11 Chapter 2 Early Efforts To Establish Crater Lake National Park: 1885-1893

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


CHAPTER TWO: Early Efforts To Establish Crater Lake National Park: 1885-1893

As a sixteen-year-old farm boy in southeastern Kansas William Gladstone Steel (a biographical sketch of the early career of Steel may be found in Appendix A2), who would later be known as the “Father of Crater Lake National Park,” dreamed of visiting the lake, his curiosity being stimulated in 1870 by having read newspaper accounts of its discovery and scenic grandeur.

In 1872 he moved to Oregon with his family, but it was not until 1885 that he managed to reach the lake. Accompanied by a friend, J.M. Breck, Steel took the Oregon & California Railroad to Medford, where he caught a stagecoach to Fort Klamath. The two travelers met Captain Clarence E. Dutton, then on leave from the U.S. Army for detached duty with the U.S. Geological Survey. Dutton was in charge of a small military party escorting Joseph LeConte, a geologist from the University of California, on a tour of the Pacific Coast mountains to examine volcanic phenomena. Steel would later find both Dutton and LeConte to be sympathetic allies in his campaign to preserve Crater Lake as a national park.

Steel, in company with Breck, Dutton, and LeConte, walked the 20 miles to the lake from Fort Klamath, arriving at the rim on August 15. In an article published in the March 1886 issue of The West Shore, a literary magazine in Portland, Steel described his feelings and reactions as he viewed the lake for the first time:

Not a foot of the land about the lake had been touched or claimed. An overmastering conviction came to me that this wonderful spot must be saved, wild and beautiful, just as it was, for all future generations, and that it was up to me to do something. I then and there had the impression that in some way, I didn’t know how, the lake ought to become a National Park. I was so burdened with the idea that I was distressed. Many hours in Captain Dutton’s tent, we talked of plans to save the lake from private exploitation. We discussed its wonders, mystery and inspiring beauty, its forests and strange lava structure. The captain agreed with the idea that something ought to be done–and done at once if the lake was to be saved, and that it should be made a National Park. [1]

Steel’s party had brought a canvas-bottomed canoe from Portland, in which they paddled over to Wizard Island for a short exploration. After staying in the area for several days they left with a determination to preserve the lake and its environs from private exploitation.

Upon returning home from their visit to Crater Lake, Steel and Breck began a campaign to establish a national park at Crater Lake. Breck wrote a letter describing the lake and its beauty which was reprinted in regional newspapers. During the fall Steel sent some 1,000 circular letters at his own expense to virtually all the large newspapers in the United States, asking the editors to support the idea of a national park encompassing Crater Lake. He also wrote to every newspaper editor and postmaster in Oregon, urging them to circulate petitions addressed to President Grover Cleveland, requesting that such a park be established. [2]

The petitions circulated by Steel were signed by some 120 citizens of Oregon, including political, business, religious, and civic leaders. The two leading signatures were those of Congressman Binger Hermann and Governor Z.F. Moody. The signatures were consolidated into one petition which was forwarded to President Grover Cleveland on December 21, 1885. It read in part:

The Crater Lake is located in Olamath County and State of Oregon, and is one of the natural wonders of the United States, if not of the world. It is a portion of the unappropriated vacant domain of the government, and in the opinion of your petitioners should be set apart and reserved from future disposal. . . .

The limits herein asked to be reserved are valuable for neither agriculture or minerals.

Therefore, your petitioners ask that the following area containing said lake and its approaches be set apart and reserved from future settlement or other appropriation by the government, and kept and reserved as a public park for the people of the United States, to-wit: Townships 27, 28, 29, 30 and 31, in ranges 5 and 6, east of the Willamette Meridian . . . . [3]

The land requested for the park incorporated a 12- by 30-mile area, including Diamond Peak and Mount Thielson.

The campaign by Steel led in part to a petition submitted by the Oregon state legislature to Congress in January 1886, requesting passage of an act setting aside Crater Lake and 4-1/2 townships of land surrounding it as a national park. The petition urged that a law be enacted

setting apart from the public domain as a public park or pleasure ground for the benefit of the people of the United States, and reserving from public sale, settlement or occupancy Townships 27, 28, 29, 30 and the north half of Township 31, in Ranges 5 and 6, east side of the Willamette Meridian. . . . [4]

Similar memorials were forwarded to Congress by the Portland Board of Trade, Portland City Council, and various town and county councils throughout Oregon.

