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John Waldo

Waldo Lake sits on the crest of the central Oregon Cascades. It was named in honor of Judge John Waldo of the Oregon Supreme Court. In 1891 Congress passed the Forest Reserve Act allowing the President to set aside tracks of federal forest land in order to protect watersheds and to prevent exploitation from logging, mining, and grazing. Judge Waldo was not only an early advocate of the law, but successfully pressed for its application to set aside the forests of the Oregon Cascades.

His journals and letters document extended camping trips over the course of many summers in the late 1800s, ranging from Mt. Hood on the Oregon-Washington border to Mt. Shasta in Northern California. As the excerpt below suggests, wilderness was a refuge to enjoy with friends, a provider of all of ones needs, and, most importantly, a place to enjoy in its "free, unaltered" state.

Waldo Lake, Wednesday, August 1st, 1888.

I am seated before a camp-fire, the shadows of night darkening the forest on the bear haunted shores of Waldo Lake. We hear the wild note of the Loon, and the hum of the multitudinous mosquitos near at hand. The fire blazes and crackles and shines upon us three-Ed, Harry and me. We came over today on an exploring trip and expect to be out two or three days more. The lake looks beautiful lying embossomed in the evergreen forests - dark timbered peninsulas jutting into it, with the broad snow fields of Diamond Peak and blue mountains looking down upon it. Fire has not troubled its shores, and everywhere about it extends the green aromatic forest.

Here grows the graceful white pine, tall feathery hemlocks, and mast-like firs (Abies concolor) with white moss swaying from their branches and curving about their trunks. Here are evidences, too, of some of the wild inhabitants. The footprints of the timid deer denote his recent presence and rapid flight. The blue grouse lifts himself out of the low huckleberry bushes at our approach, settles himself among the hemlock branches and looks securely down upon us from his perch, but we have long arms he knows not of - they reach him, and down he comes for our breakfast tomorrow.

But the fire burns low, I must draw my sleeping bags over me, and hope to sleep well in the free, unaltered wilderness.

Judge Waldo's efforts as an advocate for setting aside the entire Cascade range as a forest reserve began to meet with success in the early 1890s, but as the following letter to the President attests, it was a constant battle to defend the idea against grazing and timber interests within the Oregon congressional delegation.

April 28, 1890

President Grover Cleveland White House, Washington, D.C.


At the request of Judge Bellinger of the United States District Court, I address this letter to you, giving the results of my acquaintance with the Cascade Mountain Reserve as on the question of retaining this reservation as it now exists. I learned, if not with astonishment, certainly with regret, that the Oregon Delegation at Washington, or some of them, had applied to you to abrogate, in great part, this reservation... The whole of this range, at some remote period, has been deluged by a flood of lava... These lava fields are, today, largely covered with a coniferous forest, although there are still some places, as for instance, in the vicinity of the peaks known as the Three Sisters and on the divide between Klamath Lake and Rogue River, where these fields of volcanic rock have wholly or partially resisted the approaches of vegetation... Looking westward from the summit of the divide, the usual appearance is that of an almost uninterrupted, evergreen, coniferous forest, stretching over a wilderness of lofty blue peaks, canyons and divides... There is a succession of snow peaks. . . from Mt. Hood, near the Columbia, to Mt. Pitt in the southern extremity of the reservation, beyond which the range suddenly drops away, without any prominent point, until it swells against the magnificent peak of Mt. Shasta in California. A wise government will know that to raise men is much more important than to raise sheep, or men of the nature of sheep; and that this is a question which, ultimately immeasurably concerns even the purely material interest of men. During the lifetime of men now living, the greater part of this inhabitable continent has been given into private hands. "The end of the land" has been reached. Yet ugly facts stare us in the face. Were another continent to rise out of the Pacific tomorrow, it would only defer the evil day. No one could say that the human race, ultimately, would be the better for it. . . an urgent need of the hour would seem to be, not more land to cultivate, but some change for the better in our ideas. As it is, we are having no manner of success in producing a happy or great people.


Judge John Waldo


John Waldo, "Letter of August 1, 1888," as found in Jeff LaLande, "A Wilderness Journey with John B. Waldo, Oregon's First 'Preservationist'," in Oregon Historical Quarterly, Summer 1989, 90(2), 132-133.

John Waldo, "Letter of April 28, 1890," as found in George Venn, editor, Taking on Paper: An Anthology of Oregon Letters & Diaries, (Corvallis, OR: OSU Press, 1994), 213.