RENO — Mark Twain is finally getting some recognition in the state where he assumed his pen name as a newspaper reporter nearly 150 years ago.
The Nevada State Board on Geographic Names has voted to name a cove on Lake Tahoe’s northeast shore for Samuel Clemens, Mark Twain’s real name. The name now goes to the U.S. Board on Geographic Names for final action.
Nevada historians believe the site is where Twain accidentally started a wildfire in 1861 while preparing to cook dinner over a campfire.
He later assumed his pen name as a reporter in nearby Virginia City.
Nevada state Archivist Jeff Kintop, a board member, said there is no geographic feature in the state named for Twain, whose book “Roughing It” put Nevada on the map.
“The name is fitting because he became Mark Twain here and developed his voice here,” Kintop said. “It’s also fitting because his description of Lake Tahoe in ‘Roughing It’ is breathtaking.”
Twain and a companion staked a timber claim in September 1861, weeks after he arrived in Carson City with his brother, Orion, then secretary of Nevada Territory.
That first trip to Lake Tahoe inspired Twain to write one of the most famous lines ever about the lake:
“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 the camp’s location.
Nevada historians have embraced the research of retired U.S. 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 camp.
David Antonucci of Homewood, Calif., a civil engineer and surveyor, told the board Tuesday that Twain tramped to Incline Village, then boated six miles west.
“I plan to contact the national board and explain to them that by approving this recommendation it would just add to the confusion about where Mark Twain camped,” Antonucci said later.
The Forest Service also opposed naming the cove after Twain, saying his influence on Tahoe was minimal and other historical figures are more deserving of the honor.
“His misadventures here are the stuff of delightful historical tales, though in themselves, (they) might not warrant the honor of having a lake cove named after him,” Terri Marceron, forest supervisor at Tahoe, wrote to the board.
While his main legacy around Tahoe was his poetic phrase about the Sierra Nevada lake, “his legacy also is that he carelessly started a forest fire and then returned to Carson,” Marceron added.
The national board usually upholds the recommendations of state boards, said Roger Payne, spokesman for the national board.
“Since there is never 100 percent agreement on any name anywhere, the opinion of the local jurisdiction is important since they are elected to represent the opinion of the majority of local folk,” he said in an e-mail.