Today is Memorial Day, the unofficial kickoff to summer’s get-away vacation season. People across America will spend the next few months scattering to far-off resorts, tourist attractions, parks and bodies of water — including Whiskeytown Lake. And yes, there is such a thing.
It doesn’t have anything to do with the Ryan Adams-led band from “Losering,” but there is indeed a Whiskeytown Lake in California, which is part of a National Recreation Area about 250 miles north of San Francisco; it even has an artist-in-residence program (talk about a missed opportunity for Ryan!). The lake is of relatively recent vintage, dedicated by President John F. Kennedy as part of a water project in 1963. But there is still a fanciful story about the name, which supposedly goes back to the mid-19th century:
While no one really knows the origin of the Whiskeytown name, local folklore tells of a miner by the name of Billie Peterson who had a mishap in the 1850’s. While hauling supplies back to his mine, the pack on his mule’s back came loose and a whiskey barrel went tumbling down the hillside, breaking on the rocks below and spilling its contents into the creek. From this christening came the name Whiskey Creek, and the small settlement that established itself next to the waterway became known as Whiskeytown.
Apparently, Whiskeytown’s members didn’t know this story because I’ve never seen or heard any of them reference it as a source. And it does seem so quaint that I’m not sure I trust it as actual folklore. But good stories are often that way.