Lake Tahoe Before Tourists: People of the Lake

One hundred and seventy-five years to the month that the intrepid explorer John C. Fremont began his second expedition into the West, I made my third trip to the shores of Lake Tahoe. My arrival, like that of Fremont, had little impact, except on me. Before Fremont arrived and discovered the lake for Euro-Americans, the lake and territory surrounding it was the home of the native Washoe people. Traditional lands of the Washoe were marked by the Sierra Nevada Mountains and the Great Basin. Today, Lake Tahoe is split by the States of California and Nevada. Euro-Americans mispronouncing the Washoe name Da ow, meaning “lake,” began calling the lake “Tahoe” and we now preserve the redundant Lake Tahoe – literally meaning Lake Lake. [1]

Long before the Washoe heard of Spanish adventurers in their lands, confronted fur trappers, witnessed in horror the poor survival skills of the 1846 Donner Party and endured the Comstock Bonanza, the stories of the lake resonated through tribal oral histories. We now know that the lake was formed by the rise and fall of the landscape due to faulting.[2] The faulting, which began some 24 million years ago, formed the valley that became Lake Tahoe. Following the formation of the valley, lava pouring down from Mt. Pluto sealed off the northern opening, blocking the water path of the Truckee River. During the subsequent Ice Age, glaciers slipped downward, particularly on the western edge of the lake. Those melting glaciers formed the crystal-clear Lake Tahoe.

Lake Tahoe is approximately 22 miles long and 12 miles wide. At its deepest point the lake is around 1645 feet. The bottom of the lake is measured at 4580 feet in elevation and is lower than the Carson Valley floor.[3] The Washoe, as was true of all Native Americans, were not simply tied to their land but considered themselves part of that fragile ecosystem. However, with the coming of Euro-Americans and through the present, the exploitation of the ecosystem has caused a dangerous deterioration of the lake and surrounding forests. The modern-day visitor in search of “getting back to nature” often fails to realize what damage he and his fellow vacationers do by their mere presence. This article is not intended to be an environmental history but such topics should always include a call to awareness.

The sheer beauty of Lake Tahoe is breathtaking. Each visitor will have a different perspective and favorite activity to carry home in memory. Historical queries seldom factor into the modern vacationer’s timetable. Those who wish to be enlightened as well as enjoy should start their search in Emerald Bay, located at the southwest of the lake on the California side. If hiking is not your thing, you may want to stop at the overlooks that dot California Highway 89, looking down on the scenery from a perspiration-free perch. If you can manage the delightful one-mile walk down to the shoreline via the well-kept road, you will not be sorry – at least not until your torturous return trip.

Emerald Bay, Lake Tahoe

Whether looking down upon or from level approach, one cannot miss sighting in on the lone island that rises from Lake Tahoe. The island has taken on several names but the most commonly used moniker is Fannette Island. In more popular folklore it was once known as Hermit Island. The island did not come by that title without a colorful backstory. The story actually begins not with a hermit but with a transportation mogul by the name of Ben Holladay – “the Stagecoach King.” Holladay was born in Nicholas County, Kentucky in 1819. His father, William, guided wagon trains through the Cumberland Gap from Virginia and getting people to and from was apparently an intrinsic trait. Before the younger Holladay got into the stagecoach business he worked as a store clerk, ran a tavern, hotel, and opened a distillery. Holladay then moved to California and established the more than 2600 miles of stagecoach circuits called the Overland Stage Route. That start led to his purchase of the Pony Express in 1862 and a subsequent postal contract for mail service to Salt Lake City. He took up permanent residence in Portland, Oregon and founded the Oregon and California Railroad Company.

This is a poor picture of The Cottage; one of a few to survive. Photo: California State Library.

