Tracking Tahoe Tessie Down
Click the image above for the full gallery.
Oh, beautiful Lake Tahoe. Just look at that blue sky, freshwater, green forest, and monstrous snake creature.
Of course, you can't see the monstrous snake creature in the photo because then we wouldn't have a mystery on our hands. Research into the unknown—especially cryptids—is fraught with booby traps, half-truths, pitfalls, lack of physical, photographic, or video evidence, and dead ends. It's dangerous out there, but I'm happy to be your guide as I hack and slash my way through the information danger jungle called the Internet.
Did you know?
The phrase "booby" in "booby trap" hails from the 1590s when the Spanish word bobo came into use in the English language. The term essentially means "fool." In addition to the apparent human application, it also described a type of bird in the genus Sula that had a habit of landing on ships, making them easy to capture and eat. Take a look at the steely eyes of this blue-footed booby, and you'll understand that the entire genus Sula is playing some sort of long game with us—one that will result in certain doom, but we're too booby to understand.
Lake Tahoe is situated right on the border of Nevada and California. It's the second deepest lake in the United States—coming in at around 1,645 feet (about 500 meters.) Measurements are impossible for most people to visualize, so here's a quick way to picture the depth of Lake Tahoe.
First, gather the following items:
- 35 full-sized sofas
- 35 queen-sized mattresses
- 77 baseball bats
- 42 hockey sticks
- 35 garage doors
- 21 full-grown alligators
- 7 residential telephone poles
Then, set everything up end to end outside your house, taking as much room in your neighborhood as you like (your neighbors surely won't mind.) There you have it, a rough approximation of 1645 feet (or 500 meters.) Now, take a walk alongside your new Lake Tahoe depth measuring stick and see for yourself how much lake monster might fit.
Answer: A lot.
And that's just the depth.
If you couldn't find all your alligators or hockey sticks, here's a photo of the Shanghai World Financial Center, a supertall skyscraper that's around the same height as the maximum depth of Lake Tahoe. Be sure and click that for a visual because I'll be referring to it again.
Lake Tahoe covers a surface area of around 191 square miles (495 square kilometers.) Since you're probably fresh out of full-grown alligators for a surface area measuring square, here's another way to picture the size of Lake Tahoe: you can fit the entire city of Frankfurt, Germany in it—twice. It would even hold the Republic of Palau—an entire country.
Tahoe Tessie is supposed to be around 60-feet (18 meters) long. You know what else is 60-feet long? A bowling lane. Now that we've established that we're looking for a single, constantly moving bowling lane in an area the size of two Frankfurts and a max depth of the Shanghai World Financial Center—one has to wonder, where are all the photos/videos/TikToks of Tahoe Tessie?
Aside from Tahoe Tessie needing a better PR person, we have the same trouble that often plagues cryptid research: a massive area. How much of Lake Tahoe do you suppose has been explored? Well, it depends on how one defines "explored." (And remember, when we're talking living creatures, they can just decide to get up and swim around, making them a little hard to find.) No matter the definition, though, it's an absolutely stunningly ginormous area to look for something so small.
Such an awe-inspiring mass of water was bound to be at the center of numerous stories, myths, folklore, and "inventions," aka lies. Let's take a look at some of these to understand the mystique of Lake Tahoe before we delve into tracking Tessie down.
Frozen Bodies at the Bottom
If you go looking up Lake Tahoe, you're bound to come across a popular story about a bunch of perfectly preserved frozen bodies resting on the bottom of the lake. Two different stories explain the origins of the bodies.
Mob Dumping Grounds
Back in the heydey of the 50s and 60s, The Rat Pack used their mafia connections to get rid of people they didn't like, and the mafia disposed of the bodies by dumping them into Lake Tahoe. Who and why did The Rat pack want to disappear? How many people? Well, nobody knows.
There is no evidence to support this. Although, in The Godfather: Part II movie from 1974, a character is killed on Lake Tahoe and dumped overboard.
Bodies of Hundreds of Chinese Rail Workers
"They" brought in hundreds of Chinese immigrants to build a railroad in the area. When the immigrants had finished building the railroad, instead of paying the workers, "they" took everyone into the middle of the lake, tied them all together, and threw them into the water, where hundreds of people drowned. Who is "they" in this story? Well, an evil railroad tycoon, obviously—no need for names here.
