Truth and stories, fact and fiction: the Mt. Shasta collection

Eve Thompson
COS Library Director Dennis Freeman cradles a three-dimensional Lucite view of Mt. Shasta he acquired from Mt. Shasta jeweler Jon Thomas. The collection includes paintings, illustrations, music, art, literature, and thousands of books, articles, manuscripts, maps, and audiovisual materials about Mt. Shasta.

The recent anniversary of Mt. Shasta’s disappearance passed without fanfare, fireworks, or commemorative speeches. How did this incredible event escape notice?

More to the point, when did Mt. Shasta disappear?

“Mt. Shasta disappeared! Catastrophe attributed to volcanic agency,” College of the Siskiyous Library Director Dennis Freeman chuckled. “That was the headline in New Zealand’s newspapers June 18th, 1890.”

“That morning, a Redding man noticed what he considered smoke around Mt. Shasta; he notified the Redding Democrat that Mt. Shasta’s peaks had disappeared. Several agreed the mountain looked different; the editor put the story out on the wires. New Zealand picked it up and ran with it,” he added.

“It wasn’t until two weeks later that a New Zealand editor questioned San Francisco’s failure to cover the event, realizing that ‘as the mountain is over 16,000 feet, its disappearance should have attracted a lot of attention in California.’

Eventually, the editor of the Yreka Journal put an end to the story by writing a piece about whiskey’s effect on the eyes and the imagination,” Freeman smiled.

The disappearance of Mt. Shasta is only one of a hundred thousand fascinating stories in the COS Library’s Mt. Shasta Collection.

“I’ve always loved local history,” Freeman, who was born in the Weed hospital and attended school in Mt. Shasta and COS, noted. After earning his Masters degree in Library Science at UC Berkeley, he returned to Siskiyou County. In 1983, he became the college’s Library Director.

“COS didn’t have a special collection; I decided to change that,” Freeman recalled. “I had two sources of inspiration. I’d found a 1970’s COS biology poster that said, “Mt. Shasta is our laboratory.’ It made me consider how much the mountain has affected the college and all of our lives.”

“The library’s magnificent view of the mountain inspired me also,” he added. “The idea for the Mt. Shasta collection was born.”

In 1983, the college owned one shelf of Siskiyou County Pioneers and a few books. “It was a beginning,” he said.

“I worked with Bill Miesse, a rare book and art dealer investigating art inspired by the mountain,” Freeman said. “He gave me a copy of his research, which is now in the collection, and we worked with Edward Stuhl’s Mt. Shasta bibliography.”

Using that bibliography and ProCite, Freeman tracked down, purchased, copied and bound thousands of articles and books. “The collection is pretty comprehensive,” Freeman modestly noted. “In terms of books, there may not be many more to find. I’d love to have a first edition of Joaquin Miller’s Life Amongst the Modocs, but it’s rare and quite expensive.”

“I’ve learned a lot about Mt. Shasta; I’ve explored its themes extensively.”

One theme is scientific exploration in the west. “Since 1838, anybody who was anybody has been here investigating everything from botany to zoology, volcanic activity, glaciers, soils, mineralogy, and climatology,” Freeman said.

“We have impressive records about the Shasta, Wintu, Achomawi, Modoc, Karuk, and other tribes. Several diaries report the horrific events about what happened to them. Reading them gives you a true sense of what was happening to Native Americans here and throughout the country,” he noted.

“We have comprehensive histories about pioneers, railroads, lumbering and accounts of early American and European exploration.”

Recreation, mountaineering, and tourism are key themes, too. “We have records in every medium, including books, magazines, videos, and photos that chronicle these areas,” Freeman added.

“Of course, the struggle for the environment, beginning with Joaquin Miller’s 1873 proposal to make Mt. Shasta the center of an Indian Republic to last month’s Roseburg proposal. I’ve already got a half inch file on that most recent development idea,” Freeman said.

“There’s really nothing I won’t collect,” Freeman laughed. “We have Mt. Shasta in art, photography, poetry—a lot of bad poetry—legends and myths and famous people.”

“ We have a recording of Grace Slick of the Jefferson Airplane singing about Mt. Shasta, a letter Mabel Hubbard Bell wrote to her husband Alexander Graham, John Muir’s and Joaquin Miller’s writings.”

“And we’re adding information daily; I just received a photo of John Phillip Sousa, the composer, who wrote lyrics about the mountain when he visited Shasta Springs in 1899.”

Today the collection includes 2500 books, 1400 periodicals, 600 pamphlet files, a digital collection of 2,700 items, 54 audio visual programs, and art, and an unknown number of prints, maps, and photographs.

The collection is open to everyone, not just researchers throughout the world who use the collection’s information daily. To learn more about the collection and how to use it, call 938-5331.

“If you’re interested in truth or stories, fact or fiction about Mt. Shasta, you can find it here!” Freeman promised. “Just contact us—we love sharing!”

COS Library Director Dennis Freeman points to a copy of Bill Miesse's 1993 Mt. Shasta: An Annotated Bibliography, the principal resource for Mt. Shasta materials in the Mt. Shasta collection. "Miesse and I used Ed Stuhl's bibliography of Mt. Shasta, as a starting place for our efforts," Freeman noted."In 1983, the library only had one shelf of Siskiyou Pioneers; we've now filled a room and are ready to move into another."