State seal of Idaho Idaho Bureau of Mines and Geology Bulletin
Craters of the Moon National Monument, Idaho


In 1879 Mr. J. W. Powell, formerly of Arco, Idaho, but now residing in Long Beach, Calif., visited this area. Having been offered a substantial reward for the discovery of sufficient water to supply several hundred head of cattle, Mr. Powell and Arthur Ferris explored in the early eighties the lava beds even beyond what is now the south boundary of the Monument. They were probably the first white men to visit the interior of this expanse of lava. A large stone marker built by Mr. Powell on this trip still stands near the water hole in Vermilion Chasm. A shoulder bone of a cow was found in 1926 in Buffalo Caves with the names of these two men and the date 1885 written on it. The writer visited Mr. Powell in 1926 and was surprised by his remarkable memory of the principal features in the area. Mr. Powell stated that in 1879 he interviewed Major Jim, a Bannock Indian scout, who spoke English well, regarding the time of the last eruption in the area. Major Jim replied that his great-great-great-great father saw fire in the region. On the basis of this statement the last eruption occurred in the early part of the eighteenth century. It is not impossible that an eruption occurred in the area at that time, but it is as likely that a fumarole or steam vent could have been considered fire by the Indian. That the Shoshone Indians frequented the area is shown by the fact that during the writer's investigation hunting blinds were found in the Little Prairie aa flow on the south side of The Watchman and several obsidian arrowheads, scrapers, and other artifacts were gathered. Mr. Era Martin found a nearly complete pottery bowl near Echo Crater, and near Indian Tunnel the crescentic rock heaps that weighted down the Indian tepees can still be seen.

Furthermore, at the north entrance to the Monument, in the cinders near the edge of the North Crater flow, there formerly existed several artificial mounds that are now nearly destroyed. These mounds have been opened by several persons, but no human remains have been found in them. They consist of cinders and sagebrush in alternate layers, and it is stated by one of the Indians living on the Fort Hall Reservation that mounds of this type were used to indicate trail directions. It is said that the sagebrush was laid lengthwise in the direction of the trail, which is now faintly discernible across the lava to the southeast.

PLATE XIX—A.—The impressions of charred logs and the molds of the tree trunks are preserved in some places in the pahoehoe lava. Photograph by H. T. Stearns.

B.—The Highway aa lava flow as seen from Sunset Cone. Photograph by H. T. Stearns.

Dim trails probably used by Indians and animals alike can be discerned here and there in the cinders or in the loose material on the surface of some of the lava flows. Three or four moss covered pieces of lava rock or cinders piled on a prominent point may mark a trail or water hole, but the large conspicuous monuments have all been erected by white persons. Because Indians frequented the region for hunting or took refuge from enemies in the numerous caves and craters, it is probable that the ancestors of the modern Indian witnessed eruptions in the area. However, to attempt to fix the date of an eruption on the basis of Indian tradition may lead to serious error. Everyone who has traveled among primitive tribes is aware of the amazing ability of such people to invent stories to explain everything to the satisfaction of the questioner. A good example of the imaginative character of some of the Indian legends is their story that a hard ledge of rock in Columbia River is the wreck of an ancient bridge built by some of their ancestors. The Indians doubtless recognized from its appearance that the lava had once been molten and hot, and hence they may not have been slow in inventing a story regarding it.

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Last Updated: 28-Mar-2006