In response to the petition Oregon Senators John H. Mitchell and Joseph N. Dolph and Representative Binger Hermann were persuaded to seek favorable concurrence in the matter. Steel went to Washington himself and met with Secretary of the Interior Lucius Q. C. Lamar and President Grover Cleveland, convincing them that a mandatory first step should be the withdrawal from the public domain of five townships of land surrounding and including Crater Lake. Impressed by Steel’s sincerity Secretary Lamar on January 30 recommended to President Cleveland “the temporary withdrawal from settlement or sale under the laws of the United States of the tract of land, surveyed and unsurveyed, comprising what is or would be townships twenty-seven, twenty-eight, twenty-nine, thirty, and thirty-one south, in ranges five and six east of the Willamette meridian in the State of Oregon.” The withdrawal was recommended in “view of pending legislation looking to the creation of a public park, from the lands of the United States, surrounding and including Crater Lake.” The following day (February 1) Cleveland issued an executive order to that effect, and the Commissioner of the General Land Office was instructed to inform “the Register and Receiver of the proper land office by telegraph” of the order. [5]

Earlier on January 18, 1886, Senator Dolph introduced a bill (S. 1111) providing for establishment of a park or reserve that would include both Crater Lake and Diamond Lake. The bill would “set apart from the public domain in the State of Oregon, as a public park for the benefit of the people of the United States, townships twenty-seven, twenty-eight, twenty-nine, thirty, and thirty-one, in ranges five and six, east of the Willamette meridian . . . within the limits of which is Crater Lake. . . .”

The bill further provided that the land was to be

reserved and withdrawn from settlement, occupancy, or sale under the laws of the United States, and dedicated and set apart forever as a public park or pleasure ground and forest reserve for the benefit of the people of the United States.

The park or reserve would be under the custody of the Secretary of the Interior whose duty it would be

to cause adequate measures to be taken for the protection of the timber from the depredation, the punishment of trespassers, the removal of unlawful occupants and intruders, and the prevention and extinguishment of forest fires.

It would be unlawful for anyone to establish settlements or residence in the reserve or to engage in mining, lumbering, or other private enterprise. Violation of the provisions of the act would be punishable by a fine of $1,000, imprisonment of not more than one year, and liability for all damages arising from any destruction of timber or other property. Anyone participating in cutting or removing timber from the reserve would be required to “pay a fine of triple the value of the logs or timber at the place of delivery thereof, and shall be imprisoned not exceeding twelve months.” The President would be empowered to employ the military to execute the provisions of the bill. [6]

A similar bill (H.R. 5075) was introduced in the House of Representatives by Congressman Hermann on February 1, 1886. This bill contained language similar to that of S. 1111, but expressly stated that the public park or reserve was designed “for the protection and preservation of the game, fish, timber, natural wonders, and curiosities therein, and the said reserve to be known as the Crater Lake National Park.”

The house bill also stated that the

reservation shall be open to all excursionists, pleasure-seekers, restaurant or hotel keepers for accommodation of visitors and those making scientific researches, who shall be privileged to fish in all lakes and streams of water, and to use the necessary timber for camping purposes on said grounds. . . . [7]

Both bills were assigned to the committees on public lands of their respective houses and quickly encountered considerable opposition because of strong lobbying efforts by private speculators and lumber, sheep, and ranching interests. Other forces that worked against passage of the bills included the prevailing belief in Congress that Oregon should protect its own lakes without federal help and questions as to whether there were significant funds to provide proper police protection for such a park.

While the bills were under consideration by the congressional committees, the Oregon state legislature, Portland and Albany city councils, and Portland Board of Trade submitted memorials and petitions to Congress in support of the proposed legislation. National periodicals endorsed the bills by printing articles on the scenic and scientific wonders of Crater Lake. One such article by Clarence E. Dutton appeared in the February 26, 1886, issue of Science under the title, “Crater Lake, Oregon, A Proposed National Reservation.” Among his observations Dutton noted:

In the heart of the Cascade Range there is a little sheet of water which is destined to take high rank among the wonders of the world. It is a unique phenomenon, taken as a whole, though some of its component features, taken singly, may not be unexampled. . . .