Hundreds of tied-together frozen bodies haven't been found yet. At least if there are perfectly preserved bodies down there, they won't just get up swim around—they should be reasonably straightforward to find. Which likely means they don't exist. However, the myth holds at least some grain of truth, a real-life horror.
In the mid-1800s, Chinese laborers did work on the Transcontinental Railroad in that area. Anti-Chinese resentment quickly built, and a white supremacist group called Caucasian League was formed in the 1870s. Their ideas garnered support in the nearby town of Truckee, which produced a local group called the 601 Truckee Vigilance Committee, whose self-proclaimed job was to instill law and order. If you're wondering what the "601" means, it's not an area code. It means "6 feet under, 0 trials, 1 rope." Some of the "law and order" the group "instilled" was to tell Chinese people to GTFO or be shipped out in boxcars—lots of violence, lots of hate crime. You can read more on The No Place Project.
By the way, famous French explorer Jacques Cousteau found those frozen bodies. Except—not really. This is another myth.
Jacques Cousteau took a submersible dirigible (that's what I like to call old submarines) over to Lake Tahoe and navigated to the bottom of the lake. When he came up, he was 'shook' and refused to tell anyone what he saw. When pressed, he said, "the world is not ready for what is down there." In other versions, he said, "A stop was quickly put on the mission by some powerful people."
There's one small problem to this story: it never happened. Jacques Cousteau never visited Lake Tahoe. But, his grandson Philippe Cousteau Jr. may have visited the lake in 2002 while he was in the area for a speaking engagement. That's basically the same thing as flying a submersible dirigible and finding some unspeakable horror—right?
The Missing Scuba Diver
There's this scuba guy whose body went missing years ago. His frozen body was caught up in underwater lava tubes that connect Lake Tahoe with Pyramid Lake, and he was stuck down there for some odd decades. He got unstuck, and they found his perfectly preserved body. Also, Tessie hides in those lava tubes. And Chinese immigrants. And mafia victims.
Donald Christopher Windecker's body was recovered 17 years after it went missing on July 27, 2011. Dental records confirmed his identity.
Sheriff's Sgt. Jim Byers said, "His remains are in amazing physical condition." No further details were provided on the condition of his body. As for why he was down there for 17 years and came up in excellent physical condition, he was in 35-degree water and increased pressure at a depth of 265-feet. You can read more about this fascinating story here.
If you go Googling this story, you'll find numerous people claiming "authorities believed." It's a strange phenomenon that seems to occur frequently in cryptid cases—someone makes a statement, presents it as fact, and claims it came from a vague "authority." Often, it's simply not true. In the case of Donald Christopher Windecker and that Los Angeles Times source article—the actual "authorities," Sheriff's Sgt. Jim Byers, interviewed in the article, dismisses the idea of underwater tunnels as an urban myth. Things like this make researching cryptids a difficult task and a chore of diligence in separating fact from fiction.
The theory of Lake Tahoe and Pyramid Lake connected by underwater tunnels is currently unproven and unverified, though they are hydrologically connected via the Truckee River.
Now that we've captured some of the mystique of Lake Tahoe let's see about tracking down Tahoe Tessie.
The size of a school bus with a large serpentine body "as wide as a barrel." Tessie's color ranges from jet black to turquoise, sometimes a "slick grey" (or, I guess, "slick gray" for Americans.) Smooth skin, no scales.
The description of Tahoe Tessie from eyewitness accounts is strikingly different than that of Bob McCormick's 1985 book The Story of Tahoe Tessie: The Original Lake Tahoe Monster. I mention this book not only because it's old but also because the illustration you see on the cover is what turned into the Tahoe Tessie mascot you'll see around the area—gift shops, parades, etc. It's funny how some cryptids become cute and cuddly compared to the eyewitness accounts. Maybe Tahoe Tessie doesn't need a better PR person after all.
Tahoe Tessie lives in Lake Tahoe, of course. But may also swim over to Pyramid Lake using underwater tunnels. As I mentioned before, the existence of the tunnels is unproven. It is interesting to note that Lake Tahoe and Pyramid Lake are only about 50 miles apart. Check out this map I made.
