PLACES: Squaw Valley
Unlike the many V-shaped valleys, the bottom of Squaw Valley holds a broad, fertile meadow that has helped make Squaw the “gem of the mountains” for over 150 years.
Recorded history for Squaw Valley starts around the time of the Gold Rush in 1849. Before then, Washoe Indian squaws and children from Nevada spent summers camped in the lush meadows of the valley. The Washoe men crossed westward over the Sierra Crest to find gophers, grasshoppers, and pine nuts to bring back and use for food during the winter, back in Nevada.
In 1849 emigrants and gold seekers began using the valley as a route to California’s gold country. People came from the eastern USA and crossed from Nevada over Spooner Summit (now Highway 50), midway down the east side of Lake Tahoe. They then traveled up a trail along the east shore, across the north shore, and up the Truckee River to “Squaw Valley”—-as it had become known.
Once in the valley, the travelers pushed up the granite wall at the end of the valley, over the crest, and down into the Sierra foothills. Placer County even appropriated $13,000 in 1852 to improve the Squaw Valley trail in an effort to make it the “Placer County Emigrant Route.” The route did not attract much traffic, however, and it fell into disuse.
In 1862 four settlers started working Squaw Valley meadowland by cutting and baling wild hay, which they sold to the silver-mining camps at the Comstock Lode near Virginia City, Nevada. Life in the valley was relatively quiet until two prospectors found what they thought was silver at the mouth of Squaw Valley. This touched off a boom as hundreds of men rushed over from the Mother Lode country in the Sierra foothills. Two shantytowns were quickly founded: Knoxville and Claraville. They lasted just a short time until the ore samples proved to be worthless. The bubble burst. The population scattered.
In the years that followed, quiet returned to Squaw Valley where farming and logging were the primary activities. Most of the dramatic action was a dozen miles away as the transcontinental railroad was built over the Sierra and through Truckee between 1863 and 1869. At the same time, Tahoe City (post office established in 1871) was becoming the center of activity on the north end of Lake Tahoe, which was not officially named until 1945 by the California State Legislature.
In 1949 the Squaw Valley Development Company acquired title to much of the acreage in the valley and leased the surrounding mountainsides. Thus began the modern era of Squaw Valley.
The world-class ski resort was opened in 1949; it's 60th anniversary is coming up in 2009. The Winter Olympics were held at Squaw Valley in 1960, and skiing in the USA was boosted out of the shadows and into the limelight.