Discovery of Crater Lake, Oregon
June 12, 1853


Excerpt from: Gorman, M.W., 1897, The Discovery and Early History of Crater Lake, IN: Mazama: A Record of Mountaineering in the Pacific Northwest, Vol.1, No.2, Published by The Mazamas, Portland, Oregon, p.150-161.




...     There have been many claimants for the honor of being the first discoverer of Crater Lake, some of them even going so far as to give a detailed account of their trip and claiming to have discovered the Lake in January or February, 1847, while accompanying the late General John C. Fremont in an expedition to California in that year; but on investigation none of these accounts have as yet been authentically substantiated. ...    

The earliest discovery of the Lake of which there is any authentic record was on June 12, 1853, by a party of prospectors named ____Dodd, John W. Hillman, James L. Loudon, Patrick McManus, George Ross, and Isaac Skeeters, who, in company with some others, had been lured up the Rogue river valley in search of fabulously rich mines reported by some California gold hunters to be on the upper Rogue river. The events leading up to the discovery were as follows:

In the early spring of that year a party of California prospectors came to Jacksonville, and by the secrecy observed in securing provisions and the caution maintained in all their movements, so excited the curiosity of several Oregon prospectors that a party was at once formed and a watch set upon the movements of the Californians which resulted in the leaking out of the old story of "lost diggings" teeming with placer gold, which the newcomers were in search of. As soon as both parties could be equipped a forced march began, and although every device known to the pioneers of those early days was resorted to, the Oregonians could not be misled or shaken off. This state of affairs ceased only on the provisions of both becoming exhausted, when a truce was called and Hillman, the leader of the Oregonians, candidly informed the Californian leader that his party proposed to stay as long as the others were in the mountains. The result was a union of the two parties, the interchange of the secret landmarks and a decision to have a few of the hardier members continue the search and report progress to the main party left in camp. This was accordingly done, and the above named members of the united party were sent forward; but the "lost diggings" did not materialize, and game being scarce it soon became a serious question how longer to maintain even this small party ...     To make matters worse the party had lost nearly all idea of their whereabouts and had to resort to the old method of climbing peaks to ascertain them. From the summit of one of these peaks they saw numerous lakes, and finally after ascending a long gentle slope they came upon the brink of a precipice where far below them lay, what the leader of the party describes as "the bluest lake I ever saw." Their hunger was for the time forgotten as they gazed at its plaid blue waters and in the clear atmosphere of that season of the year realized its great expanse. They reached the rim at a point a little west of Victor Rock, found the snow reaching down to the water in very many places, and continuing along the rim for some hours, they estimated the Lake to be not less than 20 miles in diameter, and judged its distance from Jacksonville to be about 125 miles. They looked in vain for an outlet, which made their discovery seem all the more wonderful, and they saw, and on their return gave a fairly accurate description of Wizard island, but failed to notice the Phantom Ship. After their wonder and excitement had subsided, the naming of the Lake was discussed and, each one suggesting a name, it finally narrowed to the selection of one of two -- Mysterious or Deep Blue Lake -- the latter begin given the preference, though it was occasionally referred to afterwards as Lake Mystery. ...    

The party soon proceeded on its way and on returning to civilization reported its wonderful discovery, but there being no newspaper then published in southern Oregon (the first number of the Oregon Sentinel was issued on January 13, 1855), no account of it was printed ...     it soon came to be looked upon as a miner's tale, and in course of time was forgotten. ...    

Nothing further was heard of the Lake until the fall of 1862, when it was again discovered by a party of six miners returning to the Rogue river valley for the winter from the Granite Creek mines on the North Fork of the John Day river. ...     A description of this trip was published in the Oregon Sentinel for November 8, 1862 ...


Bibliography of the Discovery and Early History of Crater Lake:

  • Oregon Sentinel, Jacksonville, Nov. 8, 1862
  • Oregon Sentinel, Jacksonville, August 12, 1865
  • Oregon Sentinel, Jacksonville, September 2, 1865
    [Webnote: newspaper clipping "Oregon's Great Curiosity", Seattle Weekly Gazette from the Jacksonville Sentinel, scroll down to date]
  • Oregon Sentinel, Jacksonville, September 9, 1865
  • Oregon Sentinel, Jacksonville, August 21, 1869
  • Oregon Sentinel, Jacksonville, August 28, 1869
  • Daily Oregonian, Portland, January 1, 1886
  • Daily Oregonian, Portland, February 14, 1886
  • Daily Oregonian, Portland, March 10, 1886
  • The Mountains of Oregon, by W.G. Steel, Portland, 1890, p.13
  • Atlantic Arisen, by Mrs. F.F. Victor, Philadelphia, 1891, p.179
  • Ashland Tidings, July 20, 1896
  • Klamath Republican, July 23, 1896
  • Ashland Tidings, August 6, 1896
  • Klamath Republican, August 13, 1896



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Excerpt from:
Unrau, H.D., and Mark, S., 1987, Crater Lake National Park: Administrative History, published on the Crater Lake Institute website, 2010.




DISCOVERY OF CRATER LAKE BY JOHN W. HILLMAN: 1854

Although claims for the discovery of Crater Lake in the 1840s have been made in the name of John C. Fremont and others, the first authenticated visit by white men was not made until 1853. After peaceful relations had been established temporarily with the Rogue Indians of southwestern Oregon in 1851 prospectors began entering the area looking for gold along the Rogue River and its tributaries. During the winter of 1851-52 four young packers transporting food supplies discovered gold on Rich Gulch in the vicinity of present-day Jacksonville. News of this discovery led to Oregon's first major gold rush, and soon new discoveries were made along the Applegate, Illinois, and Rogue rivers. A camp named Jacksonville took shape along Rich Gulch as merchants arrived with supplies of foodstuffs, mining tools, and liquor. One of a party of footloose and impoverished gold seekers to arrive at Jacksonville was John W. Hillman, a native of Albany, New York, who had joined the rush to California three years earlier as a youth of seventeen years. While drinking in a saloon he and his friends were told by a party of Californians that they possessed secret information that would lead them to a rich Lost Cabin Mine in the rugged mountains of present-day Josephine County. Hillman formed a party, consisting of Isaac G. Skeeters, Henry Klippel, J.S. Louden, Pat McManus, three others named Dodd, McGarrie, and Little, and possibly two more, to trail the Californians. Thereafter, both parties played a game of hide-and-seek until their rations began to get low. Hunting treasure gave way to hunting wild game, and soon the two parties agreed to work and hunt together. Several more days of floundering drew them further off course and soon they were hopelessly lost.

Hillman offered to lead a small party to the summit of the nearest peak so the party could reestablish its position. When the men reached the peak on June 12, 1853, the party gazed down on what would later become known as Crater Lake. In an article in the Portland Oregonian on June 7, 1903, Hillman described the experiences of the party fifty years before:

"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."

Upon their return to Jacksonville the miners reported their discovery, which was largely ignored for several reasons. News of the discovery could be spread only by word of mouth as no newspaper was published in southern Oregon at the time. Furthermore, the members of the party had been so disoriented and exhausted when they found the lake that they were unable afterwards to describe its location accurately. General Indian unrest in the area, coupled with the continuing search for gold, also diverted attention away from news of the discovery. Nevertheless, Hillman is credited as being the first white man to gaze upon Crater Lake.