Resources 1984 – III. Discovery of Crater Lake A. John Wesley Hillman

Historic Resource Study, Crater Lake National Park, Oregon, 1984

III. Discovery of Crater Lake


A. John Wesley Hillman

The question of which white man actually gazed on Crater Lake for the first time has been a matter of dispute, due to the fact that there have been several re-discoveries made unknowingly by different parties. Although claims for its discovery in the 1840s have been made in the name of John C. Fremont and others, the first authenticated visit was not made until 1853. By that time Oregon’s first real gold rush was rapidly expanding, as parties swarmed not only over the Jackson Creek and Rich Gulch area, but penetrated deeper into the interior to make new discoveries along the Applegate, Illinois, and Rogue rivers. It was interest aroused by one party of California goldseekers, whose secretive camp outside Jacksonville and surreptitious laying in of provisions for an expedition to the Upper Rogue River attracted the attention of several Oregon miners, that led to Crater Lake’s discovery. While quenching his thirst at a local saloon, one member of the California party became loquacious and was heard to mention having knowledge of the whereabouts of the fabulously rich “Lost Cabin Mine.” This was a mythical lost mine searched for as early as 1850 by miners in northern California but that also was speculated about in southern Oregon in reference to a mine located a year earlier in Josephine County. The four California owners of that property were forced to bury a hoard of gold when attacked by Indians. Although the sole survivor of the group had been persuaded to divulge certain landmarks in the area, the cabin and the buried treasure had never been found.

As soon as the California prospectors left town to continue their search, a party of about eleven Oregon hopefuls, including a Mr. Dodd, John Hillman, James L. Loudon, Patrick McManus, George Ross, Isaac G. Skeeters, and Henry Klippel, was in hot pursuit, determined to follow the Californians up the Rogue and share in the imagined wealth. Hillman was at this time about twenty-one years of age, a footloose young man from Albany, New York, who had stumbled into Jacksonville in his search for gold. It was not long before this party’s presence was detected, and in Hillman’s words, it became a game of hide-and-seek, until rations on both sides began to get low. The Californians would push through the brush, scatter, double backwards on their trail, and then camp in the most inaccessible places to be found, and it sometimes puzzled us to locate and camp near enough to watch them. [1]

This game of cat-and-mouse took on serious undertones as each group’s supply of provisions became exhausted. Such desperate straits were reached that ultimately a truce was declared and the parties determined to hunt for game and search for the mine together. They soon realized that they had blundered off course, but were unaware that they were far east of their objective and in fact nearing the headwaters of the Rogue River. Pitching camp on the side of a mountain, the two parties mutually agreed that only the hardier members should continue the quest. Hillman was one of these.