From Picture Postcard Beauty . . .
Long before settlers arrived from the east, Mt. St. Helens was a sacred place to the local Indian tribes. They had been witnesses to its long history of eruptive behavior and ancient legends caused them to give the mountain a wide berth. Some of the names given to the mountain were Lawelatla ("One From Whom Smoke Comes"), Louwala-Clough ("Smoking Mountain"), Tah-one-lat-clah ("Fire Mountain") and the most commonly used name today Loo-wit ("Keeper of the Fire"). The local tribes would not fish in Spirit Lake, believing the fish, with heads like bears, held the souls of the evilest people who had ever lived. They also believed the lake shores were populated by a band of rogue demons. Only young warriors out to prove their bravery dared climb to the timberline and spend the night. Later, legends claimed the evil spirits of the mountain were punishing the local tribes for allowing the white men to settle at her feet.
In 1792, Captain George Vancouver of the British Royal Navy spotted the mountain from the deck of his ship Discovery as he sailed past the mouth of the Columbia River. He gave the peak its present name after a fellow countryman and friend, Alleyne Fitzherbert, who held the title Baron St. Helens and was at the time the British Ambassador to Spain.
Below is one of the legends of how Loo-Wit came to be and a wonderful poem by Wendy Rose about the mountains reawakening. The poem has been a favorite of mine for years but I am not even sure where I found it.
by Wendy Rose
The way they do
Keeper of the Fire
Long ago, when the world was young, all people were happy, The Great
-------Clark,Ella (1953) Indians of the Pacific Northwest (renewed
-This version of the legend is based on a summary which Mrs.
Lulu Crandall prepared for a
Thank you to Mardon Erbland for allowing me to use these
he took on a trip to Mount St Helens in February of 1968.
Skiing near the base of the mountain.
Mt St Helens Lodge run by Harry Truman. Harry, his 16 cats and the lodge are now
150 feet or so under the Spirit Lake lakebed.
It's not as if they were not warned . . .
After 123 years of silence, St. Helens showed her first signs of life on Thursday, March 20th with a 4.1 magnitude earthquake centered beneath the volcano. Most northwest newspapers completely ignored this earthquake because President Carter's announcement of the Moscow Olympics boycott dominated the news.
One week later, on March 27th, the mountain smudged the usually pristine snow at her summit with its first puff of ash. No one on the groud knew what had happened at first because the top of the mountain was encased in clouds for her first show. The small explosion left a 250 foot wide crater in the otherwise perfect cone. On March 30th there were a record 79 earthquakes recorded on the mountain.
On April 3rd, the first harmonic tremors were recorded signaling the movement of magma somewhere deep within the dome. The crater was by now 1,500 feet wide. Explosions of ash, rock and ice chunks were almost a daily occurrence by this time. The mountain had taken on an eerie, sinister look with her ash covered slopes.
For safety reasons, a "Red Zone" and a "Blue Zone" were mapped out around the mountain. Swarms of tourists wanted to get as close as possible to the waking giant but because of the scientists inability to predict the time and magnitude of an eruption, they needed to keep people out of harms way. Despite the best efforts of local police, there were too many small logging roads that criss-crossed the area to keep out all of the curious onlookers.
In late April a noticeable "bulge" began to form on the north face of the mountain. The bulge was created by the building pressure of hot gases and magma inside the mountain. All through early May the bulge grew at an astonishing 5 feet per day. The mountain soon lost its perfect cone shape that had characterized it as the "Mt. Fugi of the West".
On May 17th, frustrated home owners living in the "Red Zone" threatened to break through roadblocks to get to their homes. A convoy of 35 home owners were escorted in by police to retrieve personal belongings from their homes and summer cabins. Another trip into the "Red Zone" was planned for the next morning, May 18th, at 10 a.m.
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This page last updated June 06, 2006.