Resources 1984 – Appendix C “Lake Majesty”

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

Appendix C


“Lake Majesty”

Fort Klamath, Oregon, August 25, 1865

Editor Sentinel: I promised in a former communication that I would give you my impressions of Oregons famous lake, a spot which will hereafter, in all probability, become as noted as Niagara Falls, and other celebrated curiosities.

On Thursday last, in company with Messrs. Win. Bybee, P. Ford, J.B. Coats, citizens of Jacksonville, Oregon, and Orson A. Stearns, 1st Sergeant of Co. I, 1st Oregon Infantry Volunteers, I left Castle Camp, at the foot of the mountain, on the new wagon road from Fort Klamath to Rogue River and crossing the canyon at that point, and going in a northeasterly direction, we gained by a gentle ascent the summit of the mountain, on the southwest side of the lake; the distance from Castle camp to the precipice, or side of the lake, is about two and one half miles; after crossing the canyon the whole way may be easily passed on horseback.

Upon rising the slope bordering the lake, the first impression made upon your mind is one of disappointment; it does not come up to your expectations; but this is only momentary. A second look, and you begin to comprehend the majestic beauties of the scenery spread out before you, and you sit down on the brink of the precipice, and feast your eyes on the awful grandeur, your thoughts 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. The whole surroundings prove this lake to be the crater of an extinct volcano. The appearance of the water in the basin, as seen from the top of the mountain, is that of a vast circular sheet of canvass, upon which some painter had been exercising his art. The color of the water is blue, but in very many different shades, and like the colors in variegated silk, continually changing. Not a spot will be dark blue, almost approaching black, the next moment it will change to a very pale blue; and it is thus continually changing from one shade to another. I cannot account for this changeableness, as the sky was perfectly clear, and it could not have been caused by any shadows; there was, however, a gentle breeze, which caused a ripple of the waters; this may account for it.

At first sight a person would not estimate the surface of the water to be more than two or three hundred feet below the summit of the surrounding bluffs; and it is only after a steady look almost perpendicularly down into the water, that you begin to comprehend the distance. In looking down into the lake the vision seems to stop before reaching the bottom, and to use a common expression, you have to look twice before you see the bottom.

Heretofore, it has been thought by those who have visited the lake, that it was impossible to get to the water, and this was also my impression at first, and I should have continued to remain on the summit, and view its beauties from that point without attempting to get to the water, but for Sergeant Stearns and Mr. Ford, who, after gazing for awhile from the top, disappeared over the precipice, and in a few minutes were at the bottom, near the waters edge, where no human beings ever stood before. Their shout induced Mr. Coats and myself to attempt the feat, which is in fact only perilous in imagination. A spring of water bursts out of the mountain near the top, on the side where we were, and by following down the channel which the water has made, a good footing may be obtained all the way down. In all probability, this is the only place in the whole circumference of the lake where the water is accessible, although Sergeant Stearns clambered around the edge of the lake for a short distance, and ascended to the summit by a different route from the one he descended; yet he does not think he could go down where he came up. The water in the lake is as clear as crystal, and about the same temperature with the well water in Rogue River Valley. We saw no fish of any kind, nor even insects in the water; the only thing we saw that indicated that there are fish in the lake, was a Kingfisher. In ascending, I measured the distance as well as I could, from point to point, by the eye, and conclude that it is from seven to eight hundred feet perpendicular from the water to the summit of the bluff. The lake seems to be very nearly circular, and is from seven to eight miles in diameter; and except at two or three points, the bluff is about the same altitude. Near the western shore of the lake is an island, about one half mile in diameter, upon which there is considerable timber growing. The island is not more than one quarter of a mile from the western shore of the lake, and its shape is a frustrum of a cone; the top seems to be depressed and I think there is a small crater in the summit of the island. I think a path could be made from the summit to the waters edge, at the western end of the lake; for the formation seems to be entirely pumice stone at that point, and to slope to the waters edge at a less angle than any place else around the lake; at this point, also, a boat could be let safely down to the water by a rope.

I do not know who first saw this lake, nor do I think it should be named after the discoverer. Sergeant Stearns and Peyton Ford are the first white men who ever reached its waters, and if named after any person, should be named for them; but as I do not believe any more majestic sheet of water is found upon the face of the globe, I propose the name “Majesty.” It will be visited by thousands hereafter, and some person would do well to build upon its banks a house where the visitor could be entertained, and to keep a boat, or boats upon its waters, that its beauties might be seen to a better advantage.

F.B. Sprague

From: Central Classified Files, 1907-49, RG 79, NA.


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