Tulare Lake Lives!

Tulare Lake Lives!
Mike Rhodes stands next to the reemergence of Tulare Lake on May 29. Photo by Pam Whalen
Tulare Lake Lives!
Mike Rhodes stands next to the reemergence of Tulare Lake on May 29. Photo by Pam Whalen

Imagine the largest lake west of the Mississippi on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley. About 200 years ago, you could see flocks of birds arriving that were as loud as a freight train. Turtles, fish and Yokuts living in harmony with nature.

The population of Yokuts at that time is estimated at about 20,000. Robert Hansen, a professor at the College of the Sequoias, says that there was a high density of Native Americans in Central California “because there was so much reliable food from year to year that they did not even have to go to war with one another…There were more Yokuts in compact communities/villages than in any other Native American group anywhere.”

A group of unidentified men and a dog camping at the shores of Tulare Lake, around 1880. This image is now housed at the Sarah A. Mooney Memorial Museum in Lemoore. It is one of two photographs that survive of the historic lake from that era.

Civilization brought changes such as stealing the Yokuts land; paying a bounty for every indigenous man, woman and child’s scalp; and blocking the rivers to the lake so that it would dry up and cotton could be grown. The domination of people over nature and enriching a few big farmers (e.g., J.G. Boswell) have brought us to where we are today.

On the verge of an environmental catastrophe because of global warming, we are seeing the reemergence of this once magnificent lake. This winter, with record rain and snowfall, Tulare Lake has covered roads, farmland and some homes. As the snow melts, we will see the lake grow even larger.

A Chukchansi woman preparing acorns for grinding, 1920. U.S. National Archives and Records Administration/Public Domain

Should social, economic and environmental justice include the encouragement of a permanent Tulare Lake and giving land back to the Yokuts? Let the conversation begin.


  • Mike Rhodes

    Mike Rhodes is the executive director of the Community Alliance, was the editor of this newspaper from 1998 to 2014 and the author of several books. Contact him at mikerhodes@fresnoalliance.com.

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Homer Gee Greene Jr
Homer Gee Greene Jr
11 months ago

I agree. Bring Back The Lake!!! The renewed lake could bring economic, recreational and entrepreneurial opportunities for people of color. A large body of water on the valley floor would be great.

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