Sheep Shearer’s Children In Lake Tahoe

 William Bolt was my two-times great grandfather. An adventurous spirit, as a young man in the late 1880s he traveled back and forth from St. Louis, Missouri to Laramie, Wyoming with his cousin Harry to work as sheep shearers. Lucky for me, his passion for storytelling compelled him to keep a detailed journal of his escapades – most notably falling in love with my two-times great grandmother, Mollie King.

I caught my breath when I came across his entries about one of my favorite places in the world, Lake Tahoe. His descriptions of the early days of Reno, Truckee and Lake Tahoe made my heart swell; what a tremendous gift to know we walk the same path. I now know for sure that there’s a special reason the Universe calls us there so often. I’m sharing an excerpt from his journal; sometime soon, I will flesh out his stories for all to enjoy.

 Winter, 1883

We are climbing the Sierra Nevada mountains. I ride most of the time on top of the freight cars. We stop for a long time at Reno, a rough town. Harry and I leave the train at Truckee. Smith goes on to California to spend the winter with relatives. Harry heard we could get a job of early shearing near Lake Tahoe. We stayed around Truckee a couple of days, a sort of a lumber camp of saloons and gambling houses and I could always see a bunch of Indians and white men sitting on the ground gambling. The Truckee River runs through there, a raging torrent all the way from Lake Tahoe. I seen some Indian women fishing. I went to them – they had a fire of only a couple of sticks and they catch a fish, hold it over the fire a minute, then give it to the little children. I seen them little two year old Indians eat the fish just the way it was and the only thing they threw away was the head and tail.

Harry had arranged with the stage driver to take us up to Lake Tahoe which is about 15 or 20 miles away. We could always count on Harry to plan everything without trouble or expense. He had a way of talking to everybody and always made friends and we always traveled as workers. We rode on top of the stage up through the mountains to the lake. The scenery was grand. Where we wanted to go was about six miles from headquarters – a yacht was going to our landing that took the mail and of course, Harry had him take us and our big roll of blankets. It was a grand ride. Lake Tahoe is so large you can scarcely see across it and they say there is no bottom. The Indians are afraid to go on it because if you went down you never came up – even the wood goes to the bottom. I can see a stack of wood laying on the bottom . The water is so clear we can see to a great depth.

McKinney's Landing, Lake Tahoe, CaliforniaWhen we got to our landing we found out there was no shearing to be done. The owner of the camp would like us to work for him. Harry told him we would stay a few days and work for our expenses. Our job was snaking in logs and we lived with the timber men. The fishing is very fine. We just go out a few short distance from shore in a boat and drop a hundred foot line and catch Speckled Mountain trout.

The time came to take the yacht back again. Sailing in a yacht was new to us – it was very grand on that beautiful lake on top of the mountains, then the stage ride back to Truckee.

This post was inspired by The Mapmaker’s Children by Sarah McCoy, a novel about two women are connected by an Underground Railroad doll. Join From Left to Write on May 19th as we discuss The Mapmaker’s Children. As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes.

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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This Moment

Donner Summit LookoutA Saturday afternoon on Donner Summit. We’d been up early-early enough for the sunrise. The brisk morning air shocked my senses, sending me shivering for a warm sweater; my body obviously not adapted from the valley summer to the mountain fall. On the drive up to Sugar Bowl that morning, John asked Cameron if someday he thought he’d ever get up to the train tunnels. “Someday,” Cam replied.

It’s been a particularly busy fall so far. As high school draws to a close for my oldest, afternoons and weekends are bursting with college applications, essay drafts and redrafts, and ‘lasts’ – last first day of school, last homecoming, last SAT test…so saturated are the days that I find myself rolling out of bed in the morning wondering how I’ll possible have the energy to make it to bedtime. The morning rituals of coffee, journal and quiet help me to center and make it through, but I find myself heaving a huge sigh as the last activity concludes and I sink back into my chair, spent from the exertion of teaching, mothering, and just being. Too many things pushed aside for someday, not today.

Driving down old 40 that morning, Donner Lake sparkled sapphire blue in the distance. A quick cup of coffee beckoned on our afternoon break in Truckee, desperately required to make the final push through the afternoon and evening festivities. Taking advantage of the blue skies and absence of snow, rock climbers scaled the granite walls and tourists pulled into the overlook to gasp at the Tahoe vista. Enchanted by the natural beauty, we too pulled off for a peek.

