Crater Lake has a long history, from the Klamath Indians to the early explorers to today's scientific studies of the lake. The knowledge from studying and understanding the cultural history and origins of Crater Lake is crucial to keeping the tradition of Crater Lake's unique past alive for appreciation.
Crater Lake was a place of mystery to the Klamath Indians. The Klamath Indians must have lived in the region as early as 7,700 years ago, because artifacts such as obsidian tools, spear throwers, and moccasins have been found beneath the Mazama ash layers to the north and east of Crater Lake. The Klamath Indians describe the catastropic eruption of Mount Mazama and the creation of Crater Lake in one of their legends. Their legend of a raging war between two great volcanoes, Mount Mazama and Mount Shasta, parallels the geological history of Crater Lake.
The spirits of the Earth and sky often came and talked with the people. Llao was the spirit of the Below-World who lived beneath Lao-Yaina (today known as Mount Mazama). Skell was the spirit of the Above-World. Llao often came up and stood on top of Lao-Yaina, and his head would touch the stars near the home of Skell. There was no lake then, just a hole through which Llao passed to see the outside world. One day, Llao saw Loha, daughter of the Klamath Indian chief, and fell in love with her beauty. She rejected him because he was ugly and was from the Below-World. He got angry and swore that he would take revenge on her people. He tried to destroy the people with the curse of fire. The Klamath Indian chief sought help from Skell.
Skell descended from the sky to the top of Mount Shasta. Skell and Llao were thundering and trembling the Earth, hurling red hot rocks back and forth to each other (from Mount Shasta to Mount Mazama), causing great landslides. A terrible darkness spread over the area for days. All spirits of Earth and sky took part in this battle, creating intense fear among the people. Attempting to calm the ferocious volcano gods and to make up for the sins of the tribe, two medicine men offered to sacrifice themselves and jumped into the pit of Below-World. Impressed by their heroic sacrifice, Skell fought even harder. He finally defeated Llao, driving Llao deep down into the Below-World. He collapsed the top of Mount Mazama to imprison Llao forever beneath the world. Skell wanted peace and tranquility to cover up this dark pit, so he filled it with the beautiful blue water.
John Wesley Hillman, Henry Klippel, and Isaac Skeeters, were in search of the legendary "Lost Cabin" gold mine when they came upon the lake by accident on June 12, 1853. Hillman reported that this was the bluest lake he had ever seen, and Skeeters called it Deep Blue Lake. In 1862, Chauncy Nye and his party of prospectors also came upon the lake. Nye wrote the first published article about the lake, stating "the waters were of a deeply blue color causing us to name it Blue Lake".
The lake was later rediscovered on August 1,1865 by two hunters working with road crews from Fort Klamath. Sergeant Orsen Sterns and several others came to see the now-legendary lake. Sterns was the first non-Native American to climb down into the caldera and reach the shore of Crater Lake. Captain F.B. Sprague soon joined him and suggested the name "Lake Majesty." In July of 1869, newspaper editor Jim Sutton and several others were the first to lower a canvas boat into the lake. Despite the many other names for this lake, Jim Sutton finally named it "Crater Lake" for the crater on top of Wizard Island in his article describing his exploration inside the lake.
William Gladstone Steel is credited with the founding of Crater Lake National Park. He was fascinated with the enchanted beauty of Crater Lake when he first learned of it from a newspaper that was wrapped around his lunch when he was a school boy. His first glimpse of this exquisite beauty in 1885 inspired him to devote his life and fortune to set aside this scenery for all of us to enjoy. After 17 years of dedication and hard work, his dream came true when President Theodore Roosevelt signed the bill on May 22, 1902, to establish Crater Lake as the nation's sixth national park.
The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) has an early history of involvement with Crater Lake. In 1886, Clarence Dutton conducted a survey to map the lake for the USGS. Soundings of the lake were conducted using pipe and piano wire. Dutton's soundings recorded a maximum depth of 608 m (1,996 ft), only a 20 m (64 ft) difference from the sonar measurement of 589 m (1,932 ft) officially recorded in 1959.
For more information on the history of Crater Lake National Park, please see http://www.nps.gov/crla/crlacr.htm.