons and military medals. For the rest of his life, Truckee advocated peace between the settlers and Paiutes, even after an emigrant party fired on members of a village, killing six, including one of Truckeeand#8217;s sons.

In October 1860, Captain Truckee died from a poisonous spider or snake bite. According to his wishes, his body was wrapped in blankets and placed in a grave dug beneath a grove of pinon trees. His hands were folded on his chest and all his possessions, including a bible Fremont had given him, were buried with him.

Truckee lived his life honorably and in peace, and his legend and hope live on in the splendid river that bears his name.

and#8212; Weather historian Mark McLaughlin is a nationally published author and photographer. His award-winning books are available at local bookstores or at

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