Bid to name Lake Tahoe cove after Mark Twain fails

May 15, 2011 - 3:58 PM

RENO, Nev. (AP) — Mark Twain will have to wait to get recognition in the state where he assumed his pen name nearly 150 years ago.

The U.S. Board on Geographic Names has rejected a bid by its Nevada counterpart to name a scenic Lake Tahoe cove for Samuel Clemens, which was Mark Twain's real name.

The Nevada State Board on Geographic Names voted in September to back the request in part because there is no geographic feature in the state named for Twain, whose book "Roughing It" put Nevada on the map.

But the national board, which denied the bid on a 5-4 vote Thursday, cited opposition by the U.S. Forest Service and doubt about whether Twain actually camped at the spot in 1861 as the Nevada board maintains.

"Here you have a state saying one thing, and a land agency saying something else," said Lou Yost, executive secretary of the national board. "The Forest Service opposition was a major factor to a lot of board members."

The federal agency said it objected to naming the inlet on Lake Tahoe's northeast shore near Incline Village for Twain because his influence on the Sierra Nevada lake was minimal and other historical figures were more deserving of the honor.

While Twain wrote adoringly about Lake Tahoe, including an oft-quoted poetic phrase about the lake, the Forest Service noted that "his legacy also is that he carelessly started a forest fire and then returned to Carson City."

Twain accidentally started a wildfire in September 1861 at Lake Tahoe while preparing to cook dinner. He and a companion staked a timber claim there, weeks after he arrived in Carson City with his brother, Orion, then secretary of Nevada Territory. Twain later assumed his pen name as a newspaper reporter in nearby Virginia City.

That first trip to Lake Tahoe inspired Twain to write the famous lines: "As it lay there with the shadows of the mountains brilliantly photographed upon its still surface, I thought it must surely be the fairest picture the whole earth affords."

In his writings, Twain provides only vague clues about his timber camp's location.

Nevada historians have embraced research of retired Forest Service hydrologist Larry Schmidt of Minden, who concluded Twain walked from Carson City to Glenbrook on the lake's east shore, then boated six miles north to the cove camp near Incline Village.

"The national board's decision is disappointing and surprising," said Bob Stewart, a member of the state board. "The decision does not alter the fact that the cove is where Sam Clemens set up camp."

But David Antonucci, of Homewood, Calif., a civil engineer and surveyor, said his research showed Twain tramped to Incline Village, then boated six miles west to a camp on the California side of the lake.

"I feel that (the national board vote) was the right decision," Antonucci said. "It would be misleading to Mark Twain scholars, enthusiasts and students to say the Nevada cove was where he camped. There are probably 10 or 15 different clues or factors that contradict that site."

Yost said Antonucci's differing conclusion was a factor in the national board's decision.

"The fact there was a historian from California contradicting the Nevada board must have put doubt in some board members' minds," he said.

Stewart said the state might ask the national board to reconsider the request in a few years if Samuel Clemens' name becomes associated with the cove anyway.

But the national board would only reconsider the issue if new evidence surfaces, Yost said.