Legends of Mount Shasta: The Abode of the Devil Part 2 – Castle Crags: Fortress of Giants
“When the Wa-Gas first arrived on this continent they handed down the traditions to us that it was inhabited by a giant race of people when they first came. These giants were represented by the Wa-Gas as being very swarthy in complexion, and they used implements so large that no ordinary man could lift them. It was an age when large animals roamed the Earth, and it seems the birds and fowls were all very large in size. It appeared to be the First Age, and was the age of giants. The recollections transmitted by the Wa-Gas were that these giants were very cruel and wicked. It was said that God became displeased with them and destroyed them and they all perished from the Earth… The Indians name for the giant race was Pah-pel-ene, which means people who have died and passed away…”
—Lucy Thompson (1856-1932)
To the American Indian: Reminisces of a Yurok Woman, 1916
Could Native American Legends Preserve Accurate Memories of Past Events?
Throughout California and the Pacific Northwest many ancient traditions speak of prehistoric giants, and a catastrophic flood which devastated human and animal populations in a mass-extinction event. Many large species of animals vanished from the Pacific Northwest (and elsewhere) around the end of the last Ice Age.
Lucy Thompson writes about the ancient history of California in her 1916 book in an effort to preserve her tribe’s legends and traditions. Lucy admits writing the book using comparative mythology, overlaying Biblical and Masonic language and imagery on top of older Yurok traditions to make the text more comprehensible to the public, because she was writing for a mainly “white” audience.
“Lucy Thompson, To the American Indian: Reminisces of a Yurok Woman, 1916” Image credit Wikipedia © Lucy Thompson.
If you make the assumption that Lucy wasn’t lying or committing an extraordinary hoax (for whatever reason), her book illustrates a remarkable ancient history of California–virtually unheard of today–which is in accordance with Yurok traditions, which are also congruent with the legends of other tribes along the Pacific Coast and further inwards.
Lucy’s book talks about prehistoric giants, a cataclysmic flood, and other mysterious beings and creatures who were present in California and the northwest in some mysterious, long-forgotten age lost to history.
The truth of these legends is not for me to say; but I do believe they preserve memories of past historical events, expressed in the language of cultural mythology.
- Legends of Mount Shasta: “The Abode of the Devil” Part I – The Legend of J.C. Brown
- Breaking Sacred Ground: The Confluence, and Disruption of the Balance of Origin Sites
- Cascadia: A Vast, Dark Green Land of Mystery – Part II
The respected Native American scholar Vine Deloria Jr, in his book: Red Earth, White Lies; Native Americans and the Myth of Scientific Fact, also devotes a considerable amount of time discussing the legends surrounding a Great Flood, and prehistoric giants in North America. But he laments that most academics are unwilling to admit that Native American legends preserve memories of past events, and are unfairly judged to have no value or basis in objective reality; a scholar, Deloria writes, typically cites an Indian tradition and then debunks it, classifying it as a psychological quirk illustrative of the primitive mind.
Deloria gives examples of scholars torturous attempts to debunk Native American Flood myths as being nothing more than the incidence of a creek or river overflowing its banks near a village site. And he strongly argues the case that if the same hostile intellectual climate applied equally to other cultural legends, such as the Greek’s Illiad, Heinrich Schliemann may have never been inspired to set sail for Asia Minor, to eventually discover the “fabled lost city” of Troy–also long thought to have been merely a legend, with no historical reality underlying it.
“Mount Shasta as viewed from the south near Dunsmuir and Castle Crags.” Image © Dustin Naef.
On The Trail of J.C. Brown
When I was researching the J.C. Brown mystery, my premise was that if there was any grain of truth to the legend, then Brown may have left some kind of trail behind him–I also guessed that there may be something in the past historical record of the region that could help validate his story.
Most of the details known about the J.C. Brown mystery come from the Stockton Record’s 1934 newspaper article, and also a book by Emilie A. Frank, Mt. Shasta - California’s Mystic Mountain (1997). Frank’s book links the J.C. Brown legend to Mount Shasta through the odd reminisces of an eccentric character named Abraham Mansfield, who identifies J.C. Brown as actually being Lord Arthur J. Cowdray.
