Crater Lake (giiwas – A Sacred Place) – The Fulbright event recording featuring Klamath Tribal Elders

Crater Lake (giiwas – A Sacred Place) – The Fulbright event recording featuring Klamath Tribal Elders


Thank you for your support of the Fulbright Program’s feature presentation about Crater Lake and it’s human and natural histories on Friday, April 23, 2021. Please pass along the following link to the recording of the event to anyone interested: 

I was heartened by the enthusiasm of everyone involved and I look forward to Crater Lake National Park and the Klamath Tribes continuing to work together on fun outreach projects like this one. 

Thank you,


Klamath Tribal Elders Featured on the Live Zoom- click the link above to see their comments and historical information.

The History of Crater Lake

The Klamath Tribes have occupied the Klamath Basin in Southern Oregon for over 13,000 years. Crater Lake plays a significant role both in tribal history and legend. No matter who looks upon Crater Lake, known by the Klamath Tribes as “giiwas — a sacred place,” one must always remember the beauty and sacredness of such a place.

According to tribal history, this place was accidentally discovered by non-natives in 1852. Many things were changing for the maqlaqs (natives) at this time, and in 1864 the Klamath Tribes (Klamath, Modoc and Yahooskin band of Paiute Indians) signed the Treaty of 1864 with the United States Government which included giiwas (Crater Lake) within the Treaty boundaries. However, documented history proves the Klamath Tribes’ Treaty Rights were ignored repeatedly, and on May 22, 1902, giiwas (Crater Lake) — a most sacred place — became Crater Lake National Park.

The Creation of Crater Lake

The Tribes have passed down several versions of the legend describing the creation of Crater Lake.

Tribal Elder Barbara Alatorre recalled this one.


How Giiwas (Crater Lake) Came To Be

By Barbara Alatorre, Klamath Tribal Member and Historian

Also online at

The story of Crater Lake’s origin has been handed down through thousands of generations by ancient Indian legends of the Modoc and Klamath Tribes. [1]

Before time began, giant Spirit Beings came down to earth through a hole in the sky, pushing ice down to build giant mountains. The first mountain built was Moy Yaina (Big Mountain — where Mt. Mazama now stands).The Spirit Beings created the rest of the Klamath terrain by digging tunnel-like caverns beneath the earth, pushing up the hills and mountains forming the Cascade Range. They dug the channels for rivers: created the marshes, and hundreds of springs bubbled up from underground. Giant trees, meadows and plants sprung up everywhere.

Upon completion all of the Spirits returned to the after-world (called Nolis-Gaeni), where others may not go until after death. Only the Spirit Chief, gmok’am’c (the Creator), remained behind to create the people (maqlaqs). Gmok’am’c (Creator) made his home inside Mt. Shasta (Mlaiksi) at the southern end of the maqlaqs ‘ country. From his spirit bag, gmok’am’c selected two bones as he soared over to what is now Klamath Lake where he laid the bones over one another — (giving birth to the Klamaths). Two bones were crossed near Modockni Lake known today as Tule Lake (home of the Modocs). Finally near Goose Lake, bones were laid together (to become progenitors of the Yahooskin Paiute and Wal-pah-pe people).

Upon arising the next day, gmok’am’c looked around and saw the smoke rising where he had created the tribes of the people. Feeling content, he proclaimed: “May you live well on the lands created for you, my people.” [2] He then watched over his people from his home and attended to matters of great importance — protecting the people and sacred mountains which surrounded the Klamath Basin.

From time to time, Monadalkni the Spirit Chief of the below-world would become curious and sneak up to watch the maqlaqs living in their beautiful domain. One day he observed a maiden of exceptional beauty. Many brave warriors sought her hand in marriage, but Loha was the daughter of the Klamath Chief and refused to marry anyone. The underworld chief Monadalkni dispatched his most trusted emissary Skooks with the most luxurious gifts to be found in those ancient days to propose marriage on his behalf.

