Umpqua Watersheds Blog


Applegates At Crater Lake

Published June 13th, 2022 in Wilderness

By Susan Applegate

I wrote this article with the hope that the National Park Conservation Association would print it in their magazine, but they had already planned to publish articles focused on William Gladstone Steel, a man who devoted a great portion of his life to making this a National Park. They declined to accept my article for this or any other publication.

I quietly think of and pay homage to two of my early family members whenever I walk the trails at Crater Lake National Park. Visiting the park expands my mind and lungs with fresh air vistas. From macroscopic to microscopic. One minute I look out over the lake and see hundreds of miles beyond the rim, while at my feet are multitudes of interesting fungi living on pieces of bark, rocks, or other tiny plants hidden in crevices. And for me, there is an additional connection to the past I especially revel in. The expansive explorations and mapping of Crater Lake by Captain Oliver Cromwell Applegate and the close, minute observations of Crater Lake’s botanical flora by Elmer Applegate. Both men helped in shaping the National Park. Oliver Cromwell Applegate explored the Crater Lake area in the 1860s and later. Elmer Ivan Applegate, his nephew, was the Park Ranger Naturalist from 1934 until 1939.

Captain Oliver Cromwell Applegate was a frontiersman and led a life whose travels extended the length and breadth of the Oregon Territory. He had explored Crater Lake many times before it became a National Park. Being from a pioneer family, he was party to many “firsts” by white settlers to the Territory. Oliver also had many firsts of his own. Certainly, he knew and appreciated that the native populations had been fully aware of this extraordinary geological gem. He was also aware that as white settlers entered these places, thinking of them as “wild,” their urge to lay claim and name was part of their notion of settling in, even it if was just to commit a “first.”

On a sunny summer day in 1865, he experienced what would become another first. He had made the acquaintance of Miss Anna Gaines and invited her and her friend to join a party of visitors to the lake. During the visit, a couple of other visitors lost their footing and plunged over a cliff. Anna’s adventurous descent to Crater Lake’s edge from the rim to help save this couple became another “first.” When she placed her hand into the frigid water of Crater Lake, she became celebrated as the first white woman known ever to reach its waters.

Captain Oliver Cromwell Applegate.

“Miss Gaines, was, as usual, the most enthusiastic and adventurous of our party,” Oliver said. “While on the lake we spent some time drifting among the green islands, to one of which, –– lying away out in the center of the lake covered with gigantic green cane-grass and bordered with green willows –– we gave it her name.”  While that name changed to Wizard Island, as the Lake became a National Park, her legacy remained: Annie Creek and Annie Spring in Crater Lake National Park are named as monuments to this girl who touched the deep blue of the crater’s water.

Oliver’s father, Lindsay Applegate, was one of the trailblazers of the 1846 Applegate Trail, much of which laid the foundation for the Interstate 5 Highway. Both Oliver and his father Lindsay worked as sub-agents for the Klamath Tribe at Fort Klamath. Lindsay Applegate was appointed special agent for the Lakes Indians (Modoc) in 1861. In 1865, he was appointed Indian sub-agent, responsible for treaty negotiations and other U.S. government dealings with the Klamath Indians. Oliver’s engagement with the Klamath tribal members were always courteous and respectful. He conversed with the tribe in Chinook jargon and in the Klamath language, listening to their stories of the origins of places and the meaning of their names. As a testimonial to this trust, the Klamath people bestowed upon him the name “Blywas Lokay,” or Golden Eagle Chief. In the 1870s he penned a poem about the mysterious quality of Crater Lake.


High on the rim of Klamath land,

Where Cascade cliffs are hoar and grand,

Where pine and hemlock forests moan,

Mid giant walls of igneous stone

A mystic lake lies still and high,

Reflecting cliff, and tree and sky,

A place of wondrous sight and sound,

‘Twixt earth and heaven and halfway ground.

Gaywas unrivaled, we’ve often stood

A thousand feet above thy flood,

Hung o’er the verge, looked down and down

O’er beetling crags of gray and brown

The feathery arms of hemlock through,

Peered down upon the waters blue,

Saw hemlocks changing more and more,

Till ferns they waved upon the shore.

Brave old warriors, grim and brown,

Recall traditions handed down

Of how horned demons came

From out volcanic sea of flame

And scourged the land, till now

The bows that pierce the mountains’ brow

The mystic land of Gaywas crossed

Recall to mind the warriors lost.

When night has draped these mountains grand,

Come pilgrims from the mystic land

And on the lake a voice is heard

Like the plaintive cry of a far-off bird,

And through the air’s peculiar hush

Broad wings of spirits wave and rush,

While phantom ships, with great white sail,

Drift here and there in moonlight pale.

Mid rippling waves that lave the wall

Come phantom bathers, weird and tall,

And curious demons sport and swim

Beneath the moonlight pale and dim.

With fays they take on wings of white

Around the cliffs their circling flight,

Their voices blend in the murmuring breeze

That whispers through the hemlock trees.

No wonder that these mythic souls partake

Their annual trips to Crater Lake,

Nor that the brilliant Klamath brain

Filled Gaywas with a mystic train,

And thought this place, — so weird and grand — the threshold of the spirit land.

  Capt. O. C. Applegate

Oliver C. Applegate poring over maps with friend and fellow explorer and writer, Joaquin Miller, poet of the Sierras, taken at Crater Lake by Kiser Photo Co.

