Before John Fremont and Kit Carson visited Western Nevada, the Washoe people ranged and rested in the area known today as Spooner Summit.
Spooner, about three miles from Lake Tahoe, acted as the gateway for the Washoe people as they made their annual exodus from the valleys to the mountains in summer.
On Friday, the State Historic Preservation Office will dedicate historical marker No. 261, a reminder of the Washoes' treks and symbol of the area's role as a late 19th-century and early 20th-century transportation route.
The meadow west of Spooner Lake was used as a staging area as the Washoes made their way to Lake Tahoe each summer, said Darriel Bender, council chairman for the Carson Colony of the Washoe Tribe.
Lake Tahoe is the center of the Washoe people's world, and each year they visited its shores to pray, gather medicines, berries and fish.
Along the way, they rested after climbing one of two routes that met in the middle near the summit. Bender's family traveled from east of Gardnerville in the Pine Nut Mountains and through what is today known as Kings Canyon. The other route followed what is now Clear Creek. The trails met near today's Job Corps camp, and people followed one trail to the Spooner area, which at that time was meadowland and swamp.
According to Marshall Humphreys, a resource manager for Nevada State Parks who compiled the history for Historical Marker No. 225 in the day-use area of the state's Spooner Lake Park, Spooner Summit is named after Michele E. Spooner, a French Canadian entrepreneur, who helped start the wood and lumber industry in the area supplying the mines and mills of the Comstock.
In 1868, Spooner partnered with Oliver and John Lonkey, the Elliot Brothers, Henry M. Yerington, William Fairburn and Simon Dubois in the Summit Fluming Co.
A second sawmill was built in 1873 in the meadows. The company's holdings were later bought out by the Carson & Tahoe Lumber and Fluming Co., the largest of three firms to supply wood to the mines and mills.
Spooner continued to operate a ranch and a way station near the Highway 50 and State Route 28 junction until 1896, when he left nearly bankrupt. Several years later, he died penniless in Carson City's poorhouse.
From 1852-54 Johnson's Cutoff, or the Carson Ridge Emigrant Road, passed though the area. It was rugged and little used. After the gold discovery in Virginia City, the route became the link between the '49ers in the West Sierra and the new booming towns to the east.
The Rufus Walton Toll Road -- Clear Creek Road -- replaced Johnson's Cutoff in 1860.
The automobile came into the picture in 1913. The Lincoln Highway (Kings Canyon Road) brought travelers through Spooner into Glenbrook. In 1927, Clear Creek joined the Forest Highway at Spooner and in 1928 the route was paved. In 1950, the road was shifted north and paved to four lanes as it is today.
For the Washoe, who traveled by foot and later by buckboard and now by automobile, the area retains its significance by virtue of its closeness to Lake Tahoe.
At Spooner, the tribe's men found religious significance in the swampy area and buried religious items. Bender said the rituals were individual religious experiences and not specifically identifiable.
"It was a personal thing with the men," he said. "Almost like an offering. In those days you couldn't separate our religion from our everyday social life. Everything was intertwined.
"I was born too late," Bender said. "I wished I'd been born 100 to 200 years ago."
IF YOU GO
What: Dedication of new historical marker at Spooner Summit
When: 2 p.m. Friday
Where: Spooner Summit at the picnic area entrance
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