Oregon Focus: Native American Legends: Crater Lake

About the Crater Lake Legend

woman standing at observatory overlooking Crater Lake
A tourist views Crater Lake and Wizard Island from an overlook near the Crater Lake Lodge. (Oregon State Archives Photo)
Because of the intensity of its water and the uniqueness of its formation, Native Americans have many legends about Crater Lake. The legends usually make the lake and the mountain around it the dwelling place of the great spirits that rule their lives, and they regard it as a sacred place where they are not welcomed.
The Klamath Indians have told this story about Crater Lake:
A band of Indians were returning from a hunting trip and went up a mountain. At the top of the mountain they looked into its crater and saw a most beautiful blue lake -- bluer than the skies above it. They were awed by the intensity of the blue depths and by the smoking island in the lake. They were sure it was the home of Llaos, the Great Spirit.
Feeling that they had invaded forbidden ground, they quickly retreated down the slope and made camp for the night at a fitting distance away.
But one of the Indian braves could not forget the beautiful sight. He could not resist going back to stand on the rim and gaze at it. When he came away he felt much stronger. He went again and came away stronger and more powerful. After a third visit he grew daring and decided to go down the steep side of the crater. He bathed in the beautiful blue waters. After this he was the strongest and most skillful warrior of the tribe.
Other Indians wanted to do as he had done. So they also looked at the lake and bathed in its waters and each one came away more powerful than he had been before. They were better hunters, faster runners, more sure of their skills.
But one day, for some unknown reason, one Indian brave, when he was bathing in the lake, killed one of the creatures that lived in the water. Suddenly hundreds of the lake creatures, or Llaos, came from the water, rushed after the warrior and killed him. This ended the spell for all Indians, and they now knew that they could no longer go to the lake.
The fathers told their sons, and those sons told their sons that "death will come to any Indian who even dares to gaze upon the blue waters of Llaos Mountain."

Suggestions for Teachers

Crater lake as seen from an overlook near the lodge. Blue sky with trailing clouds reflect in the water of the lake.
Crater Lake from an overlook near the Crater Lake Lodge. (Oregon State Archives Photo)
Ask students to:
Invite someone who has worked as a guide at Crater Lake to class to share their experiences.
Share their stories from vacations to Crater Lake.
Pantomime the Indian legend of Crater Lake.
Create drawings illustrating the events depicted in the legend.
Ask a Native American knowledgeable about legends to talk to the class.
Discuss Native American cultures, past and present. Consider why and how Oregon tribes have changed.

Learn how Crater Lake was formed and why its so blue.

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