Resources 1984 – Appendix D “How Crater Lake was Discovered”

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

Appendix D


“How Crater Lake was Discovered”

In July 1862, Capt. F.B. Sprague discovered a route for a wagon road from Fort Klamath to intersect the old John Day wagon road, and a detail of twenty-five men of his company were sent out under his charge to cut out the timber and build the road. Two men were detailed as hunters to supply the camp with venison to supplement the salt pork furnished by Uncle Sam; and these men Francis M. Smith and John M. Corbell – while hunting discovered the lake; or rather re-discovered and located it, as some two or three years previous parties passing through that country on their way, either to or returning from the John Day mines reported having seen at a distance, a marvelous sheet of water somewhere in the Cascade mountains that was surrounded by steep and impassable cliffs of many thousand feet high [sic], but little attention had ever been paid to such stories, as they were looked upon as rather fishy; and as the discoverers made no attempt to locate the lake or re-visit it, the matter had well nigh been forgotten. Some time near the middle of August of that same year, and when the road was near completion, I accompanied Capt. Sprague from the fort to the roadmakers camp, between Hampton spring (named after one of our company) and Union creek, to procure volunteers from their number to go with Capt. Sprague and Kelly to Alvord, or Stein’s mountain, they having been ordered there with a portion of their command. When we reached the camp a number of men from Jacksonville were there who had come out to view the new wagon road and see the wonderful lake, the news of its discovery having already reached Jacksonville, and several besides the volunteers, who were building the road having already seen it. The next day, having accomplished the object of our visit, Capt. Sprague and myself accompanied the party of visitors on their way to near the summit of the mountain, where we camped, and next morning following the directions of the boys who had visited the lake, we started out on foot to find it. 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. After gazing for awhile upon its wondrous and awful majesty, Mr. Coats, one of the party, and myself ventured over the edge of the bluff, and in spite of the protests of Capt. Sprague and the other members of the party, who thought we were venturing to our death, we gradually worked our way down the precipitous sides until, striking a sort of gully, made by some slide from the overhanging mountain, we saw, away below us at our feet, what seemed to be a small beach at the water’s edge. Then commenced a race to see who would first reach the shore of the mystic lake. Slipping, sliding, and bounding first to one side of the gully and then to the other I finally distanced Mr. Coats, and at the waters edge fired my pistol as a signal of success to our comrades above. In less than half an hour Capt. Sprague and one of the other party, whose name I have forgotten joined us, and I was requested, as the first human being who had ever reached its waters edge to give it a name; and there, by the miniature beach, with the solitude of its mighty walls around and above us, we christened it “Lake Majesty,” and fired a volley from our pistols to salute its christening. While we were discussing the probability, or possibility, of there being any fish within its waters, and had about agreed that it was unprobable, as it had no visible connection with any outlet or inlet, a kingfisher flew over our heads, and, alighting on a limb of a tree overhanging the water from a precarious niche in the side of the precipice, uttered its harsh and piercing cry, and we unanimously agreed that the presence of that bird settled all doubts as to the existence of fish in its waters, as it was not probable that they would live where there were no fish. I believe it is generally accepted as a fact that there are no fish in the lake, though why such should be taken as an accepted fact, is a mystery to me, as I have yet to learn of any effort being made to ascertain the truth or falsity of the theory. I am told that Lake Bigler, the next deepest fresh-water lake on the continent, and whose altitude of 6250 feet above sea level is less by one foot than Lake Majesty, is noted for its fine trout; one having been caught weighing sixty-two pounds. Also that the fish there are so shy and the water so deep and blue, that the fish are seldom if ever seen by the eye before being caught by the trolling spoons which are at the end of long lines from 100 to 600 feet in length. Perhaps were the same method of fishing tried in the waters of Lake Majesty, there might be a reversing of the decision so hastily arrived at, and it become as noted as its less beautiful rival as a resort for the disciples of Isaac Walton. I copy from Frank Leslie’s Monthly for January, 1888 in an article descriptive of this beautiful lake, the following list of deep-water lakes; Lake Baikal (in Siberia) 54 by 397 miles in extent, 4080 feet deep, altitude 1300 feet; Caspian sea, 50 by 600 miles, 3600 feet deep, 85 feet below sea level; Dead sea 10 by 45 miles, 1308 feet deep, 1272 feet below sea level; Lake Tahoe, or more properly Bigler, 12 by 20 miles, 1645 feet deep, altitude 6250; Lake Superior 100 by 350 miles, 978 feet deep, altitude 627; Lake Majesty, 6 by 7 miles, 1996 feet deep, altitude 6251.

Very truly yours,

O.A. Stearns

From: Ashland (Ore.) Tidings, February 24, 1888.


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