Wells Fargo bought out Holladay’s stage lines in 1866 for a million and a half dollars. He continued to excel at making fortunes until his death in 1887 in Portland. By 1863, having enough money to live the life of luxury and not particularly suffering business loss due to the Civil War raging back east, Holladay built a five-room summer house known as “The Cottage” on the southwest side of the bay.[4] As the story goes, Holladay hired a man by the name of Richard “Dick” Barter to oversee the security of The Cottage in his absence. The rest of the story can be categorized as one of history’s mysteries.

Among the many claims that Dick Barter made, he told locals that he was a former ship’s captain from England. He should not be confused with “Rattlesnake” Dick Barter, the nefarious robber. Rattlesnake was born in Canada, not England, in 1833. The outlaw’s family and his short history are well documented. While Captain Dick Barter enjoyed his solitude on the peaceful shores of Emerald Bay, Rattlesnake Dick Barter found no such peace in his frequent habitat of San Quentin prison. The latter died in a gun battle with law enforcement near Auburn, California on 11 July 1859. If only it were that easy to track or conclude the life of Captain Dick Barter.

Rattlesnake Dick Barter

Since no mystery would be worth its salt without a conspiracy theory, I’ll start one. Captain Dick came out of nowhere in 1862-63, a few years after Rattlesnake allegedly died of two [bullets] to the chest and one to the head. In 1860, a Richard Barter appeared in the federal census in Sierra County, California. He physically resided in Township no. 7, which was shortly thereafter to become Forest (Forest City). The post office for the township was Alleghany, the town that was the home of the Sixteen-to-One [gold] Mine established in the spring of 1851. Drift mining dominated the techniques to recover the ore throughout most of the 1860s when this particular Richard Barter was working in the area. On the census, Richard Barter shared a room, cabin, tent or some other small roof with another English-born gentleman named John Wilkinson. Both gave their occupation as mining. Wilkinson was around 57 and Barter was about 59-years-old in 1860. Wilkinson was a former man of the sea, as well, and it might be assumed that the two knew one another from their seafaring days. Rattlesnake, of course, had done his time in the mining industry also. Mining was a far distance from captaining a ship at open sea but evidence indicates that both would-be miners had done just that.

The next time that a Richard Barter appears in official record was 15 August 1871 when a man bearing that name registered to vote in Lake Valley Township, El Dorado County, California. He stated that his occupation was “seaman” and that he had become an American citizen in Boston in 1832, having been born in England and was then 64-years of age. Lake Valley was formally known as Bigler Lake Valley, which will come into the historical mix shortly. Lake Valley is located along the Truckee River, extending out from the shores of Lake Tahoe. Lake Valley is also approximately four miles southeast of Emerald Bay. The circumstantial evidence is compelling that Captain Dick and the voter who registered in 1871 were one and the same person.

Richard Barter often made the pages of late 19th century newspapers because of his unusual lifestyle. He lived alone near The Cottage from around 1863 to his death. He frequented the saloons of Tahoe city enough to be known to locals and passersby. Barter had a reputation for liking his bourbon and being quick to share a sea tale. His most famous exploit came in January 1870 when he was dumped into the icy water two miles off Sugar Pine point while on one of his whiskey excursions. He survived the ordeal, reclaiming his boat and rowing home but frostbite took his toes. He was claimed to have shown a San Francisco journalist the toes he had removed himself and preserved in salt. During his eleven-week recovery he hand carved a meticulously accurate seven-foot model of a man-o-war, including 225 wooden sailors and marines. He then built a four-ton boat, so he could better sail the sixteen miles to Tahoe City bars, it might be assumed. Once recovered, Barter decided to build his own chapel and tomb on Fannette Island.

Barter built his own burial site on the small island.

The tomb would forever remain unoccupied. On 18 October 1873 Barter was sailing back from an evening of drinking. He must have met with some natural obstacle that he could not overcome in his drunken state. Pieces of his boat were recovered the following days but Captain Dick had gone to Davy Jones’ locker, where he remains.

