A Highway 50 Story

In all my years of driving, I try to take the roads less traveled, unless I have to get there reasonably fast. My one exception – where beautiful scenery and Interstates converged – was Interstate 70 when I was driving through the San Rafael Reef at sunset a couple of years ago. It was so breathtaking that I had to pull off to a rest stop and take this picture:


A Highway 50 Story

I-70 going though the San Rafael Reef at dusk

Highway 50 is one of my favorite roads. It starts in West Sacramento  and goes all the way to Maryland.

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It takes you from spectacular scenery coming into Lake Tahoe to some wide open spaces past Fallon, Nevada. Through at least California and Nevada, it follows the old Pony Express and stage coach roads. Once you get past Fallon, you see why it got the title of “The Loneliest Road In America“.

As you are around the summit of the Sierras, you round a corner…..and see this:

A Highway 50 Story2

Lake Tahoe With the Tahoe Airport in the middle

A couple of years ago, I was going up 50 delivering a reproduction of the painting we made to the Fallon NAS O-Club. This was based on his story of his “Night Bounce” at Iwo Jima. When I came across that story, it was as if Lex was telling us “This is the flight for which  I want to be remembered“.

Just between you and me, I know he was telling us that. Think what you wish about that statement.

But anyway, I came across this road sign while driving through the base.

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Who would’ve thought that this sign would be on a military base? But we need more of them wouldn’t you say?

And right after Fallon, passing the ruins of the Cold Springs Pony Express Station, the “Loneliest Road In America” looks like this:

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Highway 50 past Fallon, NV

So anyway, last night I promised the history of how the little town of Strawberry on Hwy 50 (about 10-20 miles further from Tahoe than the above picture) — got its name. And the only place I ever learned of this was in a little paperback book called Stories of the Sierras that I bought in Virginia City. The bookstore closed years ago and all efforts to find this book – I had given my copy away – were fruitless. The owner had a lot of interesting books there and I suspect this was made locally without an ISBN.


Like Texas, California has had some colorful characters in its past, among them California Chief Justice David S. Terry. He had a reputation of both having a nasty temper, and was rather proficient with a pistol. In fact, in what was called “The Last Notable American Duel“, he shot and killed California U.S. Senator David C Broderick.

(As an aside, there is today a section of West Sacramento called Broderick. Probably was its own little town back then, named in his honor).

Chief Justice Terry was traveling east for business unknown, and stopped at the stage coach stop near the summit of the Sierras. As you can see, that stop (probably expanded over the years) still exists.

There was also a fellow named Berry (first name unknown) who was also a guest there. And he had gotten into an argument with the Chief Justice. When someone later told him just who it was he had insulted, he slipped away during the night, and others said that he was “made of straw”.

At least that is what I remember from the book.

Chief Justice Terry, as you saw from the link, with his nasty temper had his own violent demise later.

David Smith Terry (1823–1889) was a California jurist and Democratic politician, who was the fourth Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of California, and an author of the Constitution of 1879. He also won a duel with U.S. Senator David C. Broderick in Broderick’s second duel in 1859. Terry died in 1889, after being shot by a bodyguard of U.S. Justice Stephen J. Field.” 

And that is the story of how the little town of Strawberry got its name, at least according to that book author. Sure makes more sense than naming it for a fruit. By the way, the little town is little more than Strawberry Lodge, which was the stage stop.

Wish I’d kept that book.



Update 04/16/19: Thanks to the help of a fellow Lexican, I found the book again. It is out of print but I got a used copy. He has a volume 1, too. Stories of Snowshoe Thompson, gentlemen stage coach robbers, all kinds of good stuff.

I’m not going to let these go 🙂

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1 Comment

Filed under History, Travel

One response to “A Highway 50 Story

  1. Pingback: Highways Through Time | The Lexicans

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