I've circled Lake Tahoe. Pyramid Lake is to the north. The other marker to the southeast of Lake Tahoe is Walker Lake. It's only about 65 miles away. Walker Lake has its own legends of a giant serpent modernly known as Cecil the Serpent, and there's a lot of overlap in stories and sightings between Tahoe Tessie and Cecil the Serpent.
By the way, I would love to know if the late-50s/early-60s cartoon Beany and Cecil has anything to do with Cecil the Serpent of Walker Lake. I couldn't find anything linking them, but I might be better at tracking down cryptids than cartoons.
Earliest Mentions of Tahoe Tessie
As with the Oklahoma Octopus article I wrote, I dug around to try and find early mentions of Tahoe Tessie to see just how far back the phrase went.
Here are the two earliest mentions that I could find referenced on the Internet:
Snow Country Magazine - Oct 1989
Vol. 2, No. 10 - Page 48
On long summer nights, the children must have shivered to tales of the apparitions in the lake. For instance, there is Tessie, Tahoe's own Loch Ness monster. Residents swear that the U.S. Navy verified film of Tessie, but suppressed it for fear it would ruin the valley's booming economy.
Nevada Magazine - 1986
Volume 46 - Page 52
Lake Tahoe will be no place for chickens of the sea on July 26 as master swimmers in the Trans Tahoe Invitational Swim brave the 6,225-foot altitude, terminal goosepimples, and—myth-makers insist—a possible close encounter with a resident sea monster named Tessie.
Sightings of Tahoe Tessie
The sightings of Tahoe Tessie span from around the 1950s and continue even today. Unfortunately, most of them are either anonymous, cite someone I can't find, or are vague enough that I can't verify anything about them.
In the 1950s, two off-duty police officers out on the lake reported seeing a large, black hump rise from the water, and keep speed with the boat, going over 60 mph (97 km/h).
According to an anonymous witness on Weird California, "Myself, along with 3 others watched a large serpent-like creature feeding/hunting in a school of large trout. It was in the middle of winter of 1979 off the dock at Homewood. It was about as big around as a telephone pole and maybe 30'-60' in length from what we could see of it. It didn't swim like a snake (side to side). It was diving up and splashing down with its head/neck? into the school of fish, which were leaping out of the water ahead of it. We were speechless for several minutes afterwards." In the 1980s, two fishermen reported seeing a 15-foot-long (4.6 m) serpent pass underneath the surface of the water, near Cave Rock.
Several weeks after, two divers reported finding an underwater cave, and a creature shot out, leaving the silt stirred. Where the creature had been, there were two large fin-prints.
Sometime in the late 1990s, a kayaking instructor reported seeing a glance of what looked like a green two-person kayak flip over and immediately sink. When he approached the area in a speedboat, there were no traces of the kayak, and his students did not report flipping over at any time.
In 2004, an off-duty bartender on the Tahoe Queen took a picture of a black hump in the water, which he claims is the top of the creature's head. In 2006 a family vacationing near Tahoe sited a large, black, scale lacking creature appearing similar to a sturgeon with an upturned white nose near Lake Tahoe's dark shore. However the creature moved up-and-down like a Mammal instead of side-to-side like a reptile.
There has been rumored Tessie footage, which is reportedly being analyzed before being released to the public.
— Source: Cryptidz Wiki
Native American Legends
Here's where things get real damned interesting to me. I wrote a piece about the Oklahoma Octopus a while back, and I turned up all sorts of indications that brought into question the age and origin of stories regarding an octopus stalking a few lakes in Oklahoma. Well, I'm telling you now that what you're about to read goes in an entirely different direction because of what I was able to dig up about Lake Tahoe in actual, real-life, documented, Native American anthropological studies of the Washoe tribe.
As usual in America, there's a lot of "it is said" and "legend has it"—vaguely motioning toward "Native American." Unlike the lakes in the case of the Oklahoma Octopus, Lake Tahoe is about two million years old. The references to indigenous legends refer to the Washoe Tribe of Nevada and California and, occasionally, the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe of Nevada.