How much of Barter’s life was exaggeration? We may never know but the man who lived on Holladay’s estate was real, that is certain. Whether he was a true hermit considering his many forays to the closest taverns around the lake is arguable. He was interviewed several times during his life on the lake and all guests found him to be courteous, kind and accommodating. If he had become a citizen in 1832, however, his career as an English sea captain would have been short-lived.

Instead of seeking to pigeonhole “Capt’n Dick’s” adventures prior to his taking up residence at Holladay’s as seafarers’ tall tales, the evidence should be examined as a whole. The British Board of Trade issued a Certificate of Competency as First Mate to a Richard Barter on 14 November 1850. The certificate was exchanged for that of a Third Class, issued 12 October 1848. According to the certificate, Barter was born 1811 in Stepney, today’s Borough of Tower Hamlets, County of Middlesex, in Greater London. Only one Richard Barter was baptized in the St. Dunstan Anglican Church (founded in 952 AD), Tower Hamlets that year, on 3 March. The register named his parents as James and Susannah Barter. His actual birth date was 31 January 1811. Susannah “Hall” married James Barter 19 January 1796 in London.

London, England, Church of England Baptisms,

Richard Barter gave his address on his certificate of competency as 18 Gill Street, which is in the Borough of Tower Hamlets. He had apparently maintained ties to his family and home district in London. As the saying goes, “He who sails on the wide sea Is a parishioner of Stepney.”[5] Perhaps Barter was also born at sea. Situated on the Thames River, Stepney was a place of sailors and docks in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. If James Barter was also a seafarer it would have been the pattern of the day. Nevertheless, registers of naval officers and seaman are void of the name Richard Barter after 1851. He may have held the title of captain at one time or another but taking on a smaller vessel may have automatically reduced him in rank. The certificates of competency were not initiated until 1850 and what his career might have looked like before is undetermined.








Henry Rust Mighels in Sage Brush Leaves (after finding the same certificate), agreed that the document belonged to Barter of Emerald Bay.[6]  However, other evidence might derail that conclusion. In an earlier work, W.H. Rhodes included a section titled “Legends of Lake Bigler: Dick Barter’s Yarn; or, the Last of the Mermaids” in which he presents a story told by Barter. Barter began by touting his standing as an “old salt” of 49 years or a man unaccustomed to the ways of landlopers. He would have had to have been about two decades older than assumed to have had 49 years on the sea at that time. “By some accident or other, I found myself in the winter of 1849 cook for a party of miners who were sluicing high up the Northern Fork of the American.”[7]  So says Barter to Rhodes. Barter then goes into a tale of a spring break taken with a Washoe companion named Liehard who crossed over the mountains to the lake for a week-long fishing expedition.[8] Everything about Rhodes’ commentary rings true, down to the local indigenous comrade accompanying Barter. However, Barter’s presence in California cannot be documented until the 1860 census. Notwithstanding the fact that he could not have been in London in early 1850 had he been in California in spring 1849. Was Rhodes mistaken? Did Barter mean 1859, not 49?

On 17 March 1824 a thirteen-year-old Richard Barter was enrolled as an indentured apprentice in the Merchant Navy. He was bound to one William Errington for seven years beginning on 29 December 1823. Considering the issue of the certificate of competency, which ran through 1851, if these were the same person then Barter’s tenure on the sea was at least 28 years. No further connection between William Errington and Barter could be made. Barter’s indentured obligation would have ended in 1830. Although there were at least two William Errington seaman who became masters of ships, one of those met a horrific fate in 1834.

Numerous entries in the Quebec Gazette reflect that Master William Errington commanded ships into that Canadian port throughout the early nineteenth century. His primary ship was the brig Alexander. The Gazette alerted the citizenry when ships carrying passengers and cargo arrived and usually the public turned out to see what they could profit from. Typical of Errington’s journeys aboard the Alexander was the notice of 17 June 1819 when he “Arrived from London in 45 days;” “Reported at Deal from Quebec on 25 October 1819,” “Arrived from Teneriffe in 30 days on 21 May 1821,” “Arrived from Madeira on 23 June 1823” or going back further, “Arrived from Crane Island on 4 May 1815.” Errington may have also commanded the Good Intent.