To my knowledge none of this can historically verified. Many people like to link everything to Mount Shasta because it’s the hub of tourism. The popularity of Brown’s tale owes a lot to local New Age businesses, who have promoted the story online and in other venues for decades, to connect it to their theories about Lemuria.
But J.C. Brown himself never stated that he was in or on Mount Shasta when he discovered the giant’s tunnel in 1904. If Brown was in fact hired to prospect for gold somewhere near Mount Shasta, it’s unlikely he would have been up on the slopes of the volcano looking for it.
A more plausible scenario would place J.C. Brown south of Mount Shasta, somewhere in the vicinity of Castle Crags and the Upper Sacramento River.
These are the areas where most of the gold near Mount Shasta had been discovered during the gold-rush.
“Upper Sacramento River south of Mount Shasta, near Sim's Flat” Image © Dustin Naef.
The Mystery Deepens
The Upper Sacramento River wilderness areas surrounding Castle Crags have a number of Native American legends about prehistoric giants, who lived in underground tunnels and caves.
Castle Crags wasn’t the original name for the towering, fortress-like mountain of granitic stone that dominates the landscape. It was anciently known as the “Abode of the Devil”. Its name was changed to Castle Rock, then later Castle Crags when it became a California State Park.
“View of the town of Dunsmuir with Castle Crags in the distance (c. 1880-1940's)” Image credit: http://www.snowcrest.net/photobob/historical.html (Historical Photo – Fair Use).
There’s also a curious mystery surrounding the name of the town of Dunsmuir. It’s believed the town was named after Alexander Dunsmuir, the scion of a railroad baron, who passed though and fell in love with the area, and promised to donate a fountain if they named the town after him.
However the town was being called ‘Dunsmuir’ years before Alexander ever passed through. Some historians speculate it must have been Alexander’s father, Robert, whom the town was really named after. But there’s no clear indication of how the town actually came to be called ‘Dunsmuir’–or why?
Muir is a Scottish family surname denoting someone who lived beside a moor. Dun (or duine) is a word that means “fort”. The name may also alternately derive from an antiquated Scottish Gaelic word 'muir', meaning sea, or 'mòr' meaning of great size, tall and important, as in “duine mòr”, a tall/great man or considerable personage.
- Cascadia: The Other “Lost Continent” – Part I
- Mount Shasta: Inner Earth Realms and History of the Lava Beds
- Mount Shasta: Sacred Mountain and a Strange Destination for Many
Depending on how you look at it, Dunsmuir could be interpreted as a place-name which somebody gave to the area before the Dunsmuir family arrived and took it up–possibly meaning “fortress of giants” (great size/tall and important/great man) or “fortress of the sea/people of the sea”.
This is all necessarily speculation, but it fits the prehistoric lore of the Castle Crags area.
There are no known traditions or legends of prehistoric giants ever living on, or underneath, Mount Shasta. A number of old Native American legends, however, speak of giants dwelling in tunnels and caves underground in the vicinity of Castle Crags and the Upper Sacramento River, south of Dunsmuir.
If J.C. Brown did actually find something up here as he described, this is probably the area he would have found it. The prehistoric legends of Castle Crags area validate his tale.
In the next article in the series we’ll look at some of the prehistoric lore about giants which is specific to Castle Crags and Upper Sacramento River area…
View the first installment of a three part video series exploring some of the legends and prehistoric lore of the Mount Shasta region, based on the book “Mount Shasta's Forgotten History & Legends”.
Top Image: “Castle Crags – The Abode of the Devil” Image © Dustin Naef.
By Dustin Naef
Dustin Naef (2016). Mount Shasta's Forgotten History & Legends.
Lucy Thompson (1916). To the American Indian: Reminisces of a Yurok Woman.
Vine Deloria, Jr. (1997). Red Earth, White Lies: Native Americans and the Myth of Scientific Fact.
Laurence Cook. (2005). Alexander Dunsmuir: A Man, A Town, A Promise, A Fountain.
Emilie A. Frank, (1997). Mt. Shasta - California’s Mystic Mountain.