I paused at the majesty of the crystal blue lake, shimmering below the peaks tinged with white. As fluffy white clouds silently drifted by, a flash of red caught the corner of my eye. My boy, unharnessed, clambered up the boulder to my right and smiled broadly as I walked towards him. “Hold on, Mom, I’ll meet you around back.” My maternal instinct flared, sure that it wasn’t a good idea. Old 40 snaked beneath him. He was so confident, so happy, I couldn’t tether him in.

He eventually reappeared, energized from his accomplishment. I exhaled the breath I’d been holding, climbed back in the car, visions of fresh brew in my mind.

“Turn off here, Mom,” he shouted from the back seat. The Prius shuddered a bit as I hit the brakes, not sure what he wanted. “Let’s hike to the train tunnels!”

I saw the moments ticking by. Seriously? The tunnels, normally buried by snow, towered what seemed to be miles above us. As I pulled into the turn out, I wasn’t convinced it was even feasible. “Come on, Mom. Let’s do it!” he pleaded.

I stopped the car and he hopped out the back seat, reckless abandon in his eyes. “I’ll be right back,” he grinned.

All my body wanted to do was sink into the driver’s seat, pull out my book and wait. But as I looked into his eyes, the choice became clear. “Hold on,” I replied. “I’m coming with you.”

Cam smiled as we stepped into the brush. No trail in sight, he jumped from boulder to boulder as my eyes scanned a more sensible route. “Thanks, Mom. I really needed this. I’ve been cooped up way too long.” As he veered left, my common sense went right and I called out “meet you at the top” with hesitancy as he quickly disappeared from view.

Not as bad as I imagined, I made it to the tracks quickly. Of course, he was nowhere in sight. A sudden movement caught my eye, and his head popped into view, his body clinging to granite. “Hurry up,” I called to the distance. I was eager to get up and down, my impatience growing.

“Coming, Mom,” he shouted as I approached the top. For years I’ve driven below the rectangular tunnels, visions of Chinese workers laying tracks and the Donner Party floating through my mind.

Graffiti on Donner Summit Train TunnelTo my surprise, all that lay before me was a dirt road running past graffiti laden walls, no tracks anywhere to be seen.

My disappointment was quickly distracted by the sight of my son, arms spread wide to the world atop the tunnel. I sighed before shouting my warning as he began scampering away from me. Impossible to see the depth of danger he was in, I followed along from the bottom, somehow thinking that if he lost his footing I’d be there to catch him. The wind was picking up. I heard a train whistle sound in the distance.

Train Tunnels at Donner Pass

My protective instinct took over as he hovered, one foot poised to jump to the loose granite below. “Don’t jump,” I called as he swung his arms and did it anyway.

Donner SummitHe landed, proudly smiling the whole way back down to me. I hugged him and began to walk back to the tunnel.

“Stop, Mom,” he called. “Let me take a picture for your blog.”

Along Donner Summit Train Tunnel roadMy heart, still pounding from his death-defying leap, swelled a bit as I slowed down. The breeze was tossing my hair, cool as it touched my skin.

“Mom!” his voice broke the air. “Take a picture!”

My eyes found him horizontal, face down on the concrete beam. “Take it shooting up towards the sky!” he directed. I snapped the shutter just as the clouds drifted by.

Donner Pass TrainMy Keens slipped as they hit the loose gravel. I descended carefully, feeling my years juxtaposed against his youth. This time, though, we traveled together, watching the climbers scale down the rock to our right. “Aren’t you glad we did this, Mom?” he whispered.

I hesitated before responding, reflecting on all the walks we took when he was a little boy, pausing to remember his face as he discovered rocks, sticks, and treasures along the way. Peering into his deep brown 14-year-old eyes, my throat tightened, my eyes welling up with tears.

“I really am, buddy,” I replied. “I can’t imagine anywhere else I’d rather be right now.” Looking up, the hiker’s trail marker came into view, assuring me we were on the right path. Together.

Tahoe Rock Trail markerHe was right – we did really need this. Someday is today.

The coffee could wait – this moment would never come again.

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Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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