Errington was Master of the Alexander on the night of 31 December 1834.[9]   The brig was at sea somewhere between Monserrat and St. Domingo. The first mate, John Coulson, angered over Errington countermanding his orders, struck the captain with an iron mall on the head.[10] Coulson hit Errington in the head twice more while he was prostrate on the deck.[11] Coulson attempted to construct a full mutiny but the crew secreted a plan to ensnare the murderer. They did go as far as helping Coulson throw the body overboard. Once they arrived in port, the crew turned Coulson, already package nicely for the magistrate, over to the constables.[12] Coulson stood trial for murder at Surrey Assizes on 31 May 1834 but the final decision is not known.

During his last years on the lake, Barter was visited by newspaper correspondents from Sacramento, San Francisco, and Tahoe City.  He was known to sleep the hours away while floating aimlessly in his boat. According to newspaper people, he might not have been religious in the Christian sense but was spiritual through the laws of nature. He built his own coffin, not wishing to die in Holladay’s home and stink up the place and to make it easy on the visitor who found him to seal up his tomb. Everyone he met was regaled with sea stories and even why he left home to sail the seas at an early age. No one bothered to record those stories, leaving future investigators as much in the dark as Barter is at the bottom of the lake. He perished in October 1873 ending his life upon the lake.The chapel and crypt he built on Fannette Island was also reduced to obscurity after his death. Over its location now rises a square stone structure, resembling a medieval fortified tower removed from its castle. The tower’s crenels and merlons disguise the fact it was Mrs. Lora J. Knights’ tea house.

In 1880 Holladay sold his property on Emerald Bay and through a string of sheriff’s auctions and sales it came into the hands of Dr. Paul T. Kirby and his wife of Virginia City. The Kirbys’ purchased 519 acres from Holladay and intended to build a “fine and commodious hotel.”[13] “Kirby’s Resort, also called “Emerald Bay Camp” and “Kirby’s Hotel” promised the public in the early years following the Kirby purchase to be fitted out with an elevator that would carry visitors to the top of the 212-foot cliff behind the camp.[14] Also, the Kirbys wanted to have all areas including the cliff and cottage region lighted at night.

Dr. Kirby married Lucy N. Harris 20 March 1873 in Virginia City. Kirby was born aboard ship off the coast of New York. He gave his birth place on the 1870 and 1880 censuses as New York. Lucy was born on Tobago Island. Her father was an assayer in California during the gold rush years and that is likely the occupation that brought the future Mrs. Kirby to Gold Hill, Nevada by 1870.

Kirby lived as a youth in New York and later returned to attend medical school. Kirby was also a Civil War veteran, a former captain of Company K, 19th Ohio Volunteers (Union). During the war he became interested in medicine and that is what called him to his lifelong career. He was also an investor and drawn to the mining industry as well as other uses of the land. Kirby filed for an “agricultural application” from Virginia City and the Land Office approved his application in August 1887.[15]

Lucy was left to carry out their many dreams, particularly the operation of the fifteen cabins at Emerald Bay, when Dr. Kirby died suddenly of a heart attack 15 December 1888. Lucy went on to operate the cabins, small hotel, pier at Emerald Bay and other scattered investments throughout her life. She also continued to draw her husband’s Civil War pension and took over as Emerald Bay’s postmaster two days after Kirby’s death. Lucky remarried in 1896 to Russell C. Graves, also a Civil War veteran. Lucy died in 1904. Graves stayed on in Emerald Bay for a few years after her death, then remarried and moved away. Lucy was Emerald Bay’s postmaster throughout the time she owned Kirbys’ Resort.