During the night of the Klamaths’ coming-out ceremony Skooks suddenly appeared, interrupting a ceremonial dance. Hooded in a dark wolf skin, he stepped before Loha and her family bearing his astonishing gifts. “My Chief sends these offerings for your hand in marriage,” he said. “Eternal life will be yours as you and he become one and live in the big mountain Moy-Yaina.” As Skooks’ crimson red eyes gazed at her, Loha’s other suitors disappeared in a huge flash of orange light.

Loha backed away in fear and said, “No! I don’t want to live in a mountain.” Skooks and his entourage disappeared as fast as they had come. The Klamath Chief called the elders and Medicine Men to council in his tule lodge and they decided to send Loha into the forest to hide. Monadalkni, upon learning the outcome of his marriage proposal, ordered Skooks back to the village Chief to demand the whereabouts of the maiden, threatening revenge upon the people and destruction of their land if she was not brought to him. Fear stricken but loyal, no one in the village would speak. Hearing of their silence, Monadalkni shook like thunder and stormed off in a violent rage, running back and forth in the passageways beneath Moy-Yaina, throwing lightning bolts as he went, causing Moy-Yaina to explode with such great force the top of the mountain blew off. [3] Giant fireballs shot out toward the land of the maqlaqs, exploding deafening booms five times in rapid succession. Spewing fire from his mouth, the evil Chief ran to the top of the caldera to survey the destruction as fire and lava devoured the beautiful forests and lay waste to the villages of the people. Fleeing in terror for their lives, the people took refuge in Klamath Lake, crying and praying for the Good Spirit Chief gmok’am’c to save them. As lava rained down on the people like hot pitch, gmok’am’c, standing on Mt. Shasta, heard two of the eldest Medicine Men of the tribe volunteer to sacrifice themselves, believing only a sacrifice would stop the Chief of the below-world’s vengeance. “We elders with not many moons to live should be the ones to follow our torches into the great fire to calm the wrath upon our people.”

As the people watched, the two oldest and most respected Medicine Men waded out of Klamath Lake’s waters, lit their torches and began their courageous trek toward Yanalti, the high ridges surrounding the crater of the volcano. When gmok’am’c saw the elders’ unselfish and brave deed, he flew over them to face Monadalkni in battle and save his people. The two Spirit Chiefs fought, enraged, silhouetted against the red glow rumbling along the Cascades. The mountains shook and the earth trembled until finally, the good Chief forced Monadalkni back underground and collapsed volcanic debris down on the entrance to the underworld, creating a giant crater where the mountain top used to be. No longer Moy-Yaina (Big Mountain), the Indians renamed the mountain Tum-sum-ne (mountain with top cut off).

Medicine Men sang their sacred songs in thanks for the victory as the rains came filling the empty crater with water, and the lake became known as giiwas (a most sacred place), a holy place to the Indians who kept the area secret from outsiders for over 7,000 years.

Then in 1852, white men accidentally discovered giiwas snuggled in the caldera of Tum-se-ne. Many things were changing for the maqlaqs at this time and in 1864 the Klamath Tribes (Klamath, Modoc & Yahooskin) signed the Treaty of 1864 which included giiwas within the Treaty boundaries. However, documented history proves the Klamath Tribes’ Treaty Rights to be ignored repeatedly, and on May 22, 1902, giiwas (a most sacred place) became Crater Lake National Park. ©2002. Barbara Alatorre, All Rights Reserved. Barbara Alatorre, researcher and historian, is herself a member of the Klamath Tribe and a direct descendant of two signers of the Treaty of 1864.

[1] Carbon-dated evidence shows Tribes have occupied the Klamath Basin in Southern Oregon for 13,200 years. See: Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, Vol. 46, Part 4, 1956: Klamath Pre-History, L.S. Cressman, University of Oregon.

[2] A Legend of the After-world (Nolis-Gaeni), narrated in the Klamath language in 1962 by Lulu Lang to author Theodore Stern, in his book The Klamath Tribe, University of Washington Press, 1965, p. 2.