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!”
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.
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.
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.
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?