History became legend, legend became myth: Crater Lake

7.7 kya. Here’s a Klamath Indian story, recorded in 1865 (much abbreviated here).

One time when the Chief of the Below World was on the earth he saw Loha, the daughter of the tribal chief. Loha was a beautiful maiden, tall and straight as the arrowwood. The Chief of the Below World saw her and fell in love with her. He told her of his love and asked her to return with him to his lodge inside the mountain. But Loha refused to go with him. The Chief of the Below World was very angry. He swore he would have revenge on the people of Loha, that he would destroy them with the Curse of Fire. Raging and thundering on the top of his mountain, he saw the face of the Chief of the Above World on the top of Mount Shasta. From their mountaintops the two spirit chiefs began a furious battle. Mountains shook and crumbled. Red-hot rocks as large as the hills hurtled through the skies. Burning ashes fell like rain. The Chief of the Below World spewed fire from his mouth. Like an ocean of flame it devoured the forests on the mountains and the valleys. The Curse of Fire reached the homes of the people. Fleeing in terror before it, they found refuge in Klamath Lake. [Eventually the Chief Below the World] was driven into his home [by the Chief above the World], and the mountain fell upon him. When the morning sun rose, the high mountain was gone. The mountain which the Chief Below the World had called his own no longer towered near Mount Shasta. For many years the rain fell in torrents and filled the great hole that was made when the mountain fell upon the Chief of the Below World. Now you understand why my people do not visit the lake. From father to son has come the warning “Do not look upon this place.”

Almost 7,700 years ago, a volcanic eruption destroyed most of what had been the towering Mount Mazama, leaving behind a 4,000 foot deep crater that became Oregon’s Crater Lake. The Klamath Indian story about the origin of the lake preserves a clear memory of this event, from long before the invention of writing.


The story, and its connection with real geological events, is presented in When They Severed Earth From Sky. The book demonstrates in this and many other cases how myths and legends can preserve detailed information about the past. If you’re interested in how earlier generations remembered history and conceived of the past – a big topic on Logarithmic History – the book is strongly recommended. It’s intellectually worthy, setting forth general principles that govern the formation of legends, myths, and other oral history. And it’s also a fun read, casting new light on familiar figures like Prometheus (related to current Caucasian myths, and tied to volcanic Mount Elbrus in the Caucasus) and the Golden Calf.

8 thoughts on “History became legend, legend became myth: Crater Lake

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  4. Steve Sailer

    There’s a hypothesis that the Black Sea was inundated about the same amount of time ago by water pouring in from the Mediterranean. A submarine explorer claimed to see ruins of houses, but I’ve never heard of it any follow up to this, so don’t trust me on it.

    Anyway, if there is any truth to the Black Sea Deluge theory, I wonder if that could be related to flood legends such as Atlantis and Noah’s Flood?


    1. logarithmichistory Post author

      I wrote a little bit about the Black Sea flood, and possible relation to Noah and Gilgamesh here: https://logarithmichistory.wordpress.com/2015/09/14/history-became-legend-legend-became-myth-noah-and-the-black-sea-flood/ . But very similar Flood stories are very widespread, found in Eurasia and the Americas, and may stem from a unified body of myths told tens of thousands of years ago: at least that’s what Michael Witzel, a Sanskritologist at Harvard thinks. I summarize here: https://logarithmichistory.wordpress.com/2015/09/01/mythopoeia/


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