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Pyramid Lake, 1844
The First Recorded Discovery
Frémont, January 14, 1844. We encamped on the shore, opposite a very remarkable rock in the lake, which had attracted our attention for many miles. It rose, according to our estimate, 600 feet above the water, and, from the point we viewed it, presented a pretty exact outline of the great pyramid of Cheops. Like other rocks along the shore, it seemed to be incrusted with calcareous cement. This striking feature suggested a name for the lake, and I called it Pyramid Lake. 

This is a recent photograph compared to the drawing made by Charles Preuss of the encampment on the east shore of Pyramid Lake on January 12, 1844. Note that the lake level is lower today, and that the rock shown in the lake in 1844 is today high and dry on the shore. The level change is, in part, cyclical, but is mostly because of diversion of the Truckee River (Frémont's "Salmon Trout River") for agricultural purposes and for the supply of water to the city of Reno.

But also note Preuss's carefully drawn details. There is a problem trying to match perspectives photographically. Preuss has drawn the mountains in the background accurately, but it would take a telephoto lens to reproduce his perspective. However, that would compress the foreground. This is always a problem in trying to use a camera to reproduce what the eye sees. Because of the distances involved, it would require merging two photographs (foreground and background), taken with lenses of different focal lengths, to duplicate what the artist saw and drew.

Here another view of the location above. The map insert (South up) shows the coordinates based on the Preuss drawing. Frémont made no astronomical observations for his position, because his tables of Meteorological Observations record "partially overcast; wind SW" at sunset on the 12th, and "Overcast; wind S. 20° E." the following morning, followed by snow later in the day.

goAnother example of this problem of photographically reproducing the perspective of an artist is in Preuss's view of Island Lake in the Wind River Chain of the Rock Mountains in 1842.

goAnd winter Long Camp near Carson pass.

Frémont: The water is so slightly salt, that, at first, we thought it fresh, and would be pleasant to drink when no other could be had. The shore was rocky--a handsome beach, which reminded us of the sea. On some large granite boulders that were scattered about the shore, I remarked a coating of calcareous substance, in some places a few inches, and in others a foot in thickness. Near our camp, the hills, which were of primitive rock, were also covered with this substance, which was in too great quantity on the mountains along the shore of the lake to have been deposited by water, and has the appearance of having been spread over the rocks in mass.

The label attached to a specimen of this rock was lost; but I append an analysis of that which, from memory, I judge to be the specimen:
Carbonate of lime, 77.31
Carbonate of magnesia, 5.25
Oxide of iron, 1.60
Alumina, 1.05
Silica, 8.55
Organic matter, water, and loss, 6.24; 100.00

One problem with the engraving of the Preuss drawing above is in the peopleing. These details may have been added later, or even by the engraver. Here the mountain howitzer is depicted as a European howitzer, complete with dolphins, or handles.
This had given rise to many theories about the identification of the famous Lost Frémont Howitzer.
But it is now known for certain that Frémont had a US Mountain Howitzer built in 1837.

go Read about the actual recovery of that howitzer from Deep Creek, just east of the West Walker River (and right where Frémont recorded that he had abandoned it).

Read THE CROSSING to find out where Frémont's Howitzer was left in 1844.



©1999, 2007
Bob Graham