Posted by: acooksca | 04/16/2009

The Town of Truckee

The success of the town of Truckee has always been defined by two geographic features, an accessible natural pass

Truckee Downtown

Truckee Downtown

crossing the Sierra Nevada Mountains and the Truckee River. Swollen by snowmelt from spring to fall, the river is the largest for hundreds of miles. It tumbles Eastward through alpine meadows into the Nevada dessert and Pyramid Lake. For thousands of years, Western Nevada Washoe and North Paiute Indians were sustained by the gifts of the river: cutthroat trout, berries, plants, pine nuts and game.

The Paiute tribe of the Eastern Sierra had a gentle attitude when the “white man” showed up in their territory. Their chief, Tru-ki-zo, is said to have stressed a peaceful philosophy of all-men-as-brothers. In 1843 a military surveying party led by Capitan John C. Fremont with guide Kit Carson stumbled into Tru-ki-zo’s fishing grounds. They were welcomed to a feast of local fish from the river.

Fremont’s party had traveled south from The Oregon Trail into the Mexican controlled Alta California. They were scoping out the strength of the military and looking for an Eastern passage to connect Sutter’s Fort with the Nevada Territory. Chief Tru-ki-zo escorted Fremont’s party up the Truckee River, passing Donner Lake and through a gap leading to the western foothills.

One year later in 1844, Chief Tru-ki-zo guided the first American wagon train across the Sierra to Sutter’s Fort. He became known as Chief Truckee and the river was named after him. It was two years later in the winter of 1846-47 that the ill-fated Donner Party entered the same route too late in the season, became snowbound and entered history books for cannibalizing members for their party.

The armed conflict known as the Mexican-American War (1846-1848) ended in a tremendous loss of territory for Mexico. In addition to Texas and most of the Southwest they ceded Alta California to The United States.

If the promise of fertile land in the new state of California wasn’t enough to spark a fevered rush west then the discovery of gold near Sutter’s Fort in February of 1848 was. If your wagon made it across the vast stretches of the Utah and Nevada desserts you would be welcomed by civilization in the town of Truckee. By the early 1850s thousands per year were crossing the Truckee Basin en route to the California goldfields.

The potential for safe, fast transportation of people and goods between east coast and the west coast spurred a rush to build railroad lines over the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Competing rail companies attempted to cross at the Sonora Pass and Placerville, but the line from bayside Emeryville through Auburn in the foothills and on to Truckee became the clearest route. Thousands of emigrants from The East (China) built the Central Pacific line to bring emigrants from The East (U.S.) to California.

When the rails of the Transcontinental Railroad joined in May 1869 they linked the west coast to the east coast via Chicago and Truckee’s fortune grew. Ice harvested to chill eastward bound boxcars of California produce was big business. Services for travelers such as a brewery, hotels and daily stage lines to Lake Tahoe sprung up.

In the 1900s the town of Truckee continued to be the most important crossing point over the Sierra. The 1915 Lincoln Highway, America’s first Transcontinental road, was built over Donner Pass. The twentieth century brought a thriving winter sports industry, Hollywood movie locations and the Winter Olympics of 1960.

At nearly 6,000 feet elevation, Truckee continues to be a great stop off Highway 80 for fresh alpine air and hospitality. It also offers a main street of splendid buildings dating from the 1870’s forward. Next to the old train depot on the main street you will find the visitor’s center with a knowledgeable staff and packed with information. Ask for a map pin pointing historic buildings. They can also tell you how to get to the engaging Donner Party Museum two miles west of town.

Popular Truckee activities

Popular Truckee activities

Truckee is a favorite stop of mine in the Sierra because you can eat well in town. Moody’s Bistro and Lounge in the Historic Truckee Hotel relies on locally-sourced ingredients for well-executed seasonal cuisine. Talk to them about what jazz act will be appearing next on their live-music stage. In the mood for a high level Pan-Asian cuisine? Try chef-owned Dragonfly Restaurant. Or for classic dishes and wood-fired pizzas step into Pacific Crest Grill adjoining the Bar of America. Chef Melinda Dorn and Christen Horner, Assistant General Manager at the Pacific Crest Grill, provided the recipe for Bacon-potato soup that warmed us on a recent chilly spring day (see the recipe under Recipes> Soups and Salads or at

For a comprehensive listing of lodging, recreational information, up coming events, etc. in Truckee:
Moody’s Bistro:
Dragonfly Restaurant:   
Pacific Crest Grill:



  1. Karen, this is really interesting reading. Loved seeing the old pictures, and the new ones too. We enjoyed our few days in Truckee two summers ago, but I’m sure it would have been even better with your recommendations.

    We’ll miss the cheese newsletter but we’re looking forward to this one now.

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