In terms of cryptid research, the fact that two specific tribes were mentioned immediately made this stand out. I've said it before in other articles, but there are so many times a research trail goes cold with "Native American legend/burial ground/story/folklore." There's simply no evidence to back up this claim in many cases, and while there may be some grain of truth somewhere buried in it, there's usually absolutely no way to verify it.
But, when there's specificity, though, things are different. For Tahoe Tessie, the Washoe Tribe of Nevada/California and the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe of Nevada are specifically named. I wanted to know for myself if either tribe had ancient folklore on Tahoe Tessie, so I looked them up and reached out. After a lot of digging and attempts, I was able to pick up on a rather intriguing trail.
Warren L. d'Azevedo
Let me introduce you to a man named Warren L. d'Azevedo. He died back in 2014 but left a legacy that will impact the world for generations to come.
In addition to being an all-around bad-ass of a person and all the fantastic things described in that legacy.com link, here's how he fits into this write-up about Tahoe Tessie.
In 1952 he began anthropological fieldwork in Nevada with the Washoe tribe. He continued until he died in 2014—that's 61 years spent with the Washoe tribe from personal and professional perspectives.
In 2006 at the bi-annual Great Basin Anthropological Conference -- a major scholarly organization he helped develop in the 1960s -- Warren was honored by the Washoe Tribe for his decades of work with tribal elders to help preserve knowledge of traditional culture, and his many efforts in support of the Tribe.
Warren wrote volumes regarding the things that he learned in his life. In October 2008, he released a 70-page book published by the Nevada State Museum and Nevada Department of Cultural Affairs. It's titled The Two Worlds of Lake Tahoe. You can read the entire thing online here.
The book linked above focuses on Cave Rock, a 250-foot-tall (76 meters) formation of volcanic andesite on the shore of Lake Tahoe. It is a place the Washoe holds sacred, and there are numerous stories, folklore, and mythology surrounding it. Warren did an excellent job of capturing so much about the history and often conflicting perspectives of people in the area around Lake Tahoe. I'm only going to summarize a few points that I think are relevant to Tahoe Tessie.
Cave Rock & Waterbabies
These are somewhat difficult to summarize quickly, as you might imagine, considering Warren wrote an entire book about Cave Rock. I'll try, though, but if you find yourself with time, check out the PDF of his book that I linked above. It really is worth reading.
Cave Rock is a place of spiritual power for Washoe shamans and is home to dangerous spirits known as "Waterbabies." So dangerous that historically the Washoe people believe that only shamans should visit the place. Lake Tahoe is home to Waterbabies, and they don't live in the actual water—but in a country under the water. They have their own towns and use the waterways like roads. Occasionally, they come up and camp at places like Cave Rock. In some of the stories about Waterbabies, they create natural disasters like floods. The physical descriptions of the beings vary from story to story—everything from mermaid-like to something that makes baby sounds and leaves footprints.
Regardless of the Waterbabies physical appearance, the Washoe have always respected the beings and believe they have always inhabited the area. Cave Rock and Lake Tahoe have been the center of the Washoe cultural heritage for at least 9,000 years—so when we're talking about ancient legends—we're really talking about ancient legends—ones documented by an expert anthropologist who gathered information straight from tribal elders.
Warren's book details two perspectives, though. One of the Washoe and another for the Euro-American. The differences in perspective on Cave Rock are pretty stunning. The Washoe still hold it sacred—and their views were tossed aside 1931 and 1957 when two tunnels were made straight through the sacred formation to open it up for a highway. The structure used to be a lot bigger but countless tourists destroyed have already destroyed a huge portion of it.
Ongoing issues with disrespectful rock-climbers have caused early erosion.
Based on references in The Two Worlds of Lake Tahoe, I tracked down a copy of an out-of-print book called Tales of Tahoe: Lake Tahoe History, Legend and Description written by David J. Stollery, Jr., originally (self-)published in 1969. It took a while for the book to arrive at my house. I found it via a rare bookseller, and it arrived in fantastic condition, especially considering my copy is the sixth printing of it from 1992—that's 30 years old at the time of writing this. Anyway, I couldn't wait to crack it open and see for myself what Warren was talking about.
You can judge for yourself, so I'll just leave a couple of photos here. The book is totally full of things like what you are about to see.
I think that Warren L. d'Azevedo so accurately depicts this book that I'll just drop in what he has to say about it.
