Deschutes National Forest


Life along the Deschutes River can be traced back 9,000 years. The Lava Island Rockshelter provides a rare glimpse of the area's early inhabitants, who apparently made yearly hunting and gathering forays from as far away as the Great Basin valleys to the east. The climate was cooler then and moister, which produced ample forage for large game animals.

Central Oregon was a dramatically less desirable place 7,000 years ago. The harsh climate was intensely hot and dry, a situation compounded by violent eruptions from Mount Mazama (present day Crater Lake) and Mount Newberry. The eruptions left an 8- to 10-foot blanket of ash and pumice, which led to the temporary abandonment much of the Central Oregon region in favor of areas with more water. Lava Butte, south of Bend, is the site of more recent volcanic activity that influenced prehistoric inhabitants. Indian groups in time adapted to life on the Central Oregon "high desert."

About 5,000 years ago the area's climate started to cool and the eruptive activity began to taper off. The Native people returned to gathering and preparing an amazing variety of foods from wild plants and from hunting and fishing. They also developed an elaborate weaving industry, producing beautiful baskets. Lava Island Rock shelter and other campsites along the river attest to the success of their lifestyle and their close relationship with nature.

The hunting-gathering lifestyle remained substantially unchanged until contact with early settlers and trappers in the 1800s.

In 1826, Peter Skene Ogden of the Hudson's Bay Company crossed the lower Deschutes River near Warm Springs and later visited Newberry Crater. After Ogden, a variety of other explorers and trappers arrived, most of them involved in the fur trade. Notable among those who left journals of their visits were John C. Fremont and Kit Carson.

Immigrant wagon trains headed for Oregon Territory soon followed. Traces of their journeys still exist on the Forest. From the mid-1800s on, there was considerable travel by wagon throughout the Deschutes region. Major settlements of the Bend area occurred in the early 1900s, about the time lumber companies were established. The upper Deschutes River provided power and water for early sawmills, and today farmers and ranchers depend on water from the river to irrigate and develop land. Much of Central Oregon's grass seed, hay, and other agricultural products depend on water from the river, as do many residents.


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