It is deeper and richer than the blue of the sky above on the clearest day. Just at the margin of the lake it shades into a turquoise, which is, if possible, more beautiful still. Ordinarily the water surface is mirror-like, and reflects an inverted image of the surrounding cliffs in detail. Very majestic, too, are the great environing walls. On the west side they reach their greatest altitude, rising almost vertically more than 2,000 feet above the water. It is difficult to compare this scene with any other in the world, for there is none that sufficiently resembles it; but, in a general way, it may be said that it is of the same order of impressiveness and beauty as the Yosemite valley. It was touching to see the worthy but untutored people, who had ridden a hundred miles in freight-wagons to behold it, vainly striving to keep back tears as they poured forth their exclamations of wonder and joy akin to pain. Nor was it less so to see so cultivated and learned a man as my companion hardly able to command himself to speak with his customary calmness.

To the geologist this remarkable feature is not less impressive than it is to the lover of the beautiful . . . . [8]

Despite these efforts, however, opposition to the bills was overwhelming and they were never reported. [9]

Meanwhile, Steel continued his efforts to involve the federal government in Crater Lake’s future. In July 1886 he persuaded John Wesley Powell, Director of the U.S. Geological Survey, to send a party headed by Dutton to the area to make a thorough examination by surveying and sounding the lake. Steel was appointed to prepare the boats and equipment to be used in the sounding process and to help in carrying out other scientific studies of the lake. [10]

On December 12, 1887, Senator Dolph introduced a bill (S. 16) similar to the one he had submitted the previous year. Senator Preston B. Plumb of Kansas, chairman of the Committee on Public Lands to which the bill was referred, accordingly solicited the views of various conservationists on the merits of the bill. One of those contacted was Powell. In his lengthy analytical response Powell provided observations on the unique scenic qualities of the proposed park and made a series of boundary extension proposals:

I would submit that the proposed measure is one which I believe to be eminently wise and proper. Crater Lake and Diamond Lake and their surroundings constitute a group of natural objects which will, in my belief, acquire increasing celebrity with the lapse of time. In respect to beauty and impressiveness this scenery is of the same order as that of the Yosemite Valley or the finest parts of the Yellowstone park. The lake itself is a unique object, as much so as Niagara, and the effect which it produces upon the mind of the beholder is at once powerful and enduring. There are probably not many natural objects in the world which impress the average spectator with so deep a sense of the beauty and majesty of nature. This will be better understood when the origin of the lake is considered. The lake lies in the basin of a huge volcanic mountain, and the basin itself owes its origin to a vast system of explosions by which the heart of the mountain has been thrown into the air as ashes and cinders. It is the deepest body of fresh water on the continent, and its clear, cold, waters reflect the crags and peaks of the volcanic rim by which it is surrounded. Although Crater Lake is the dominant object of interest in the proposed reservation the whole tract is eminently fit to be “set apart forever as a public park and pleasure ground and forest reserve for the benefit of the people of the United States;” and I might venture to add for the benefit of the people of the world. There is not a square mile within the proposed tract which does not contain something which would add to the attractiveness of such a park either in the way of varied beauty or of instruction and entertainment of visitors .

In the event of this region becoming a national park or reservation for public pleasure, I respectfully submit that great care and caution should be used at the outset to specify with accuracy the boundaries of the tract reserved. They should in my opinion also be surveyed and marked upon the ground at once, in order that settlers who desire to occupy adjoining lands not so reserved, may not be embarrassed as to lands upon which they may have acquired the right to enter or may desire to acquire such rights are within the proposed reservation. Such indications on the ground are also needed that the action of the land office may likewise be conducted with a full knowledge of what land is subject to entry and what land is not so subject. . . . I have caused a careful examination to be made of the land office surveys in the vicinity of Crater Lake, and have compared them with the trigonometric and topographic surveys made by this office in the same region, in order to ascertain as nearly as practicable where the boundaries indicated in the bill would lie with reference to natural objects within the proposed reservation . I find that only a few lines have as yet been run by the land office surveys across any portion of the reservation. . . . It will be seen that the eastern boundary will come very close to the eastern margin of Crater Lake; and as there is always more or less uncertainty about the geographic position of the Land Office lines in such a country, it is possible that the real position of the boundary, when it comes to be surveyed and marked, would run into the lake. In any event, there is no doubt that the eastern boundary as defined in the bill, would exclude portions of the flat summit of the Cascade Range, which ought, by reason of continuity, unity and similarity of features, to be included within the reservation. The country to the north, and somewhat to the northeast of Crater Lake, is moderately diversified with a few hills and with considerable patches of fir forest and large, open, grassy space which are very picturesque and pleasing. It is what is frequently termed a park country, where large grassy meadows alternate with forest, and the fine summits of Union Peak, Mt. Scott, Mt. Thielson, Mt. Gobbon and the great crags around the edge of Crater Lake are always in view. It seems to me that it would be well to leave the eastern boundary several miles further eastward, in order to include the whole of this very beautiful and pleasing tract instead of cutting it in two by an arbitrary line drawn without reference to the topographic or scenic features. The most eligible site for a hotel on the northern or northeastern side of Crater Lake is situated so near the boundary proposed in the bill that it is possible that it would be excluded altogether. . . . It has been a question with me, whether it would not be advisable to make the eastern boundary of the park conterminous with the Indian Reservation, thus closing all this tract against ingress by herders. There are two reasons for this. In the first place, the belt of yellow pine which occurs here is a very fine one and it seems advisable to protect it from the destruction which must inevitably befall it as soon as a railroad is built along the eastern base of the Cascades- -an event which will not probably be delayed by many years. In the second place, it is the natural and only good winter range and breeding ground of the deer and antelope which frequent the summit of the Cascade Range in the summer; and unless these animals can be protected from pot hunters in their breeding grounds, they will be rapidly exterminated.

