Submitted by Harold Fuller
During the period of time between the founding of Hawthorne in 1881 and until the south end of the Indian Reservation was opened in 1906, the use of Walker Lake was a slight “bone of contention” between the local townspeople and the Schurz Indian Agency. The locals maintained they had the right to use the lake as they saw fit because the Indians weren’t using it anyway. Most were not living on the reservation, but living in town where work was available.
The entire lake had been included in the Walker River Reservation when it was established in 1874 and non-Indian, barge and boat freighters had continued to operate after that date. Jim Knaap had his landing on the southwest end of the lake in 1875 and therefore new comers to the area could see no reason why they should not partake in the cool, refreshing waters for swimming and/or fishing. They claimed the precedent had been established. Some small efforts were made to curtail the “un-authorized” use of the lake by the Agency but they were chiefly ignored by the locals. Most Indians didn’t seem to care one way or the other.
James Cardwell built a road down to the lake edge and O.D. Lang, the teamster, built bath houses and hauled people down for daily outings. Many men would just run down to the lake for a swim but by the time they ran back to town they were sweaty enough to feel like they had to do it all over again. Once in a while they would just ride back on Lang’s wagon.
Land later provided a large boat for the use and pleasure of his customers. During the hot summers, business was good.
Fishing for Perch or Bass was very good during these times but in 1892 the Bulletin reported, and I quote: “Trout are becoming scarce in Walker Lake. It is believed that the dams along the river in Mason Valley are the cause for the decrease of the trout. Nearly every farmer in the valley has a dam to divert river water for irrigation purposes, and it is impossible for the trout to go up the river to spawn. The attention of the Fish Commission is directed to the dam business. On the Truckee River the damers are obligated to build fish ladders so that the fish can go on up the river and the Mason farmers should be required to do likewise. Recently the Agent at the Reservation had several boats built so that the Indians could go out on the lake fishing. After two weeks’ hard work the Indians succeeded in catching only two trout, and we hope the Commissioner will go for the valley grangers.”
I found no evidence of any action being taken, during this period, to help the trout situation or the deteriorating water level.