‘How Crater Lake came to be’: A Klamath Indian legend Special for the Herald and News – February 25, 2002

‘How Crater Lake came to be’: A Klamath Indian legend Special for the Herald and News

Herald and News

Klamath Falls, Oregon
February 25, 2002

One day, Great Spirit Beings pushed ice through a hole in the sky to build a great mountain, Moyaina (Mount Mazama). Then the spirits climbed down to Earth and created the Klamath terrain by digging tunnel-like caverns beneath the earth and pushing up the Cascade Range. Hundreds of rivers, marshes and lakes emerged from underground, and trees, meadows and plants sprang up everywhere.

All of the Spirits returned to the Nolis-Gaeni, the afterworld, except the Spirit chief Gmo’Kamc, who made a new home inside Mlaiksi (Mount Shasta). Gmo’Kamc created human beings to live on the lake shores around him: the Klamath Lake People, the Modoc Lake People (Modoc Lake is now called Tule Lake), and Yahooskni People on the water now known as Goose Lake.


Chief of the Below World, Monadalkni, envied Gmo’Kamc’s beautiful Indian domain and return many times to watch the Ma’Klaks. One day he spied an extraordinary maiden surrounded by brave warriors who wanted to marry her. Loha was the daughter of the Klamath chief, and she refused to marry anyone. Still, Monadalkni dispatched Skooks, his trusted emissary, to propose on his behalf.

On the night of the MaKlaks coming-out ceremony, Skooks suddenly appeared, hooded in dark wolf skin. Interrupting a ceremonial dance, he stepped before Loha and her family bearing lavish gifts: beaver pelts, valuable feathers of the red woodpecker, horses and white deerskins.
“My Chief sends these offerings for your hand in everlasting marriage,” he said. “Eternal life will be yours as you become one and live in a big mountain abode forever.”

As Skooks’ hideous crimson red eyes gaped at the maiden, the Ma’Klaks of the village watched her other suitors disappear in a flash of orange light. Loha raced to her father’s tule lodge crying out, “No, I don’t want to live in a mountain!” The Klamath chief quickly called elders and medicine men to council in his lodge. They decided that Loha must be whisked away to their Modoc brothers to the south.

Skooks returned the next night demanding Loha’s whereabouts, but no one in the tribe would speak. When Monadalkni learned of the maiden’s disappearance, he shook with violent anger and threatened fiery vengeance on Loha’s people. Monadalkni began running back and forth in the passageways beneath Moy-yaina, throwing lightning bolts and causing the mountain to explode with such force that molten lava rained like hot pitch upon the People of the Lakes. Giant fireballs shot out of the mountain as it erupted in deafening booms — five times in succession! Women and children took refuge in Klamath Lake, crying and calling out for the Great Spirit to save them.

Monadalkni ran to the top of the mountain and faced Gmo’Kamc. They fought enraged, silhouetted against the red glow illuminating the rumbling Cascades. The good chief finally forced the Chief of the Below World back underground and collapsed the mountaintop onto the entrance of the underworld. A huge crater remained where the peak used to be.

Medicine men sang their sacred songs for rain to put out the fires. The rains came, filling the crater with water and creating the lake called Gii-was. Cradled in the bosom of Tum-sum-ne (Klamath/Modoc for “the big mountain with top cut off”), Gii-was became a holy place the Ma’Klaks kept secret for more than 7,000 years, until one day in 1852 when a white man accidentally discovered it.

In 1902, Gii-was became Crater Lake National Park.

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