If, however, it is deemed desirable by your committee to restrict to a minimum the proper eastward extension of the proposed reservation, then I would suggest that the eastern boundary be a due north and south line running through the summit of Mt. Scott, which stands three or four miles to the east of Crater Lake.

The northern and southern boundaries of the proposed park as set forth in the bill, seem to me to be well selected. They include every feature from north to south which is germane to the park and do not appear to include too much. With regard to the western boundary, it seems to me that there are cogent reasons for extending it considerably to the westward of the line suggested by the bill.

The line of approach to the park from the west is by a county road leading from the lower Rogue River Valley across the Cascade range to Fort Klamath. This road follows the Rogue River upwards and about fifteen miles from Crater Lake leaves that river and passes south of the lake and about three miles from it. Here there is a wagon track leaving the county road which ascending by a rough trail brings the visitor at length to the brink of the lake. But he can proceed no farther. To reach the other portions of the park from this point is a feat of mountaineerings, unless he returns to the Rogue River and thence makes his approach by another route. At the point where the county road leaves the river there are still to be seen remnants of an old road built about 30 years ago for wagoning supplies from the Rogue River valley across the mountains to the placer mines which were then worked along the John Day River. This is still remembered as the John Day road. It has long ceased to be used; it is completely obstructed by fallen timber and for many miles can be followed only by the old blazes on the trees. At critical points, however, when it crosses gorges and ravines the old dugways remain. It winds its way by easy grades through magnificent scenery and through forests of trees which were of colossal size when Columbus discovered America. At length it emerges upon the upper platform of the Cascades in the midst of the park with Diamond Lake between two great mountains on the north and Crater Lake on the south. This is the natural line of approach to the park from the west. Unless the boundaries are made to include this road some private party will be sure to re-open it as he may easily do, and levy an extortionate toll upon any visitors who may enter the park. Along this route are numerous open parks which would be quickly seized for the grass they would yield and extortionate rates would be charged for hay. It is believed that the old John Day road should be included within the limits of the park. North of the John Day road are the sources of the south Umpqua River in the most picturesque surroundings and these also should be included in the park.

The region embraced in the limits designated by the bill does not include any of the really grand forest of the Cascades. It is too high. The species within it are firs and pines which never attain great dimensions, nor any marked beauty of form, though they grow in forests whose beauty and impressiveness is derived from the density and masses of foliage. The great trees, such as the Douglass spruce, the sugar pine (here larger than in California), the white pine and the tall, beautiful species of fir flourish at a lower altitude. But if the boundary were carried to the westward some eight or ten miles, it would take in a section of the finest part of the great forest of the Cascades, and a grander and nobler forest cannot be found in the world. There are many thousands of trees of which would yield more than 40,000 feet of lumber. The beautiful open parks in this timber are the breeding grounds and summer pasturage of the deer and the streams still preserve numerous beaver dams. It seems desirable on many accounts that the western boundary should include a large section of this forest belt. The scenery which it contains is of the most beautiful and impressive order. I believe that the addition of a considerable tract west of the limit proposed in the bill would greatly improve the park and avoid the danger of burdensome private control over the natural line of approach to the park. This would all be accomplished by drawing the boundary seven or eight miles farther west than the bill proposed. No settlement has been made and no possessory rights have been established so far as I can ascertain in the addition here suggested and up to the last autumn the entire tract was wholly unoccupied. [11]

