Resources 1984 – Appendix A “Discovery of Crater Lake” by J.W. Hillman

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

 Appendix A


“Discovery of Crater Lake” by J.W. Hillman

Just 50 years ago this summer a party of prospectors from California came to Rogue River Valley, stopped a day or two, laid in a supply of provisions, and then left the valley, as they supposed, secretly, and without having betrayed the object of their visit; but while making their purchases one of the party drank, and talked enough to cause some of my friends to repeat and speculate upon the object of their mission, which was soon declared to be the old familiar hunt for the Lost Cabin mine. If I remember rightly, there were eleven members of the California party, and just as soon as their object became known another party of Oregon prospectors was formed to follow them, and if the mine was rediscovered, to share in the fruits of the fabulous wealth that was supposed to follow.

At this date I cannot recall the names of the party formed to follow the California prospectors. I think our party consisted of eleven – just the same number as the party we were to follow. I think Henry Klippel, J.L. Louden, Pat McManus, a Mr. Little and myself were part of the number. I know Louden was there; I am almost sure Klippel and Little were there, and I am sure I was one of the number. We made quick preparations, got some provisions together, and started after the California miners, who soon discovered we were on their trail; and then it was 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. One day while thus engaged, and when provisions had run very low, each party scattered out to look for anything in the shape of game that could be found. On my return from an unsuccessful hunt, I passed close to the camp of the Californians. Up to this time neither party had spoken to one of the others, but, seeing a young fellow in camp, I bade him good-day, and got in conversation with him. He asked me what our object was in the mountains, and why we hung so close to their trail.

I frankly told him we believed their leader had certain landmarks, which, if found, would enable them to locate the “Lost Cabin,” and as we were all pretty good prospectors and hunters, we intended to stay with them until the mine was found or starvation drove us back to the valley. After this a truce was declared, and we worked and hunted in unison. One day, just before deciding that it was no longer safe to stay in the mountains with our very limited supply of food and no game to be found, we camped on the side of a mountain, and after consultation it was decided that a few of each party should take what provisions could be spared, and for a couple of days longer hunt for landmarks which the leader of the California party was in search of; of that party I was one. Louden did not go with us, and who else did or did not go I cannot remember.

Discovery of the Lake

On the evening of the first day, while riding up a long, sloping mountain, we suddenly came in sight of water, and were very much surprised, as we did not expect to see any lakes, and did not know but what we had come in sight of and close to Klamath Lake, and not until my mule stopped within a few feet of the rim of Crater Lake did I look down, and if I had been riding a blind mule I firmly believe I would have ridden over the edge to death and destruction. We came to the lake a very little to the right of a small sloping butte or mountain, situated in the lake, with a top somewhat flattened. Every man of the party gazed with wonder at the sight before him, and each in his own peculiar way gave expression to the thoughts within him; but we had no time to lose, and after rolling some boulders down the side of the lake, we rode to the left, as near the rim as possible, past the butte, looking to see an outlet for the lake, but we could find none.

I was very anxious to find a way to the water, which was immediately vetoed by the whole party, and as the leader of the Californians had become discouraged, we decided to return to camp; but not before we discussed what name we should give the lake. There were many names suggested, but Mysterious Lake and Deep Blue Lake were most favorably received, and on a vote, Deep Blue Lake was chosen for a name.

We secured a small stick, about the size of a walking cane, and with a knife made a slit in one end, a piece of paper was torn from a memorandum book, our names written on it, the paper stuck in the slit, and the stock propped up in the ground to the best of our ability. We then reluctantly turned our backs upon the future Crater Lake of Oregon. The finding of Crater Lake was an accident, as we were not looking for lakes; but the fact of my being first upon its banks was due to the fact that I was riding the best saddle mule in Southern Oregon, the property of Jimmy Dobson, a miner and packer, with headquarters at Jacksonville, who had furnished me the mule in consideration of a claim to be taken in his name should we be successful. Stranger to me than our discovery was the fact that after our return I could get no acknowledgment from any Indian, buck or squaw, old or young, that any such lake existed; each and every one denied any knowledge of it, or ignored the subject completely – Oregonian (Portland), June 7, 1903.

From: Steel Points, v. 1, n. 2 (January 1907), pp. 77-79.


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