Bravo Lake

I have to admit that I’m mad about Bravo Lake.  It takes up about 1/4 of the area labeled on a map as Woodlake, and you can’t stand on a street anywhere in town and see it!  It started out with great promise, “Bravo!  Bravo!”  sounds like an excited cheer.  Something like, “Yeah, here’s a big beautiful lake.  Let’s have a picnic.  Bravo, sport!”

 

I'm going to catch a fish here any minute.  Get the barby ready!
I’m going to catch a fish here any minute. Get the barby ready!

That is not what bravo meant in the case of Bravo Lake, however.  In the early 1850s, when Tulare County was established, quite a few Irish settlers came to this land of plenty, seeking their fortune.  Times in Ireland were not conducive to finding fortunes as  the Great Irish Potato Famine that lasted from 1845 to 1852.  They might have first tried their luck at finding gold in 1849 about 200 miles to the north, but their sights were set on finding a good place to grow some food.  The Kaweah Delta was a great place to settle.

This looks like a good place to settle down and raise a family.
This looks like a good place to settle down and raise a family.

Not to stereotype, but you’ve all heard of the fighting Irish?  In Woodlake the fight between two Irishmen, one a future California senator, gave Bravo Lake its name.  Grace Pogue describes the death-defying squabble in her book, Within the Magic Circle.  

Bravo Lake, named by Indians, was given a Spanish name.

Swamp John and Tom Fowler, two fiery-tempered Irishmen, met one morning on the shore of the lake, which extended at that time as far north as the Wacaser place. As usual, they were in a fighting mood and the battle was on. T. H. Davis Sr., exasperated at their continued squabbling, pulled out his six-shooter and said, “You fellows settle this scrap right now. Finish it up, completely. And I don’t want ever to hear of your quarreling again.”

The fight was on now in deadly earnest. It lasted until noon. The news spread like wild fire. In an unbelievably short time, a crowd of Indians had gathered to see the finish of the feud. Shouts of “Bravo! Bravo!” spurred the doughty old warriors on.

At last, Swamp John sank exhausted to the ground. Satisfied onlookers carried him down to the lake to remove the traces of battle. Tom Fowler walked to the on his own power and bathed his hands and face. He was proclaimed the victor. The erstwhile belligerent pair were good friends forever after.

The lake was immediately christened Bravo Lake by a pleased band of Indian spectators.

This all happened before 1889 because Tom Davis, Sr. died in that year.  So my guess is that Bravo Lake was here when the white settlers came in 1852.  That being said, I bet they could see it.  From the street, I mean.  It was the center of interest.

Bravo Lake Fish Fry

Today you can’t see the large lake from street level in any direction.  I worked in Woodlake for years, and people would ask me if I had walked around Bravo Lake.  I didn’t even know where it was, and it was in the center of town.  Because the western section of Tulare County is the drain for multiple rivers, you might guess that flooding was common in the early days.  That was a problem for these settlers, so at some point a levee was built around the lake shrouding it from public view.  Years after that the Corps of Engineers dammed the Kaweah River, which feeds into Bravo Lake, eliminating the flood danger, to the best of my understanding, but nothing was ever engineered to make the lake reappear to the drive by onlooker.

Come right in.  Enjoy the lake!  :)
Come right in. Enjoy the lake! :)

In order to see this beautiful lake you have to walk up a steep bank and through a large opening in a tall chain link fence  Nobody here seems to mind that.  There is a beautiful botanical garden edging the south side of the levee.  Houses rim another section, and the rest is flanked by well watered groves of trees, mostly olives.  Along the brim of the levee is a wide, partially paved walking path.  I guess that is how they placate the public.  No one is prevented from walking around the beautiful lake.  but unsuspecting folks driving through Woodlake on their way to see the Sequoia National Park would completely miss the gem of Woodlake.  I think that is downright inhospitable!

What do you think?

20 thoughts on “Bravo Lake”

  1. Another great history lesson; I love stories like these. What a shame the lake isn’t easily seen or accessible. The middle picture in the last set of three is such a pretty view.

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    1. Thanks for the agreement vote. I should be gathering up these votes and sending them to the Tulare County Board of Supervisors. It would be a great project next time we get some federal money instead of building an additional bridge over the freeway a block or two away from another. :)

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  2. I had to look Bravo Lake up with help of Google and I found a couple … Very interesting post and reading – Great photo gallery too … combination of yours and the old.

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  3. Maybe the locals like the lake so much they are trying to keep it from becoming a tourist trap if everyone else found out about it. Sorry I’m so late, I’m really behind in my reading.

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    1. No problem. I don’t think that is it. I think it is a holding tank, and instead of excavating it in years gone by, they built a levee. My guess. I still have research to do on Bravo Lake. It’s curious! : Thanks for reading! :)

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