Resources 1984 – IV. Indian Perceptions of Crater Lake A. Early Observations by White Men

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

IV. Indian Perceptions of Crater Lake

A. Early Observations by White Men

Although it is relatively easy to document the early impressions of Crater Lake gained by white men, it is much more difficult to assess the role it played in early aboriginal society in southern Oregon. Horace Albright, in an entertaining book on the day-to-day life of a park ranger in which he periodically contemplates the heritage of our parks, stresses

the Indian’s reverence for the wonders that are now the national parks. The Indian lived daily in the shadow, not only of the mountains, the cliffs, and the waterfalls, but of death. He lived as a wild thing lived, by the caprices of Nature. Life was to him fickle, hazardous, difficult. [1]

Most early references to the Indians’ relationship to Crater Lake tend to place emphasis on their “fear” of it without explaining that their timorous attitude was based on feelings of awe and reverence, leading naturally to reticence in mentioning the place to white men. As one writer explained, “none of the people of the valley of lakes, meadows and rivers dare to regard the land of Gay-was [Crater Lake] carelessly, for it is a High Place and sacred to the tribe.” [2]

Shortly after the Hillman party’s discovery of “Deep Blue Lake,” they encountered a band of Indians whom they questioned about it. “None would acknowledge such a lake existed,” one member of the group reported. “We learned from a medicine man that this place was looked upon as sacred, and death came to any Indian who gazed upon the lake.” [3] It was, in fact, the general consensus of most early settlers in the area that

there is probably no point of interest in America that so completely overcomes the ordinary Indian with fear as Crater lake. From time immemorial no power has been strong enough to induce them to approach within sight of it. For a paltry sum they will engage to guide you thither, but before reaching the mountain top will leave you to proceed alone. To the savage mind it is clothed with a deep veil of mystery and is the abode of all manner of demons and unshapely monsters. [4]