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Volcanoes and History
Cascade Range Volcanoes - "Volcanoes and History"

George Gibbs

1854 "smoke" and references to the 1842 Eruption of Mount St. Helens
(Written in 1854, published in 1855)

Mount St. Helens eruptions in 1842 and 1843, and Mount Baker eruption of 1843.
(Written in 1869, published in 1873)


Excerpt from:
"Report of George Gibbs on a reconnaissance of the country lying upon Shoal Water bay and Puget sound, Olympia, W.T., March 1, 1854, IN: I.I. Stevens, 1855, Reports of explorations and surveys, to ascertain the most practicable and economical route for a railroad from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean: Author: United States. War Dept., published 1855.

Cascade Range, Mounts Hood, Jefferson, St. Helens, Adams, and Rainier, and Mount Baker, with reference to ?smoking? Mount St. Helens in 1854, and information about the 1842 eruption of Mount St. Helens.

   [p.475-476]     ... During our stay at Chequoss the weather was only at intervals clear enough to afford a view of the mountains; with the exception of the great snow-peaks, their aspect is that of a chaos of hills, of very equal height, rising from an elevated plateau, but few points rising to a greater elevation than 5,000 feet, which is about that of the snow-line on Mount Adams. No ranges of any great length were distinguishable; the sides of the hills were long, sweeping slopes, enclosing shallow valleys which extended to the very feet of Mounts St. Helens and Adams, and some of which contain marshy prairies, the beds of ponds. The range in this part appears to be about thirty miles in width at the base and fifteen on the top, the steepest slope being to the west. From the hills around Chequoss, the five snow-peaks -- Mounts Hood, Jefferson, St. Helens, Adams, and Rainier -- were visible, Mounts Hood and Jefferson bearing southwesterly; Mount St. Helens nearly northwest; Mount Rainier a little west of north, and Mount Adams north. The latter was not more than fifteen or twenty miles distant. The height of Mount Rainier, as given by Captain Wilkes, is 12,330 feet, and that of St. Helens 9,550; from which last Mount Adams does not apparently vary much. It is not a little singular that neither Lewis and Clark, nor Lieut. Wilkes, distinguished Mount Adams as a separate peak from St. Helens; for, although they resemble each other considerably in general form, their positions and range are very different. Mount Adams alone is visible from the Dalles; but both of them, as well as Rainier, can be seen from a slight elevation at the mouth of the Willamette. The sketches of Lieut. Duncan, accompanying the reports, will better convey an idea of these mountains than a mere verbal description. The angle of incidence of their sides was taken by a clinometer. The steepest continuous face of St. Helens, disregarding precipices, was about 40 degrees, and none of the others exhibit a greater declivity. The crater of Mount Hood is on its south side; that of Mount St. Helens on the northwest, and of Mount Adams apparently on the east; that of Rainier seems to have been at the summit. Smoke was distinctly seen issuing from St. Helens during our journey. This and Mount Baker are the only volcanoes at present active in the chain. Its last considerable eruption was in 1842, when it covered the country as far as Vancouver and the Dalles with ashes, and presented a luminous appearance after the smoke had cleared off. The Indians report that there were once three mountains that smoked always, Mount Hood and Mount Adams being the others. Respecting Mounts Hood and St. Helens, they have a characteristic tale to the effect that they were man and wife; that they finally quarrelled and threw fire at one another, and that St. Helens was the victor; since when Mount Hood has been afraid, while St. Helens, having a stout heart, still burns. In some versions this story is connected with the slide which formed the Cascades of the Columbia, and by damming up the water inundated the forest, the remains of which are now visible along its margin. The date of this event Lewis and Clark fixed at about thirty years before their arrival. It is very probable that it may have been due to an earthquake, as they, though not frequent, are known upon the coast. The Indians have no tradition of an eruption of lava; they have only seen smoke and ashes come out of the mountain. They add that a bad smell came from it, and that the fish in the streams died. Around the foot of St. Helens, they say, the ashes lie so deep and soft that horses cannot travel. ...