Tales of Tahoe is an odd miscellany ranging from "true historical" pieces about "people, places and events" to waggish tales and parodies--admittedly in the mode of Mark Twain and O. Henry. One of its unintended merits as an historical document is that it is an unprecedented compilation of white folklore about the lake. Just about every known anecdote or popular notion in circulation among locals and visitors receives notice, or at least a passing squib. Significantly, the local "consultant" for many of the pieces is a patronized fictitious character with the punnish title of Chief Wa-na-ni-pa who hangs around in anticipation of edibles, cigarettes and liquor for which he will hold forth on quite novel renditions of Washoe beliefs and customs. The Washoe words are sheer inventions of Stollery's fertile imagination and reminiscent of the lingo attributed to Indians in popular fiction. The "legends" are equally outrageous. Of course, "Great Spirits" and "Evil Ones" abound.
— Warren L. d'Azevedo, The Two Worlds of Lake Tahoe, Page 43
The Lake Monster
From Warren's work, I was able to find a few references of a monster living in the lake that he pulled from traditional Washoe stories.
At this site, Waterbabies lived in an underground cave. A monster also lived in a cave in the area. [Cave Rock]
There used to be an old fellow. He worked for a long time at the Raycrafts in the livery stable. His name was Charlie Schofield. Just as regular at that same time--maybe if the moon was right--he’d hike up to Cave Rock at the lake. I don’t know how many days he’d stay there, talking with the spirits. It was just as regular--every season, every year, when it came that time. He used to tell us what the spirits told him. He’d stay up there for three or four days.
The suggestion that monsters or giants were associated with Lake Tahoe and Cave Rock in Washoe lore is substantiated by references to them in a number of traditional tales.
And then there are the many versions of a well-known legend about another monstrous predatory creature noted by Freed (1966:82, Site 27): "About 100 yards offshore from this rock was the nest of a mythical bird ('Aŋ)."
Zany tales and buffoonery of this sort seem to have been standard fare among the rough-and-ready regulars of the lake during this period, fortified by frequent reports of serpents and mermaid-like creatures. It is clear that such lore represents a syncretic fusion of Euro-American and Washoe folklore: there is, for example, a Washoe counterpart in the sightings of small Waterbaby footprints on the shores of the lake and banks of streams--some with high-heeled shoes (cf. Downs 1966:62; Lowie 1939:322). Then there are the fictionalized accounts of Washoe legends by white writers about "little people," monstrous serpents, and of young braves who fall in love with "fish maidens" and go to live with them in caves at the bottom of the Lake (see, for example, Stollery 1969:57-59, 111-113, 132-135).
— Warren L. d'Azevedo, The Two Worlds of Lake Tahoe
DETOUR: The Paiute Tribe
If you go looking up Waterbabies, by the way, you may come across "legends" of the nearby Paiute tribe that "is said" to have tossed premature and deformed newborns into Pyramid Lake. I haven't been able to confirm an actual link to the Paiute, though. I keep running into our old friends, "It is said," "Legend has it," and "Some locals believe." Take that story with a grain of salt, or perhaps an entire salt shaker, unless someone can confirm it with documented Paiute legend.
I found a significant overlap in myths and folklore between the Washoe and Paiute concerning the lakes. Unsurprising because they historically inhabited the same region. Additionally, the Paiute have a story relevant to why such overlap may exist.
The Stone Mother
The Paiute have a creation story about how the tribes in the area formed. You can read about it here or watch Ralph Burns, a Paiute language teacher and keeper of Paiute stories, tell it on video (Ralph first tells the story in Paiute language and then retells it in English).
END DETOUR: The Paiute Tribe
Those were some fun trails to follow, and I learned a lot. The most important thing, though, is that there's no ancient Native American legend directly speaking of a 60-foot long sea monster in Lake Tahoe. However, there's plenty of lore about the area, even without needing a lake monster.
But what about Tahoe Tessie then? If the tribes of the area don't have ancient legends about a lake monster, then what is it? Well, let's talk about some theories on Tahoe Tessie.
Theory: It's a Sturgeon
Somebody tossed a sturgeon into Lake Tahoe around the 1950s, and people kept mistaking it for the Loch Ness monster's cousin until it eventually died, and most of the sightings died out with it.