Despite the recommendations of Powell and other conservationists, S. 16 again encountered opposition in the Committee on Public Lands, generated primarily by Oregon ranching and sheepherding interests. It was “reported adversely and indefinitely postponed” on February 6, 1888. [12]

With the rejection of his bill Senator Dolph on February 14 wrote to Steel concerning the virtual impossibility of getting Congress to approve legislation for a national park at Crater Lake. He observed:

The majority of the Committee on Public Lands is opposed to the creation of any more National Parks, and there is no possibility of securing the passage at the present session of Congress, and I fear not at any future congress, for a bill creating such a park.

Dolph went on to say that in view of the political realities he had introduced a bill (S. 1817) on February 1, providing that the land surrounding Crater Lake be given to Oregon in trust for a state park. In this regard he noted:

The Committee has consented, however, that I might report a bill granting the lands to the State for the purposes of a park only, and I have reported such a bill. I doubt whether it can pass the House. Should it pass, however, the State can exercise its option to accept the grant or not and no harm is done. Neither is any harm done to the measure if the bill does not pass, or even if it should fail in the Senate. It only attracts attention to the measure. The bill reported by me contains the same description as the bill introduced by me for a National Park. . . . [12]

The state park bill, which was opposed by Steel because he felt that Oregon would be unable to afford proper maintenance and protection for the park, provided for a public park upon certain conditions to be met by Oregon. The state legislature was to accept the grant from the federal government within three years. The land was to be held “for public use as a public park and place of public resort and forest reserve and shall be inalienable by the State of Oregon for all time.” Oregon was prohibited from permitting the cutting or removal of timber from the park except for the construction of roadways and buildings for visitor accommodation and for fire wood usage on the reservation. Leases not exceeding fifteen years would be granted for hotels and other visitor services, the income derived from such leases to be spent for the preservation and improvement of the reservation and the construction of roads and access routes. [13]

The bill was referred to the Senate Committee on Public Lands which reported it with amendments on February 6, 1888. The Senate passed the measure with amendments on March 21, and it was sent to the House of Representatives. The bill received no further consideration after encountering opposition in the House Committee on Public Lands.[14]

Lumber, sheep, and ranching interests continued to oppose a public park of any kind at Crater Lake. To counter this opposition in 1890 Steel wrote a book entitled The Mountains of Oregon, copies of which he mailed to President Benjamin Harrison and members of his cabinet and Congress. The work was designed to publicize his interests in preserving the natural resources, scenic beauty, and early history of the state. Steel observed that the Jacksonville and Fort Klamath military road passed within three miles of the lake. The “road to the very walls of it (the lake)” was “an exceptionally good one for a mountainous country, while in near proximity may be found remarkably fine camping grounds.” The Crater Lake vicinity abounded in “great numbers of deer, bear and panther.” His work with the 1886 Geological Survey expedition had afforded him “a pleasure unsurpassed” in all his “mountain experience.” Accordingly, Steel once again issued a clarion call to unite conservationists and members of the scientific community in the effort to have Crater Lake set aside as a public park or forest reserve. [15]Senator Dolph introduced state park bills (S. 67, December 4, 1889; S. 625, December 14, 1891; and S. 69, August 8, 1893) virtually identical to S. 1817 in each of the next three congresses. In discussing these bills the only questions raised in Congress concerned the extent to which money received from leases in the park would be used for building roads. Dolph promised that the money would be used for roads to make the park accessible. To prove his sincerity on the issue he introduced two bills (S. 2888, April 11, 1892, and S. 72, August 8, 1893) that provided for $50,000 to survey and construct a wagon road from Gold Hill Station in Jackson County to Crater Lake. While the road bills were never reported, the state park bills were all reported favorably by the Senate Committee on Public Lands and passed the Senate. Each bill, however, encountered opposition and died in the House Committee on Public Lands. On January 18, 1892, Congressman Hermann introduced a bill (H.R. 3966) similar to H.R. 5075 which he had submitted in February 1886, but it suffered a fate like those of the Senate bills. [16]

Appendix A2: Biographical Sketch Of Early Career Of William Gladstone Steel: 1854-1893