Trail Map

Tahoe Place Names: The Origin and History of Names in the Lake Tahoe Basin
By Barbara Lekisch

Named for Ira Manley Luther (1821-1890), who came to California in the 1850s.  In a letter dated May 13, 1857, Sherman Day, surveyor in 1855 of the State of the Immigrant Wagon Road, wrote from the New Almaden Mine: “Mr. Luther, of Sacramento, passed through the Pass over the eastern summit with a wagon in 1851 [sic, probably 1854] , and painted his name upon a rock; and hence I named it Luther’s Pass.  Mr. Henderson, Mr. Cary and others made a hasty reconnaissance of it in the winter of 1854-55, and in the fall of that year, after examining several other routes, I selected it as the most central and desirable point to cross into Carson Valley, and proceeded to locate the route in detail by a careful instrumental survey. To distinguish it from Johnson’s route, I have usually called it “the Luther’s Pass route.”
Sacramento Daily Union, May 9, 1857.

In a letter dated October 5, 1855, Goddard wrote: “By following the new pass, now called Luther’s pass, from Bigler Lake Valley to Hope Valley, the descent is made easy, could the narrow valley between Johnson pass and Luther’s pass be bridged over, by a lofty viaduct, of all the routes yet known, this woujld be the one for the Pacific Railroad, as there need be no grade upon it, exceeding 100 feet to the mile.”
San Francisco Daily Evening Bulletin, October 5, 1855

On April 3, 1860 the first Pony Express rider left San Francisco for St. Joseph, Missouri, following the road through Sacramento, Placerville, Johnson Pass, Lake Valley, over Luther Pass, down West Carson Canyon, past Woodford’s along the base of the Carson Range to Genoa and Carson City, and on east.