The Mazamas mountaineering club was founded in 1894 by a fellow named William Gladstone Steel, who was a journalist, mountain guide, and mailman. Back then you could have all the jobs because the world was fresh and new and not because you had to do gig work just to cover the rent.
How To Disappear A Mountain
Mailman Steel then named Mt. Mazama after his club, even though the mountain no longer existed, having blown to bits about 7700 years ago, leaving its caldera, Crater Lake. Crater Lake had been discovered only a few years earlier. Rumors persist that it had existed long before that but only the indigenous peoples knew about it and they named it wrong, so it didn’t officially count. Mr. Steel was fifteen and living in Kansas when his mom wrapped his lunch in a newspaper that contained an article about the lake. Fifteen years later he traveled by rail and stagecoach to Fort Klamath and walked twenty miles to find it. He spent the next fifteen or so years lobbying Congress to make a park out of it, because mailmen can multitask.
So how do they know Mt. Mazama blew up 7700 years ago? This is why geologists are the coolest: they can take a chunk out of a roadcut and intuit a billion years of earth history before breakfast. The Mazama bit was easy. That volcano blew out enough crap to coat the territory for thousands of miles and the orange Mazama ash layer can be used to stick a pin in time anywhere it’s found. Throw in a deposit of seriously charred trees that can be carbon-dated and you’ve got your story nailed down.
Generally speaking these calderas are not formed because the middle of the mountain got blown into the stratosphere. It’s all the stuff well below ground that gets ralphed up, leaving a hollowed-out space, and, after a brief period of hanging in mid-air like a cartoon coyote, the mountain notices and collapses into the gap.
Nineteenth-century geologists, many of whom were also coach drivers, botanists, and pizza deliverers, did not know this is how calderas are formed. But the native population did. Chief Lalek of the Klamath tribe explained it all to a young white soldier in 1865. There had been people in the area for at least 10,000 years–we know, because we’ve found their sagebrush shoes–and evidently they listened to their parents, because the legend has survived to this day. It was the usual story. Underworld God meets pretty girl, invites her to live forever in his company, pretty girl’s tribe hides her, god gets mad and starts pitching flaming rocks at everybody. All hell breaks loose. A wise elder prescribes a human sacrifice, and he and an equally old man discuss the matter, agree to leave the young people out of it, and–after what Chief Lalek said was “a period of silence,” followed by a muttered “Oh shit,” they trudge up the mountain and jump in. Overworld God is impressed, drives Underworld God back underground, and the mountain collapses on him.
Which is a pretty specific and geologically accurate scenario to have survived in the collective memory for so long–especially since this was several thousand years before Real God created the heavens and the earth.
The Klamath tribes were fond of Crater Lake, and disinclined to tell white people about it, because it was a sacred site. Basically, they knew white people would fuck it all up.
Some of them found it anyway, in 1853, when a man named Skeeters, which is a totally normal 19th-century name, led a band of eleven miners to the region in search of gold. They thought the lake was nice, and told people about it, and named it Deep Blue Lake because they were just that imaginative, but fortunately for the pristine blue waters everyone forgot all about it because there wasn’t any gold. It remains a stroke of luck to this day to live on land devoid of oil or coal or precious minerals.
So let us now praise unknown men and women who know how to keep a legend alive across hundreds of generations, and let us not mock their god stories. We have no room to talk. We’ve got Jewish space lasers and lizard people, we can’t remember what happened last week, and our shoes fall apart in no time.