The largest sturgeon on record was captured in the Volga estuary in 1827. It measured 23 feet 7 inches (7.2 meters) and weighed a whopping 3,463 pounds (1,571 kilograms). That's one huge fish. Their average lifespan is 50-60 years, which could explain why there seemed to be a cluster of sightings in the 50s and 60s and then they kind of trickled into nearly nothing over time. They can live much longer lives, though. According to this handy infographic from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the oldest lake sturgeon on record was 152 years old.
Sturgeon are bottom-feeders, and as we learned earlier, Lake Tahoe is super deep. It's plausible that a big fish could hang out at the bottom of the lake and only occasionally be seen by people.
Here are some great photos of an enormous sturgeon caught by former award-winning NHL goalie Pete Peeters.
I think Tahoe Tessie as a sturgeon is a solid theory, but since we have no physical evidence of the creature, we can't rule for or against it. Perhaps the important question here would be: what would possess someone to go and drop a sturgeon into Lake Tahoe? It could have been accidental, as Mackinaw trout were intentionally introduced in the late 1800s, and a stowaway sturgeon wouldn't be unheard of in such a case. With everything we do know about sturgeon, if a small one were dropped into Lake Tahoe in the late 1800s, it could have grown to a fairly massive size by the 1950s.
Theory: It's a Dinosaur
A plesiosaur, ichthyosaur or mosasaur, to be exact. This is a fun theory that people apply to many lake monsters, including Loch Ness. Wouldn't it be cool to find out that an extinct species of dinosaur isn't really extinct? I think so. The problem with this theory is that, like the sturgeon theory above, we have no physical evidence. Current science believes that dinosaurs went extinct around 65 million years ago. If any evidence crops up to contradict that, I'm absolutely sure you'll hear about it all over the news.
Theory: It's a New Species of Freshwater Eel
Well, as I pointed out in my Oklahoma Octopus write-up, new species are discovered regularly. It's not a stretch to think that a new species could be found in Lake Tahoe. This is another fun theory to think about, but there's not much we can do without physical evidence.
The largest species of freshwater eel I could find is the New Zealand longfin eel. The females are larger than males and average around 3'9" long (115 centimeters), and some have weighed as much as 53 pounds (24 kilograms). That's big but a far cry from the idea of a 60-foot-long monster.
Theory: It's Fake
Well, that's just not a very fun theory on it. Many people think that every cryptid is fake because humans haven't found them yet. To these people, I say, "I bet you're no fun."
I want to quote Carl Sagan here:
"Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence."
— Not Carl Sagan
Who said it first is kind of a controversial topic. Some people think it was cosmologist Martin Rees. Anyway, it's not even the right sentiment for what I'm after, so here's a better one:
"Absence of evidence is not proof of absence."
— Mark Peacock, July 24th, 2018, aka a random dude I found on Quora when I was trying to find out who said that thing about absence and evidence that I always remember from a character voiced by Samuel L. Jackson on The Boondocks. (~1-minute video worth watching)
My Theory: The Donner Party
You know the one—the American pioneers. They migrated to California via a wagon train and got caught in a horrible winter and stuck in the Sierra Nevada mountain range and then had to eat people to survive. You know—the cannibals.
Okay, I know what you're thinking. Cannibals are not lake monsters. Stick with me, though, because I'm about to make you question that.
In the winter of 1846 into 1847, the Donner Party became trapped by an early, heavy snowfall near what was once called Truckee Lake (now called Donner Lake.) Two months later, their food supplies were dangerously low, and a group set out on foot to go and find help. Two months after that, a relief party finally arrived. Of the 87 members in the wagon train, only 48 survived.
What you may not know is that the members of the Donner party are called pioneers, but they had little knowledge or experience in travel and no expertise in interacting with Native Americans. In fact, the Donner Party had run-ins with several tribes, and none of the encounters turned out that well.
Truckee Lake, where the Donner Party was stuck that winter, is only 11 miles (18 kilometers) away from Lake Tahoe. Google Maps gives me a 15.5-mile (25 kilometers) hiking trail to go between them (about 5 hours on foot.)
