Silver Tailings: Bonpland Lake

Often referred to as “The Crown Jewel of the Sierra,” at a depth of 1,645 feet, Lake Tahoe’s clarity is unmatched by other Alpine freshwater lake. It’s also the second deepest lake in the U.S., behind Oregon’s Crater Lake and 7th over-all in the world.

When Lt. John Fremont first laid eyes on it in February 1844, he marveled at its size and breadth.  He decided it required a distinguishing name, something fitting and well-known.

Fremont named the huge body of water: Lake Bonpland.

At the time Aime’ Bonpland was a famous French botanist and explorer. He was also the author of several works on plant life throughout America.

However, Bonpland’s name failed to stick to the lake. Instead settlers along its shores preferred the Native American’s name for the massive waters: Tahoe.

“What’s now called Tahoe Lake, I named Lake Bonpland upon my first crossing of the Sierra and put it on the map of that expedition,” he wrote in later years. “I suppose Tahoe to be an Indian name, though I’ve not visited the head of the American River since I first crossed it in ’44.”

As for Bonpland, a number of years before having the lake named for him, he left the U.S. for Paraguay. There he found himself in trouble with the county’s dictator, Dr. José Gaspar Rodríguez de Francia.

Bonpland was tossed in jail for 11-years after being accused of spying, eventually dying in 1858 in Santa Ana, Paraguay.  But don’t worry – though Lake Tahoe no longer bears his name several other places do — including the lunar crater, Bonpland.

I wonder what Fremont would have to say about that.

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