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As It Was: Mount Mazama Takes Name from Obsolete Word for Mountain Goat

Crater Lake National Park features a deep blue lake inside the volcanic caldera of Mount Mazama, which blew its top about 7,700 years ago.  The mountain was 12,140 feet high, its summit a mile higher than the surface of the lake today.

Native American ancestors witnessed the cataclysmic explosion, which spawned myths about opposing god rulers of what one writer describes as an “Above-world and a Below world, one of light, beauty and joy and the other of terror and everlasting darkness.”  The first white men visited the lake in 1853, but the mountain was not named until the newly created Mazamas mountain-climbing club suggested the name after visiting the lake in 1894.  At the time, mazama was sometimes used interchangeably with “mountain goat,” a species known for its climbing agility.  Actually, mazama is derived from an Aztec language word for deer that range from Southern Mexico to several South American countries and belong to the scientific genus “mazama.” 

The founder and president of the Mazamas, William G. Steel, was a major advocate for creation of Crater Lake National Park in 1902.  Steel became the park’s first concessioner and second superintendent.


Sources: "Name, Slogan and Logo." Mazamas, Mazamas, 2018. Accessed 20 Feb. 2018; Mark, Stephan R. "Mount Mazama." The Oregon Encyclopedia, 8 Sept. 2017, https://oregonencyclopedia.org/articles/mt_mazama/. Accessed 20 Feb. 2018; "Mazama, Washington." Wikipedia, Wikipedia Foundation, Inc., 25 June 2017, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mazama,_Washington. Accessed 20 Feb. 2018; Mark, Stephan R. "William G. Steel (1854-1934)." Oregon Encyclopedia, Portland State University and the Oregon Historical Society, 25 Sept. 2017, https://oregonencyclopedia.org/articles/steel_william_1854_1934_/. Accessed 20 Feb. 2018; "Indian Perceptions of Crater Lake." Crater Lake Historic Resource Study, National Park Service, 14 Feb. 2002, https://www.nps.gov/parkhistory/online_books/crla/hrs/hrs4.htm. Accessed 20 Feb. 2018.

Kernan Turner is the Southern Oregon Historical Society’s volunteer editor and coordinator of the As It Was series broadcast daily by Jefferson Public Radio. A University of Oregon journalism graduate, Turner was a reporter for the Coos Bay World and managing editor of the Democrat-Herald in Albany before joining the Associated Press in Portland in 1967. Turner spent 35 years with the AP before retiring in Ashland.