Digital version of George Gibb's report was found at the
University of Michigan Library Website, 2008, ?Making of America?.



NOTE: Harry M. Majors states in ?Northwest Discovery? (July 1980), ?This is the only reference to the discharge of sulphurous gases during the 1842 eruption.?


George Gibbs:    George Gibbs (1815-1873) was an ethnologist and expert on the language and culture of the Indians of the Pacific Northwest. A graduate of Harvard University, Gibbs moved west during the gold rush of 1848 and eventually secured the position of Collector of the Port of Astoria, Oregon Territory. From 1853 to 1855, he was a geologist and ethnologist on the Pacific Railroad Survey of the 47th and 49th parallels under the command of Isaac Stevens. In 1857, Gibbs joined the Northwest Boundary Survey and served as geologist and interpreter until 1862. The last decade of his life was spent in Washington, D.C., where he undertook studies of Indian languages under the auspices of the Smithsonian Institution. -- [information courtesy Smithsonian Institution Archives website, 2009]



Excerpt from:
George Gibbs, 1873, "Physical Geography of the North-Western boundary of the United States": IN: Journal of the American Geographical Society of New York, 1873, v.4, p.298-392.

Mount St. Helens' eruption, 1842, 1843, Mount Baker eruption, 1843.

   [p.354]     ... Mount St. Helen's is still active, though it has ceased to emit lava; its flow of this material was, however, apparently much later than that of its fellow, for one very extensive field, evidently proceeding from it, was seen, as clear and sharp in its fractures as if but just cooled. Smoke and steam are seen frequently to arise from near its summit, and considerable eruptions of ashes have occurred as late as 1842 and 1843. Fremont mentions that in November of the latter year "two of the great snowy cones, Mount Rainier and St. Helen's, were in action. On the 23d of the preceding November, St. Helen's had scattered its ashes like a light fall of snow over the dalles of the Columbia, fifty miles distant." Other travellers put the dates at 1841 and 1843. Fremont is, however, in error concerning Mount Rainier. It was Mount Baker that was then in action. ...

   [p.357-358]     ... Mount Baker, the next most prominent peak, and the northernmost in Washington Territory, is fully twenty-five miles to the west of the water-shed of the Cascade range, upon a spur or offset, and about in line with some other peaks to the southward, as Pitt Mountain and Mount Shaste. Its height is given by the United States Coast Survey approximately at 10,800 feet. It appears from the westward as a conical peak, less simple in form than any of the others.

From Frazer River, above Fort Langley, and also from the Skagit, it is seen to be truncated, or rather roof-shaped. It would seem to have only recently resumed its activity; as I am informed, both on the authority of officers of the Hudson's Bay Company, and also of Indians, that the eruption of 1843 was the first known. It broke out simultaneously with St. Helen's, and covered the whole country with ashes.

The natives told Mr. Yale, chief trader at Fort Langley, that the Skagit River was obstructed in its course, and all the fish died. This was, in substance, what they assured me on my visit to the river, adding that the country was on fire for miles round.

The fish, undoubtedly, were destroyed by the quantity of cinders and ashes brought down by the Hukullum. Since the above date, smoke is frequently seen issuing from the mountain. ...




Digital version of George Gibb's report was found at the
"www.jstor.org" website, 2008.



George Gibbs:    George Gibbs (1815-1873) was an ethnologist and expert on the language and culture of the Indians of the Pacific Northwest. A graduate of Harvard University, Gibbs moved west during the gold rush of 1848 and eventually secured the position of Collector of the Port of Astoria, Oregon Territory. From 1853 to 1855, he was a geologist and ethnologist on the Pacific Railroad Survey of the 47th and 49th parallels under the command of Isaac Stevens. In 1857, Gibbs joined the Northwest Boundary Survey and served as geologist and interpreter until 1862. The last decade of his life was spent in Washington, D.C., where he undertook studies of Indian languages under the auspices of the Smithsonian Institution. -- [information courtesy Smithsonian Institution Archives website, 2009]


 


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