The acreage formerly owned by Lucy Kirby Graves then went to the family of William Henry Armstrong. The property on which the Kirby Resort stood was acquired by Lora “Small” Moore Knight in 1929. Lora was born in Galena, Illinois 1 May 1864 to Edward A. and Mary C. “Roberts” Small. Lora was a proud member of the Daughters of the American revolution, tracing her revolutionary ancestor back to Corporal Edward Small of Maine. Edward Small served through 1775 to 1777. He worked on the Fort at Falmouth among other duties.

Lora’s father, Edward Alonzo Small, was also born in Maine but served as an attorney in Chicago throughout most of Lora’s youth. Edward A. Small married Mary Roberts in Portland, Maine 10 August 1852. Lora first married James Hobart Moore in Kane, Illinois 23 April 1883. Moore was the son of New York merchant and banker Nathaniel Ford Moore. His father died in 1888 leaving his estate to his two sons after the death of their mother. The elder Moore also left $500.00 to his namesake grandson, “Nat.” James and his brother, William Henry Moore, went on to amass fortunes of their own.

James H. Moore was the epitomy of the rich and famous that rose to the top of industry and society in the late nineteenth century.  His brother, William, left Amherst College and moved to Wisconsin, where he passed the bar in 1872. William established himself in the Chicago law firm of Edward A. Small. He and his brother married daughters of Small. He became a partner with Small and after Small’s death, William and James created their own law firm which represented the largest corporations in the country. The Moore brothers became pioneers, along with J.P. Morgan, in industrial mergers. Their first experiment was Diamond Match Company, which supplied around 80 percent of the world’s matches.

The Moore brothers bundled together an array of financiers to keep the price of Diamond match stocks high. Their intent must have been to unload the stock at a premium price down the road. John N. Ingham describes the preceding exchange activities as a “Diamond Match craze.”[16] Then, as Ingham argues, William Jennings Bryan was nominated for president contributing to the drop of stock prices, margin calls and other Chicago Stock Market tremors at the loftiness levels.[17] Whatever the underlying cause, the Moore brothers were squirming over their shares of Diamond and their holdings in American Biscuit Company also fell into disfavor. The market closed its doors in order to mitigate the damage already done. The Moore brothers probably lost around four million dollars while the doors were closed. The San Francisco Call summed up the seemingly untouchable wealth that men like James and William Moore possessed after the bailout, “Moore Brothers Are Not Broke.” Nothing was truer.[18]

After James and William recovered from the losses they had taken in 1896, they went on gobbling up company after company: National Biscuit, National Steel, American Steel Hoop, American Can, and American Tin Plate. They merged American Sheet Steel, American Steel Hoop and two more companies to form United States Steel Corporation.[19] They were only getting started; they also came into control of the Rock Island, Chicago and Pacific Railway.

Regardless of the era and the method by which the wealthy obtained their fortunes, be it hard work or inheritance, those who were listed in the “have-not” column looked for defects in the character of the “haves.” The brothers fulfilled their mother Rachel A. Moore’s dream of building a library in their childhood home of Greene, New York. They donated $130,000 to build and stock the library with books. The family later followed that amount with another $150,000. The Moore Memorial Library was completed in 1904, in time for Rachel to see the fruits of her labor before she died in 1909.

The major weak link in Lora and James’ public image was their son Nathaniel “Nat” Ford Moore. Born in 1884, Nat was the typical gilded child born with a silver spoon in mouth. He was promising, competing in the 1904 Summer Olympics in golf and marrying among his own kind, Helen Fargo. Helen was the daughter of William Congel Fargo and heiress to her share in Wells Fargo & Company. Nat was a rich playboy, often visiting the seedier areas of Chicago and other cities. He was prone to throwing money at would-be friends who attended his parties. He gave away pearl necklaces and diamond sleeve buttons to guests, totaling in thousands of dollars of value. Nat died, possibly of a drug overdose, in the “resort” of Madam Victoria “Vic” Shaw’s establishment deep in the core of the red-light district known as the Levee District.[20] His body was discovered the day after his death of 9 January 1910. Shortly after his death, newspapers went to work claiming that he had died of heart disease. The San Francisco Call labeled his death as the end of “the career of one of New York’s best known spenders.”[21]

