Gem of the Sierra


Gem of the Sierra

Schemes and Splendor in Nineteenth-Century Lake Tahoe

Gary Noy

342 pages
38 photographs, 3 maps, index


July 2024


$29.95 Pre-order

About the Book

For many people the history and literature of Lake Tahoe is an endless love letter to its extraordinary splendor. But, as with most histories, the story is complicated. Lake Tahoe in the nineteenth century was marked by insult and mistreatment of the Indigenous population; commercial exploitation of the lake’s timber, water, and fisheries; a paroxysm of resorts; environmental calamities; and venal political backbiting. In that era, too, Lake Tahoe became a commanding emblem of national longing and resolve. It was particularly attractive to those who viewed all things American as bigger, better, and more beautiful than what had come before. In a land dominated by ostentatious expectations and Manifest Destiny, those passionate advocates viewed the magnificent alpine lake as a transcendent symbol of American ideals, a land exemplifying the promise and preeminence of an exceptional social experiment.

This anthology gathers selections from fiction, nonfiction, and government documents that chronicle the splendor, the exploitation, and the controversies surrounding this extraordinary and much-loved alpine lake. Some selections have not appeared in print since their original publication, while others have not been republished or excerpted for decades.

Author Bio

Gary Noy has taught history at Sierra Community College in Rocklin, California, for more than three decades. He is the editor of Distant Horizon: Documents from the Nineteenth-Century American West (Nebraska, 1999) and Nature’s Mountain Mansion: Wonder, Wrangles, Bloodshed, and Bellyaching from Nineteenth-Century Yosemite (Bison Books, 2022), among other books.


Gem of the Sierra seamlessly reveals the arc of Tahoe Basin cultural and environmental history, from precontact to the dawn of the twentieth century. It’s a fascinating journey fraught with peril but rich with promise.”—Mark McLaughlin, author of Snowbound: Legendary Winters of the Tahoe Sierra

“A treasure trove of entertaining, irresistible information framed by wise and witty introductions, Gem of the Sierra is required reading for anyone interested in America’s largest mountain lake.”—Scott Lankford, author of Tahoe beneath the Surface: The Hidden Stories of America’s Largest Mountain Lake

“A fascinating anthology of articles and excerpts pertaining to Lake Tahoe in the latter half of the nineteenth century. This collection, accompanied by Gary Noy’s insightful commentary, will delight anyone interested in Tahoe’s early history.”—Peter B. Mires, author of Lake Tahoe’s Rustic Architecture

“Noted California historian Gary Noy has fashioned a dynamic anthology of writings created by the American West’s preeminent nineteenth-century authors devoted to ‘The Lake of Sky’ (Lake Tahoe), highlighting its colorful history, featuring its storied past and environmental struggles.”—Gary F. Kurutz, principal librarian emeritus for Special Collections and the California History Section at the California State Library, Sacramento

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations



1. Roots and Reconnaissance: Precontact to 1860

2. Development and Disquiet: 1860–1869

3. Delights and Damages: 1870–1879

4. Visitors and Vexations: 1880–1889

5. Pleasures and Protection: 1890–1900


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