Bid to name Tahoe cove after Sam Clemens moves forward
September 16, 2010
Just up the hillside from the Lake Tahoe wildfire Sam Clemens described 149 years ago, another drama occurred.
A contentious yet civil three and one-half hour meeting of the Nevada Board of Geographic Names unanimously voted Tuesday to declare a Sam Clemens Cove historic site at the lake. A national board will consider the recommendation, most likely in the spring.
Clemens, better known as Mark Twain, described making a timber claim and accidentally starting a wildfire Sept. 18, 1861 in his book “Roughing It.”
Tahoma historian David Antonucci disputed the location of the fire and site for Sam Clemens Cove in an hour and 15 minute PowerPoint presentation in the Thunderbird Lodge, a half-mile south of the cove.
“As an engineer-scientist, I’ve devoted myself to debunking fibs, fakes and falsehoods around here,” Antonucci said. “My criticism is that it’s just been a long-standing myth that he was on the East Shore and this just contributes to extending to that myth and that’s not good for historical accuracy.”
Antonucci said the area Clemens described was across the state border in Agate Bay near Tahoe Vista. He gave evidence from Twain’s descriptions, documented surveys and excerpts from George Wharton James’ 1914 book, “Lake of the Sky,” and the 1949 book “Sierra Nevada Lakes.”
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“All the science is against it, in addition to the history,” Antonucci said.
Nevada historian Bob Stewart, a board member who recused himself from the vote, was one of three to repudiate Antonucci’s case, pointing to the cove’s flat rock near the Thunderbird, which Clemens wrote that he used as a dining table.
Stewart also said there were no roads on the map Clemens would have used to go to Agate Bay. The map was drawn by Will Wagner, who built roads from Fort Hall, Idaho, to Honeylake Valley, Nev. Wagner was Clemens’ friend.
“Antonucci has them exploring on their own, and I’m saying they went up the Wagner road because he’s the guy who was telling them to go up there,” Stewart said. “David doesn’t listen when you tell him that. David is intransigent.”
Incline Village resident McAvoy Layne, a Clemens impersonator who owns the Mark Twain Cultural Center in Incline, thought Antonucci had convinced the board to not vote for the naming of the cove.
“They seemed to have a change of heart because it looked like they were going to put it off for another six months to digest everything that Antonucci had brought to the table,” he said.
Layne, who earlier had attended a South Shore function, was still dressed in his Twain attire at the Thunderbird Lodge.
“(Antonucci) was up there over an hour and he had his stick in the spokes, and I finally got my shovel in,” he said. “I said I can make my claim by 60 seconds by the watch – ‘Kit Carson first laid eyes on this lake on the fairest picture this whole earth affords in 1844. I’ll give him the pass, but he’s got the range, the sink, the valley, the river, Carson City, and he never set foot in these parts. I rest my case.’ “
The board, citing legalese that a location could be named for someone “roughly associated” with it, voted 9-0 in support.
“The board didn’t want to decide who was right or wrong,” Antonucci said. “It said, ‘well, he was at Tahoe so let’s name something for him.’ It could have been a mountain. It could have been a meadow. Unfortunately they named this cove which just perpetuates this myth that his timber claim was on the East Shore.”
Antonucci is authoring “Fairest Picture. The Story of Mark Twain at Lake Tahoe,” to be published around the 150th anniversary of Clemens’ first trip to Tahoe.
He said he will attend the meeting when the federal board considers the naming of Samuel Clemens Cove.
“I think it’s far from over, and I think when the book comes out it will be case closed,” he said.