James Moore died in 1919 leaving Lora J. Moore assets and cash worth around 15 million dollars. Even before his death, she had been the target of much criticism based on her distribution, or lack thereof, of wealth for the good of society. In June 1918, months before World War I ended, an editorial appeared in California newspapers condemning her for wasting money that others viewed should have been going to support the war effort. Lora was derided for the possession of a “string of high-price automobiles one which [was] for the exclusive accommodation of her pedigreed dogs.”[22] The attack on Lora was sparked by her presence in Placer County, scouting potential sites on which she might build a “mansion” for seasonal use. Less than two years later, many of the same papers ran another piece noting how Lora had given one million dollars as a wedding gift to a former soldier who was wounded in combat during the war.[23]

After the death of James, the idea of building a mansion along the beachfront of Emerald Bay on Lake Tahoe started rolling around in Lora’s brain. She married Harry French Knight, a stockbroker, in 1922. Knight was among the financial backers of Charles Lindbergh’s Cross-Atlantic voyage. Lora and Harry had met Lindbergh when he took them for a ride in his plane and helped them scout a potential home site from the air. Harry Knight was a passionate flyer himself and president of the St. Louis Flying Club. Lindbergh and the Knights remained close friends long after his historic flight.

Lora was a world traveler and frequented the most exotic places in the States and the world. She returned from Europe from what was probably a holiday venture in April 1921 aboard the RMS Adriatic, of the White Star Line. She was the first ocean liner to provide Turkish bathes in her suites. Lora sailed from Southampton to New York on the Berengaria in June 1928. This was probably the trip dedicated to collecting ideas for the construction of her mansion on Emerald bay. The Berengaria was featured as the setting for F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel The Beautiful and the Damned. At the end of October 1929, the Berengaria was at open sea when crew members had to break the news to first class passengers, that thanks to the stock market crash, some of them were no longer better off than the emigrant passengers packed into steerage. Of Course, Lora J. Knight was not aboard on that trip and she weathered the Great Depression in style.

According to the Santa Cruz Evening News, Lora divorced Harry Knight on 14 October 1927, citing “extreme cruelty.”[24] A settlement was made out of court. Along with her luxurious home in Montecito, California, Lora’s first home at Lake Tahoe, “Wychwood,” built on Carnelian Bay remained in her possession. Wychwood, was built in 1914 on land the Moores purchased from Duane L. Bliss, timber baron and owner of the Carson & Tahoe Lumber & Fluming Company. Bliss made fortunes by building the Lake Tahoe Narrow Gage Railroad so he could expedite the removal of timber surrounding the lake and speed it to Virginia City for use in the mines. Bliss, had his own mansion in Carson City, across from the governor’s mansion.

In 1928, Lora sold Wychwood to San Francisco businessman Robert Stanley Dollar Sr. Lora began construction of “Vikingsholm” on Emerald Bay the same year. She commissioned her niece’s husband, Swedish-born architect Lennart Palme, who also designed less famous structures from homes in Carmel to the “Lodge,” present-day Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California. Lora used her knowledge acquired while traveling throughout Europe and Scandinavia to accumulate design ideas for Vikingsholm. The home is a collection of many styles of Scandinavian architecture, ancient, medieval but with modern conveniences. Palme told an architectural magazine in 1946, “She invited me to tour my native Scandinavia with her to study the original buildings, and to discuss in museums, castles and ancient churches every detail of treatment and style.”[25]

Lora J. Knight’s passport application

A one-mile paved road was added as an inviting easement to famous and non-famous guests. The house itself had the feel of both castle and Viking longhouse. Visitors are greeted by two crossed serpents rising out of the front roof peak. Intricate carvings adorn the open entryway into the center courtyard. The architects and builders were prevented from cutting trees away to construct the house. Visitors will notice that the now aged trees, probably of average height in 1928, are dangerously close to the walls of Vikingsholm today.