Why is this important? Well, there's a "legend" of a "monster snake" at Lake Tahoe. In 2009, The Washoe Tribe of Nevada and California put together this online PDF titled: WA SHE SHU: "The Washoe People" Past and Present. Section 6, page 25, is about The Donner Party. Since that section is relatively short, I'll copy/paste the entire thing right here for you to read.
In 1846, the Washoe noticed the famed Donner party wagon train because they had never seen wagons before. The Washoe describe seeing the wagons and wondering if they were a "monster snake". In route to California, the Donner party reached the Sierras late in the year and got trapped in snow for a particularly harsh winter. The Washoe checked in with the stranded travelers a few times and brought them food when they could. Even so, in the face of suffering and starvation, the Donner Party resorted to cannibalism. When the Washoe witnessed them eating each other they were shocked and frightened. Although the Washoe faced hard times every winter and death by starvation sometimes occurred, they were never cannibalistic. Stories about the situation, some gruesome and some sympathetic, were told for many generations and are said to add to the general mistrust of the white people.
— WA SHE SHU: "The Washoe People" Past and Present, Page 25
Remember what the anthropological expert Warren L. d'Azevedo said about the stories people tell around Lake Tahoe?
It is clear that such lore represents a syncretic fusion of Euro-American and Washoe folklore.
— Warren L. d'Azevedo
You probably already put together my theory on your own here.
Washoe people saw the Donner Party and described the wagon train as a “monster snake.” Over time, this description blended with the stories and misinterpretations about Waterbabies, Cave Rock, and other tales in the area, eventually merging into its own story of a monstrous serpent-like lake monster.
Imagine you are Washoe and see a wagon train snake through the area, then find out the people ate each other. How might you describe that? A monstrous snake at Lake Tahoe that ate people? And, remember, English isn't your first language, if you speak it at all. Honestly, I like this theory of mine, and if you toss in an accidental sturgeon along with it, that's one helluva legend.
I can't objectively judge my own theory very well, but it seems plausible to me. What do you think?
That's it for Tahoe Tessie. I have this big list of ideas for my newsletter. I post portions of what I write onto various subreddits. I choose a topic to write about by popping open the old random number generator and letting it decide for me. I have about 200 ideas on there right now. When it landed on Tahoe Tessie, I have to admit that I wasn't really into the idea of writing about another lake monster so soon after the Oklahoma Octopus. But, once I began researching, I kind of got hooked and kept going (like I do) until I either followed the trails to their ends or they ran cold.
Any of the theories I mentioned here seem plausible to me, but we may never truly have an answer to this mystery, though it's fun and fascinating to explore.
I absolutely love cryptids. We don't know everything there is to know about our own planet, and new species are discovered all time. The idea of something living near humans, yet humans being unaware of it, is captivating.
Here are seven species that used to be cryptids.
You may find TV shows or documentaries exploring our planet, but it's not that common in the grand scheme of things. How many companies have you heard of hiring for "Professional Explorer" positions? I know of precisely zero.
For comparison, the USA alone has around 519,000 elected politicians across all levels of government. While there is no official global count of politicians, a little extrapolation lands us at around 7 million.
It's not just exploration of our own planet that lacks that—how shall I put it—pizazz of other career choices. In 2019, LEGO kicked off a celebration for the 50th anniversary of the moon landing and found that American children are three times more likely to want to be the next YouTube star than an astronaut. In China, kids indicated they wanted to be astronauts at about 3x that of YouTuber.
Other titles would fit into a type of explorer, of course, perhaps anthropologist or marine biologist or astronaut. I'm sure there are many more, depending on what exploration means to you. Whatever happens, I hope to get more explorers, whether they head into the far reaches of space, the unknowns of planet Earth, or into the microcosm of cells, atoms, and subatomic particles.
Related: Here's a great 16-minute video about Lake Tahoe created by UC Davis Tahoe: Lake Tahoe In Depth 2D Movie.
I tried to find horror movies featuring Lake Tahoe but couldn't come up with anything. Do you know of any good horror movies involving lakes? (Bonus points if it's Lake Tahoe.)
My spouse Tae told me that Lake Tahoe makes a cameo appearance in Christopher Pike's The Last Vampire series. If you don't know of any movies, do you know of any books with Lake Tahoe? I'm seriously on the hunt.