Date of Award


Document Type

Closed Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) in History and University Honors






Mount Hood (Or.) -- History, Mount Hood (Or.) -- Social aspects, Mount Hood (Or.) -- Public opinion, Mount Hood (Or.) -- Recreational use, Mazamas (Portland, Or.), Mountaineering -- Oregon – Mount Mount -- History




On July 5, 1887, The New York Times ran a front page article proclaiming "MOUNT HOOD ILLUMINATED." The story screamed across telegraph lines in the early morning hours, from Portland, Oregon to New York, communicating Portland's ''unprecedented feat in the way of fireworks," and implicitly the connectivity of the young nation. Besides crowds of Portlanders, people throughout the Willamette Valley, Vancouver, Washington, and communities on the east-side of the Cascade divide witnessed the top of Mount Hood glowing just before midnight. Regional and national identities were conflated through the illumination of Oregon's highest peak on the day reserved for celebrating the creation of the United States. At a time of regional competition for investment dollars, tourists, and national attention, the illumination of the mountain signaled both Oregon's and America's exceptionalism on two levels: a rugged landscape, and hardy individuals who had overcome the challenges of alpine topography. Even the tops of mountains could be part of a nineteenth-century geopolitics which emphasized a shared national identity through the conquering of nature.

While the illumination event operated on several cultural levels of identity, Mount Hood was intellectually constructed as an ideal stage for the ritual. The mountain took on cultural, social, and individual meanings for the fire-beating mountaineers, regional first-hand observers, and national newspaper readers. Though Mount Hood's 11,235 feet of rock and ice are an undeniable physical reality, as experienced by anyone who has put their own feet on the summit or traversed its high parks and meadows, the volcano means far more than its physical components. Human interactions with Mount Hood, from its Anglo-European naming to events such as the 1887 illumination, create a cultural narrative that frame perspectives, boundary social practices, and govern acceptable development and environmental change. Geographers and environmental historians understand this process as place construction, a human story that bridges social, individual, and physical forces and perspectives that subsequently mediate the perception of landscape.

To understand Mount Hood as a place, I examine texts, events, and activities from explorers, mountaineers, boosters, and preachers, and interpret their constructed meanings of the volcano. I first tum to a discussion of place to better understand the way humans perceive and interact with the external world. Next, I give a brief geographical description of Mount Hood so that the connections between the cultural and physical can be clearly delineated. The historical narrative begins with Mount Hood's 1792 Europeanized naming and early exploration before examining the first mountaineering exploits. Mountaineering and recreation became central governing activities for expressing the meaning of Mount Hood in the latter-half of the nineteenth century. Recreation guided economic investment, tied Portland and other growing cities to the hinterland, and created an implicit class bias for those who could afford to enjoy the outdoors. I conclude with the establishment of one of the oldest mountaineering organizations in America, the Mazamas, on the summit of Mount Hood in 1894. Unlike other mountain clubs in the United States, the Mazamas focused principally on mountaineering and alpine exploration versus conservation. Their formation had profound effects for Mount Hood, as tourism and recreation became powerful economic forces in determining the volcano's place in the twentieth-century.


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