 Two sections of Vikingsholm are topped with a sod roof, torvtak, or today’s term, a “green roof.” In Scandinavian countries sod roofs were common through the nineteenth century. Material was free but construction required extensive labor. The sod and grass were fitted over layers of birch bark and it was the bark that made the roof watertight. Local stone was used in Vikingsholm’s section closest to the lake front. The stone and the iron were all worked onsite, as were the hand carved interior and exterior wooden planks and beams. It took only one year to go from foundation to furnished, with each piece of furniture specifically chosen to complement the structure itself.

Soon after completion, Lora began receiving guests but not exclusively the rich socialites she had grown up around, although there were celebrities such as Lindbergh who enjoyed Lora’s company and the peace of natural wonder around the lake. Lora became an adamant protagonist of women’s education. Often, the women who had received scholarships to attend collage through Lora became close friends and remained in the house for extended stays. In later years some of the children of those same women defended Lora’s kindness, hospitality and courage.[26] Lora also found her generosity extending to nature. She donated $5,000 to Ansel Hall to start the Yosemite Museum Association and continued to support projects such as the Sierra Club.

Lora J. Knight died on June 1945. The estate went on the market the following year. Vikingsholm was advertised in California and Nevada papers as having beauty, authenticity and comfort.[27] The house and property included the boathouse, paved road, guest houses and stables, as well as most of the furnishings. Lawrence J. Holland, a cattle and sheep rancher from Nevada, purchased Vikingsholm after Lora Knight’s death. Two of Holland’s ranching operations included Soldier Meadows, 360,000 acres and Gerlach Ranch totaling one-million acres. Holland, like Harry Knight was early involved in aircraft. He was said to have gotten the upper hand on buying cattle and sheep by flying his plane ahead of the competition, who depended on automobiles to get to a potential sale.[28]

Holland sold Vikingsholm to Harvey E. West. West was raised in Santa Cruz County, where his father logged. In 1913 West was hired as a mechanic and car washer at a local garage. By 1917 he purchased the garage with money he had saved from his mechanic work and his second job as a bellhop. That same year, however, West enlisted in the Army and went overseas during World War I.

West was born 27 December 1894. He enlisted in the Army on 4 October 1917 and served until 13 May 1919. West rose to the rank of sergeant in Company A, 316th Supply Train of the 91st Division. The unit sailed for overseas duty on 14 July 1918 from Brooklyn, New York aboard the HMS Alsatian.  The 91st participated in the Meuse-Argonne Operation and the Ypres-Lys Operation.[29] After the Armistice the division went into Germany as part of the occupation force.

West left from St. Nazaire, France on 7 April 1919 aboard the SS Santa Paula. The ship docked in Brooklyn on 20 April. West’s pride in, and devotion to, his country remained unwavering after the war. He often gave away thousands of American Flag lapel pins and was quick to provide lumber, money or both to veteran’s organizations.[30]

After the war, West moved to El Dorado County and opened up sawmills throughout the region. He was a well-known philanthropist, who seemed to enjoy giving money away as much as making it. He donated $45,000 to Boy Scouts of America for a camp which was dedicated in honor of his father. Perhaps West’s most profound philosophy was, “Do not regret growing old. It is a privilege denied to many.”[31] His oddest contribution to community was $20,000 to create plywood mockups of police cars, which were positioned along roadways to deter speeders.[32] He established an entire town, Graeagle, solely for low-income retirees.[33] At Christmas he gave Christmas trees to the inmates at Folsom Prison. During World War II he supplied lumber for the Army Air Corps and Navy.[34] He funded parks, churches, American Legion halls and even football stadiums. His greatest gift may have come through the preservation of Vikingsholm.

West sold Vikingsholm and property to the state in 1953 for half the assumed value of the estate, $150,000. Today, Vikingsholm is owned and protected by California State Parks as part of the Emerald Bay State Park. Vikingsholm remains one of the most visited places on Lake Tahoe. This history of the people and lake is only the tip of the iceberg. With any luck and planning we can explore more hidden gems of history around the lake in the future.


