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As It Was: Spelunker Becomes Father of the Lava Beds Monument

Shortly after coming to Klamath County, Ore., in 1916, an unassuming miller, Judson “Judd” Howard, developed a passion for exploring the lava bed caves just south of the Oregon-California state line.

Fearing that the more than 700 caves could be destroyed, Howard wrote letters pleading for their protection. He spent his spare time mapping the caves, using candles for light, and taking measurements with a compass. Many of the names he gave to the caves remain. When Howard explored the caves with friends, they climbed hand-held ropes down deep chimneys and left flour trails for finding their way back out.

To preserve the area’s history, Howard contacted Modoc Peter Schonchin to record his memories. As a child, Schonchin was with a band of Modocs who took refuge in the lava beds while under attack by the U.S. military in what’s known today as the Modoc War of 1872.

Howard’s efforts seeking protection for the caves were successful in 1925 when President Coolidge created the Lava Beds National Monument.

A present-day brass plaque near the park’s visitor center honors Howard as the “Father” of the monument.

Sources: "J.D.Howard Historical Marker." Historical Marker Database. Accessed 24 Apr. 2020. Path: Judson Howard Lava Beds National Monument; J.D. Howard Historical Marker; Howe, Carrol B. Frontier Stories of the Klamath Country. Carrol B. Howe, 1989, pp. 100-29; Juillerat, Lee. "Judson Dead “Judd” Howard (1875-1961).” Oregon Encyclopedia, Oregon Historical Society. https://oregonencyclopedia.org/articles/howard_judson_dean_judd_1875_1961_/#.XuvoRGhKiUk

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Sharon Bywater of Ashland, Oregon grew up in Southern California. She taught English literature and writing at Syracuse University in New York, where she also wrote and edited adult literacy books and published freelance articles in local media. Later, she lived in Washington, D.C., where she worked as an international telecommunications policy advisor at the U.S. Department of Commerce. She has Master’s degrees in English and Communications Management.