Applegate Peak at 8,135 feet was chosen and named by William Gladstone Steel to honor his fellow explorer, Captain Oliver Cromwell Applegate, who assisted in the exploration of the Crater Lake area. Applegate Peak is located on the south rim of Crater Lake, next to Sun Notch and just above Vidae Cliff. To the east is the slightly shorter, Garfield Peak. Steel organized and led the effort to bring Crater Lake into the National Park system. He enlisted the help of others, such as Captain O.C. Applegate, to tour the area with distinguished guests and Congressmen he brought out west from Washington DC to view its miraculous presence. One of those visiting the lake was Lord William Maxwell of Scotland and A. Bentley of Ohio, with whom Captain Oliver Applegate, John Meachem, and Chester Sawtelle of Klamath County, toured the lake, reveling in the vista of lofty peaks and visiting Wizard Island. They decided to name some of the more prominent peaks after members of the party. Bently Peak has become Watchman, Maxwell Peak is now named Hillman Peak in honor of the gold miner, John Hillman, who stumbled upon it in 1853 and called it “Deep Blue Lake.”

When Captain Applegate toured the lake with historian and writer Frances Fuller Victor in 1873, she was astonished at the grandeur of the lake and stony crags of the rim. She strode to a bluff and perched on a boulder 900 feet above the deep blue water, admiring its beauty. Oliver Applegate was so inspired by her grasp of its monumental presence that he named the overlook Victor Rock. Her book, “Atlantis Arisen” helped to further Crater Lake as a place others must behold. Early maps of Crater Lake identified Victor Rock, but the Sinnott Memorial was built on top of it in 1930. The Park Superintendent transferred “Victor Rock” to become “Victor View,” at a spot on the East Rim near Sentinel Rock.

Elmer Ivan Applegate (left) and Castilleja applegatei, a native perennial herb that bears his name.

Captain Applegate and Joaquin Miller (known as the poet of the Sierras) compared maps, exploration notes, drawings, and poetic memos of Crater Lake before it became a National Park. Captain Oliver Cromwell Applegate sought to share the beauty of Crater Lake with all who displayed interest. His love of Crater Lake helped in it becoming a National Park.

Elmer Ivan Applegate was Oliver’s nephew. Elmer’s father, Lucien, gave him the middle name Ivan in honor of another brother, Ivan DeCompte Applegate. Elmer knew his famous Uncle Oliver, who wrote about, explored, and worked with Indians on the Klamath reserve and negotiated with the Modoc during the treacherous Modoc War. Born in the Klamath Falls area, Elmer and his siblings spent many winters in California where they received their high school and university training. They returned to work their large ranch in upper Swan Lake, east of Klamath Falls, during the summers. Elmer took up botany at an early age, collecting and identifying known and unknown plant species. He received formal botanical training at San Jose Normal School and Stanford University. When he met watercolor artist, Esther Emily Ogden, niece of the early Hudson’s Bay Company trapper, Peter Skene Ogden, he became enchanted by her interest in depicting in detail the flora of the region. Theirs was a marriage of common passion. On field trips Esther illustrated the plants as Elmer collected them. His work with Frederick Colville of the U.S. Department of Agriculture doing plant surveys in the Cascade Mountains; the US National Herbarium; the Dudley Herbarium at Stanford University, and his Honorary Doctor of Science Degree in 1940 from Oregon State University is evidence of his botanical prowess. When he entered service as the Crater Lake National Park Ranger Naturalist, he was 67 years old. His botanical writings include Plants of Crater Lake National Park, American Midland Naturalist (1939).

It is 2022, and the 1860s and 1930s are a distant past. This time finds us in another monumental transition, affecting not just a small corner of the globe, as when Mt. Mazama exploded, or when white settlers laid claim to a land that had been home to tribes of indigenous Native Americans since time immemorial and extracted from the landscape in ways that had never been done before. Humanity’s uses and abuses, inventions and expansions have reaped global consequences. Accumulation of carbon in the atmosphere, and interaction with climatological and environmental systems, have been in a brew for several hundred years. Climate change is now upon us. Climate scientists have told us that all plants and animals are being affected. We can see the changes. Both wildlife and the flora of the wilds will tend to move northward in this hemisphere and to higher elevations in their attempt to adapt to increasingly warming temperatures, drought, and often chaotic weather events.

Umpqua Watersheds, Inc. is a nonprofit environmental organization working in collaboration with Oregon Wild, Crater Lake Institute, National Parks Conservation Association, and Environment Oregon to protect the Crater Lake National Park environs. The Crater Lake Wilderness Act is still in the proposal phase. The proposed 500,000-acre Wilderness would protect the backcountry of Crater Lake and adjacent qualifying areas, creating a nearly 90-mile Wilderness corridor along the backbone of the Cascade Mountains. Key Roadless Areas in the Umpqua National Forest, Rogue Siskiyou National Forest, and Fremont Winema National Forest would assist in sequestering carbon and water, and provide migration pathways to higher ground for wildlife and the plants they depend upon. From discovery to recovery. From displacement to adaptation. We are hopeful that our Congressional leaders will confer Wilderness status to Crater Lake so that this National Park can join the many other National Parks managed as wilderness. From its beginnings, Crater Lake and the high Cascades have supplied the lower reaches with water and much of our local climate. We must protect our home, and Crater Lake is the gem at the center of that crown. For more information on the Crater Lake Wilderness Proposal visit


4 As It Was: Historian Frances Fuller Victor leaves Name at Crater Lake. Published Aug. 12, 2019, Jefferson Public Radio

4 Kiser Photo Company. Kiser Brothers Photography

4 Crater Lake Institute. Oakland Tribune, Oakland CA 1939, Applegate Peak Named in 1869 by Wm Gladstone Steel.

4 Applegate family papers


















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