Crater Lake National Park: Administrative History by Harlan D. Unrau and Stephen Mark, 1987

 CHAPTER ONE: Discovery And Exploration Of Crater Lake: 1853-1885



According to documentary records more than nine years passed before the lake was visited a second time. Meanwhile, thousands of prospectors had stampeded from southwestern Oregon across the Cascades to new diggings in central and eastern Oregon. Apparently none stumbled onto the lake until October 21, 1862, when a six-man mining party headed by Chauncey Nye did so. The party was crossing the Cascades on its way to the Rogue River Valley from the Granite Creek mines on the North Fork of the John Day River. While searching for a camping place for the night and a high summit from which to view the surrounding countryside, they came upon the lake. The importance of the Nye party’s discovery lay in the fact that the men not only authenticated the lake’s existence and provided a description of its approximate location but published the first printed account of the lake in the Oregon Sentinel (Jacksonville) of November 8, 1862. The article, written by John W. Sessions who was one of the members of the party, stated:

On the afternoon of the 21st day of October last [1862], a small party of us were wending our way up the Cascade Mountains, about 15 miles south of Diamond Peak, leaving behind us the black pine desert of the Klamath country, and anxious to reach the summit in time to obtain a view of the Promised Land, viz., Rogue River Valley. Reaching the summit aimed at, one of the highest points of the range, our course was changed by an unlooked-for obstacle, and one that even a John Day party were obliged to go around. Before us, and at our very feet, lay a large lake, encircled on all sides by steep and almost perpendicular bluff banks, fully as high as that we were standing upon. The circumference of the lake we could not estimate at less than 25 miles, and from the banks down to the water, not less than 3,000 feet. At no place could we see the remotest chance of being able to climb down to the water, without the aid of long ropes and rope ladders. Near the south end of the lake rises a butte island, several hundred feet high, and drifts of snow lay clinging to the crevices of the rocky banks. The waters were of a deep blue color, causing us to name it Blue Lake. It lays about one mile west of Mount Scott, 15 miles south of Diamond peak, and 80 miles northeast of Jacksonville. In the distance, and situated in the low pass that connects the Klamath country with the headwaters of Rogue River, another lake was visible, not so large, apparently, bordering, as it does, on a large prairie. From the banks of Blue Lake no outlet is visible, but on descending the west side of the mountain, which is densely covered with heavy hemlock timber, we found water gushing out, and fine grass, on what we called the water level of the lake, and following this level around the west and south sides, springs and small streams were crossed every few yards, the waters of which joined together in the large basin or valley below, form an important factor to the north fork of Rogue River, in fact, empty into it a volume of water equal in amount to one-quarter of the whole river at Table Rock ferry. . . . [3]

The next documented visit to the lake occurred on August 24, 1865, when hunters accompanying a military expedition approached it from a southerly direction. Two years earlier Fort Klamath had been established in the Wood River Valley, some twenty miles south of the lake. The objectives of the small garrison were to quell Indian disturbances and prevent them from harassing emigrant wagon trains heading into southern Oregon and northern California. The soldiers were also charged with building new roads and improving old trails connecting major supply points in eastern and western Oregon. Thus, in 1866 soldiers from the garrison built the first road approaching Crater Lake from the south. Known afterward as the Fort Klamath-Jacksonville Military Road it followed the general location of the present park south entrance road to Annie Spring, continuing over the Cascade Divide just west of Annie Spring and connecting with the Jacksonville Road to the John Day country.

Captain Franklin B. Sprague and twenty men from Company I of the First Oregon Volunteer Infantry were assigned to the road building. On August 1 John M. Corbell and F.M. Smith, who were hunting to provide Sprague’s men with fresh meat, spied the lake and reported to Sprague that they had come upon a large body of water in a deep hole. He determined to see it for himself and in several weeks Sprague left Fort Klamath with a party of six soldiers and several curious civilians from Jacksonville.

After visiting the lake on August 24, Sprague returned to Fort Klamath where he wrote an account of his experiences the following day. His account, which was published in theOregon Sentinel on September 9, 1865, included several significant perceptions: the volcanic origins of the lake, his description of Wizard Island as a remnant of volcanic activity, and his observation that the lake “will be visited by thousands hereafter, and some person would do well to build upon its banks a house where the visitor could be entertained, and to keep a boat, or boats upon its waters, that its beauties might be seen to a better advantage.” In his account Sprague observed further: