Resources 1984 – C. Captain Franklin B. Sprague

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

III. Discovery of Crater Lake


C. Captain Franklin B. Sprague

Although the Nye party account of its discovery had more exposure because of its publication in a newspaper, apparently readers were not sufficiently interested to attempt the journey to the lake themselves. Further explorations by prospectors were probably rare or even nonexistent due to the lack of mineral content, especially gold, in the surrounding mountains. In 1863 the small military post of Fort Klamath was established north of Upper Klamath Lake. Manned by cavalry and infantry, the objective of the garrison was to quell any Indian disturbances and to prevent harassment of emigrant wagons passing through the Klamath Basin by roving tribesmen. Another more peaceful duty of the fort’s inhabitants was to improve the old trails connecting major supply points in eastern and western Oregon and build new roads as needed.

One of the new wagon routes being projected in July 1865 would trend north from Fort Klamath, across the Wood River valley, up along present Annie Creek to its rugged canyon, thence across the mountains to Union Creek, the upper Rogue River, and eventually on to Jacksonville. Captain Franklin B. Sprague and twenty men from Company I, First Oregon Volunteer Infantry, were assigned the task of cutting the timber and building this road. Hunters were dispatched daily to obtain fresh venison to supplement the salt pork given the road crew. On August 1, 1865, two hunters, John M. Corbell and Francis M. Smith, accidentally came upon a lake and, oblivious of its previous discovery, excitedly reported to Sprague the finding of a large body of water in a deep hole. His curiosity aroused, Sprague determined to see the sight for himself as soon as possible.

According to accounts by Sergeant Orson A. Stearns and W.B. Gorman, the opportunity for Sprague to see the lake did not arise until about August 12, when he left Fort Klamath to find the road crew in order to solicit volunteers to assist him in an operation against the Snake Indians. This duty accomplished, and before returning to the fort, Sprague and Stearns, accompanied by several civilians from Jacksonville who had come to the area to inspect the new wagon road and also see the wondrous lake of which they had heard rumors, set off to find it. This party, including William Bybee, James Cluggage (of Jacksonville fame), J.B. Coats, Peyton Foote (sometimes referred to as Peyton Ford), Orson A. Stearns, and Sprague, visited the lake on August 24. [6]Stearns’s account notes that

We reached the bluff, overlooking the lake on the west or south-west side, about 9 o’clock in the morning of a clear day, and for the first time feasted our eyes upon what we then pronounced the most beautiful and majestic body of water we had ever beheld. [7]

Trying with difficulty to “comprehend the majestic beauties of the scenery,” Captain Sprague found that his thoughts would “wander back thousands of years to the time when, where now is a placid sheet of water, there was a lake of fire, throwing its cinders and ashes to vast distances in every direction.” [8]

Enchanted by the blueness of the water, Sergeant Stearns determined to make his way down to the shore. Accompanied by Peyton Ford (Foote), and after a slow, seat-of-the-pants descent, Stearns reached the water and fired a pistol as a sign of success. Seeing that the feat was not impossible, Sprague and the civilian Coats soon joined them at the bottom. Although no fish were observed in the clear water, the sighting of a kingfisher suggested the possibility of their presence. According to the story, Stearns, the first person to reach the shoreline, was given the honor of naming the lake. As he hesitated in thought, his captain suggested the name “Lake Majesty,” and this was agreed upon.