Asterisk denotes entries on real places.
*Donner Pass. Sierra Nevada mountain pass (now on Interstate 80) at which the novel opens when Gayabuc, a young Washo, witnesses murder and cannibalism among members of the stranded Donner Party in 1847. The cannibalism episode and the migrants’ desperate, incompetent misuse of forest resources profoundly shock Gayabuc and convince him that all whites are cannibals who defile the land. Much later, at nearby Donner Lake, the last Rabbit Boss of the novel’s four generations, Gayabuc’s great grandnephew Joe Birdsong, dies while trying to live in accordance with the traditional Washo hunter-gatherer methods. He is in hiding after being unjustly accused of murdering a rancher. His failure to survive symbolizes the fate of Washo culture.
*Sattley. Small ranching community in California’s Sierra Valley, north of Donner Pass where Joe Birdsong lives and works as a part-time ranch hand and hunting guide. He is especially adept at hunting rabbits, a nuisance to farmers. But even this modest accommodation to modern American culture ends when developers start buying up land to build a tourist trailer park near a hot springs in the early 1960’s. Birdsong refuses to sell his acreage, even though most of his white neighbors sell out eagerly to make quick profits. Eventually, the greedy developers use a legal ploy to deny Birdsong title to his land, which they confiscate.
*Truckee. California town on the western approach to Donner Pass that is the mountain headquarters of a railroad building crew. Captain Rex, the second generation of Rabbit Bosses, sells the services of his band of Washo men as laborers. He then squanders their earnings on gambling and whiskey in the town, losing much of the money to dishonest card sharps. Meanwhile, his people sicken with tuberculosis and die. Standing in the center of traditional Washo lands, Truckee stands as the epitome of white greed, moral corruption, and exploitation.
*Reno. Nevada desert city thirty miles northeast of Lake Tahoe that is also the site of a Washo reservation. Renown for its casino gambling and wild nightlife, Reno introduces Hallelujah Bob and his son Joe Birdsong to modern American vices in their most concentrated, commercialized, and garish forms. Both Indians reject the city’s allures. On the reservation, however, their contemporaries live marginalized lives, dependent upon, but not fully part of, mainstream culture. Poverty, disease, alcoholism, and loss of traditions estrange members of the tribe from one another and their homeland.