*Lake Tahoe. Large lake straddling the California-Nevada border in the Sierra Nevada. A deep lake with cold, clear water and surrounded by snow-capped peaks, Tahoe is a place of great natural beauty and abundant wildlife. The lake is also the center of the ancestral homeland of the Washo Indians, to whom land is sacred. The Washo see their land as populated by the power and spirits of animals who guide the people and provide them with food, especially antelope, fish, and deer. Before the coming of white people, the Washo live in harmony with nature at Tahoe, taking only what they need to survive. Their homeland encompasses an oval-shaped region approximately fifty miles east and south of the lake, twenty miles to the west, and one hundred to the north. However, after white hunters, prospectors, railroad builders, and settlers begin arriving in the late 1840’s, the Washo are gradually driven from their lands. In contrast, the new masters of the land strip areas of trees for towns and mines, fish out the lake, nearly exterminate the wildlife, and regard the area primarily as a means to wealth and recreation.
*Donner Pass. Sierra Nevada mountain pass (now on Interstate 80) at which the novel opens when Gayabuc, a young Washo, witnesses murder and cannibalism among members of the stranded Donner Party in 1847. The cannibalism episode and the migrants’ desperate, incompetent misuse of forest...
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