[1] Washoe Cultural Resource Office, “The Washoe People: Past and Present,”

[2] U.S. Forest Service Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit, “Geology of the Lake Tahoe Basin,”

[3] Ibid.

[4] Peter J. Goin, Emerald Bay and Desolation Wilderness (Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2018), 67.

[5] Edwin H. Freshfield, “To What parish do Those Born at Sea Belong?” The Spectator, 4 March 1905, pp 17-18.

[6] Henry Rush Mighels, Sage Brush Leaves (San Francisco, Edward Bosqui & Co, 1879) 250-53.

[7] W.H. Rhodes, Caxton’s Book: A collection of Essays, Poems, Tales and Sketches (San Francisco: A.L. Bancroft & Co., 1876), 163.

[8] Rhodes, Caxton’s Book, 163.

[9] “Murder at Sea,” Waterford Mail, 29 March 1834.

[10] “Murder at Sea.”

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Dan DeQuille, History of the Comstock Silver Lode & Mines, Nevada and the Great Basin Region; Lake Tahoe and the High Sierras (Virginia City, NV: F. Boegle, 1889), 122

[14] Mining and Scientific Press, no. 18 (San Francisco: 3 November 1888), 300.

[15] “Land Office Matters,” Sacramento Daily Union, 57, no. 141, (4 August 1887).

[16] John N. Ingham, Biographical Dictionary of American Business Leaders, Vol. 2 (West Port, CT: Greenwood Press, 1983), 958.

[17] Ingham, Biographical Dictionary, 958.

[18] “Moore Brothers Are Not Broke,” San Francisco Call, 5 August 1886, p 3.

[19] John W. Leonard ed., Who’s Who in Finance and Banking (New York: Joseph & Sefton, 1911), 480-81; “James Hobart Moore,” The Successful American, Vol. 3, (1900), 590.

[20] “Nat Moore Dead of Heart Disease,” Morning Press, Santa Barbara, CA., 11 January 1910, p 2.

[21] “Gilded Youth Dies in Chicago Bagnio,” The San Francisco Call, Vol. 107, no. 42, 11 November 1910, p 5.

[22] “Couldn’t Do It Here,” Madera Mercury, no. 22, 21 June 1918, p 2.

[23] “Million Dollar Wedding Gift,” Madera Daily Tribune, no. 192, 5 October 1921, p 1.

[24] “Gets Divorce in Reno Court,” Santa Cruz Evening News, Vol. 35, no 142, 15 October 1927, p 2.

[25] Lennart Palme, “Vikingsholm on Emerald Bay Lake Tahoe,” Architect and Engineer (January, 1946), 22.

[26] Matthew Renda, “Vikingsholm Retains Historic Charm on Tahoe,” Tahoe Quarterly,

[27] “Lake Tahoe’s Finest Estate is For Sale,” Desert Sun, no. 2, Palm Springs, 16 August 1946, p 7.

[28] Aeronautical Chamber of Commerce of America, The Aircraft Yearbook for 1935 (Clinton, MA: Colonial Press, 1935), 195.

[29] Order of Battle of the United States Land Forces in the World War, Vo. II (Washington, DC: Center of Military History, 1988), 423, 425.

[30] “Harvey West,” Santa Cruz Sentinel, Vol. 123, no. 12, 15 January 1979, pp 1.

[31] Barbara Lekisch, Tahoe Place Names: The Origin and History of Names in the Lake Tahoe Basin (Lafayette, CA: Great West Books, 1988), 13.

[32] “Scarecrow patrol car curbs speeders,” Popular Science (Feb. 1964), 113.

[33] “SC Philanthropist Harvey West Dies,” Santa Cruz Sentinel, Vol. 123, no. 11, 14 January 1979, p 17.

[34] “West” Santa Cruz Sentinel, 15 January 1979, p 1.