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At Pyramid Lake

Bernard Mergen

Publication Year: 2014

The story of Pyramid Lake and the people who have cared for it, those who nearly destroyed it, and the many who visited without knowing there was a conflict. Mergen grew up in Reno and visited the lake frequently in childhood. The narrative of Pyramid Lake is much more than Indians and water wars. It is the story of railroads on the Reservation and the role of federal, state, and private organizations interested in sport fishing. It is about scientists, artists, and tourists who were captivated by the lake’s beauty. It is about a place celebrated in poetry, literature, and film. Finally it is also a story of the lake as a place of spiritual renewal, celebration, and recreation. It is a multi-faceted and continuing story.

Published by: University of Nevada Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-vi


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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xvi

This book is a history of an extraordinary place, Pyramid Lake, Nevada. The lake’s beauty and abundant resources have for centuries attracted Indians, white ranchers, farmers, fishermen, agents of government bureaus and private businesses, and tourists of all types. Their connections to the lake and to each...

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pp. 1-8

Located in the sagebrush desert 35 miles north of Reno, Pyramid Lake is an unexpected expanse of water 30 miles long and roughly 4 to 11 miles wide. By scientific measurement its deepest point is 335 feet. In the imaginations of the lake’s many admirers, it is bottomless. Its color changes across the full...

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One: Survival of the Numa and Pyramid Lake

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pp. 9-45

The people and the fish are inextricable. The archaeological evidence of human habitation along the shores of what is now Pyramid Lake dates back at least ten thousand years. Whether these early lake dwellers were the direct ancestors of the people who call themselves Numa (People), and who are called...

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Two: The Fate of the Lake

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pp. 46-67

The year 1944, the uncommemorated centennial of Frémont’s arrival, coincided with three notable events in the history of Pyramid Lake. The first was the publication of a proposed policy for postwar development of Pyramid Lake and other Nevada reservations. Second was the issuing of a “final” judgment...

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Three: The Lake and Its Totem

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pp. 68-94

Disputes between the Pyramid Lake Paiutes and their rivals for water from the Truckee River continued to fester. Federal and state agencies created to manage Indian affairs, water resources, and fish and wildlife frequently found themselves in conflict with each other as well as with Indians...

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Four: Railroads, Ranches, and Dudes

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pp. 95-117

Within any place as large as Pyramid Lake and the reservation that surrounds it, there are countless smaller places. Although these spaces may be surveyed, mapped, and photographed for political, economic, scientific, or personal purposes, given names and boundaries, they exist primarily in the...

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Five: Squatters and Sportsmen

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pp. 118-146

It is important to see the differences between the white squatters on the west side of the reservation, who lived by wrangling livestock and dudes and who ponied up when given a chance to buy reservation land, and those in the thin strip of reservation along the banks of the Truckee River between...

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Six: Pyramid Lake Observed

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pp. 147-167

Add to the survivors, squatters, and sportsmen at Pyramid Lake the sojourners— visitors who do not remain long, but who are more than casual tourists on fishing or camping trips. Whether they are drawn back to the lake or visit only once, the sojourners preserve their impressions in words and...

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Seven: Pyramid Lake, Mustangers,and The Misfits

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pp. 168-183

The place of Pyramid Lake in reporter A. J. Liebling’s 1954 New Yorker articles, “The Mustang Buzzers,” and playwright Arthur Miller’s 1957 Esquire short story and 1960 novel and film script, “The Misfits,” is, like the lake, both transparent and opaque. Liebling is quite clear about the origins of his story...

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Eight: Pyramid Lake Proclaimed

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pp. 184-212

After nearly a century of discovery and description by journalists, scientists, and poets, the observers of chapter 6, a new era of visual and written depiction began. The men and women I call proclaimers moved beyond initial impressions, postcards from an exotic place so to speak, to create a lake...

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Seekers in the Desert

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pp. 213-233

There are probably more people who dislike deserts than those who love them, but deserts, such as the shrub steppe ecoregion that surrounds Pyramid Lake, continue to attract large numbers of people who feel comfortable in minimalist landscapes. The apparent simplicity of the desert is calming, like a...

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Ten: Pyramid Lake as Theater

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pp. 234-252

The sky forms a proscenium arch over Pyramid Lake, framing the ever-changing scenes of atmospheric drama and acts of human nobility and cupidity. Little wonder that the lake attracts histrionics, from the entrance of Kit Carson and J. C. Frémont with a howitzer in tow to the exit of an environmental...

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pp. 253-260

On Sunday, October 10, 2010, I drove out to Pyramid Lake, hoping to meet with Ben Aleck, collections manager of the Paiute Museum and Visitor Center in Nixon. When I arrived about noon he was busy with two groups of foreign visitors. A small group, five or six people, was outside eating...


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pp. 261-284


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pp. 285-296

E-ISBN-13: 9780874179408
Print-ISBN-13: 9780874179392

Page Count: 320
Illustrations: 26 photos, 1 map
Publication Year: 2014