Resources 1984 – B. Chauncey Nye

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

III. Discovery of Crater Lake


B. Chauncey Nye

Nothing more was heard of the lake for several years. By 1861 new gold discoveries were being made on the John Day and Powder rivers of eastern Oregon. On October 21, 1862, six miners, including Chauncey Nye, James Leyman, Joseph Bowers (or J. Brandlin), Hiram Abbott, S.H. Smith, and John W. Sessions, were crossing the Cascades on their 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 too stumbled across “a large lake, encircled on all sides by steep and almost perpendicular bluff banks, fully as high as that we were standing upon.” [4] Nye and his party estimated the lake to be about twenty-five miles in circumference, the rim at their discovery point to be about 3,000 feet above the water, and the site itself to be about eighty miles northeast of Jacksonville. Thinking at first that they might be able to obtain drinking water from the lake surface, they rolled large rocks down the wall to ascertain the distance involved. They soon decided the water was inaccessible without ropes.

The Nye party noted not only the butte-shaped island near the south end of the lake, rising several hundred feet above the surface, but also the abundance of bunch grass and scarcity of timber. Unlike The Hillman party’s experience, no difficulty concerning names arose, and the lake was unanimously dubbed “Blue Lake” because of its intense color. The importance of the Nye party’s discovery lies in the fact that they not only authenticated the lake’s existence and correctly pinpointed its location by word of mouth, but also did so by publishing the first printed account of it in the Oregon Sentinel (Jacksonville) of November 8, 1862. They also named a prominent volcanic core peak in the area which they had utilized as an observation post to determine their position relative to the Rogue River valley. On top of the mountain they had found remains of a circular stone parapet, indicating its possible use in the past as a watch tower by the Indians. In deference to their sympathies in the ongoing Civil War, it became “Union Peak.” [5]


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