A document prepared by Robert Stewart was discussed in a number of August
MTF posts. That document asserted proof of the location of the Lake Tahoe
campsites and timber claim described in Roughing It and letters by Mark
While it is likely few MTF members are interested in the ongoing debate
the locations of the campsite and timber claim, nonetheless, we feel
compelled to comment. Mark Twain scholars will appreciate that this dispute
is of little literary significance since it has no impact on the themes and
theses of Twain’s writings about Lake Tahoe.
We commend Stewart for a very thorough search and retrieval of historical
records related to places, events and persons in the early 1860s Nevada
Territory. This compilation is a valuable addition to the history and lore
of a seminal period in Nevada's past.
The cover of the Stewart document shows Mark Twain impressionist McAvoy
Layne playing a card game on a flat granite rock situated on a sandy beach
at Lake Tahoe. The Stewart document asserts this is the same flat granite
rock on a sandy beach that Sam Clemens used as a card playing and dining
surface at his 1861 Lake Tahoe campsite.
As we mentioned in our MTF post on May 20, conclusive and incontrovertible
scientific evidence shows that no sandy beach and therefore, no such
flat rock existed there in 1861. This is backed by an analysis that is
founded on a 1918 federal shoreline survey of Lake Tahoe, 1985 scientific
report describing the natural shoreline condition, and a peer review by the
US Geological Survey. The subject beach and exposure of the flat rock did
not occur until the middle twentieth century, the result of erosion of the
shoreline caused by a new dam. We continue to review and refine this
analysis and intend to submit a final summary for publication. MTF
subscribers can download a PowerPoint formatted version of the analysis as
Following a public debate in 2012, Stewart stated that if no beach existed
at that location in 1861, it “…totally eliminates not only [his] theory…”
Thus, he identified the absence of the 1861 beach as a potential fatal
If the central piece of empirical evidence, i.e. beach and exposed flat
rock, did not exist in the nineteenth century, Stewart's interpretation of
historical documents to support his conclusion is dubious.
As we have said in past MTF posts, interested Twain scholars and
should carefully examine all relevant and factual information about the
location of the 1861 campsite. We say this because we are confident those
who employ critical-thinking skills, and logical reasoning will arrive at
the same conclusions we have reached. To assist interested MTF subscribers,
we are making available for download a complete PDF of Fairest Picture –
Mark Twain at Lake Tahoe here.
This version of Fairest Picture does not include these latest findings and
we will publish a revised edition in the near future. This link will expire
on September 20. Instructors, teachers and professors who conduct Mark
studies may redistribute this PDF to their students at no cost.
David C. Antonucci
Author of Fairest Picture – Mark Twain at Lake Tahoe