Mark Twain’s Racism Loses Him A Naming Honor

Mark Twain missed out on the chance to have a Lake Tahoe cove named after him this week after a state panel in Reno, Nevada shot down the bid in response to negative backlash from a local tribe of Native Americans. The tribe claimed Mark Twain didn’t deserve the honor because he held racist sentiments toward Native Americans.

According to the Daily Mail, the request to name the cove after Mark Twain was tabled indefinitely by the Nevada State Board on Geographic Names. The panel submitted to the demands of the Washoe Tribe of Nevada and California, who didn’t want Twain’s name affiliated with parts of their homeland.

The Guardian reported that Mark Twain made derogatory remarks specifically about the Washoe Tribe in his literature, among other Native Americans. James Hulse, a University of Nevada history professor emeritus, said it didn’t matter if Mark Twain made offensive remarks about Native Americans because his literature insulted virtually everyone, from governors to legislators.

However, the representative of the Washoe Tribe, Darrel Cruz, believes that Twain’s words did not deserve him of the honor. The Nevada State Board on Geographic Names sided with the tribe and the cove will not bear Twain’s name.

Mark Twain was originally considered for the honor because of his positive words about Tahoe itself. According to the Review Journal, Twain called Lake Tahoe “the fairest picture the whole world affords” in his 1871 book Roughing It. However, he initially despised the lake’s name. Tahoe is a mispronunciation of “Da ow ga,” which is the Washoe word for lake. It seems the bad blood between Twain and the Washoe people started early. Twain was quoted as a reporter saying, “Tahoe — it sounds as weak as soup for a sick infant. Tahoe, be forgotten!”

Regardless of his eventual fondness for Lake Tahoe, Mark Twain’s memory will not be forever associated with the cove. The Washoe Tribe wins this round.

Mark Twain was born Samuel Langhorne Clemens in 1835 and is most known for writing the books The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and its sequel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, which is considered one of the greatest American novels. He adopted the pen name Mark Twain when he became a newspaper reporter in the 1860s. If you want to know more about Mark Twain, you can find out five little known facts about him here, including his opinion of house cats.

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